Pinch Reviews: January 2014

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Can you believe the first month of the new year is already over? Every year seems to go faster and faster. It’s pretty incredible, right? That said, I wasted no time in getting to work on reading new books for the year. I set my Goodreads goal at 75 books for the year, an increase over my ambitious and surprising 68 from last year, and so far it seems like I’m on schedule–and even a little bit ahead.

I’m going to try to do this kind of post at the end of every month, with a quick recap and a short review, so I’m going to call this Pinch Reviews. Just a little bit of a review, enough to get your attention and hopefully pique your interest. I try to stay fairly current with my reading, so I’m hoping this will put out some attention on some lesser-read books (although almost everything I read this month was wildly popular among the contemporary set, I think).

While it looks like I read 10 books in January, that’s not entirely true. I started reading THE BOYFRIEND APP (Katie Sise) on the plane back from Oklahoma at the end of the year and finished it in January, so I didn’t technically read all of it in 2014. Also, I started both I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE CAKE and ALL YOU NEVER WANTED last summer, read a few pages, then put them down and didn’t pick them back up until last week. However, on both of those, I read the majority of it this month, so I’m still willing to put them in the January category.

I was pretty pleased with my stats on this month, too–out of 10 books, 90% were by women authors and had women protagonists. Tim Tharp’s THE SPECTACULAR NOW was the only male-authored and -lead book from this month, but it was set in contemporary Oklahoma City, which I’m always a fan of.

THE BOYFRIEND APP (Katie Sise) – 2/5 pinches

I really wanted to like this book–a YA novel starring a geek girl who’s the best coder in her school, or close to it, and a plot that involves her using her smarts and skills to promote herself, all while working through family tragedy, social class discussion and teenage romance. And the first half is great! Then Audrey uncovers a greater conspiracy (this isn’t a spoiler because it’s on the jacket) with the company offering her a scholarship, which also sounds good, but it never really felt like Sise had a handle on what the plot was really going to be when it found itself. The second half just never felt real or grounded, and it ended predictably. It was fine, but unless you’re really into this type of book, you might lose interest.

THE SPECTACULAR NOW (Tim Tharp) – 3.5/5 pinches

This is a quick and easy coming-of-age story about Sutter Keely, an alcoholic teen who never got over his father leaving his family and who is trying to figure out what his future can be, and if he even wants one. There are things I found unbelievable about the characters, but overall this is a solid book intended to appeal to male readers, which is rarer than it should be in YA. This is more of a crossover book, too, in that I think many adult readers would enjoy reading this, since it is layered heavily in that it would mean different things to different people at different ages. It’s a good but sad book. I recommend it.

Plus, it takes place in my hometown of Oklahoma City, which is great–not every book in a city needs to be New York or LA, and I appreciate this. You might have seen the movie, starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, and it was a National Book Award Finalist, which speaks heavily to its relevance.

DREAMLAND (Sarah Dessen) – 4/5 pinches

This is an oldie-but-goodie Sarah Dessen title that was first published in 2000, so I’m obviously behind here, but I bought it on an Amazon daily deal whim months ago, so I decided it was time to get down to it. This is another heartbreaking coming-of-age story about Caitlin, whose older-and-“better” sister Cass ran away, who starts dating bad boy Rogerson while drowning in her own impending depression. It’s a sad story, but it’s real–this is how things happen and how people fall through the cracks of their own lives when no one else is looking. It’s making me sad just thinking about it. I loved this book, but it is some heavy business, so prepare yourself.

LIFE AFTER LIFE (Kate Atkinson) – 3/5 pinches

Atkinson is a new author to me, known for her mysteries, but the concept of LIFE AFTER LIFE grabbed me immediately–a WW2 -centric book about Ursula Todd, who keeps dying and “resetting” to a certain point, basically until she gets it right. This sounds right up my alley, and I have to say that I didn’t love it. Once you get past Ursula’s childhood (about 120 pages), it picks up dramatically, and weaves an interesting series of tales with varying levels of involvement that come with living in Germany and being well-connected in early Hitler days. It’s interesting, to be sure, and it’s getting a lot of buzz, but it just fell a little short for me, personally. It’s more literary when I wanted it to be more genre, and more descriptive when I wanted more action. I am glad I read it, but I feel only okay about it.

Winner, Goodreads Choice Best Historical Fiction 2013

WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? (Maria Semple) – 4.5/5 pinches

The beginning of the year started off fairly mediocre for me, bookswise, and this turned it around entirely. Protagonist and sometimes-narrator Bee is trying to figure out where her mother, Bernadette, disappeared to when they were about to leave for their cruise to Antarctica, and finds more in the files than she ever expected. This is a book I fell in love with, a book told mostly in documents and communications, interrupted occasionally by the young narrator’s voice. This is an adult novel with a young protagonist–I think teens would enjoy reading this because of the novelty of the format and the interesting plot, but I think this is a book that older readers might appreciate more, for its discussion of adult family dynamics and mental illness. I thought the end was wrapped up a little too quickly for the problems presented it later in the novel, but overall I loved this book a lot. It’s worth every bit of hype.

THE DIVINERS (Libba Bray) – 5/5 pinches

Now, if we’re going to talk about favorite books, this is far and away the best book I read this month (and for a 600 page book, I read it in four days). Bray is a YA master with a wide, wide oeuvre thus far, but this epic urban fantasy proves she can still do no wrong. Set in NYC in the 1920s, the book features an ensemble of youths (led by transplant Evie O’Neill) with unique abilities who unknowingly combine forces to defeat Naughty John, a serial murderer returned to life by chance. It’s full of wit, slang and incredibly-rounded characters (with actual diverse representation!), and honestly, I don’t think there’s really anything bad to say about this book. It’s the first in a series that I am dying to read. It’s long, but if this even remotely sounds like your jam, you’re going to love it.

TAMPA (Alissa Nutting) – 4/5 pinches

This should have been one of the hottest books of 2013, and for some reason, I feel like it wasn’t. Maybe the subject matter, a young teacher who is sexually attracted to and seduces her young, on-the-verge-of-puberty male students, was too much for people. It is very explicit in many ways, but I felt like it was a book I needed to read in order to expand my reading horizons and escape my comfort zone. I had issues with the pacing of the book and with parts of the end, but overall I loved it. If you think this is something you’re mature enough to read, you should, because it makes strong statements on not only statutory rape (especially when it’s a woman preying on teen boys) but on the justice system. This book will make you think about a lot of things and will leave you grappling with your thoughts for long after you’ve finished, which is important. This is a book meant for discussion, and that happens less than it should these days. Recommend heartily, if you think you can read it.

I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE CAKE (Sloane Crosley) – 3/5 pinches

This is a collection of essays from writer Sloane Crosley, all about being an at-wits-end twenty-something in New York, something that you read about a lot these days. The stories are funny and well-written, and I enjoyed reading this book. Unfortunately, the stories could have been stronger and made sharper, and I thought they were out of place in the book. The book was fine and I’m not unhappy that I read it, but ultimately it didn’t seem like anything new, and it’ll probably get lost in the heap of collections like this going around right now.

ALL YOU NEVER WANTED (Adele Griffin) – 3/5 pinches

This is a short, quick YA about two sisters (with alternating narrator chapters) who are experiencing growing pains in their relationship as well as the confusion of going from rags to riches within a year. The relationship between the sisters was great, as was the development of their own personal issues. It was a fun and easy read that I finished in a couple of days. Ultimately, this isn’t the book for me, but I think this is a book that is actually intended more for a younger audience.

TIMEBOUND (Rysa Walker) – 4.5/5 stars

I finished this book last night, and I absolutely loved it. It’s in a similar vein to THE DIVINERS, which is partially the reason I picked it up (and that it was a Kindle daily deal a few weeks ago–I’m a sucker for those). Protagonist Kate Pierce-Keller is the granddaughter of a time-traveler, essentially, and when someone starts messing with the timeline, it’s up to her to set things straight and bring her family back from nonexistence–once she learns exactly how to time travel from her grandmother. It deals pretty successfully with time travel and history, including a visit to the 1893 World’s Fair and H.H. Holmes (murder!), and again, if you think this sounds remotely like your jam, read it asap. It’s great. It doesn’t get a full five stars because the end is kind of an info-dump, which, though interesting, is less exciting than it could have been. Otherwise, love it.

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013

As you can see, the end of my month picked up spectacularly, and right now I’m reading both Lawrence Wright’s GOING CLEAR and Sophie Jordan’s UNINVITED, so things are going quite swimmingly.

What did you read in January? Have you set a yearly goal for yourself–if so, how’s it going? If not, sign up for Goodreads immediately and add me!

 

 

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day 25. I have a secret that’s really no secret at all.

Here it is: I love awards season. I LOVE IT. If you think the first thing I did today when I woke up wasn’t immediately check the Oscar noms, you would be wrong.

Oscar parties are one of my favorite things in the world. I went to one last year thrown by my friends Brittany and Tiffany, and they had Oscar ballots for us, a red carpet to take pictures on, and all kinds of cute decorations and fancy snacks. So fun! I’m not 100% on what I’m doing this year, but I’m pretty sure, and I’m really looking forward to it. I love getting dressed up for awards parties, too – it’s kind of like you’re there, but you don’t have to worry about cameras always being on you. Also there are no famous people in my living room. I don’t know about you, but…I don’t run around with famous people. I wish I did, but, there you have it.

Here are my picks for this year:

  • Best Picture – The King’s Speech. This was a really tough call, mostly because I’ve only seen about half of the films on the list, but I saw this a few days ago and was blown away. I think Inception might be my favorite movie I’ve seen this year, but I think The King’s Speech is the best movie of the year. Other serious contenders: Inception, The Social Network, Black Swan, The Kids Are All Right.
  • Lead Actor – Colin Firth, The King’s Speech. I’ll be extremely disappointed if anyone else takes this.
  • Supporting Actor – Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech. Again, I’ll be very disappointed if this doesn’t happen. I think Christian Bale might win for The Fighter, though.
  • Lead Actress – Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right. Haven’t seen it, but I haven’t seen any of the movies in this category, so I choose Bening. She won the Golden Globe and apparently the film is phenom.
  • Supporting Actress – Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit. Haven’t seen it but heard she’s great. I didn’t pick HBC, mostly because while she is an incredible actress, I didn’t feel the role in The King’s Speech really gave her much to work with.
  • Animated Film – Toy Story 3. I’m not even going to explain this. It’s that obvious.
  • Art Direction – The King’s Speech. I really deliberated on this one, but when it came down to it, I really think the art direction of this film topped the rest. Other contenders: Inception, Deathly Hallows.
  • Cinematography – Black Swan. I still haven’t seen this, but from what I hear and from what I have seen, the camerawork is really good.
  • Costume Design – Alice in Wonderland. I almost picked The Tempest, but I think this demanded more originality and it was certainly delivered.
  • Directing – The Social Network. I just feel like TSN will take this one. I don’t know why. I just have a feeling.
  • Film Editing – Black Swan. Again, I just have a feeling.
  • Original Score – The Social Network. Incredible score that worked very well with the film. My second choice would be How to Train Your Dragon, but I really doubt that’s going to win, as unfortunate as that is.
  • Sound Editing – Toy Story 3. That or Inception.
  • Visual Effects – Alice in Wonderland. Other contenders: Deathly Hallows, Inception. I’ll be sick if Iron Man 2 wins this, or is critically recognized in any way.
  • Adapted Screenplay – The Social Network. Criticism aside, this was a well-written and very well-acted movie.
  • Original Screenplay – The Kids Are All Right. Other contenders: The King’s Speech, The Fighter.

I don’t know what it is about Inception, but I just don’t have a good feeling about it. It was truly an incredible film in almost every way, but honestly, it didn’t stand out in any of these categories. I’m very surprised LDC didn’t get nommed for Best Actor, but you get what you get, I suppose.

I don’t have a guess for makeup, mostly because I’m shocked that neither Alice in Wonderland nor Deathly Hallows made it into the category. Harry Potter films are always contenders for makeup – I was just very confused.

I left out the categories in which I have no opinion and not even a guess at what the winners would be, like short films. I like them, but I don’t see very many.

What are your picks?

day 24.

The past few days have been a rollercoaster of emotions, as far as a few things go. Nothing really serious at all, but there have been a lot of highs and lows. And the situation finally came to a head last night, and today was a day of just figuring out next steps and the immediate future. No decisions have really been made yet, but…just know that change is a’comin’.

Overall, though, I’d say it’s a good thing. Mostly because every time there’s a lot of drama in my life, I wind up spending time with some of my favorite people in the world: my work friends. I’d say by far the best things to come out of the job I have now are the people I have come to know and call my good friends. Some of them have come and gone, but we’ve stayed in touch, and tonight was the first time we could all actually get together and just spend a few hours together.

I didn’t manage to get any pictures – I don’t know why, I don’t really have any pictures of us together. Well, that’s not true – here’s a picture of most of us. Mix it up a little bit and you have the greatest people you will ever meet.

This is a picture of us from Courtney’s wedding in July. Of course she had a photobooth with mustaches. This is pretty much the quintessential description of all of us. Of course I picked a red mustache. It must have been foreshadowing.

The lady I miss the most is Carly, the girl with the green mustache. We really only worked together this summer, but we just clicked, and I really miss getting to see her all of the time. She lives in Stillwater teaching and grad schooling, and I really wish I got to see her more.

Anyway, it was a really fun night, and we all resolved to see each other more. I love getting to see friends I can’t see very often, just because of time and distance and busy schedules. It just always feels so enriching and refreshing.

day 23.

I’m working on back-posts for the past few days. I have a few drafts started but nothing concrete. I know how sad that is. But I’m determined not to give up, and not to spend too much time on this.

Today was the day I started my New York Stuff box. I found a Target giftcard I got for Christmas that I completely forgot about, and I immediately sat down and started thinking about all of the things I could buy. At least one whole season of TV! New dishes! Most of a dremel!

And then my eyes came to rest on my New York sign sitting on top of my dresser, and I realized that a giftcard could buy me a new set of bedding. New dishes. Storage supplies, like shelving or cube storage. Part of a new desk. Part of a new bed.

Anything you can buy at Target, really. And I realized that I really want to save my money. If I just hang on to this card, don’t spend it for the next six to eight months, I could use it to get things I really need.

And instead of carrying it around in my wallet like I do with most of my things, like most people do, I decided to start a box of things like this. That way, they’ll all be there together, waiting for me when it comes time for me to move.

Yeah, yeah, it’s a Francesca’s shoebox. Maybe I’ll upgrade boxes once I get a more concrete idea of what I want to go in it, but right now, this is good enough.

I know that one little giftcard looks kind of sad in there by itself, but I’m going to try to add it to as much as I can. Anything that I get that I think would be useful to save will go in this box.

And that made me really happy today. I’m trying to take steps every day to make my dream a reality, and when I can look at something and call it a tangible step, something I can really see and sink my teeth into, it makes me that much more resolved to get things done.

The one thing that’s really holding me back is not being very good at managing my money. I’m trying to put away money in a savings account, but, somehow, I’m just not very good at keeping it there. Any tips?

Day 19. A lesson learned.

It’s been an interesting day, for sure. A slow start, but this afternoon was jam-packed of things to do and things to think about, and it’s almost 9:00 and I’m finally catching a breather. I’m about to hop up and go somewhere again, but that’s only one last thing I have to do before I can go to bed. And wake up and do it all over again.

Unless the 70% chance of SNOWPOCALYPSE pulls through, in which case I may not be doing much of anything tomorrow. Probably still work, since we were open during the May flood (I worked, which was slow, but fun), but it’ll probably be a slow day because of SNOWPOCALYPSE.

Every time I check the weather tonight, tomorrow’s high drops a few degrees. I don’t think that’s a good sign, y’all.

Anyway, I didn’t come here to post about potential bad weather. Lame, right? I learned no lessons about weather today. Except the lesson I did learn last week is that when there’s a sudden drop in temperature, make sure you have plenty of gas, and also go check to make sure your car starts right when you wake up, so if you need to call your dad to come jump it, you don’t figure that out when you need to leave. And if you’re me, you don’t leave until YOU HAVE TO LEAVE, which makes the situation pleasant for no one.

Well. That was a really long story.

Today was the day that I was reminded of the really good things about small colleges. My university has about 2000 people, give or take a hundred each year. I really like it. Yes, there are things I dislike about it, but there are a lot of things I’ve liked about it. Sometimes I do wish I’d gone to a bigger or more prominent school, but in high school I didn’t know if I could have gotten in. Now, looking back, I know I could have, but that’s in the past. I chose my choice, and I’ve been as happy with it as I could have been.

While there are a lot of things I’m not sure I’m a fan of about small schools, a relationship with the faculty and staff is not one of those things. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that professors at small schools are there because they like the intimate classroom environment. They’re there not because they like teaching, but because they like students. They want the students to succeed.

And, for the most part, the staff is the same way. Maybe my situation is a little different because my mom works on campus. Maybe so. But I honestly believe that the vast majority of the men and women who work in offices on campus will do what they can to help you. Because at the end of the day, college is a business, but at the end of your day, if you’re doing everything you can to succeed, they will want to help you. Despite how it may seem sometimes, they aren’t there just to suck money out of you and kick you out on your behind. They want you to do well, to represent the university well once you’ve graduated, and they want you to be happy. Yes, I know there are exceptions and sometimes it just doesn’t work out the way you want it to, but in my experience, it has.

And honestly, I’ve made some serious mistakes. I’ve done some things I know I shouldn’t have done, school-wise. I’ve made some stupid mistakes. But there’s always been some way to work it out. If you’re willing to take the time to go talk to people and look at your options, there’s a way to find some sort of solution. So that’s my plug for small schools for today. This is my last semester, and I’m thrilled to be done.

If you’re in Oklahoma, stay safe tomorrow. Something tells me I might need to pull out my snowboots to wear to run errands in the morning.

day 18. future planning.

When I first started writing this post, I started it with a complaint. Complaining about what I chose to wear today. And I looked at that sentence for a few seconds, realized exactly how whiny it sounded, and promptly backspaced over it.

Sometimes I get bogged down in being unhappy about where I am in life. It’s easier to complain than to change what I don’t like, and that’s one thing that I’m really working on right now. It became a lot easier for me to just be unhappy in general than to make changes to the few areas I was unhappy with, and that’s one of the traps that leads to depression and being miserable.

It’s been a really good day so far. I just met with my adviser and we worked out a plan for the next few months of my life. It was really good to have someone to just bounce ideas off of and with whom I can discuss what I really want to do. I think the biggest step is going to be the move, and once I get that on lock, I’ll be good to go. So I’m writing it everywhere, leaving myself reminders all over the place. Save your money, save your time, always keep thinking about what you really want to do.

But one thing that I really did need to splurge on this month was this:

I’ve also resolved to read more news. Most of the time I spend on the Internet I use educating myself. Sometimes the things I’m learning about are less…relevant…than others, but that doesn’t mean I’m not learning. I’ve fallen really out of touch with current events, though, so my goal for the rest of January is to start keeping better-informed about the world.

Now, to listen to Kanye and get some future planning done.

day 17: the first great closet smackdown of 2011.

It’s that time again. Time to clean out my closet and get rid of the things I don’t wear anymore. Things I don’t even like, but I keep around because, I mean, someday I might get inspired and find a way to wear them. It’s time for those things to go. There are clothes that have been living permanently on the floor since I did laundry because there’s nowhere to put them, and that means there are some clothes that need to go.

This is the appropriate accompanying gif, I would say.

Aside from the laundry I need to do, I’ve cleaned out a lot of things. And I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them. The clothes that are good brands that I’ve barely worn? Maybe I’ll try to sell them on eBay. Not really sure. The ones that are still in good shape? I’ll probably donate them. Or if anyone wants them, you’re more than welcome to them. I just don’t know what to do with them.

I’m also considering starting an Etsy shop. I make a lot of little hair cutesy dealsies, like headbands, clips, that kind of thing. It would be really nice to have a small side hustle, don’t you think? We’ll see. I’ve got a few other things to settle down first, and then we’ll see where I am after that.

This is kind of a weird post, I think. But cleaning out my closet was something that I really, really needed to do. And now I have a big pile of clothes with which to do whatever I want. There were moments when I would pull out a skirt and say, “I just bought this a month ago and the tags are still on it. I don’t even remember buying it.” I like it much more than other things I have, and I’m horrified that I just forgot that I have things. How white-girl-problemz is that? So tonight was a good cleanse of the things that I’m tired of, or have just hung onto because I might want them someday.

So, after a good wash tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to make some final decisions about what to do with the things I’m not keeping.

Have you done a New Year Deep Clean yet? I guess what I did wasn’t exactly a deep clean. A deep getting-rid-of-things-I-don’t-need, but close enough. The deep clean will come later.