Best of 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011

Best  (and worst) of   2 0 1 1  

I love end of the year reading lists! It's so fun to look over what all I accomplished (in reading) for the year and see what everyone's favorites were. My reading year, in terms of quantity, was awful this year or just not up to where I like it. But I still feel pretty good about what I DID read this year and look forward to reading way more in 2012. Here are my favorites (and least favorites) this year. 

First off, let me say don't forget to check out my Non-Fiction 2011 post for a better breakdown of this year's non-fiction reading if you haven't already because truly, I would consider all of those books at the top of my 2011 reading in general. It's super hard to break it down further than that! But as for fiction....

Let's start with what I was the most disappointed with. Keep in mind that this does not mean that these were the worst books... just what disappointed me most based on what my expectations were.

Great House by Nicole Krauss -- I didn't get it.
The Good Psychologist by Noam Schpencer -- Review to come eventually, short but not easy read
The Tiger's Wife by Tea O'Breht -- Good writing but I didn't necessarily get the story

The Best New-to-Me Author whose books (read two this year) were fantastic! (Can't wait to read The Untelling soon)

Leaving Atlanta by Tarayai Jones -- one of the character's ending scenes haunts me
Silver Sparrow by Tarayi Jones -- two girls with the same father but one is a secret

Biggest Surprises

Emily and Einstein by Linda Francis Lee -- I bought this for the cover but thoroughly enjoyed the cute story
The Four Ms. Bradwells -- Not a fluffy book at all. Had a lot of depth and women's issues

Best New-to-Me Series

Transfer of Power and The Third Option are #1 and #2 in the Mitch Rapp Series by Vince Flynn. My mom, dad, and husband have read the entire series and are obsessed. Also got my sister to download one onto her nook. I look forward to reading more of these!
The Chalk Girl by Carol O'Connell is #12 in the series. Review to come in 2012. I'm super excited to have been introduced to this series!

Honorable Mention: These weren't my very favorite but were really good and I want to include them.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown, Bent Road by Lori Roy, Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda (review to come), Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman, and The Cradle in the Grave by Sophie Hannah

Okay, fine, I narrowed down the best non-fiction to these three. (Go here for links to these three)

Most Powerful and Also in the Best of 2011 Category

The Submission by Amy Waldman -- Review to come in 2012
The Buddha in the Attic by Julit Otsuka -- Finalist for the National Book Award
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan -- Lots of food for thought

And, my very favorite of the year happens to be the second book that I read this year.....

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
I adored this book. The movie version with Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks came out on Christmas but only in limited locations, and Orlando wasn't special enough to have it showing here! So I have to wait for the movie.

That's it! Happy 2012!!

Non-Fiction 2011

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Non-Fiction 2011

This year was amazing for non-fiction! I hadn't read much of this genre prior to the past couple years, but so many that I have been reading have really excited me! Maybe I love the fact that I'm learning and that I feel smart but am enjoying it at the same time! While I'm doing a separate best of list, I wanted to highlight the best of the non-fiction I read this year.

Sociological Memoir

Little Princes by Conor Grennan (review coming in January 2012)
Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh



The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee (review coming in 2012)


Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
Tangled Webs by James B. Stewart
Decision Points by George W. Bush

Short Stories, Crime, and Memoir
Heart of the City by Ariel Sabar
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Bringing Adam Home by Les Standiford

I would  have an incredibly difficult time narrowing down these books to my favorite. Of the 11 listed here, I can only narrow it down to 6!

A Christmas Carol

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Title: A Christmas Carol
Author: Charles Dickens
Illustrator: P.J. Lynch
Pages: 159
Genre: Classic Fiction
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pub. Date: September 12, 2006 (this edition)

Merry Christmas!!! I'm not sure how many of you are reading blogs today, but I thought it was fitting to post my review of this book on Christmas Day. I'll keep it short.

I think this might be the first time I've actually read through A Christmas Carol from beginning to end. I've started, but not finished, in the past. And, of course, I've watched various versions of the movie. (I think A Muppet's Christmas Carol has been my favorite!) My husband and I wanted to have a tradition of reading A Christmas Carol together every year, though this is the first time we actually followed through.

I also have little experience reading Dickens. I know for sure I read Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities in junior high, but I don't remember much and I had a much different taste in literature at the time. So, that being said, I did enjoy A Christmas Carol. It's a classic story, of course, and who doesn't love the story of a Scrooge who completely turns himself around? Dickens's writing has a subtle humor to it. I suspect, though, that if he were a writer today I wouldn't quite appreciate his writing style.  Being that this was written in the 1800's I'm a little more forgiving and it makes more sense. But each sentence was so long that by the time I got the end of the sentence I couldn't remember what he was trying to say in the first place. And he had to include so many examples of everything he described, just to make a point, I guess. Those things bothered me.

But overall an enjoyable Christmas book. It is a classic, after all! And I really like the illustrations in this book. They are a little dark, but very well done.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Series: Millennium #1
Author: Stieg Larsson
Translated by: Reg Keeland
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday (Random House)
Pub. Date: September 16, 2008

I've owned this series for a while but just recently got around to reading this book. I was nervous. It's had such acclaim. My mom and husband both read this and enjoyed the series. But then I also remember reviews saying it was a slow moving book and that the first 100 pages were unnecessary. But after finally reading this for myself, I am a huge fan!! I will say that for about the first 30 pages I wondered where it was going. But I stuck to it and was hugely satisfied by the end.

For the few of you who have yet to read this book, it starts off with Mikael Blomkvist, investigative journalist and partial owner of the magazine, Millennium, being convicted of libel against a big time corporate worker. Sort of as a result of this he then becomes involved with the Vanger family, the very wealthy owners of another large corporation. Henrik Vanger hires him to write his biography and, in the meantime, to investigate the disappearance of his niece, Harriet Vanger, in the 1960's. It's a tough job to take on considering it was years ago and was very thoroughly investigated at the time. But as Blomkvist starts to find out more about her disappearance, he unveils some horrific secrets. Then there's Lisbeth Salander, a strange girl who happens to be an incredible private investigator or, rather, hacker, who ends up getting involved in the Vanger situation as well.

It's hard to explain why I liked this so much. I do enjoy the genre, but this one is just very well written and is more literary in nature. Plus, I guess I really enjoy Lisbeth's character. She's sort of unpredictable. And even though she has an extremely rough exterior, it seems like more of a shell and she is a hurt and vulnerable person on the inside. I'm totally interested in learning more about her. Even though she's sort of weird and rough on the outside, I feel like I can relate to her. The mystery and everything that goes with that is really intense and the family secrets are crazy. And this wasn't one of those mystery/thriller books where I'm able to figure anything out ahead of time. I thought the author did a great job of peeling back each layer of the story piece by piece. There also was an undertone to it about women's rights and violence against women. (In Sweden it was originally titled something like "Men who Hate Women"... something along those lines). And since I consider myself sort of a very minor feminist or at least am passionate about women's rights, this was an interesting aspect for me. I hear this theme continues through the rest of the series and that we learn more about why it is.

I am really looking forward to the next book in the series, and if it weren't for the fact that I have a specific reason for reading what I'm reading now, I would go straight into picking up the next book! The thing that motivated me to finally read this was that the American version of the movie is out in theaters as of this week. My plan was actually to finish this earlier so we could watch the Swedish version and then go to the theater to see the new one. I look forward to the movie (though I have a small fear that they will incorporate parts of the sequel in the movie... ). We shall see and I'll report on how it is once I see it!

Left Neglected

Monday, December 12, 2011

Title: Left Neglected
Author: Lisa Genova
Pages: 324
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster)
Pub. Date: January 4, 2011

I haven't read Lisa Genova's debut, Still Alice, yet so I can't compare, but Left Neglected really lived up to the hype of this author in general. While Still Alice explores Alzheimer's, this one explored another neurological disorder appropriately called Left Neglect. (Despite being largely unknown, or at least one I've never heard of, it is, indeed, a real disorder). The brain of someone with this disorder fails to recognize the left side of everything be it the left side of the body, what would normally be seen out of the left eye, the peripheral vision in the left eye, the left side of words, documents, pictures, etc. Genova's main character, Sarah, compares this to the average person not being able to turn their head all the way around to see the back. That's sort of what a person with Left Neglect experiences with the exception that the average person doesn't have to be reminded that there is something behind them they can't see. With Left Neglect, the person is convinced they are seeing and feeling everything there is to see and feel on the left. That is until they're told to do something with their left hand and can't seem to send the message from their brain to their hand.

Genova really did a fantastic job, without laying it on too thick, of depicting a type-A woman who really just fills her plate to overflowing, enduring a crazy packed schedule, working eighty hours a week, juggling the care of her three children along with her husband and the nanny, etc. Then, in a life changing second, this woman, Sarah, has an accident that causes traumatic brain injury. This is the aforementioned Left Neglect. What follows are Sarah's experiences being a successful, top-of-the-ladder, working mother who is resigned to living a sedentary and frustrating existence in which she doesn't even have control over her own body and has to accept care from everyone around her.

Genova has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, as well as a degree in biopsychology, so you can only imagine the amount of intellectual detail or understanding she has available to her for this type of book. But she doesn't drown her story in fact; instead, she blends just the right amount of medical information with an expert amount of character building to create the perfect fictional novel. In fact, I found Genova's writing to be extremely engaging and insightful, which in addition to her science background, prove her to be quite the all-around talented woman. Her style of writing was smart, and the commentary made as part of the narrative was keen and funny. I loved the book for this aspect alone. Her observations of the world, and the way she expressed her thoughts, made me smile to myself frequently. She had a way of creating such empathy for the character. Not only did I really like Sarah, but I felt like I was experiencing Left Neglect with her. And I adored all the secondary characters as well.

Left Neglected was an engrossing novel that has excited me to both go back and read her debut, Still Alice, and to see what she writes next!

Sidenote: I read this book and wrote the review back in March!! I've had it sitting in a small pile of reviews all this time and never thought to post it! 

Holiday Awesomes and Givaway Winner!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hello everyone! I'm a little late on the Book of Holiday Awesome giveaway. Here are some of the responses I got about everyone's "Holiday Awesome"!

Meg at Write Meg said, "Listening to Hanson's "Snowed In" holiday album while decorating the Christmas tree with my family. It's a tradition more than 13 years strong!" 

Anita at A Woman, a Wife, a Mom said, "Wow, there are too many! 
1. Peppermint white chocolate mocha at Starbucks.
2. Making special once a year cookies with my kids."

Kirsten said, "I love having my family all together now that I have a child in college. And the food - pies, christmas cookies!"

Mary said, "Does putting up the Christmas tree count??"  (Yes, Mary, it does!!)

Heather at Raging Bibliomania said, "Houses that have Christmas displays in the yard!"

Ti at Bookish Chatter said, "Every year we take two kids with Downs Syndrome to look at Christmas lights. These "kids" are not even kids anymore! We've been doing it since my son was born and he is 13 now! We get hot cocoa, I make cookies and we drive around listening to the Brady Bunch Christmas CD. If that's not awesome, I don't know what is. "

Liz said, "Like the overlooked holidays that can offer cheer amidst dreary days."

Carrie at Nomadreader said, "Miracle on 34th Street (1994 version)"

Kristin from Kritters Ramblings said, "Every year since we have lived in the DC area (3) we have made a date to go see the national christmas tree and get a picture taken." 

Mary from Bookfan said, "I love Christmas music (but not before Thanksgiving). And then I love putting the ornaments my children made when they were young on the tree. So many memories tied up with those! Awesome."

Thank you everyone for sharing!! And now the winner of The Book of Holiday Awesome is....

Mary from Bookfan!!!

A Train in Winter

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Title: A Train in Winter
Subtitle: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France
Author: Caroline Moorehead
Pages: 384
Publisher: Harper (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: November 8, 2011

For this book I'm including the publisher's synopsis (from
They were teachers, students, chemists, writers, and housewives; a singer at the Paris Opera, a midwife, a dental surgeon. They distributed anti-Nazi leaflets, secreted Jews to safety, transported weapons, and conveyed clandestine messages. The youngest was a schoolgirl of fifteen; the eldest, a farmer’s wife in her sixties.

Eventually, the Gestapo hunted down 230 women active in the French Resistance and imprisoned them in a fort outside Paris. Separated from home and loved ones, these disparate individuals turned to one another, their common experience conquering divisions of age, profession, and class, as they found solace and strength in their deep affection and camaraderie.

In January 1943, they were sent to their final destination: Auschwitz. Only forty-nine would return to France.

A Train in Winter draws on interviews and deep archival research to uncover a dark chapter of history that offers an inspiring portrait of ordinary people, of bravery and survival—and of the remarkable, enduring power of female friendship.

I chose to use the publisher's synopsis because I'll admit I wasn't able to get all the way through this so I wasn't sure what the best way to describe it was. I initially had my review date extended because I had difficulty with time and getting to the book. But I had plenty of time since then and found I just could not maintain interest in the book. Even though the overall story was interesting with this one, I got bogged down with all the details.I found myself confused often because of the number of people described along with all the French names (obviously that's no one's fault!)  

The story of the occupation of the French and the various reactions of the people was interesting. However, the real part of the story in the latter portion of the book, the human aspect of this story, was what I was interested in. I had so much difficulty slogging through the beginning, and I had seen other reviews discussing the second portion of the book that eventually I skipped ahead. The writing didn't necessarily change so much, but the story was what I was drawn to. One of the draws, for me, to this book as the aspect of the friendships and human bonds created through such horrifying situations. But relating in that way also made those portions very difficult to read as well.

I do think this book told an important story about a group of women, and I wish I could have gotten more into it. Even with the portions of the book I did get into, however, I didn't feel I could commit fully since I had not fully read every part of the book up to that point (maybe my own issue). Therefore, I do think my fascination of the stories was somewhat hampered. I do think that had I read this at another point in the past year when I had much more brain energy to put into the book, I would have enjoyed it much more so those of you who have the brain energy, you'll probably like A Train in Winter. But if you aren't totally and thoroughly interested in the subject, I might recommend passing on it.
Catch up on the rest of the tour here:

Tuesday, November 8th: Unabridged Chick
Thursday, November 10th: Melody & Words
Friday, November 11th: Elle Lit.
Monday, November 14th: Diary of an Eccentric
Wednesday, November 16th: Among Stories
Wednesday, November 16th: Unabridged Chick - author interview
Thursday, November 17th: Broken Teepee
Friday, November 18th: Ted Lehmann’s Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms
Monday, November 21st: Jenny Loves to read
Tuesday, November 22nd: Picky Girl
Monday, November 28th: Reviews by Lola
Tuesday, November 29th: Buried in Print
Wednesday, November 30th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Friday, December 2nd: Wordsmithonia
Friday, December 2nd: Books and Movies

The Book of Holiday Awesome (Giveaway!)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Title: The Book of Holiday Awesome
Author: Neil Pasricha
Pages: 192
Genre: Entertainment
Publisher: Amy Einhorn (Penguin)
Pub. Date: November 17, 2011

I had been curious about these "Book of Awesome" books since I first saw them around last year. But anyone who knows me knows that a *Holiday* version of the book would be sure to excite me. I'm one of those annoying (to some) cheerful holiday people who absolutely loves everything about this time of the year. I like to go shopping with the crowds and am sad when there's not enough Christmas Shopping Crowd. I look forward to hopping in my car no matter the destination because my car radio is tuned to the 24/7 Christmas station and I do NOT get tired of it! Beautiful lights on houses make me happy. Peppermint mocha is not just a treat but pretty much a necessity. Movies like Elf, Love Actually, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, The Santa Clause, etc. are on constant play... and, in fact, think Will Ferrell's Buddy the Elf... okay, not quite that bad but you get the picture. Basically, I could write my own book of holiday awesome. But someone already did so I am here to present one lucky person a copy!

As I think I realized with the last installment of this series, The Book of  Even More Awesome, it truly is not the type of book you can plan on reading from beginning to end with a book mark. For me it's more of a pick it up now and then and flip to a random place in the book kind of book. Each page or so has an *awesome* thing with a brief description of that awesomeness. There are actually other holidays represented here, not just "the holidays". Not all the *awesomes* are as great as the next, but overall it's still a pretty fun book. It's a nice book to have out on the coffee table, I think, to peruse during a commercial on tv or for guests to flip through. Different people will, of course, relate to different ones of the awesomes. I don't think I necessarily need the descriptions that follow each thing and would probably prefer a more personal story. But overall this book is fun!

So, I have ONE copy to giveaway to a lucky winner! To enter just fill out the form below. I will choose a winner on Friday, 12/9, so there is enough time to get the book to you before the holidays! (I've included a spot on the form for you to include your favorite holiday *awesome* thing just for fun! Let me know if I can share it and your name/blog title and I will post those here later this month!)

Another Cover Copy!!!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Okay, this one is so obvious, especially since both of these are recent books. Other bloggers have to have already commented on this, but since I've been sort of absent, I'm just noticing this.


Really?? I'd be so mad if I were the author! I only noticed this one because I was looking through my wish list on and saw Mockingbird on there but knew that the copy of Long Drive Home that I have has the same picture. Crazy!

Sunday Salon: Attack of the Busies

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I had no intentions of basically ignoring the book blogging world for the month of November! I hate that I find myself in this predicament more often lately. It was a combination of things this time. The majority of it was that darn old work again! Ever since I switched to just the one job full time, I have had such a hard time balancing work and life. I've always been great at this type of thing which makes this so frustrating. But it's a completely different type of work situation than I've had before, and it has really thrown me for a loop! Suffice it to say, not only have I not been blogging, I haven't been reading either! I have plans to catch up with work again and will try very hard to stay on top as much as I can, because this being behind thing is NO FUN!! Not only have I not been blogging or reading, but I haven't been commenting much either. Since I pared down the blogs I'm followed a while ago, it isn't sooo bad anymore, but I still have tons of posts to go back and comment on.

Another reason I haven't been reading, however, in the spare moments between work is that I picked up an old hobby of mine that I hadn't done in years. In fact, I realized it was a hobby that I spent a very large amount of time with years ago, but for about 5-6 years I didn't do it much. So when I re-discovered my hobby I became a little obsessed and think I made excuses to watch tons of tv so I could work on it more. (Counted cross-stitch for those wondering, and I am currently working on a Dickensian Christmas Carol kind of thing).

So anyway, back to the reading. I did have to have one blog tour date extended (A Train in Winter). I posted one blog tour this week. And I have a plethora of other books that I've been working on. I just recently finished the short memoir by Mindy Kaling (The Office), am trying to get through a bio on Charles Dickens (though it's likely going to be a DNF), and am periodically flipping through The Book of Holiday Awesome. The thing with reading slumps is that once I start to come back from it, I have no interest in reading any commitment/review books. I want to read only what interests me in the moment, and since I know I have obligations to tend to first, I do what I always do when I feel overwhelmed or anxious: avoid it. So then I read nothing at all. (!!) Guess I better shape up since I just agreed to four more blog tour dates, haha... three of those four are books I have really been wanting to read, so that will help.

So that's that, my monthly "why I'm not here" post. No exciting news in my life or anything like that. Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and is anticipating the rest of the holiday season as much as I am!!

People Tell Me Things

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Title: People Tell Me Things
Author: David Finkle
Genre: Fiction, Short Stories
Publisher: Nthposition Press
Pub. Date: November 1, 2011

The discussion of me possibly reviewing this book involved its New York City element so I thought it would be a fun book to review. People Tell Me Things is a collection of fictional short stories told in first person by one narrator. (I need to edit this to state that it is actually not supposed to be one person, but it really felt like it throughout the reading). The concept behind the stories is that the author, David Finkle, is experienced in dealing with the artsy crowd of NYC (artists, writers, musicians, etc.). The narrator of the stories does, as well, and shares his experiences and his observations as the confidante. I was amused by some stories, but overall I felt fairly indifferent.

There was one main thing preventing me from enjoying the book, and I noticed that once that was resolved, I enjoyed the stories immensely better. I almost re-started the book at that point (but ultimately chose not to). For some reason, maybe because it's narrated in first person, I kept thinking this book was non-fiction. Actually, it was something about the narration. I felt frustrated because the character wrote as though the reader would understand the references he made and, of course, I didn't (I know now because it was fictional). But I actually spent time googling these people because I thought, wow if they are real people, this author is just calling them out! Driving the bus all over town over all his friends! Some of the references were real life people, such as the photographer in one of the stories, but none of the other seemed to be (at least, not outright). Anyway, I finally made the realization that all these stories were fictional, and this allowed me to connect to the narrator better.

So then what I ended up liking about the stories were that they were conversational. Although I didn't always understand the purpose of the story or the "message" that short stories often try to get across, I did feel that each individual story had a momentum to it that interested me enough to continue reading and to figure out what the end was going to be. It was almost like when someone is telling you a joke and even if you don't get it right away, you wait to hear what the punchline is. They didn't all have a "punchline" that I appreciated as much, though the storytelling was sometimes funny. One of the ones I initially found the funny was one where a man makes a seemingly innocuous comment that his friends end up ribbing him forever about - to the point where it became harassment.

Although there were some stories I liked better than others and the stories had some good elements, I wasn't taken with the book overall. I would recommend it to someone who specifically enjoys short stories and enjoys a little bit of eccentricity.

Follow the rest of the tour:

Monday, November 7th:  Books Distilled
Wednesday, November 9th:  The Broke and the Bookish
Monday, November 14th:  Sara’s Organized Chaos
Tuesday, November 15th:  Life in Review
Friday, November 18th:  A Bookish Affair
Monday, November 21st:  Dolce Bellezza
Wednesday, November 23rd:  Take Me Away
Monday, November 28th:  Literature and a Lens
Wednesday, November 30th:  Unabridged Chick
Thursday, Dec. 1st:  Sarah Reads Too Much 

The Buddha in the Attic

Friday, November 4, 2011

Title: The Buddha in the Attic
Author: Julie Otsuka
Pages: 144
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday (Random House)
Pub. Date: August 23, 2011

I was excited to read this because of all the rave reviews I had seen around. Then it made the list of finalists of the national book award, and since I was already interested in reading this I went ahead and picked it up. Apparently, Otsuka is the author of well-received book, When the Emperor was Divine, which I haven't read. A lot of what I have read about these two books say that book and this book are similar, though I don't know if it's just the content or the style so I can't compare.

The Buddha in the Attic tells the story of a group of Japanese women who come the United States just before the second world war. The women are mail order brides on the way to meet their husbands and live the "American Dream". Unfortunately, life doesn't turn out the way they dreamed. They talk about the first nights with their husbands, who, by the way, are nothing like what they advertised. They talk about working for and interaction with white people. They discuss having children and the ways in which their children grow up, taking on the American culture. And then they talk about the ways in which they and other Japanese persons are forced out of their homes and communities.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The writing was beautiful and the content was so human, authentic, and insightful. Otsuka told a story about a group of women that all other women, regardless of race or ethnicity, can relate to in one way or another. One of the things I really loved about this book is also the same thing that might turn off a lot of others. The story was narrated in first person plural form. This method provided a unique but very effective way to tell the story and get the messages across. But I'll admit it wore on me every once in a while. I think some readers who prefer more traditional novels might not like this. But it was otherwise a great way to tell the story about a group of people that really applied to the group as a whole rather than being that different for each individual. It's a short book that makes quite an impact in it's few pages.

I definitely recommend The Buddha in the Attic and I hope to get to Otsuka's first book one of these days.

Monday, October 31, 2011

October in Review

Happy Halloween!! Hope everyone enjoyed their Halloween parties and your children have fun with their trick-or-treating. I'm not actually a big Halloween person. I've had fun with it in the past, but really what I look forward to is the day after Halloween when it is officially November which makes it officially... "the holidays"! 

Anyway, I didn't read quite the collection of scary books I meant to this month, but no biggie because I've been reading some other good books. Here is what I reviewed this week:
I also talked about being a wuss and about having accidental DNFs.
I'm getting a little behind on reviews but hope to have up soon both The Buddha in the Attic and Lightning People.

I'm incredibly looking forward to November and December! Hope everyone else has a great November of reading!

When She Woke

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Title: When She Woke
Author: Hillary Jordan
Pages: 352
Genre: Fiction, Dystopian
Publisher: Algonquin Books (Workman Publishing(
Pub. Date: October 4, 2011

This was one of those books I hadn't necessarily planned on reading right away, but I thought I would read a few pages and then I became totally absorbed in the unique story. When She Woke is inspired by The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I read The Scarlet Letter in high school and actually liked it, but I really don't remember it enough to make many comparisons between that and this. However, I do feel that despite being inspired by it, When She Woke is definitely something different and unique in its own right.

I don't recall it specifying when, but this book takes place sometime in the future. The U.S. has created a system where only the worst of the worst criminals stay in jail. Instead, others are sentenced to "melachroming" for a certain amount of time in which their entire bodies are turned an entirely different color. The different colors represent different crimes - killers are red, misdemeanor type crimes are blue, drug related offenses yellow, more serious drug related crimes orange, and child molesters are purple. (It's been a little bit since I read this so I could be slightly off). However, the government is also theocratic so crimes are also judged from a religious perspective. Hence, Hannah Payne is sentenced to melachroming (red) for 13 years after she has an abortion. Not only does she have an abortion, but she refuses to name the father of the child. As you might imagine, melachromed individuals, although free, have to deal with a prejudice so intense that they'd probably be better off in jail anyway.

Hannah first spends 30 days in a sort of jail that also doubles as a reality show for the public. That's part of the punishment, although the book doesn't really go into any background information about that. Afterwards, Hannah ends up in a very scary home run by hypocritically religious zealots. She's treated like a prisoner there and has to attend daily sessions of "enlightenment". This part was incredibly creepy and offensive. My thought while reading this was that I would NOT recommend this book to someone who did have an abortion; I imagine that the things purported by some of the characters in the book, specifically during "enlightenment", would be difficult for someone who had this experience to read; it was awful! Whenever Hannah has a reason to think she might be free, something else happens to teach her more about being prejudiced against. She faces constant stares and rebukes by the general population, is refused services at various stores and restaurants, faces physical and sexual attack by others, and is pursued by a violent vigilante group who seeks out melachromed individuals to kill.

The plot continuously moved forward and I was fascinated in learning more about this world so those two things kept me turning the pages. I am not typically into the dystopian genre and I thought this one had the right amount of dystopia mixed with the right amount of contemporary storyline to keep a reader of more mainstream fiction interested. The main draw, I think, with When She Woke was the discussions that could be generated from various aspects of the story. For instance, not only is the government theocratic in nature, but Hannah comes from a type of evangelical religious family. Her mother disowns her for having the abortion, and her sister's husband refuses to allow the two contact. So various issues about religion were brought up. Also, should people who have been committed crimes (I'm NOT talking Hannah but the other actual criminals) be allowed to be free as long as they are very clearly identified as such? And if you do have strong beliefs about any specific morals, what is the best way to teach others about them? And, of course, for those willing to go there, what constitutes a crime in the first place? Just some very interesting things to talk about.  Real dystopian lovers might be disappointed at the lack of explanation beneath much of the world building (just based on what I've read other people say in their reviews of dystopians). For me, this book was more about the world itself and the philosophical questions it generated. Race and religion, prejudice and government... it's all there!

The Plight of the Accidental DNFs...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

If you're the type of reader that doesn't waste time slogging through books that just aren't interesting to you, then you're familiar with the purposeful DNFs (did-not-finish). But I noticed that over time I've started to experience the plight of accidental DNFs. These are books that I'm reading and am typically enjoying (though not always but still plan on reading through to the end) that I end up setting aside for a minute. And then I don't pick them back up! Maybe for a week or two I'll assure myself that I'm returning right back to it, but weeks, months, and sometimes YEARS later, I realize I never did. I'm sure this happens for various reasons. Possibly as a result of Book ADD, as Trisha puts it or just the pressure of reading other books in general. Here are a random smattering of books that I never finished for almost no good reason!!

The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons
 This was the first purchase I made on my nook almost two years ago. I was really enjoying it when I did get to a slower part that made me put it down for a minute. Plus, at 752 pages I figured I should take a break and read something smaller or less focused on such a singular topic. This sat on my nook untouched for probably a year and a half until my husband decided to read it.

Dracula by Bram Stoker
 I just talked about this one not too long ago. Although I had every intention of continuing through anyway, I haven't had the desire to pick it back up because it's actually quite boring. I'm almost halfway through. Does it get better? My husband, who was reading this at the same time as me, who is usually good at finishing books anyway, has also not gotten very far and has resorted to other books instead.

The Passage by Justin Cronin
I didn't mean to mention my husband really at all in this post, but he applies to all three books so far! This one is out of my preferred genre, but I heard such AMAZING things so he and I planned on reading this one together. I really enjoyed part 1. My hubby finished this book. I never got any further. To me the rest was "meh". I wanted to finish so we could discuss, and to this day he'll bring up that I never followed through with this and he has things he wants to talk to me about. I'm thinking maybe it's some of these longer books that I just get bored with. Or maybe I feel overwhelmed at the enormity of it, because I really did not get far at all.

The Eleventh Day by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan
I started reading this one earlier this year not too long after it came out. It was pretty interesting for a while. I was horrified at the section that talked about the people who believed in the various conspiracy theories. Then it slowed down and I thought I'd fit in a fiction. And that was the end of that! (This one is actually sitting next to my reading chair with a bookmark still in it, just awaiting my return).

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
I had lots of review books and commitments to attend to when I happened to pick this one up during an innocent trip to the bookstore. After reading in the store I knew I had to take it home. And although I loved what I was reading and was super excited in anticipation of the famed power point chapter, I had to put it aside for other reading commitments. And even though I feel excited about this book, and I've heard such great things, it's like I moved forward in my reading momentum and I dropped this one way back and can't go back to pick it up! I WILL for sure though. This one is a must read for sure.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
This is another that falls into the category of I was really enjoying it and everyone says it's great yet somehow I forgot about it and it sits unfinished. This one I started in October of 2010 on my nook while on vacation visiting my brother-in-law in Raleigh. I specifically remember this one being featured in some newsletter or ad about indie picks. I bought it on my nook, and I don't even remember at this point what happened to make me stop reading! Will also return to this one day for sure.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
I had to know what all the hype was about. I actually started this one as well in October of 2010 on my nook while visiting the brother-in-law. Then I didn't read it again for at least a couple months. Then around January I really made a lot of headway in it. This one was a conundrum for me... I did enjoy the character driven aspect of this, although I also felt the overly pretentiousness of it. The characters were just too much... don't know what else to say about them, and I felt like asking why I should care about them. Nevertheless, I never meant for this to be a DNF. In fact, I invested too much in this one for that.... I haven't read it in close to a year, but it's possible I might return to this one.

Body and Soul by Frank Conroy
I bought this for my mother for her birthday maybe two years ago. She had been really into piano playing at the time and wanted to read a book that featured that. I did some research and found this one with rave reviews. My mom said she really enjoyed and might re-read it one day (which is rare for her) so I thought I'd love it. I actually was enjoying this too but it got a little slow, I put it down to read something else for a little, and well... by this point I'm sure you know what happened. This one is actually sitting on top of The Eleventh Day also awaiting my return. I actually do hope to finish this one as well.

Well, that's just a smattering... I only meant to include a few books but then I kept thinking of more. And I'm sure as soon as I hit publish more will come flooding into my memory. Am I the only one who does this? Is it really that weird to take a year or two to finish a book?? (Actually I'm laughing about that because it has to be weird). But am I the only one?