Sunday, February 19, 2017

2016 Book of the Year: Final Four


Well...hello again! Are you enjoying my repeating disappearing act? It seems that time has a way of getting away from me these days. We've had a few crazy weeks here on the farm, so my time has been a bit disjointed. But...the show must go on. And we have a 2016 BOTY to find!

I know it's been a while, so here's a refresher of where the bracket currently stands. Eight competitors working to take the title.

How about we get rid of half of these? Sound like a plan?

Top Left Bracket:

vs.

A 4-star rating against a 3-star rating. You know what that means. Easy elimination. An unfortunate one, but (thanks to the rules) an easy one nonetheless. We say goodbye to Mindy Kaling here and Porko von Popbutton by William Pene du Bois continues on to the Final Four. Crazy...I think this is the first time ever I've had a children's book competing in the Final Four.


Bottom Left Bracket:

vs.

Two 4-star rated books. Both fantastic reads. This one was a difficult choice. I seem to always have at least one bracket where I waffle every year. This pairing definitely meets that definition. I struggled a lot over what I wanted to do here. Ultimately, as always, I just had to pull of the band-aid and go with my gut. And so...as good as it was and as much as I would highly recommend it as a read, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo loses out to Annie Proulx's The Shipping News. There's just too much literary mastery present in Proulx's work to let it lose out here.


Top Right Bracket:

vs.

3.5 stars vs. 4 stars. Dang it, Harry Potter. I'll admit though, I don't feel too bad about this one. I just didn't love Cursed Child as much as I had hoped. Besides...I adore Morgan Matson and Since You've Been Gone gave me the feels. Since You've Been Gone moves on to the Final Four.


 Bottom Right Bracket:

vs.

Once again, two 4-star rated books face off. And yes...it was another difficult bracket to decide. But...I think literature wins out here once again. Lindsey Stirling's book was entertaining and it was endearing, but Tom Stoppard's Arcadia has staying power. It's filled with literary merit and I just couldn't let it go. The final contender in the 2016 Final Four is Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. Again...another first. No play has ever made it this far in the challenge.


And there we have it...a very eclectic Final Four. Four 4-star books all facing off to try and take the ultimate title. Which one are you rooting for?

Sunday, January 29, 2017

2016 Book of the Year: Elite Eight


Don't worry. I hadn't forgotten that I was in the middle of whittling books down to my favorite read of 2016. It's been a very long and trying week and I've not been feeling that energetic. I'm in the middle of my 8th month of pregnancy and I'm starting to feel pretty exhausted and uncomfortable. 

In addition, we had a pig with a very difficult farrowing early in the week that resulted in the loss of several piglets. We had the surviving four piglets in the house, but unfortunately lost one yesterday to seizures. We had revived her twice and were monitoring and nursing her for nearly fourteen hours straight, but she just couldn't pull through. We were both fairly devastated. Our farm is a business, but our animals have never just been a dollar sign. We care very much about them all and to have one hurting or suffering is incredibly hard. To lose one is heartbreaking. Her three siblings are still going strong and getting bigger and healthier by the day, but we aren't out of the woods yet. We're hoping that in the next week they will continue to do well and we can feel a little more confident that we have succeeded in preparing them for a nice, long life.

Enough of the depressing stuff though...I've had enough of that in the last couple of days. How about instead, we talk books?

This is where we begin for my 2016 BOTY Bracket...

In my last two posts, I gave a brief review of each of the challengers in both the left and right halves of the bracket. Today, we're going to cut the participants in half. Some of these eliminations are simple. Some...not so much.


Bracket 1:


The first rule of my eliminations has always been to default to the ratings. Higher ratings always win. No excuses, no exceptions. So...some of these eliminations will be pretty cut and dry. In this case, we have a 4-star review vs. a 3-star. That means The Goal is out and Porko von Popbutton lives to fight another day.


Bracket 2:
v.


These were both received 3-star ratings, so there was a bit more deliberation involved in choosing a winner. I will admit though, this one was fairly easy to decide. Kaling edges out Hessler simply because I find a humorous autobiography more interesting and enjoyable than a travel memoir in this particular case. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling advances to the Elite Eight.


Bracket 3:
v.


Four stars v. two. No contest. Annie Proulx easily wins this round and The Shipping News is moving on.


Bracket 4:
v.


I enjoyed the Faulkner and may read it again in the future, but once again ratings win out. 3.5 stars v. 4 stars. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo edges out the competition to take the bracket.


Bracket 5:
v.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling (adaptation by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne)


This one is a case where my failure to adhere to Goodreads's whole star rating system works in someone's favor. 3 stars vs. 3 1/2. Harry Potter, though not as impressive as I had originally hoped, beats out Alexie to move into the next round.


Bracket 6:
v.


Ah, the ratings match-ups are making a lot of these nice and simple. I'll take it! Matson's 4-star rating takes down Harris's 3 stars handily. Since You've Been Gone takes bracket 6 and pushes on.


Bracket 7:
v.


Two stars versus four stars and a pretty cover? Fukuzawa didn't stand a chance. Winner, winner? Arcadia by Tom Stoppard.


Bracket 8:
v.


Ah...and we save the most challenging bracket for last. Two good books, both 4-star ratings. Authors? Both adorable and funny. I really didn't like that they were pitted against each other right away. Darn you random sequence generator! But...we all know how it goes. It starts getting painful at some stage in the game. It took me some deliberation, but I finally made a decision on this one. Sometimes it's hard to say goodbye. The ultimate winner of this bracket of awesomeness? Lindsey Stirling's The Only Pirate at the Party. Sorry, Tyler. Better luck next time.


And there you have it...we're officially down to eight. I realized while writing up this round that I didn't have a single 5-star read last year. I find that incredibly sad. I'm going to have to work a little harder at it this year. But...there are still some darned good contenders. Given the ratings rule, some of you undoubtedly recognize that there are some obvious eliminations that will be coming. But never fear, there will be some painful eliminations along the way. And ultimately, there will be a very good book that takes the crown. Can you guess the winner yet? 

Next up: Eliminations to the Final Four...


Saturday, January 21, 2017

2016 Book of the Year: Right Side Opening Bracket


This weekend, I was actually planning on participating in the 24 in 48 Read-a-Thon. But...I was lazy with my schoolwork this week and fell a bit behind, plus I have a pile of projects that really need to get finished/started/worked on around here. Baby is only about 2 months away and things are still a bit chaotic and unprepared. Okay...a lot chaotic. So...I bailed. Besides, I said that my next post was the right side of the bracket, so at least I'm keeping to my word on that.

As a reminder, this is what the starting bracket for this year's Book of the Year looks like. I went through the basics of the left side last time, so now we're moving on to the other half of the challengers.


Ready? Here we go...

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie


Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Rating: 3 stars

I had been wanting to read this one since it caused a stir in my local community. I snagged it as a used book and, while still worth the read, it's one that I'm glad I got at a discounted price. (I'm a book snob, so I always like a deal.) To put it bluntly, I really didn't see the reasoning behind the controversy. I've read much more shocking books. This one seemed pretty tame, all things considered. It's on the younger end of the young adult fiction spectrum; I would say geared toward middle schoolers. For my thinking, it's appropriate for that age set and provides a good set of moral lessons for an age group where learning to treat others with equality and fairness is paramount.


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling (adaptation by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne)


Genre: Play / Young Adult Fiction / Fantasy
Rating: 3 stars (3 1/2 outside of Goodreads)

For those living under a rock, this is the script for a play based on J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter. I bought this very shortly after its release and read it within a couple of days. I wrote a fairly lengthy review on it on Goodreads, but the basic gist of my feelings for this were that it was good, but not as good as the core Harry Potter series. I didn't mind the play format, but I didn't like that it was so obvious in the writing that J.K. Rowling was not the sole writer. Her writing is magical and wonderful and this just wasn't it. I had attachments to the characters based on the earlier books and this story didn't seem to keep true to them as much as I had hoped. It's more like fan fiction than a true Potter work, but in the end...it was worth the read. 




Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Rating: 4 stars

Since You've Been Gone had been sitting on my bookshelf for a very long time. I think I was afraid to read it because of how much I loved Amy & Roger's Epic Detour. I didn't want to be disappointed when I expected so much of Morgan Matson's writing. But...when it came time to grab books to take on a plane, this one went in the bag because I figured it would be a good and fast read. I was right. And it was worth it. It had playlists just like Amy & Roger and I just wanted to hug Morgan Matson for that. It's such a fun and cute thing to do. But...because I'm getting apparently stingy with my 5-star ratings, the overly perfect ending just didn't sit right with me. I don't know why. Why can't I just be happy for these characters?!?! Maybe I'm just getting old and cynical. Either way, I still gave it a nice solid 4.




Genre: Memoir / Humor
Rating: 3 stars

I had been anticipating the release of this book for quite a while and managed to get it for review, which totally had me stoked. And yet, for some reason, I then let it sit on the shelf untouched for a few months. Eventually, I buckled down and read it. I was pretty entertained by Harris's cheeky humor and his way of just infusing his happy-go-lucky personality into everything, but I was surprisingly disappointed by the Choose Your Own Adventure approach. I must just be too much of a traditional reader at this point because I couldn't play along with the game...I had to read the book start to finish in order to make sure I didn't miss anything, but didn't have to read the same thing more than once. I know...I'm such a party pooper.




Genre: Historical Autobiography
Rating: 2 stars

This was required reading for my Asian history class. While it did provide a lot of good historical context that gave me a first-hand view of the events we studied for the course, it was incredibly slow to get started and he seemed to be a bit cocky with his writing. The book is filled with piles of footnotes that probably take up more space in the book than Fukuzawa's actual memories. Ultimately, this just wasn't my thing.


Arcadia by Tom Stoppard


Genre: Play
Rating: 4 stars

I read this play as part of my Literary Analysis course. I wasn't originally thrilled about reading a play, but I will admit that I enjoyed a little bit of cover lust. This play has an interesting plot structure with the entire plot taking place in a single location, but with two different plot lines 100 years apart. It's incredibly smart and fun. I actually expect that this one will be up for a reread. That's how much I enjoyed it.


Binge by Tyler Oakley


Genre: Memoir / Humor
Rating: 4 stars

Binge was my first read of 2016 and was a gift from the boyfriend after hearing me talk about how much I enjoyed Tyler Oakley. For those who don't know him, Oakley is a popular YouTuber and he's incredibly sweet and funny. He's a character with a love for life and he has no problem with being 100% genuine, no matter the circumstances. His memoir was a lovely collection of funny stories and I laughed out loud on more than one occasion.




Genre: Memoir / Humor
Rating: 4 stars

I've liked Lindsey Stirling since the moment I first saw one of her YouTube videos. She's a smart and sweet girl with a huge bucket of talent. When I saw that this book existed, I just felt a need to read it. I'm not huge on autobiographies (though my 2016 reads would certainly make everyone think otherwise), but I had some odd need to know more about her. Her memoir (an odd thing to call the book of a 30-year-old) was as cute as she is and read incredibly easy. She is an honest and down-to-earth person, but still manages to keep some of her personal life respectfully private during the narrative. The Only Pirate at the Party was worth the read and the money.


And there you have it! Sixteen competitors all wanting to win the title of my 2016 Book of the Year. Have your predictions for the final four? Or maybe you already think you've picked out my number one read... We'll have to see. Half of the contenders get the ax in the next post. Are you ready for some heartbreak?

Oh...and for the record...yes...I already know the winner.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

2016 Book of the Year: Opening Bracket


It wouldn't be January if I didn't do my Book of the Year Bracket. I'm admitting this right out of the gate...my reading for last year was pretty pathetic. I only finished eighteen books during the entire year. That's just a wee bit shy of my goal of forty. Oops. But...tradition is tradition, so we're going to carry on, despite the reduced number of books to work with.

It's an odd mix this year. In order to fit in a standard bracket, I reduced the eighteen books to sixteen by removing two books from the list: an anthology and a pregnancy book...difficult ones to use as challengers. Still...that leaves me with a very...eclectic group of books. Out of the sixteen challengers, nine are fiction and seven are non-fiction. That's a lot of non-fiction. Included are two plays, a children's book, a travel book, a religion book, and five (what?!?) autobiographies. It was a weird year of reading, you guys. Even more surprising...only four of the fiction novels are young adult fiction. That might be a record low in YA fiction percentage. This is what happens when the majority of your reads come from course assignments.

I arranged the bracket using a random list generator based on when I completed each book. Once again, that totally bit me in the behind in that it (spoiler alert!) paired two of my favorites against each other in the bottom right bracket. I considered tweaking the bracket to suit my preferences, but...I kept my crap together and kept the bracket honest.

Here's where we start...

Now...let's meet the left side challengers...

Porko von Popbutton by William Pene du Bois


Genre: Children's book
Rating: 4 stars

I read this one as a recommendation from the boyfriend. It was his favorite childhood book. I have to say...it's a cute story, but it would totally not fly in today's PC society. One of a series of books based on the seven deadly sins, Porko von Popbutton focuses on gluttony. There is a set of moral lessons within the pages, just a somewhat questionable approach in light of today's approach to childhood obesity. But...it was published in the 60's, so I'll cut it a bit of slack. 


The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt


Genre: Business / Fiction
Rating: 3 stars

I read The Goal as an assignment for my course in Supply Chain Management. It was better than I expected it to be, to be honest. There are a lot of good business lessons in it, along with a lot of basic economic principles demonstrated in practical ways, but it also reads like a good story. It actually took me a while to realize that it was a novel and not non-fiction. I guess that means it's fairly well-written. My biggest disappointment with this book? Rather lack luster ending. I am very picky about my endings.




Genre: Travel memoir
Rating: 3 stars

River Town was another course assignment, this time for my Asian history course. It follows the author's time as a Peace Corps associated teacher in China during the late nineties. I found this one interesting as my friend (and fellow blogger at In Search of the End of the Sidewalk) also spent some time under the same circumstances. I enjoyed hearing her views of the book, as she could see the narrative from a incredibly different perspective. Overall, the organization of the story was a bit rambling for me, but it gave me some decent exposure to a culture that I prior knew very little about.


Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling


Genre: Autobiography / Humor
Rating: 3 stars

Ah...a book I actually chose because I wanted to read it. Yes...those did exist last year. Why Not Me? was actually my final read of 2016. I read it on a plane on my way back to Idaho for Christmas. I have to say...it's a good airline read. Relaxed and entertaining, it's quippy and fun. But...ultimately, as much as I enjoy Mindy...you could tell this was a follow-up (likely obligated by some prior contract) and it just wasn't as much fun as her first book.




Genre: Contemporary fiction
Rating: 4 stars

This was the read for my final project in my literary analysis course. I ended up writing a huge term paper on it. Thank goodness it was an interesting book. I had never read Proulx before, but I had heard her talked up several times. With good reason. Her writing is beautiful. Her characters are odd, but still realistic. Her narrative just worked. Really well. She is a master at using literary devices and I enjoyed very much analyzing the characters, their interactions, and her subtle mastery of her craft. And now you're wondering why it wasn't rated 5 stars. Honestly? I just wasn't in love with the story. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it didn't grip me in the way I feel a 5 star read should. Ultimately...I'm just getting stingier about my ratings.




Genre: Religious nonfiction
Rating: 2 stars

I'll be honest...this was likely my least favorite book of the year. It's more or less a primer for Islamic culture and the history of its religious sects. It was required reading for my Asian history course and I was highly disappointed in it. It's incredibly dense to read in the beginning and I trudged through it. Nonfiction is hard enough for me to make it through, and this approach was just too rigid.




Genre: Classic Fiction
Rating: 3 stars (technically 3.5 stars outside of Goodreads' system) 

Another book from Literary Analysis. Let's call this one an oldie, but a goodie. It definitely has fantastic literary merit. Faulkner was very good at subtlety and there is a lot hidden within the pages. Without a doubt, this one is a novel which will reveal more with each subsequent read. I don't frequently do rereads, but I have a feeling this one may come along my TBR list again in the future.


If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo


Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Rating: 4 stars

This was a gifted book from another book blogger, the lovely Julianne from Outlandish Lit. I had heard about it for a while and was fairly curious. I was highly impressed. It's a brave narrative, but one that is becoming more accepted as our society becomes more tolerant. For that, I am grateful. Diverse books can always be a great thing. This one is among a small handful of trans literature out there. If I Was Your Girl is amazingly written with fantastically complex characters and realistic dialogue. I read this one in a single sitting, completely fascinated by the story. It's not overly in your face, nor is it highly politicized. It is simply the story of a teenager trying to be accepted. Absolutely worth the read.


Whew! Maybe it's a good thing I didn't read many books last year. This post got long really fast. That wraps up the left side of the bracket. You can probably already figure out a few of the winners and unfortunate losers that will take place in the first elimination, but undoubtedly there will still be a few unpredictables (just the way I like it).

Next up? The right side challengers. There's some good competition in that side as well...including the most heated bracket of the opener.

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