Book #10 of 2014: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

This book caught my eye on the bookshelves of Barnes & Noble years ago when it first came out. The bright orange cover, upside-down dog, and title written in all lowercase intrigued me. I read the first couple of pages and put it on my mental to-read list. Apparently it has been on everyone else’s list because it’s been on hold at the library pretty much ever since, so I sort of forgot about it until now.

Christopher Boone is an autistic teen and has difficulty understanding people’s expressions, emotions, etc. He loves prime numbers, hates the colors yellow and brown, and can’t eat food if it is touching on his plate. He lives alone with his dad ever since his mom died. One night he is out for a walk and discovers that his neighbor’s dog has been brutally murdered in the front yard. He likes dogs, so he walks over and hugs it, immediately incriminating himself when the neighbor comes outside and sees him. He decides to write a book while he attempts to solve the murder, which leads him to discovering many things about his family he wasn’t quite prepared to face.

I wanted to love this book. I’ve heard great things about it and have read lots of favorable reviews. Maybe my expectations were too high? I didn’t love it, you guys. I can’t even say that I liked it. I found it long and drawn out, even though it’s relatively short at 240 pages. I skimmed large portions when Christopher was rambling about Sherlock Holmes or other things that didn’t contribute to the story in any way. I’m sure these entries were supposed to provide the reader more insight into how his mind worked, but I found them tedious and a waste of time. Christopher’s personality and quirks were clear from all of the other chapters that actually had to do with the investigation.

I’m glad I finally had a chance to check it out, but I don’t know that I would encourage anyone else to go out of their way to read it.

Book #9 of 2014: The Midwife’s Confession

I was given this book as a gift, by mistake, by a friend of mine. A bunch of women in our circle were reading it, so when the author stopped by the local bookstore, my friend got signed copies for everyone. She handed it to me, and I’m guessing the blank expression on my face was not quite the reaction she was hoping for. I said thank you, obviously, and then asked her what the occasion was, and we both laughed when we realized what had happened. I put it on my bookshelf with every intention of reading it, but it’s sat there for a couple of years now.

I was in need of a new book to start before I could get back to the library, so I figured it was the perfect time to pick this one up and give it a shot. I’ve never read anything by Diane Chamberlain before, and I didn’t know anything about the plot, so I went into this with zero expectations.

Noelle, Tara, and Emerson (horrid name) have been best friends since college, but when Noelle takes her own life one night, the other two women realize they actually knew very little about her. They are tasked with the depressing job of cleaning out her house and going through her things, which leads to some discoveries none of them were quite ready to learn.

In theory, this is an excellent storyline. However, after a couple of chapters, I was on the verge of creating a Who’s Who index as a cheat sheet because I couldn’t keep all of the characters straight. This only worsened as the book went on and all of the drama started to unfold. This novel read like a trashy daytime soap opera. It’s one thing to have one or two dirty little secrets. That would have been FINE. The author could have stopped there and the story would have been palatable. But no. She went on and on and threw in every single cliched plot twist I can possible think of, making it completely unrealistic and borderline annoying. No, not borderline. It WAS annoying. After a while, I could see the next thing coming a mile away and it made me rage-y. I finished this book only because it takes a LOT for me to give up on a book, but this one really cut it close.

It pains me to say it, but I did not enjoy this book at all and do not recommend it unless secret siblings, affairs, love triangles, babies swapped at birth, painkiller addiction, and MORE all in ONE book are really your thing. Then this is right up your alley.

Erin vs. the Post Office

USPS: 1
Erin: 0

So. My husband and I don’t normally exchange gifts on Valentine’s Day or even celebrate at all, but this year we both separately thought it would be a nice thing to do. We ended up buying each other cards and gifts without even knowing the other was planning the same thing!

Hubby ordered my gifts online, and what with the snowpocalypse happening around here, the packages were delayed. We can’t have things delivered to our house because there are some lovely people who like to follow the mail/UPS/Fedex trucks around the neighborhood and then steal people’s packages. What makes this even more frustrating is that we live in a nice neighborhood. Things like that should not happen here, but they do, so we ship everything to my dad’s house instead.

The tracking said that they should have been delivered on the 14th, but they weren’t. We checked again on Saturday and it said they were being delivered that day. I had been at my dad’s earlier and I locked the front porch when I left, forgetting about the mail needing to be delivered. At about 4:00pm, we trudged out in the 67th snowstorm of the season (I may be bitter and exaggerating) and went to my dad’s. No package. There was a mail truck down the street, but it pulled away and left. We waited for a little while and then came home.

Later that night hubby checked the tracking info again (we’re nothing if not obsessive!) and it had been updated to say that there had been an attempted delivery at 4:08pm, another at 6:00pm, and that a delivery notification had been left each time. Uh, no. I checked with my dad the next day, and he said there weren’t any notifications and definitely no deliveries.

Of course the following day was a holiday, which meant no mail delivery. On Tuesday morning, the tracking had been updated again to say that the package was ready to be picked up from the post office. I sacrificed my lunch break to go over there and wait in line. When I got up to the counter, I explained the situation.

USPS Lady: Where is the delivery notification?
Me: I don’t have one.
USPS: I can’t give you a package without the notification.
Me: I understand that, but the tracking says there were TWO notifications left when in fact there were NONE. How do I get my package?
USPS: I need the notification.
Me: …
USPS: (without checking the tracking on her computer or anything) They’ll probably deliver it today. They took a lot of packages out this morning.
Me: Let’s say it’s not delivered today, just like it wasn’t delivered on Friday or Saturday. Then what?
USPS: (stares at me blankly, exhales) Here’s the number to the supervisor upstairs.

Seriously? You can’t even look in your computer and tell me where my stuff is? If it’s on a truck or sitting in the back being held hostage because I don’t have a nonexistent delivery notification?

After work, I drove to my dad’s and sure enough, there were two packages there. But, instead of being inside the dry porch with the rest of the mail, they had been left in a puddle of melted snow, being dripped on by the baseball bat-size icicles hanging off the front porch. Thanks a lot, USPS. Awesome job.

Book #8 of 2014: The Time Keeper

I was hesitant about this book. I mean, I love Mitch Albom, but when I read the jacket copy for this it just didn’t spark my interest. To be honest, I was more than a little disappointed the first time I picked it up in the store to check it out. I ended up putting it right back on the shelf and wandering over the YA section for something a little more me.

But, when I was at the library last weekend looking for new reading material, this caught my eye and I figured it was at least worth a try. It was short, and Albom never disappoints.

The book travels back and forth between different time periods as it tells the story of three people: Dor, Vincent, and Sarah. As is the case in novels like this one, they are all destined to meet and change each other’s lives forever. Dor (typing that is seriously annoying because my computer swears I really meant to type “For”) is Father Time, locked away in a cave in complete solitude after watching his wife’s dying moments. He is called upon to change the course of Vincent and Sarah’s lives, to make them appreciate the time they’ve been given.

This book wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t my favorite either. It felt a little preachy at times, really harping on the point that we all need to be thankful for whatever time we’re given here on earth because you never know when it will be over. While true, it didn’t sell me. It seemed a bit — I hate to say it — cliche. I mean, the sick old man who is afraid to die and wants to prolong his life? The heartbroken teenager who wants to end hers? And then in swoops Dor to save the day. Trust me, that’s not a spoiler — the ending was obvious from the very first page.

Book #7 of 2014: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

The Office remains one of my all-time favorite TV shows even now that it’s off the air. The first couple of seasons are the best, in my opinion, because it is so relatable. Anyone who works in a random office can nod in agreement with many of the situations, even some of the more exaggerated ones.

As an normal fangirl would, as soon as I signed up for a Twitter account I immediately started following (I believe this is the PC term for “stalking”) all of my favorite celebrities, including everyone from The Office. Over time, I realized who was really worthy of my valuable internet “following” time and I whittled down the bunch to Mindy Kaling, Jenna Fischer, and Angela Kinsey. When I heard that Mindy had written a book, well, I knew I had to read it. I’m extremely picky (read: cheap) about buying books, so I planned to either ask for it as a gift or take it out from the library. The problem with my plan to take out books from the library is that I don’t make myself a list and then I get there and forget everything I want to read.

I finally made a list on Goodreads and used the Internet to see which of my planned to-read books were actually in stock at my library before going. I ended up getting My Story by Elizabeth Smart, The Timekeeper by Mitch Albom, There’s No Place Like Here by Cecelia Ahern, and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling. (As an aside, I was so excited with my proper planning that I showed my haul to my husband when I got home. He looked at the Cecelia Ahern book and said, “You read that already.” I read the jacket copy and it did sound somewhat familiar, but I still denied it. I told him I took it out but never read it. He was sure I had. I started flipping through the pages and sure enough, I have already read this book and had completely forgotten.)

Anyway. As anyone who watches The Office or The Mindy Project or follows Kaling online knows, she is hilarious. She comes off as totally approachable, like you could be friends with her. And unlike a lot of Hollywood women, she eats and isn’t afraid to make fun of herself. I love it. Her book is a collection of essays about sometimes random topics (boys that were mean to her when she was younger, her favorite comedies, why she doesn’t understand one night stands), but it works. It almost reads like a collection of blog entries as it chronicles her life from elementary school through college and first jobs to The Office and into her personal life. I literally laughed out loud while reading this, and at one point last night while the hubby was sleeping soundly next to me, I had a series of those quiet convulsing laughs that one has when trying to stifle the chuckles.

Kaling is a wonderful writer who is funny, engaging, and dangerously down to earth. You would never know she is a celebrity because she never once throws it in your face or name drops or mentions it other than when absolutely necessary to explain a point. Like when she talks about working at SNL, you’re all impressed with how cool and famous she is, but then she brings you back down when she reminds you that the night she went out with Amy Poehler and everyone else, she forgot to bring cash and had to borrow $20 from another writer whom she barely knew.

If you’re looking for an easy weekend read (she tells you herself that the book is a two-day read, max) then I highly suggest adding this one to your to-read list next time you go to the library. I’ll make sure to take it off of mine so I don’t accidentally take it out again.

Grown Ups Aren’t Supposed to Have Homework

I distinctly remember being in high school and sitting at the breakfast table with my dad. I was complaining about having to go to school and he told me that he would gladly trade with me because school was much better than work. I pointed out that that was absolutely not true because when you’re working and you leave the office, you’re done (I realize now that this is not entirely factual, unfortunately). However, with school, you leave and then have to go home and write papers and read chapters and do math problems and study and on and on and on. It never ends.

Most of my adult life, I’ve been lucky enough to get away with not having to take work home with me. When I leave at the end of the day, I’m done for the day. I get to come home and relax and forget (well, try) about all the nonsense I dealt with that day. Until now.

As we were leaving last Friday, we were each handed an envelope. Inside is a three page questionnaire that we need to complete by tomorrow for our annual reviews. I’ve heard of my corporate friends having to do this, but seeing as I work in a 9-person office and my bosses have poked fun at these very questionnaires in the past, I never ever expected that I would have to deal with one. Now that I’m faced with it, I don’t know how to answer the questions with any degree of honesty without also asking to be fired.

For example, there is a question that asks what my greatest accomplishment at work has been over the past year. Considering the fact that I do glorified customer service (the same thing I’ve done since the day I started almost seven years ago), I’d say my greatest accomplishment has been getting out of bed in the morning and dragging my depressed, bitter ass to that wretched place every day to get talked down to and yelled at and generally abused by our clients.

Then there’s the question about how I have promoted camaraderie and teamwork amongst my coworkers. After my eyes rolled back to front-facing in their sockets and I stopped snorting, the only answer I could come up with is that I’ve restrained myself from punching anyone in the throat. If that doesn’t scream “teamwork,” well, I don’t know what does.

And my personal favorite asks us to describe two of our career goals and how we plan to accomplish them. Does this mean my career goals at this company? Or in a general “what do you want to be when you grow up” sense? Because if we’re talking about my “career goals” (cue the snorting again) at this company, well, then I think I’ve failed myself. This job was supposed to be a temporary one until I discovered what I really wanted to do with my life. Nearly seven years later, and here I am. So, if we’re talking about my goals here, in this job that I loathe, then I would have to say I only have one: quit, so that I can do whatever it is I am truly meant to do.

Book #6 of 2014: My Story

I remember following the Elizabeth Smart story on the news back in 2002. It was kind of hard not to, considering it was all anyone was talking about on the news and in the media. A young teenage girl abducted from her bedroom, right out from under her younger sister who was sleeping next to her in the same bed. I, like many others I’m sure, was convinced that she was gone forever. I mean, how many kidnapping victims are usually found alive?

When she was found, I was elated. I didn’t know her or her family or have any ties to her whatsoever, but I saw her smiling face on my TV every day and watched her parents cry for her, and it felt like her homecoming was a win for the entire country. Almost immediately, everyone was dying to know what she had endured, how she survived, and how she would move on with her life after those horrific six months.

I watched bits and pieces of the trial, but not enough to really learn the details. When I saw that she wrote a book covering the entire ordeal, I knew I had to read it. I picked it up from the library on Saturday and finished it later that night. Considering the subject matter, it’s hard for me to say that the book was good, but it was. It was hard to read at times, but I also found myself distanced from it a lot – like I was reading fiction instead of this poor girl’s actual account of how she was sexually abused and tortured and manipulated.

However, there were a few things I didn’t care for.

(1) The book is written in an incredibly child-like tone, which I get because she’s not a writer and she was only 14 years old at the time of her abduction.

(2) There are an excessive amount of exclamation points. Like, to the point of being distracting.

(3) Some of the information is contradictory or lacking. She focuses a lot on her red pajamas in the beginning and makes a comment early on about the plans that Mitchell had for them and how she wouldn’t learn of this plan until later. That sounds like foreshadowing to me, yet the plan is never explained and the pajamas aren’t mentioned at all again until the very end when she is remembering what it was like on the first night’s climb up the mountain.

She also uses vague phrases like, “It was too awful to describe.” Well, you’re writing a book. Try. Try to describe it. She alludes to many things, but then never goes on to give any details or explanation. I know that maybe this is a coping mechanism, or has to do with her religious beliefs, but then don’t mention anything at all. Don’t tell your readers that the captors were discussing “something terrible” that you would have to do the next day, but then not tell us what it was.

She frequently explains that she never tried to get away because Mitchell threatened her and her family, saying that he had friends who would kill her family if she attempted to escape. She believed him and didn’t want to risk her family’s lives. Then, at the end of the book, she mentions in passing that there were two escape attempts that ended badly. When did these take place? What did she try to do? How far did she get? What happened afterward?

When the police finally confront her and realize who she is, she is asked by one officer if she is Elizabeth Smart. I remember reading in the news that she answered strangely – said something along the lines of, “if you say I am” or “thou sayest.” In the book, she says that she answered, “I am Elizabeth.”

(4) She claims that she has had absolutely no professional help to deal with any of this. None. No counseling, no medication, no therapy. She slept in her own bedroom her first night back at home, has gone camping since (which I would think would be a HUGE trigger for PTSD), and got married. I find it incredibly hard to believe that she is as well-adjusted as she says she is. I don’t mean this is a negative way towards her at all, it just seems like she hasn’t dealt with this traumatic experience. She says that she’s gone horseback riding a lot and that has helped. Everyone is different, but I don’t buy it.

I think that I, and a lot of other readers, were interested to know how this has affected her in her life. PTSD, trust issues, nightmares, etc? This had to cause some kind of problem in her dating/married life, no? She was sexually assaulted every day for six months, sometimes multiple times a day, and that hasn’t affected her? She was chained to a tree in the woods on a dirty, makeshift campsite. How could she possibly go camping with friends or family afterward without any kind of emotional or psychological response?

Overall, this book gives good insight into what she went through and how she survived day to day. If it’s true that she came out on the other side with zero side effects, then she is one super strong lady. Recommended if you were even a teensy bit interested in the case.

Book #5 of 2014: Someone Else’s Love Story

I’ve read all of Joshilyn Jackson’s books (some multiple times), and Someone Else’s Love Story may be my favorite. I downloaded her e-book short story, My Own Miraculous, a month or so ago, and I’m glad I did because it is basically the prequel to SELS. Though it’s not necessary to read Miraculous to understand SELS, I don’t think I would have understood the characters or their motivations nearly as much without it.

Shandi is a 19-year-old single mother of 3-year-old Natty. She claims that she experienced a virgin birth after being drugged and not-quite-raped at a fraternity party – they never actually had sex because the guy, uh, finished, before that could happen. She is in denial about the whole thing and seems to believe that her body just imagined Natty up out of the blue. Natty turns out to be the love of Shandi’s life, and a 3-year-old genius. He speaks like a middle aged man, can read, and is light years beyond all of the other kids his age.

Walcott is Shandi’s best friend, and the only guy that she has actually been with (a favor after Natty came along and Shandi started dating men twice her age who expected real adult relationships). She and Walcott have known each other since they were babies, and he is Natty’s primary male role model.

Shandi’s parents are divorced and her dad has a condo in Atlanta that he’s not using. He offers it to her and Natty so that she can be closer to school and to doctors to get Natty tested for specialness. Walcott helps her pack up all her stuff and drives her out there. On the way, they stop for gas and snacks where Shandi and Natty get held up in a robbery, changing everyone’s lives forever. It is here that she meets William and falls in love with him immediately.

Although the characters’ names are sort of annoying (saying “Shandi” and “Natty” in my head while I was reading really irked me), the characters themselves are the kind that you fall in love with and root for. Shandi’s not perfect (she can be kind of an ass), but you still find yourself wanting her to succeed – she’s young and has had a rough life and is a really great mom. When she finally comes to terms with Natty’s true beginnings and starts searching out her attacker, you feel the anxiety and fear and anger that she feels. Jackson really has a way of bringing the reader into the story and feeling part of it rather than just an observer.

This book has pretty much everything going for it: love triangles, robbery, murder, virgin birth, adultery, adults with Autism, poetry, science, and nuns. It’s a win no matter what your interests are.

Book #4 of 2014: The Time of My Life

I’m obviously a huge fan of Cecelia Ahern, and have read every one of her books that I can get my hands on (some don’t seem to be available in the US, unfortunately). I really wanted to love The Time of My Life, and I did like it, but it left me with mixed feelings.

Lucy is recovering from a break up, getting fired from her job (she totally deserved it), moving from a gorgeous apartment into a studio that comes with a free nutty neighbor, and is just generally having a bad time. She’s a pathological liar, doesn’t get along with her family (with good reason), and is pretty awful to her coworkers and friends. She keeps receiving letters from the Life Agency, but she ignores them until she can’t any longer. She sets up an appointment to meet with her Life, although she doesn’t take it seriously until about halfway (maybe longer?) through the book.

Her Life turns out to be a dirty, depressed man working in an office – and this is kind of where the storyline fell apart for me. There is very little explanation about how this whole Life Agency works and what it is. I like the concept – that each of us have an actual Life represented in human form, someone who keeps tabs on every single thing we do and say, someone who knows us better than we know ourselves. But the author never explains the details behind this. Is Life really just a person working in an office? Does he go home to a family at night? Does he die? Is he human? The reader is expected to just take this idea at face value and not ask too many questions, but I had a lot of trouble with that.

As you can probably guess, Life helps Lucy get her life organized and together, but not without some hijinks along the way. She has to deal with the issues surrounding her break up, she meets a new man, she is forced to come clean about her lying to both her boss and her friends, and she has to patch things up with her family.

While I enjoyed this story, it was not my favorite by Cecelia Ahern. If you like her work then I would recommend it, but it’s definitely not going on my “to re-read” pile.

Reverse Bucket List

I was doing my usual Saturday morning internet stalking for new blogs to read when I came upon this post by Deana over at My Muted Voice. I’m blatantly stealing her idea, but I think it’s ok because it seems like she got it from someone else, and after a quick consultation with Google it seems like these things are all the rage nowadays.

I have a running list in my head of things I’d like to do, and I have a half-assed attempt at a bucket list Pinterest board that mostly consists of pretty places to visit, but I’ve never actually written down any kind of goals or dreams. Going one step further, I’ve never even really thought about all the things I have done so far. So, let’s begin, shall we?

1. Own a home outright with no mortgage and no debt
2. Get married
3. Live in a two-story house where all the bedrooms are upstairs and the common rooms are downstairs (I’ve lived in apartments or cape cod style houses my entire life)
4. Go to Europe
5. Eat gelato and pasta in Italy
6. Go on a wine tasting tour
7. Ride a Segway (I’ve actually done this twice, both times at Epcot)
8. Visit Disney World (9 times and counting…)
9. Join a sorority
10. Learn how to play a song on the piano
11. Take a road trip
12. Go to Washington, DC
13. Visit all four FL Disney parks in one day
14. Kiss the Blarney Stone
15. Throw a penny over my shoulder into the Trevi Fountain
16. Visit the Sistine Chapel
17. Eat at Durty Nelly’s
18. Start a blog
19. Write something that got featured on Blogher
20. Drink around the world at Epcot
21. Graduate from college summa cum laude
22. Graduate from high school with high honors
23. Drive a car on the “wrong” side of the road in Ireland
24. Listen to a gondolier serenade his passengers as I watched and listened from a balcony above
25. See Pompeii
26. Raise my hand in class and voluntarily answer a question
27. Meet someone from my dad’s side of the family
28. Go back to Canada and see all the places I remember from my childhood
29. Walk under Niagara Falls
30. Visit Montreal where my nana was born
31. Swim in the ocean
32. Go to the very top of the Statue of Liberty
33. Take a picture in front of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree
34. See a Broadway show
35. Ride in a limo
36. Ride in a limo through Times Square after prom
37. See Michelangelo’s David
38. Tour a working Italian winery and vineyard
39. Drink Irish whiskey in Ireland
40. Sing karaoke
41. Bake a cake from scratch
42. Make homemade pizza
43. Be a bridesmaid
44. Be the “cool” aunt
45. Rent one of those little two-person boats from the marina at WDW
46. Ride a roller coaster that goes upside down
47. Ride the Tower of Terror
48. Eat octopus and squid
49. Be a vegetarian
50. Lose 32 pounds with Weight Watchers
51. Read an entire book in one sitting
52. Sing in a choir
53. Take a writing class
54. Take an HTML class and use it to get a job
55. See the White House, Lincoln Memorial, and Washington Monument
56. Visit the penguin exhibit at Central Park Zoo
57. Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art
58. Visit the Smithsonian
59. Drive a go-kart
60. Go to a comedy club
61. Have afternoon tea
62. See the Backstreet Boys in concert (6 times!)
63. See Britney Spears in concert
64. See Boyz II Men in concert
65. Go to the circus
66. Visit a planetarium
67. Gamble in Atlantic City
68. See a Cirque du Soleil show
69. Walk up to the top of a lighthouse
70. Go tubing on the Delaware River
71. Swing from a vine in the woods
72. Host Thanksgiving dinner for 17 people
73. Volunteer at a food bank
74. Stand under the oculus in the Pantheon
75. Say a prayer at St. Peter’s Basilica
76. Walk around inside the Colosseum
77. Ride the subway in NYC
78. Walk through flooded St. Mark’s Square on the temporary walkways
79. See a performance at Lincoln Center
80. Go to the opera
81. See a performance at Carnegie Hall
82. Stay at a 5-star hotel
83. Stay concierge level at the Polynesian Resort at WDW
84. Visit a castle
85. Be on the Executive Board of my sorority in college
86. Get a facial
87. Get a manicure and pedicure
88. See a movie at a drive-in theatre
89. Watch two movies at the theatre back to back
90. Eat fish and chips in a real Irish pub
91. Host a Super Bowl party
92. Take a bus between Port Authority and Bangor, ME roundtrip with my best friend
93. Quit a job I hated with no back-up plan just two weeks before my wedding
94. Fly alone from Orlando to Newark in a thunderstorm
95. Work with Make a Wish to grant European travel wish trips for children
96. Make the Dean’s List every semester for five years in college
97. Receive the Academic Excellence Award for having the highest GPA among the entire Greek community
98. Pay off my student loans in only four years
99. Drink a bellini in Italy
100. Talk to a celebrity on the phone