Top Favorites of the 00’s – Part 1: Books

I obsessively archive my life into lists and charts.  (Yes, it’s a sickness)  But it makes remembering everything I read, watched, and listened to over the decade  just a matter of looking at my lists.  The hardest part is picking out  only a few favorites.


Favorite Fiction Reads:

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While I read a handful of books written for adults, my favorite books of the decade turned out being either middle grade or young adult fiction.  Yeah, I sort of cheated by dividing the fiction books into a series list and a singles list.  There were just too many good books to narrow the list to only ten.

MG= middle grade fiction (for around 9-14 years or 4th- 8th grades)
YA= young adult fiction (for around 12 years and up or 7th grade and up)

Favorite Fiction Series I Read
Bartimaeus Series, by Jonathan Stroud (YA)
Gemma Doyle Series, by Libba Bray (YA)
Gregor the Overlander Series, by Suzanne Collins (MG) – I’ve finished 3 of 5 so far.
Golden Compass Series, by Phillip Pullman (YA)
Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling (MG/YA)- Read 1-3 in 1999, 4th book came out in 2000.
Hunger Games series, by Suzanne Collins (YA) – The third one hasn’t been published yet.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Series, by Ann Brashares (YA)

Favorite Single Fiction Books I Read
Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan (YA)
City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau (MG) – It’s in a series but this first one was the best.
Graceling, by Kristen Cashore (YA) – There’s a prequel, but I haven’t read it yet.
Holes, by Louis Sachar (MG)
Kiki Strike, by Kristen Miller (MG) – There’s only two so I’m not counting it as a series.
Looking for Alaska, by John Green (YA)
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
, by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan (YA)
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA)
Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli (YA)
The Two Princesses of Bamarre, by Gail Carson Levine (YA)

Favorite Non-Fiction Books I Read

(All these were written for adults, except Eleanor’s Story.)

(The) Dance of Anger, by Harriet Lerner
Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany, by Eleanor Ramrath Garner (YA)
German Boy, by Wolfgang W.E. Samuel
Guns, Germs, & Steel, by Jared Diamond
How to Learn Any Langauge, by Barry Farber
Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage, by Stephanie Coontz
Setting Limits, by Robert Mackenzie
Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight Swain
Uncommon Sense for Parents and Teachers, by Michael Riera
Woman: An Intimate Geography, by Natalie Angier

What were your favorite reads of the decade?  I love reading these kinds of lists.

October & November 2009: In Brief

Highlights
Lessons I Learned About Kidney Stones:
1) The staff at my local emergency room is super nice.
2) Almost everyone I know has either had a kidney stone or knows someone who had one.
3) It’s pretty much like going through labor but without the baby at the end.  Though my body seems to have more trouble with simple illnesses than most people.  Instead of passing the stone after a couple of days of pain, like most people, I had my stone for over 4 weeks until I had to have a procedure to remove it.
4) When the doctor said, "You might have some irritation after the procedure", what he really meant was that if my stone was really stuck — which it was– I’d have a week of searing pain that I could dull by taking pain medication every 4 hours.
5) Watching Being Human is an excellent way to spend a week living on the couch and taking around-the-clock pain medicine.
6) Filling a tube sock with rice and nuking it in the microwave for 60 seconds makes a wonderful heating pad.
7) In conclusion, kidney stones are more fun than any human should be allowed to have. 😉

Sprinting Back Into Regular Life:
The minute I was well I subbed almost every day.  On the last day of my job before Thanksgiving the principal told me that Ms. D. had broken her ankle on her trip and asked if I could sub all next week too.  I said, "Sure.  Why not?"  Then I spent Thanksgiving weekend making fun, educational lesson plans, cruising the library for good books, and designing samples of the projects we would do.  Whew!

Fiction Books Finished:
The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart (** 1/2) – Talented orphans are recruited into a secret society.  While the beginning pulled me in, I found the middle a bit slow.  The book has a good message about advertising and seems to be quite popular but for some reason I didn’t enjoy it that much.  [Ages 9 and up]

Gregor the Overlander & Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, by Suzanne Collins (*** 1/2) – When eleven-year old Gregor tries to stop his two-year old sister "Boots" from falling down a laundry chute, the two of them are sucked down a wind tunnel and land in the world of Underland.  There he meets giant bats, cockroaches, rats, and the nearly translucent Underlander humans who believe Gregor just might be the warrior they’ve been waiting for. This is a great middle-grade fantasy series.  Underland is a fascinating world full of appealing characters.  It would make a good classroom or family read too.  [Ages 9 and up]

The Cabinet of Wonders, by Marie Rutkoski (***) – When the Prince of Bohemia steals a clockmaker’s eyes, twelve-year old Petra decides to steal her father’s eyes back.  This middle grade fantasy– set in a slightly magical 16th century Prague– starts out slow but builds to an exciting conclusion.  [For ages 10 and up]

Non-Fiction Books Finished:
Woman: An Intimate Geography, by Natalie Angier (*** 1/2) – An enjoyable book on the female body.  Angier describes menstruation, fertilization, and menopause in ways that not only explain but inspire. Her chapter taking down evolutionary psychology is especially welcoming.

Teaching Outside the Box, by LouAnne Johnson, (*** 1/2) – The movie Dangerous Minds is based on LouAnne Johnson’s first teaching experience with low-income at risk high schoolers.  Since then Johnson’s had a wide range of teaching experiences and gives good advice for teaching reading and English to students from upper elementary school through high school and college — emphasizing both strong class management and how to motivate students to learn.

TV- Top 5 Favorites of the Month (In A,B,C Order)
(The) Big Bang Theory, current season 3 – I like the way Penny and Leonard’s relationship isn’t the focus of the show.

Being Human, series 1 – is an enjoyable unique supernatural story about three twenty-some adults sharing a flat together in Bristol. Instead of the usual save-the-world plot, this story about a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost is mostly a story of new adults dealing with the day-to-day dramas of adulthood, relationships, and coming to terms with who they are.  [ I watched the 6 episode series on itunes.]

(The) Good Wife, current season 1 – Out of the dozens of new shows I tried this season, The Good Wife is the only one I’ve stuck with.  Julianna Marguilies is wonderful as a woman trying to breath life back into her law career after her husband has been jailed in an Eliot Spitzer type situation.  The legal cases are interesting and I like the way this show doesn’t spell everything out for the viewer.

Mad Men, current season 3 – turned out to be my favorite season so far.  It started out slow but built to a series of satisfying conclusions.

Supernatural, current season 5

Sub Jobs:
1/2 day- Art teacher at another school
1 day- Media teacher at my regular school
1 day – Ms. D’s 2nd grade
1/2 day – 1st grade reading at another school
1/2 day – 1st grade reading at another school
5 days – Ms. D’s 2nd grade

September 2009: In Brief

Highlights:
Learning to Love 6 AM Again – I dreaded the change of going from our 3 AM summer bedtime to our new 6 AM school wake up time.  I shouldn’t have worried.  We made the change like we had been getting up at 6 AM all summer.

Dr. Horrible At Neighborhood HS – Our local high school did a fantastic job turning this into a play.  They had two actors– who looked almost like twins — play Billy and Dr. Horrible.  The best part was the video that played on the screen above the stage during the song "My Eyes".  Billy stalks Penny and Captain Hammer around the local sites of our town while the cast sings at the park on stage.

Mold, Basements, and the Flu –  Martin fixed the pipes, then cleaned, grouted, and repainted the bathroom, while I lived in the basement– the only mold-free part of our house.  Around that time I also got the H1N1 flu and coughed so much I was pretty sure I might cough up an alien.  Why yes, I did rewatch Torchwood while I was sick.  Why do you ask?

By the end of September, our house was mold-free and I was finally healthy.  Yay!

Fiction Books Finished:
Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins (*** 1/2) – The sequel to Hunger Games starts off slow but once it picks up; the story is tense and gripping.  Collins has a talent for creating varied interesting characters.  The story cliffhanges in a major way though and now I can’t wait until the next book. [YA for ages 12 and up]

Movies:
Amar Te Duele (***) – This Mexican Romeo-and-Juliet story starts when Ulises from the barrio meets wealthy Renata at the mall.  Though I could have done without all the fancy camera tricks at the beginning of the film, once those stop, the story of these two kids coming to terms with social pressures is sweet.  While I sort of knew how wide the gap between social classes is in Mexico, this movie really makes that point concretely.  As an American, I couldn’t help wonder if this is the way we’re going too.  [Saw on DVD; for teens and older]

TV- Top 5 Favorites of the Month (In A,B,C Order)
Castle, current season 2- has become one of my favorite shows.  It’s a light murder mystery starring Nathan Fillon (Firefly) as Richard Castle, a famous murder mystery novelist. 

In the pilot, Castle is called to help the NYPD solve a case where a serial murder seems to be recreating murders from Castle’s books.  Castle is so impressed with the lead detective, Kate Beckett, he decides to use her as a model for the star of his next mystery series.  (She’s a huge secret fan and has read all his books but doesn’t really want him to know. ) The mayor is a friend of Castle’s and so Castle is given permission to work with Beckett on cases. 

The writing and characters have come a long way from the troubled pilot.  Castle and Beckett’s relationship is dry and witty and his relationship with his levelheaded high school daughter and his spotlight-seeking mother are especially fun to watch.

Fringe, current season 2- has become another of my favorite shows.  Since the season 1 finale revealed secrets about the main characters, Walter’s quirks make a lot more heart-breaking sense.  Now I fear for what will happen to him, Peter, and Olivia.

Mad Men, current season 3

Skins, current series 3- does something unusual; it starts over with a whole new group of students at the Bristol school.  Effie, Tony’s younger sister, is the only returning character.  The first two episodes are unfortunate as they focus on Cook, the most unlikable member of the new group.  Things pick up at the third episode when the story begins highlighting the more likable members of the new group.

Torchwood, rewatched series 1,2,3 – When I’m not feeling well, rewatching my favorite TV shows beats eating chicken soup any day.

Sub Jobs:
1 day- Media Center Teacher
5 days- Ms. B’s 2nd grade class

August 2009: In Brief, Part 1

Highlights:
Shark Pool Bites Back
– Cricket Magazine rejected the short story I sent out. I had suspected the tone might not be right for their magazine and I was right. Yay me? At least I’ve finished and submitted something. Now I’m back to writing my middle grade novel with my regular tortoise-like speed.

It’s 3AM. Do You Know Where Your Children Are? – My son’s wolf pack of friends were scattered around the world this summer. So instead of having teens on computers all summer it was just our small family. Weirdly, we all seemed really happy with that setup– even my son. We sat at our computers together in the same room and at odd moments we’d chat or play some silly game together.

One night my daughter insisted I needed to "build my muscle strength" by picking her up and carrying her across the room. She’s not quite my height and weight yet, so I managed to waddle across the room with her. Then I put her down, looked up at the clock, and realized it was 3:30 AM in the morning. Heh. I guess we really lived in our own time and space this summer.

Fiction Books Finished:
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
, by Jeff Kinney (***) – A seventh grader writes in a journal his mother brought him– he insists it is NOT a diary. Trying to fit in the world of middle school, he is full of edgy plans that always seem to go awry. His journal has just the right balance of edginess, sweetness, and humor to appeal to younger and older elementary schoolers wanting a peak into middle school. The handwritten-like text and the many humorous penciled illustrations will appeal to reluctant readers. (Ages 7-12)

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan (****)- reread after I saw the movie.

The Circuit/ Cajas de cartón , by Francisco Jiménez (***) – A young illegal Mexican farm worker picks produce with his family in California during the 1940’s. This set of stories– based on Jimenez’s real childhood– was great for practicing my Spanish. It’s available in Spanish as a book tape, as well as being available in print form in both Spanish and English. It was challenging but not beyond my level. The chapters are relatively short and the topic was interesting and eye-opening.

Non-Fiction Books Finished:
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
, by Malcolm Gladwell (***)- Another entertaining Malcolm Gladwell book– this time on how gut feelings can be helpful, as well as their role in prejudice.

Cook Food, by Lisa Jervis (***) – A short helpful cookbook/manual on environmentally friendly vegetarian cooking for the beginning cook. Her emphasis is mostly on one-meal stews along with a short, but detailed, section on roasting vegetables.

August 2009: In Brief, Part 2

Allergies, The SequelA forty-five year old American woman finds out she’s highly allergic to mold. When a small water leak in one of her bathroom pipes makes all kinds of sporing mold, she discovers mold isn’t one of the allergens she’s getting shots for and her talented DIY husband is working so much this month he can’t tackle the mold until Fall. Since cleaning it herself would send her into torturous allergic fits, she salvages her summer vacation by downing Benadryl, and taking….


The Rowena Eureka Mega World Tour of Cinematic Armchair Travel
(This tour was made possible by Netflix, Netflix Instant, itunes, and Rowena’s Trusty Laptop)
 

TV Portion of the Tour:

(Cardiff, Wales) Torchwood, series 1 & 2 (****) – Captain Jack Harkness protects the world from alien invasion by leading Torchwood Division–an independent agency located in Cardiff, Wales on a rift between time and space. Part police procedural, part sci-fi adventure, part character exploration, Torchwood became one of my favorite shows because it has a little bit of everything: dark edgy action, fun dialog, a little romance, and a bit of camp.

The characters are talented, devoted, and deeply flawed. Nobody’s all good or all bad, just very human. Women and men are equally the heroes and the ones in need of saving. Everyone’s sexuality is pretty fluid and sex is treated both more casually, and yet, more respectfully than it’s usually shown on American TV.

The main characters are pretty, but in a realistic way, not the glossy American way. Policewoman Gwen Cooper begins investigating Torchwood after she witnesses their strange actions at the scene of a murder investigation. She’s quite attractive and just happens to also have a gap in her teeth.

The best thing about the show is that the equal treatment of sexuality and people is never the point; it’s just how things are. This is no public service announcement or after school special; it’s a sci-fi action adventure show full of dark, fun escapism.

The beginning of the series is a bit shaky and a couple episodes are pretty awful *cough* Cyber Woman *cough*. Even they have their charms though since they come early in the series when the viewer is getting to know the characters. While this is a spin-off from Dr. Who, you don’t to need watch Doctor Who to understand it. [Watched on itunes, also available on Netflix]

(Cardiff/London) Torchwood: Children of Earth (*****) – This is one roller coaster of a ride! Instead of individual episodes like season 1 & 2, this Torchwood series is one five-episode mini series. Though less campy, there is still a good mix of fun and darkness within the same egalitarian world. This time aliens are speaking through children and things get tense, dark, dark, dark, and definitely worth watching. [Saw on itunes, also available on DVD through Netflix.]

(The UK and Beyond) Doctor Who, series 4 (*** 1/2 ) – Donna Noble turned out to be an excellent companion. [Saw on DVD through Netflix]

(The Whole World) Michael Palin’s 80 Days Around the World (*** 1/2) – In this 1988 travel series, former Monty Python member Michael Palin tries to travel around the world in 80 days using only the transportation available to Jules Verne’s fictional character Phileas Fogg. Palin makes a smart, funny, and likable guide. Though it’s 20 years old, it’s interesting to watch Palin visit India and China right before their dramatic changes. His brief adventures in the US didn’t seem that different from today. The best sequences though were his 8 days on a Dhow (a tiny open cargo boat) crossing the Arabian Sea from Dubai to Bombay with an all Indian crew who spoke little English.

(Manhattan in the early 60’s) Mad Men, current season 3 (****) – AMC’s evocative drama about a Manhattan Ad Agency in the early 1960’s is one of my favorite shows. Season 3 starts off in the summer of 1963 after the Brits have taken over Sterling Cooper.

August 2009: In Brief, Part 3

The Rowena Eureka Mega World Tour of Cinematic Armchair Travel – The Movie Portion

(Sweden) Slim Susie (*** 1/2) – Erik comes back to the rural Swedish town where he grew up in search of of his missing younger sister Susie. He meets up with a cast of eccentric characters and the tale of Susie becomes increasingly more tangled and dark. No one should be likable in this movie but for some reason they are. It’s the blackest of comedies but quite a fun movie if you like your comedy dark. It’s also interesting to see how much influence American movies have on the Swedes, as the movie borrows from and references American movies from Pulp Fiction to Star Wars and beyond. [Saw on Netflix Instant Viewing, also available on DVD through Netflix]

(Norway) Buddy (***) – A simple romantic comedy about a twenty-four year old billboard hanger whose girlfriend just broke up with him. When his video lands in the hands of a reality show producer, his reality show star life becomes more complicated with his housemates than he imagined.

There’s nothing really special about this plot but it’s a fun way for an American viewer to get a sense of twenty-something life in Norway– both the similarities and the differences. My favorite bit of trivia? Hearing the English phrases that would pop up in their Norwegian conversations, like "okay" and "I’m sorry". I realized "okay" has become pretty international, but I had no idea the phrase "I’m sorry" was used anywhere but English speaking countries. [Watched on Netflix Instant; also available on DVD]

(Italy/ Greece) Ginger & Cinnamon (***) – A fifteen-year-old Italian girl decides it’s time she lose her virginity and see the world. So she runs away from her school field trip and convinces her 30-year-old Aunt to take her on a trip to Greece instead. The Aunt, recovering from a painful recent breakup, relunctantly agrees. Neither aunt nor niece really fits into the party-like international twenty-some island experience. The niece is a bit too young and the aunt, who acts likes she’s already 50, is a bit too old. But both come to understand themselves better and figure out why their current lives aren’t working for them.

While I ended up liking this movie, the aunt and the niece did drive me crazy at times. Both main characters talked non-stop and seemed to lack any self-awareness at the beginning of the film. But their relationship was kind of sweet and the Greek island scene was interesting. [Watched on Netflix Instant; also available on DVD]

(NYC) Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (****) – Two seventeen-years-olds, each nursing broken hearts, meet at a Lower East Side club and are drafted by their friends to turn their encounter into a nightlong first date. This is one of my favorite books so I was pleasantly surprised how well the movie captured the book’s spirit.

It’s true that Michael Cera isn’t the actor I imagined for Nick and Cera plays basically the same character he’s played in Arrested Development, Superbad, and Juno. Still, it’s a likable character and it works for NIck. Also, Nick’s ex-girlfriend Tris is more nuanced and realistic in the book, while in the movie she’s a cliched mean girl. Kat Dennings is absolutely perfect as Norah though and the movie offers a fun adventure with lots of music and a bit of physical comedy. The language and sexual content is much cleaner and family friendly in the movie, though there is a brief sex scene that we only hear, not see. [Saw on Netflix Instant Viewing, also available on DVD through Netflix]


(Kingdom of Andalasia/ NYC)
Enchanted (*** 1/2) – They day before Princess Giselle’s wedding–in the cartoon Kingdom of Andalasia–wicked Queen Narissa banishes the princess down a well that just happens to lead straight to Manhattan. I started this movie with low expectations as I’m not terribly fond of princess movies, Disney, or Patrick Demspy. I was pleasantly surprised how enjoyable it was to watch though. Somehow this movie manages to pay homage to the Disney princess movies while gently mocking them and tells a story that kids will enjoy while entertaining adults. Patrick Dempsey is likable and Amy Adams is spot-on as Princess Giselle. A fun movie for mixed-aged audiences. [Watched on DVD]

(Germany) Hilfe (*** 1/2) – This could have been just a German version of those Freaky Friday body-switching type movies. The nuanced characters and respectful tone make this movie deeper and more enchanting than the usual glossy Disney-like story though. (Parent Note: While this movie is made to be suitable for kids, there is more cursing and mild sexual innuendo in this movie than some American family movies.) [Watched on Netflix Instant; also available on DVD]