January 2017 Recap

The first 33 days of 2017 are officially in the books. Only 332 to go!

While we saw mourned many more celebrity deaths in January 2016 (David Bowie, Alan Rickman, René Angélil, Abe Vigoda–to name a few) than this past January (Mary Tyler Moore), we still mourn for them nonetheless. A few other notable events that happened this past January include a new United States President was inaugurated, the whole world stood up for the many facets of human rights, and everyone in the United States has probably developed ulcers.

One a happier note: I read some books! And I think I added many more books in the process.

Read in January 2017:

Reading Challenge Updates:

  • #RockMyTBR Challenge: Um, of the four books I read last month, I only own one, so… progress? More seriously, I want and need to read more books on my TBR/physical bookshelf this year that are not Harry Potter. Keep me accountable!
  • POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 4 out of 40–not bad! Although, I might not include The Vagina Monologues for this challenge because I don’t know which category it would fall under. Oh well!

February 2017 TBR


What’s on my TBR for February? Well, since you asked nicely:

  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Illustrated Edition) by J.R. Rowling and Jim Kay
  • The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti
  • Dream Home: The Property Brothers’ Ultimate Guide to Finding & Fixing Your Perfect House by Jonathan and Drew Scott (don’t judge me!)
  • Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham
  • Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

Five books during the shortest month? Let’s get to it!

Book Review: The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler


The Vagina Monologues

Author: Eve Ensler
Publisher: Virago Press Ltd.
Publication Date: 2001
Format: Paperback
Length: 185 pages
ISBN: 9781860499260
Genre: Nonfiction, Plays, Drama, Theatre, Feminism

Mary’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Copy from my local library

Synopsis

I decided to talk to women about their vaginas, to do vagina interviews, which became vagina monologues…At first women were reluctant to talk. They were a little shy. But once they got going, you couldn’t stop them. Women secretly love to talk about their vaginas. They get very excited, mainly because no one’s ever asked them before.

From Goodreads.

Review

I’m writing this review the day after the new President of the United States was sworn in the women around the world march. And, my, what a time to be alive. Now, I can go on a rant about the state of our country, its new leadership, and the millions of people who put the United States in this position, but I won’t. Because it won’t change our present. What we can do to move forward with our new reality is by educating ourselves and standing up for our beliefs in a constructive way.

With that being said, I picked up The Vagina Monologues because it was the Our Shared Shelf book of the month(s) for January/February 2017.

I had heard about The Vagina Monologues when I was in college, although I didn’t understand what it was. I remember girls—women—students—standing on the main Quad passing out vagina lollipops and holding signs and shouting about vaginas.

Was it a protest? Was it a cult? I know I sound really sheltered saying that—this was almost 10 years ago and 14 years of private school education can do that to you—but I had no idea what was going on and I shied away from these people. I walked around them. I took an alternative route.

Why did I do that?

After reading The Vagina Monologues, I realize it was more than just vagina lollipops. This was about empowering women to love themselves and understand their bodies, while also educating men about the struggle we face as women.

Eve Ensler wrote in the introduction that, in part, The Vagina Monologues—more accurately, V-Day—was created to assist with stopping violence toward women. “When you rape, beat, main, mutilate, burn, bury, and terrorize women,” she wrote, “you destroy the essential life energy on the planet.” (p. xxxii)

YES.

How dare a woman’s body be used against her. How dare she not feel safe in her own skin.

Eve finishes the introduction with a quote (italics hers): “In order for the human race to continue, women must be safe and empowered.” (p. xxxvi)

And as of today (again, I’m writing this the day of the Women’s March), women took one large step to securing their safety and empowerment.

I am proud to know many women and men who stood up for their beliefs.

I think what most people forget when reading The Vagina Monologues is that it’s a play. As much as I want to read this as a set of essays, that’s not what this is. It’s in the title—they’re a collection of monologues, with some sections introduced by the narrator (Eve). And while the book’s introduction section stated that Eve usually sits on the stage with a set of 5×8 cards, though she never uses them, and performs each monologue, this production, from my understanding, is best done with a cast of women performing each monologue.

My favorite monologues were “The Flood,” a few of the “Vagina Fact” sections (the genital mutilation section was eye opening, as was the one about clitoridectomy for curing female masturbation), and “The Little Coochi Snorcher that Could.” Besides the “Vagina Facts,” which were usually snippets from news articles or encyclopedia entries, “The Flood” and “The Little Coochi Snorcher” reflected on these women’s experiences with their vaginas, being ashamed for saying the word or being made to think her genitals were “a very bad place” and how they overcame (or didn’t overcome) these beliefs.

It helps to remember these aren’t verbatim interviews but monologues that interpret these women’s stories. What would help even more is to witness these performances, to hear the emotion in these women’s stories to truly understand.

Looking back on my college years, I wish I wasn’t so put off by seeing signs with “vagina” written on them. I wish I had the opportunity to see The Vagina Monologues performed.

But wait! I might still be able to! V-Day is celebrated on (surprise!) Valentine’s Day, and the idea behind it was to raise money and bring awareness to stop violence against women.

“Since the first step to eradication a society problem is making people aware that it exists, the V-Day Benefit committee decided that the goal for 1999 would be to get our message out at the local level. We came up with the idea for the V-Day College Initiative.” ~Karen Obel, Director, V-Day College Initiative.

Colleges and communities around the United States will be performing The Vagina Monologues on their campuses and community centers during the month of February. Please believe me when I say this post isn’t sponsored, but I highly recommend looking for an event near you. I know I will!

Without women, none of us would be here, and women must be heard and respected as any other human.

“Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak feely — and the right to be heard.” Hillary Clinton, U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women; Beijing.

More Info:
Eve Ensler’s website: http://www.eveensler.org/plays/the-vagina-monologues/
V-Day.org: http://www.vday.org/about/why-vday-started.html
The Vagina Monologue performances: http://vspot.vday.org/vday/events

Review: The French Impressionist by Rebecca Bischoff

french-impressionist-rebecca-bischoff.jpgThe French Impressionist
Author: Rebecca Bischoff
Publisher: Amberjack Publishing
Publication Date: December 6, 2016
Format: Ebook
Pages: 250
ISBN: 9781944995027
Genre: YA Fiction, YA Contemporary

Mary’s Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

Review copy from NetGalley

Synopsis

“Rosemary is fifteen and gloriously free, on her own for the very first time. Part of an exchange program for aspiring artists, she arrives in sunny southern France with a single goal: she doesn’t plan to leave, ever. She wants a new life, a new family, and a new identity. But her situation, crafted from lies big and small, is precarious.

Desperate to escape haunting images from her past and a stage one helicopter parent, Rosemary struggles to hide her lack of artistic talent and a communication disorder that has tormented her all her life. She believes her dream of a new start will come true, until she unwittingly finds herself enveloped in a decades-old mystery that threatens to ruin her only chance for success. Determined to stay, Rosemary must choose whether or not she’ll tell the biggest lie of all, even if it means destroying the life of someone she cares about.”

From Goodreads

Review

I’m going to keep this short and sweet…well, not really short… or sweet either. Sorry.
Continue reading

Book Review: Navigating Life: Things I Wish My Mother Had Told Me by Margaux Bergen

Navigating Life by Margaux BergenNavigating Life: Things I Wish My Mother Had Told Me
Author: Margaux Bergen
Publisher: Penguin Press
Publication Date: August 2, 2016
Format: Ebook
Pages: 256
ISBN: 9780698182202
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir, Parenting

Mary’s Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
Review copy from NetGalley

Synopsis

“Margaux Bergen began writing this book when her daughter Charlotte turned nine and gave it to her right after graduation from high school, when she was setting off for her first day of college. ‘I am not writing this to groom or guide you to professional or academic success,’ she writes. ‘My goal is rather to give you tools that might help you engage with the world and flourish. . . . Think of this as a kind of developing bath-time wisdom.'”

Synopsis portion taken from Goodreads

Review

As a late 20-something, I like reading about life advice from other peoples’ experiences and taking them as I find relates to my life experiences or where I am emotionally in the grand scheme of existence. Continue reading

2016: A Year In Review

This has been one heck of a year.

I think that’s the best way to describe 2016, right?

With the death of beloved actors and musicians (this year made me an emotional wreck), the way politics have played out in the United States, engagements and births among family and friends, and hitting (or at least striving toward) some personal goals, this year has been a roller-coaster of emotions.

2016 Resolutions Review

To recap my resolutions from this past January, I think I’ve done well for myself:

  • While I haven’t read too many of the books I own… I’ve probably purged and donated/sold half the books I started out with. Yay  for decluttering!
  • I’m proud to say I’ve hit my Goodreads goal of reading 26 books in 2016! My goal was 25.
  • I’ve read most of the Pretty Little Liars series (one book to go!) and started to reread the Harry Potter series. (I need to reread Chamber of Secrets now that I have the illustrated edition!)
  • I am reading more memoirs or non-fiction books.
  • I’ve been exercising regularly.
  • I began the year by blogging regularly and that’s something to improve on for next year. Considering I haven’t written reviews for all the books I’ve read this year, I have some material to get me through the next few weeks.

Top 5 Reads of 2016

  1. The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth. A moving novel about two individuals with early onset Alzheimer’s who met in a care facility and fall in love, and how one caretaker recognizes their love despite the families’ objections.
  2. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Picked by Emma Watson for the Our Shared Shelf book club. A moving graphic novel memoir about the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, being a preteen/teenager and growing up a woman during this time and the perceptions of the revolution.
  3. The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick. A sweet debut novel about an elderly widowed man discarding his late wife’s possessions and finds a charm bracelet, which leads him on a journey of new discoveries and stepping outside his comfort zone.
  4. An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin. If you’re interested in the fine art/museum/gallery world, this was definitely one interesting read.
  5. What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler. This book had me angry for days, not because of the writing, but the topic. Star athletes at a small-town high school are accused of raping a girl who was passed out drunk at a party, and no one at the party speaking up. Rather than thinking about what the behavior and rumors have done to the victim, they worry about the athletes. And if anyone would dare speak up, they would be shunned by the whole town.

Honorable mention: In a world obsessed with Marie Kondo, I found Faye Wolf’s approach in her book New Order: A Decluttering Handbook for Creative Folks to be more palatable. I’ll write reviews on both approaches, but I like how Faye’s is less…um…aggressive. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Resolutions for 2017

I’ll keep these short and sweet.

  1. Read 27 books in 2017.
  2. Reread the Harry Potter series in full. No breaks in between. Consecutive. Bonus: Read The Cursed Child at the end.
  3. Read more of the books I own.
  4. Blog regularly.
  5. Get organized and stay healthy.

Reading Challenges for 2017

Because I’m crazy, why not add a reading challenge of two for next year to help me stay on track with some of my new year’s resolutions?

~

I hope everyone has a happy and healthy New Year and celebrates responsibly tonight! Enjoy yourselves, but be vigilant!

Ranking the Harry Potter Book Series

We’re just ONE day away from July 31!

a.k.a Harry Potter’s birthday.

a.k.a. J.K. Rowling’s birthday.

a.k.a. the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child script book.

You get the idea.

And since we’re celebrating the 19th anniversary (if you’re in the U.K.)/18th anniversary (if you’re in the U.S.) of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone first publication, I thought I’d do a subjective ranking of all seven Harry Potter books. Shout out to Jolien at The Fictional Reader who did this ranking last week.

I’ll be ranking the books from least favorite to favorite. Sorry, not sorry if we don’t share the same opinions. Also, WARNING: I will include some spoilers, so if you still haven’t read Harry Potter, you’ve had 18 years and you can’t blame me for ruining anything.

7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I can’t explain it, but I did not like the first installment. Maybe I’m holding on to bitter 10-year-old Mary’s memories when the book first came out and everyone was obsessive over it, and I wanted to feel rebellious (because not reading a popular book made me such a rebel…). I get that the magic happens with this book and sets the story up, but the first chapter dragged on for me when I was 10 and when I recently reread the book earlier this year. There wasn’t much plot movement. Maybe I’m asking too much of a children’s book?

However, I did admire Ron so much more after rereading this book. I forgot how witty he was for a 9 year old.

6. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Talk about another book that didn’t really have much plot movement. I recently reread this book earlier this year as well, and I was desperately waiting for it to end. Okay, so maybe this one is my least favorite and HP1 is second-to-least favorite.

5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix

SIRIUS BLACK DIES AND IT HURTS MY SOUL.

Also, Angsty Harry is hard to swallow. Teenage angst–amiright? Also, I do believe that Harry’s cockiness contributed to Sirius’s death. I don’t doubt Harry’s love for his godfather and only surviving family member–in fact, I think he loved him a lot. But Harry should’ve heeded Snape and Dumbledore’s warning of Voldemort using these “visions” against him.

4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This was another one where Harry’s cockiness gets the best of him. However, this story was probably the one that really sets the story up for the ending. We learn more about Voldemort’s beginnings in the orphanage, his time at Hogwarts, and his discovery of Horcruxes. What a critical moment in Voldemort’s life and for Harry to get a glimpse of it Harry, Rob, Hermione, the narration and we as readers have matured with the characters.

I also think I can really empathize with Draco Malfoy after this book even though as readers we’ve been conditioned to dislike him for being a greasy little snot in Slytherin House. You realize he’s in over his head in a movement that he’s not sure he wants to be a part of anymore (or at all).

3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

14-year-old Harry is just starting to grow into his teenage years with a bit of angst and attitude and a little bit of exhaustion of trying to survive from Lord Voldemort’s efforts to kill him. While this book is practically the length of the first three books combined, I loved that it was longer and revealed more of Voldemort’s history and his resurrection (can we call it that?). He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is back in his physical form, and he’ll attack anyone who gets in his way, as was proven when he killed Cedric Diggory.

Also, let’s not forget about Hermione’s efforts with the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (S.P.E.W.). It was because of Hermione’s obsession to give the house elves the same rights and freedoms of wizards that Ron remembered them during the Battle of Hogwarts. Also, S.P.E.W. was a catalyst for more of Ron’s witty banter.

2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I loved this story BECAUSE of Sirius Black. I always imagined Viggo Mortensen playing his part in the movies (maybe because Lord of the Rings fever had gotten the best of me when both sets of movies were released around the same time). But I think what made me love this book the most (besides Sirius Black) are the Weasley Twins. They’re starting to play an integral role in the storyline by giving Harry the Marauder’s Map, which led to the discovery of Sirius being his godfather and Peter Pettigrew still being alive–the sneaky rat!

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Is it cliché to say the last book is my favorite? I don’t know, maybe it’s because I was excited that Harry, Ron and Hermione have matured significantly, despite the fact they’re only 17 years old, and have the wisdom that most adults twice their age don’t possess. The trio fights for what’s good and what’s right, despite the loss of their second (or only) father-figure Albus Dumbledore. Perhaps it was because of Dumbledore’s passing that they were able to finally take charge of the situation rather than run to him for advice. In fact, I love that everyone at Hogwarts was able to take charge and step up.

Also, Snape’s pensieve memory. Talk about handling all your emotions at once.

Honestly, I remember reading this book only once and crying the three consecutive days it took me to finish it. What an emotional roller-coaster and enjoyable ending to the series.

 

Whew! That was a bit difficult… Too many were close calls. What’s your ranking on the Harry Potter books?

Literary Distractions’ 2016 Biannual Recap

How is it already July 1?! I hope my Canadian friends are having/have had a great Canada Day. To my American friends in the United States, be safe as we prepare to (and actually) celebrate the 4th of July.

Now that we’re officially halfway through the year, I thought it’d be a great time to do a progress check-in on how much I’ve read and my new year’s resolutions (anyone else even remember what yours are?…er…were?).

Books Read

January

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin

Nobody’s Cuter Than You: A Memoir about the Beauty of Friendship by Melanie Shankle

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter #1)(Illustrated Edition) by J.K. Rowling

Self-Help by Miranda Sings

Crushed (Pretty Little Liars #13) by Sara Shepard

Deadly (Pretty Little Liars #14) by Sara Shepard

Toxic (Pretty Little Liars #15) by Sara Shepard

February

Black Dahlia & White Rose: Stories (audiobook) by Joyce Carol Oates

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou

Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter #2) by J.K. Rowling

March

What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

April

Oops! Didn’t read anything!

May

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

June

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do by Sarah Knight

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

daisy-line-break-2

2016 Resolutions Progress Check

  1. Read more books that I own. Of the books I’ve read this year, I own five. And considering I owned 216 unread books at the beginning of the year, but then also having gotten rid of over 100 books (and still purging), I think five is a good start.
  2. Catalog my books more reasonably. This isn’t a thing until I’ve purged enough books to get to the cataloging stage.
  3. Donate books I don’t need. However, I’ve been donating the books I have purged! #progress
  4. Finish reading the Pretty Little Liars series. I’m ONE book away from FINALLY finishing the Pretty Little Liars series. I’m only doing this because I’m not a quitter but Sara Shepard has been pushing her luck with me on this…
  5. Reread the Harry Potter series in full. I was on a roll with rereading one Harry Potter book a month, but then March came along and I wasn’t in the mood to keep reading. Perhaps the latter half of the year will be different.
  6. Read more memoirs. I’ve read three this year. That’s more than other years. So I’d count that as a win.
  7. Read at least 25 books. I’ve read 15 books so far and I’m in the middle of my 16 book (17, if you count an audiobook). According to Goodreads, that’s 60% toward my reading goal for the year!
  8. Blog more regularly. I started strong this year, but then March came along…
  9. De-clutter. A slow task. A daunting task. But I’ve made some progress (see book purge). But seriously though. I’ve sold or donated three bags of clothes, several pairs of shoes and nearly 100 books. That’s definitely progress. There’s so much more I could do though.
  10. Exercise more. This one I’m proud of because since the beginning of the year, I’ve lost 10 lbs (or 4.5 kg). March was a slow reading month because it was when I finally got into a workout routine of 4 nights at the gym. I have a different routine now, but I’m still exercising regularly.

 

How is 2016 fairing for you so far? What’s your progress on your reading goals or new year’s resolutions? 

Review: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

what-we-saw-aaron-hartzler

What We Saw

Aaron Hartzler
Harper Teen; 2015
978-0-06-233874-7
Hardcover; 336 pages

Synopsis

Kate Weston can piece together most of the bash at John Doone’s house: shots with Stacey Stallard, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early—the feeling that maybe he’s becoming more than just the guy she’s known since they were kids.

But when a picture of Stacey passed out over Deacon Mills’s shoulder appears online the next morning, Kate suspects she doesn’t have all the details. When Stacey levels charges against four of Kate’s classmates, the whole town erupts into controversy. Facts that can’t be ignored begin to surface, and every answer Kate finds leads back to the same question: Where was Ben when a terrible crime was committed?

This story—inspired by real events—from debut novelist Aaron Hartzler takes an unflinching look at silence as a form of complicity. It’s a book about the high stakes of speaking up, and the razor thin line between guilt and innocence that so often gets blurred, one hundred and forty characters at a time.

From Goodreads.

Review

If you witnessed something that you knew was wrong or illegal, would you report it? Would you say something, even if that means accusing several star players from your local high school basketball (or any sport) team? Especially if they were on their way to win the state championship? What We Saw sheds light on what teenagers and even adults would do to keep the reputation of the “popular kids” in tact, even if there are witnesses who can report the truth.

Continue reading

Review: The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

the-things-we-keep-sally-hepworth-2The Things We Keep
Sally Hepworth
St. Martin’s Press; 2016
978-1-2500-5190-5
Hardcover; 338 pages

Synopsis

Anna Forster, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease at only thirty-eight years old, knows that her family is doing what they believe to be best when they take her to Rosalind House, an assisted living facility. She also knows there’s just one other resident her age, Luke. What she does not expect is the love that blossoms between her and Luke even as she resists her new life at Rosalind House. As her disease steals more and more of her memory, Anna fights to hold on to what she knows, including her relationship with Luke.

When Eve Bennett is suddenly thrust into the role of single mother she finds herself putting her culinary training to use at Rosalind house. When she meets Anna and Luke she is moved by the bond the pair has forged. But when a tragic incident leads Anna’s and Luke’s families to separate them, Eve finds herself questioning what she is willing to risk to help them.

From Goodreads.

Review

Where do I even start?

Fifteen months ago, Anna is escorted by her twin brother Jack to Rosalind House, an assisted living facility, where she is officially checking in as a resident. Though she is only 38 years old, Anna has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. While her motor functions are still unaffected by the disease, her memory has shown signs of decline, and around-the-clock care at Rosalind House was Jack’s preferred facility because of another resident with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, Luke.

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Audiobook Review: Black Dahlia & White Rose: Stories by Joyce Carol Oates

black-dahlia-white-rose-jco
Black Dahlia & White Rose: Stories
Joyce Carol Oates, author
Paul Michael Garcia, Coleen Marlo, Tavia Gilbert, narrators
Dreamscape Media; 2012
978-1-6112-0961-7
Audiobook; 7 CDs / 8 hrs. 47 mins.

Synopsis

With an unflinching eye, Oates charts the surprising ways in which the world we think we know can unexpectedly reveal its darker contours. From the title story, which maps the friendship between two beautiful and mysteriously doomed young women in 1940s Los Angeles – Elizabeth Short, known as the ‘Black Dahlia,’ victim of a long-unsolved and particularly brutal murder, and her roommate Norma Jeane Baker, soon to become Marilyn Monroe, to the tale of the wife of a well-to-do businessman who is ravished by, and elopes with, a lover who is a hyena – Black Dahlia & White Rose explores the commingling of sexual love and violence, the tumult of family life, and resonates with Oates’ predilection for dark humor and her gift for voice.

From Goodreads.

Review

As the name of the collection and synopsis of the collection suggest, this collection of short stories with tragic endings or frightening scenarios. And there’s no doubt that Joyce Carol Oates is the literary queen of giving her readers heightened fear and anxiety in her stories. The title story Black Dahlia and White Rose is about the true murder and investigation of Elizabeth (Betty) Short in 1947. Joyce Carol Oates writes her story from the points of view of Betty, her roommate was Norma Jeane Baker (soon-to-be Marilyn Monroe), and their photographer K. Keinhardt. Each telling their perception of Betty, her life, her ambitions and even her murder.

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