Best of 2014

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

This was a weird year of reading, as usually I have five or so books each of fiction and non-fiction that I can point out as my favorite. But this year I didn't feel that great about enough books to really comprise the same type of lists. So here are a few books that I would count on my best of list for the year overall.

We Live In Water by Jess Walter
I never did write a review of this one, but I found these short stories to be one of the best collections I had read. I wish I could remember more to say... maybe I'll re-read it and do an actual review. 

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I called this one a social commentary on our society. It was heavy and direct but a great read.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
I loooved this book! Even though I just recently read it, I will be doing a re-read in January to prepare for my month of hosting book club with this book. This was my favorite of the year (though published in 2010).

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs
I just finished this yesterday, and I do have a review written and ready to post sometime in the near future. This man's biography will stay in my head for a long time. My second favorite book of the year.

Review: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Pages: 530
Genre: Fiction; Historical
Publisher: Scribner (Simon & Schuster)
Pub. Date:  May 6, 2014

I was so excited to read this because of all the buzz it was getting. It also started to show up on lots of year end lists. So we finally bought out own copy if it. I tried so hard to love this. But I ended up being so disappointed. :(

This book literally tells two different, parallel stories that take place during World War II in France and Germany. The Paris story is about a blind girl who has to escape from her home town and who experiences life in the nazi occupation. The Germany story is about a boy who goes to a school where he is being trained to be a nazi but experiences mixed feelings about it. 

And that is essentially the plot in its entirety. I have definitely enjoyed character driven stories in the last, but I can't say this is what this was. I thought of this almost as a setting driven story. The writing in this book was gorgeous! So the way the author described scenes was truly beautiful. In fact, the very first page/chapter is just a paragraph and drew me in because of the writing. I just felt that the other aspects were lacking to the point that I rarely had the desire to pick the book back up. The other thing I found somewhat bothersome was that most chapters were extremely short and since they alternated between the two stories it felt disjointed, even though the concept of alternating chapters has never bothered me before. And just as an FYI, the two story lines intersect only slightly and not until at least 400 pages in the book.

So in summary, All The Light We Cannot See is beautifully imagined, but there was nothing in the story or characters that made me want to read more. I finished this one for the sake of finishing it.

Review: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Monday, November 17, 2014

Title: Unbroken
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Pages: 406
Genre: Non-Fiction, Historical, Biographical
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: November 16, 2010

It is November and I finally have my first five star read of the year! I read all the rave reviews when this first came out, but I literally had no. interest. whatsoever. at that time. It's hard to believe I ever felt that way, but it's possible that my interest in war related topics has just increased that much since 2010. (Although, seriously, even if you don't have interest in that topic, in general, you have to read this!) I chose this as my book club pick for the next month, which will be in January, and I'm so glad I chose it because I would have missed out on something absolutely amazing if I skipped this and now I can make everyone else read it too! :)  Plus, I am excited about the movie coming out, directed by Angelina Jolie, and the Oscar buzz it's eliciting!

This book enthralled me. I could not put it down... reading this was the last thing I did before bed each night and the first thing I did each morning (for the few short days I was reading it, anyway). I went into it remembering one specific review that had stuck out to me back in the day; that reviewer stated they could not at all believe that someone had gone through all this and felt much of it must have been fabricated. They also felt it was a very self-serving story. I can see where every time something happened it was like, seriously?? But, in reality, as extreme as it is, I choose to believe it all. And I certainly did NOT come away from this thinking negatively or skeptically of Louis Zamperini. The opposite, actually! And it is insane what Louis Zamperini went through. What I had trouble believing, if anything, was that a human being could endure all that this person endured. That was probably the hardest, but there were many men who endured what he did (and one other who endured being lost at sea for 47 days with him) so we know it can happen. I wrote down a few quotes from Hillenbrand's fantastic writing, but here is one of my favorites:
"Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man's soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it. The loss of it can carry a man off as surely as thirst, hunger, exposure, and asphyxiation, and with greater cruelty." (pg. 189, paperback copy).
I feel like in the end, that's what this book and this story are about. Dignity, and how maintaining or restoring it is what makes people resilient. It's how we move forward. This books provides a long look at the best of people and their resilience as well as into the worst of people when they are put into a situation of power and authority. Although this is about the life of Louis Zamperini, I thought Hillenbrand did a great job of narrating not just his life but those of other soldiers as well and narrating the circumstances, in general. I also liked that the book didn't end when the war did. Hillenbrand continues on afterward to describe the aftermath of war on the soldiers including their experiences with PTSD; she includes the outcomes of the lives of the captors, and this last section about the aftermath of the war is just as interesting as the rest of the story. It was also interesting to read this WWII story specifically because almost everything we read about this war is about what took place in Europe, especially in Germany, but the atrocities in Japan were on par with that of Germany and we don't hear much about it.

I just don't have the words... I cannot express what I want about this book because I loved it so much. I had to stop sometimes to reflect on what I had just read or to let myself cry or just to take a breath. But it was always a short break since I couldn't put it down! I would say it's on my list of the best EVER books. I will recommend this again and again... along with a box of tissues.

Review: Frankenstein

Monday, November 3, 2014

Title: Frankenstein
Author: Mary Shelley
Pages: 241
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Signet Classics (Penguin)
Pub. Date: March 11, 1818

Jason and I chose Frankenstein as our Halloween/October/Fall read-a-long this year. (I read the signet classic mass market paperback version pictured at the top, but Jason read a really nice hardcover that included illustrations which is pictured on the right).

Overall, it was just okay. It certainly was not one of the scariest books ever, as many lists online try to say. Maybe in 1818 the thought of it was scary. I think maybe the theme itself was sort of scary, more so than the actual plot. The theme being how sometimes we get carried away and the decisions we make will haunt us and create horrible consequences.

In case you weren't aware of the origin of this story, Victor Frankenstein is a scientist who decides he can create a living creature, so he toils away in his laboratory until he creates a living being. This creature, who remains nameless, (yes, Frankenstein refers only to the scientist who created the monster), is a gruesome being who scares people in his image alone and whose actions taunt Frankenstein.

This was a pretty sluggish read. Even though it was less than 250 pages, and even though the story itself is interesting enough, it was so drawn out and could have used some editing... Part of this is that it was written in 1818 and maybe that's just how people talked?? (The story is all told in first person, though there are a few different narrators)... but I've read other older classics and didn't always feel this way. I wanted to shout at it to "move on already!" Jason felt the same way. It became a running joke that we each had to sit down and push on through. In fact, the last night I was reading it I only had about seven pages left and just could not stay awake for them, and it felt like it took me forever the next morning to finish those pages!

I mentioned earlier that parts of it were so ridiculous. Frankenstein is considered one of the first science fiction novels ever written. But the science fiction part of it, such as when the monster is created, had me laughing with the lack of reality. Whereas nowadays, even a fictional story would have to have some type of rationality that even if unreal makes sense in the story, in Frankenstein, it was more like... he wanted to create a living being, so he worked hard in his laboratory, and voila! a monster is made! Many parts of the book lacked the kind of detail and polish that could have more thoroughly illustrated the scene; this is despite feeling in other ways that the book was sluggish with over narration.

All that being said, Frankenstein really wasn't horrible... it is just definitely outdated. It was still interesting to read the origin of the story that has become so well known today. I won't even say that I would never read it again... I do think that talking about the themes of the book etc. would make it a good group read. And with Jason and I reading it together, there were many times we were able to talk about the plot and laugh at something ridiculous or be confused together about when something happened or exclaim at a plot point together. It was also very interesting to see how the modern interpretation of Frankenstein differs so dramatically from the original one created by Mary Shelley. Jason feels that reading the illustrated version improved his experience of the book, though that one is a heavy copy so you would need to plan on keeping that one at home!

I give this one 3 out of 5 stars.

Review of Halloween Horror Nights 2014

Monday, October 20, 2014

For my first  off topic post, I thought I would post a review of this year's Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios (in Orlando). This is only the second year that I've attended, but it was so much fun and I wanted to write about it. First, a disclaimer: I won't have the most detailed reviews of each house because I spent a large majority of the time focusing on the upcoming corners, doorways, and curtains, bracing for whatever/whoever was going to jump out at me. We did make it to all eight houses this year which I was super excited about, especially with it being a Saturday night three weeks before Halloween. Really felt like I made full use of my money for the night!

The Houses
The Walking Dead
I knew ahead of time that the two most popular houses would probably be The Walking Dead house and the Halloween house. TWD was in the front of the park and Halloween the back so we decided to just hop in line for TWD since it was only a 45 minute wait when we got there. We were there with our best couple friend(s) and with it being the first house of the night, the wait felt super quick. All I really remember is we heard lots of screaming in this house as we were waiting. This was advertised as the biggest house they've ever had, and it was definitely long. There were zombies jumping out all over the place, on both sides. I screamed and laughed my way through this as I squeezed quickly to the right and then to the left over and over again. They repeated a scene similar to last year's with the jail and the jail cell's being open. There was another scary part with strobe lights and zombies EVERYWHERE. We all loved this one. But I'm also in the camp of people who love TWD house and wouldn't mind at all if they continue to include this one next year again. Vs. Predator
I've only partially seen any of these movies so I wasn't sure what to expect. This was an interesting one in terms of the set design, but there weren't necessarily too many scares. I did scream out loud which my friend laughed about since at the moment I did nothing had jumped out. But I looked to my right and saw this masked thing just standing there and it freaked me out. - Cannibal Colony
After the AvP house, and after we'd done a couple of other rides, we moved closer to the back of the park to get to this house, because the wait was only, I believe, 5 minutes at the time! This house was based off the real life mystery about the group of colonists in the 16th century who disappeared... one of the theories is that because they had no food or resources they became cannibals and... well... you know. This house freaked me out! In a completely different way than TWD did. The costumes and sets were amazing in this one. I remember seeing one girl sitting there savagely eating part of another person (his intestines, maybe?) I think this might be the one where in a couple places the scare actors were walking around in the line of people instead of just jumping out from somewhere. This was a good one.

Dollhouse of the Damned
This one was right across from Roanoke, and the wait was only 15 minutes when we got out of that one, so we went straight into this one. As you walk up, you see a cartoon-y looking house and the sound of little laughs coming out of it. This house was CREEPY!! I mean, yeah, I figured the dolls would be creepy, but this caught me off guard. There was this one especially creepy part where I was looking up at a creepy looking doll, and I might have even said out loud "are these real or..." and all of a sudden the super creepy looking one jumped at me.  This one was surprisingly... you guessed it... creepy!!! Untold  
This one is based off the new movie. Honestly, I don't remember this one. It wasn't the most remarkable in set design or scares. I mean, I did jump and scream, but as I sit here and write this I literally cannot remember anything about it! Sorry Dracula Untold people. :( Dusk Till Dawn
Right after the first vampire one we went to this one. I know nothing at all about this show or movie. This one wasn't really scary either. It was more about the set I guess as well. But since I hadn't seen the movie or anything it didn't mean a whole lot to me. This one felt more like watching a show.
Giggles and Gore
Okay, so by this time of the night we had done all the rides we wanted to do and spent plenty of time in the Simpsons area so the guys could get some Duff beer. (We girls chose to go for Starbucks instead earlier in the night). I've had a fear of clowns ever since I watched Poltergeist at the age of 3... that scene... with the clown that comes to life! But I will say I reigned in the fear significantly after reading then watching It last year... I just had to remind myself that Pennywise was Tim Curry, and then I wasn't afraid anymore. BUT, I was still super apprehensive about walking into a "haunted" house full of clowns jumping out at me. But really, this one wasn't bad at all. I was super proud of myself. It was scary and fun. Some of the clowns were freaky looking, but some weren't. The ending of this one was awesome. Lots of fun.

Halloween last house of the night. This was one that I was most looking forward to, but the line was so long all night.. getting up to 75 minutes at one point that we saw so we kept putting it off. By the time this was the only house left, the wait was 60 minutes. It was 12:40 am. Our friends decided they were done for the night and left. Jason and I hemmed and hawed and then finally decided we just must do this one. For almost the entire wait we were looking at a house in the middle of nowhere, with the Halloween theme music playing loudly over the speakers. Scary! And we were so lucky that the wait time of 60 minutes was incorrect, and we ended up waiting only 25 minutes! We are so glad we did. Like they said, this one was like walking through the movie, Halloween. Michael Myers jumped out from everywhere with his knife raised in the air. I had seen a video of a girl going through this house alone so I had an idea what to expect. I was terrified of what I knew was coming - the hallway full of Michael Myers on each side! I won't tell you if one was real or not... you can go and see for yourself! ;) There was also a "scene" from the movie with a girl sitting on the couch and Michael Myers jumps out and attacks her as you walk by. And the ending of this was awesome as well. I screamed and laughed a lot with this one!! I happened to find a video of this one online if you are interested... looks like it is an official video so hopefully I'm not doing anything wrong linking to this one: Halloween House Video

The Scare Zones
Okay, I just wanted to add something little about the scare zones. First there was The Purge. I've seen both the Purge movies which have such an awful premise but, well, I still watched them. Basically, in a future world the government allows all crime to take place on one night of the year, including murder. In the second one, a couple's car breaks down as they are on the way home, so they are essentially stuck outside downtown in the middle of the Purge. So I was super scared of this one, but was by far the weakest scare zone. I think I only saw two of the Purge characters total (plus a couple chain saw people) in the few times we walked through there. Another one was the Bayou of Blood which was set in Louisiana with the voodoo culture. There was a thick green fog that made that one creepy. There was supposedly a human sacrifice show every so often but I didn't see it. There was Face Off which was definitely the best one. This is based off the show of the same name on SyFy where contestants create scary and gruesome masks. (I haven't actually watched the show but that's what I understand). The characters were amazing, and the scare actors in this one were super active and totally got into their role. And the last one was actually the first one when you walk in the park... Masquerade. I only saw this one while it was still light out so it wasn't as scary. Some of these actors were alright, but there was one girl that was creeping me out even in the light.

So that's it! I had so much fun and would definitely recommend this event!

The Sunday Salon

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Looks as though I got myself in a little over my head with my reading "commitments" this past month after doing so well the month before! Somehow I ended up committing to the read-a-long for Something Wicked This Way Comes which I did start... to Frankenstein with my husband which I did start... to Cartwheel with my sister which I did start... any one recognize a pattern? Not to mention I had been slowly making may way still through The Stand but haven't looked at that one in a while. Really, I haven't done much reading at all lately. All the same reasons. Yesterday, I finally picked a couple books back up again and got a lot of reading done. I've been sick (again) so I spent all day Saturday at home.

As for Frankenstein, up until yesterday I'd only read a couple chapters and was really not into it. My husband felt the same way. And does it seem like every book written in the 1800's is in the format of someone writing a letter to someone else about the narrative of someone they met and that's what the actual book is? Seems like I've seen a lot of that! But yesterday I did get a lot further and it's picked up a little.That being said, it is a ridiculous story in many ways and you have to be willing to suspend disbelief. I'll explain more when I'm done reading it!

Something Wicked This Way Comes I am also not far in at all, but the story itself was reminding me every so slightly of Stephen King ONLY because of the theme with the two young boys... cue It or Stand By Me. I will get back to this later, but probably not one the read-a-long schedule.

Cartwheel, based off of the Amanda Knox story, is one I have been wanting to read for a while. I happened to be with my sister recently at Barnes and Noble and she decided she wanted to read it and that we should each read it together. Plus we get extra points for it on our family reading challenge... (have I mentioned that before)? As part of that we each identified five books we wanted to be sure to read this year and we all get extra points if we read any off the entire list and that's on there. Again, I'm only shortly into this one, but wow, the main girl (the one who would be the Amanda Knox of the story) is very difficult to like!

On the blog front, has anyone else with blogger had issues renewing the payment for their domain? I initially had a whole paragraph about this but decided better of it... don't want to insult the owner of the blogger platform I'm using! Suffice it to say, my balance is paid and I am good to go, but it was not easy!

On another blog related note, I've always felt pretty strongly about keeping this blog strictly about the books, but I decided that I'm going to post about other things every now and then... it's ridiculous that I feel a weird sort of guilt or unease about this!! But the other things I plan on posting about, so far anyway, are all still related to the theme of "taking me away" and being an escape from the often harsh realities of every day life! Tomorrow I will be posting my review of Halloween Horror Nights which I attended last weekend!

Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Title: The Sparrow
Author: Mary Doria Russell
Pages: 405
Genre: Fiction; Sci-Fi; Christian
Publisher: Ballantine Books (Random House)
Pub. Date: September 9, 1996

I had heard of The Sparrow once or twice before and knew it to be highly underrated (in terms of how well known and popular it was) and heard it was amazing and life changing. (Read the reviews on any site... you'll find mostly 5 star reviews all touting similar reactions). So with the recent read-a-long hosted by Trish at Love, Laughter, Insanity, and my recent desire to jump back into blogging and reconnecting with the book blogging world, I decided to join right in. I have very mixed thoughts after reading this. First let me explain briefly what it's about as well as any confusion you may have at reading the genre categories!

The basic plot is about the Jesuit Society hearing alien transmissions from another planet, so they send a team to investigate and learn about what other possible life forms there are. Bad things happen there, though, and only one person returns to Earth where he is interrogated, questioned, judged, etc. The narration flips back and forth from the current time (year 2060) after Emilio Sandoz has returned and from 2016-2019 when this mission started. The flip flopping of the narration adds to the tension because you know something horrible happened and just a little about it and the other narration builds to that end we're all trying to figure out.

This was a heavy book to read -- dense in its 405 pages. It was actually more engaging than I expected it to be in a lot of ways. But I can see where a lot of readers felt the middle dragged.. but I think it's not that it dragged but that it's that the focus was on the life found on the other planet, Rakhat. I felt like I learned. SO. MUCH.... only it is all fiction, LOL. I don't read a whole lot of scf-fi or fantasy so I may just not be used to how the genre works, but I don't remember in the few things I have read of having to focus as much on specifically learning the terms, the cultural factors, etc. as opposed to learning it indirectly through the movement of the story itself. The reason for all that here was because the main characters' purpose in going to this world WAS to learn these things, so part of moving the story along, I suppose, was learning and explaining these things. How their language works. Why they speak the way they do. What their culture is like. How it operates economically. I just sort of felt like maybe it was a bit much... maybe I just feel guilty that I can tell you so much about the Runa and Jana'ata and Ruanja and K'San and Kashan and Supaari VaGayjur and spacial observation vs. non-visual etc. etc. but I'm still working on understanding a lot of real life things in history and current events.... LOL!! It also took me about 1/2 to 3/4 of the book to really start to connect to most of the characters.

The other thing is that I expected to find some great insights into faith and related philosophy and, for me, it wasn't as significant as I thought it would be. I did take away some thoughtful little nuggets. But I guess I had just expected more and wanted it to be life changing for me too. That being said, I also think that there is a lot to talk about and I think that after discussing things with other readers I would maybe come away with more. There were horrific things in this book and some of it did seem extreme. I understand that the extreme nature was maybe necessary to emphasize the point of Emilio's bitterness, but yikes! There was one part that did make me cry having to do with one of the kids on Rakhat. I usually consider something in a book affecting me like that as a good thing.

So for these reasons, I was pretty torn and had mixed thoughts after finishing the book. The book itself was good... yes, and overall I did enjoy reading it. But I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. Only to those who very genuinely have an interest in this book and topic. I have found in reading the reviews on the book sites that this is one of those books people either LOVE or HATE. Obviously, I don't fall into either extreme, I seem to be the exception! There is a sequel, Children of God. I am curious what happens, but I'm feeling so/so about reading it again. Then again, I did invest all that time in learning about that world so maybe I should go for it. :)

And just an interesting thought I had while reading this; in some ways, this reminded me of State of Wonder by Ann Patchett which I loved. They're both about traveling to a foreign environment for research and controversial issues about the culture that is encountered. Anyway, just had to throw that in there!


Review: One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B. J. Novack

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Title: One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories
Author: B. J. Novack
Audio Narration By: B. J. Novack (and many guests!)
Pages: 288
Audio Length: 6 hours, 48 minutes
Genre: Humor, short stories
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday (Random House)
Pub. Date: February 4, 2014
Audiobook Publisher: Random House Audio

My husband and I chose this as the audio to listen to on our recent road trip to North Carolina. We ended up not listening to audio much on the trip but enough to finish it a few days after we got home. B. J. Novack is one of the writers and producers of the show, The Office, so if you're into that quirky, sometimes absurd, always silly comedy, you may enjoy this book of "short stories". That being said, it's misleading to call these short stories. It's more a book of humorous stories... the lengths of some would definitely warrant a typical short story; many were extremely short (like a couple sentences, if that) and, to me, were more of just jokes.

In all, there are more than 60 stories, though like I said, some are very short. The ones that weren't good were really "bleh"... but the good ones were hilarious. We laughed out loud listening to them, and we keep quoting some of the ones we really liked.

The best thing about the audio is the guest stars that narrate parts including Jenna Fischer, Mindy Kaling, and Rainn Wilson who, you probably already know, were all in The Office. There was also Lena Dunham, Katy Perry, and Julianne Moore. I won't list them all but that was just some of them, and they all did great.

One of my favorite stories was the first one, The Rematch, which was a continuation of the Tortoise and the Hare story. We have fun quoting this one part of that -- something the hare says to the tortoise which is ridiculous but which made both of us crack up. We loved The Girl Who Gave Great Advice (which Katy Perry helps narrate) and use phrases from that one all the time. Actually there were lots of other good ones like Wikipedia Brown and the Case of the Missing Bicycle, Constructive Criticism, and Discussion Questions at the end... Some weren't as funny but were good stories like The World's Biggest Rip Off which we both thought we had called but went in a different direction than expected. Some of the stories are funny but, at the same time, are sort of sad. Novack pokes mocks some things and pokes fun at a lot of things about our society and people.

So, while it wasn't completely even across the book, there were plenty of stories that kept us entertained. There were a couple crass moments, but overall I thought the humor was fairly clean.. (of course, there is the story about the warlord on a blind date and the one about a sex robot...) I would definitely recommend listening to this one on audio, though.

The Sparrow Read-a-Long, Midway Check In

Monday, September 15, 2014

I am right at the midway point on page 202 which is the start of chapter 20. I'm glad I was able to catch up to this point, since I didn't start it until close to a week after the read-a-long started. It is keeping me interested so far, but I am definitely curious about where it's going, what's going to happen, what's the message of the book (which I am under the impression this has), etc.

1. How is The Sparrow matching up with your expectations going into the book? Are you surprised by anything?

I think the only thing I'm surprised by is probably the behaviors of Emilio, which aren't bad, but just not what I had in my head for a priest! The book is probably a little more engaging than I had thought it might be.

2. Do you feel the switching back and forth between past and present to be effective?

Yes, it probably adds to the level of tension since we know something crazy and horrible happened and are seeing the aftermath but we don't know exactly what.

3. Which characters do you want to hug and squeeze? Any you’d like to strangle?

I don't really feel strong feelings either way about any of the characters. I guess Anne is my favorite because she seems the most nurturing but also the most reasonable... she was the only one who seemed to be realistically hesitant about the thought of traveling to space. I actually like Sophia too.. she's closed off but she has reasons for it.

4. Any other thoughts? #copoutquestion

Not that I haven't already mentioned. I just want to know what happens!

Sunday Salon

Sunday, September 14, 2014

This past week we went to North Carolina for my brother-in-law's wedding. We had a week of festivities with family (ours and the bride's) and lots of friends. Let me ask you... what relation would you say my brother-in-law's new wife is to me? I sort of assumed we'd be sisters-in-law but realized recently we don't technically have any relation except that we are married to brothers. Would you refer to her as a sister-in-law anyway? This is a pic of Jason and me at the wedding reception. It was held in the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh which was a beautiful and unique venue.

Anyway, as always, I didn't read quite as much as planned during the getaway. I did start reading The Sparrow and had already been reading The Stand. We spent some of our driving time (about a 10 hour drive each way) listening to B. J. Novack's One More Thing on audio, and believe it or not I have already written my review! I will post that soon. Yesterday I also finished reading the book of essays, Bad Feminist. Last night was book club, and we read Beautiful Ruins. I read and loved it last year and was going to do audio this time around, but I only made it through about half. It seems the consensus was that everyone loved it too. That's about it in reading. Hope you have a great week!

A Couple of Read-a-Longs

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I am notoriously bad at read-a-longs. I've joined many in my blogging years and finished very few (if any!) Even of the "Halloween" read-a-longs I've done with my husband I did not complete two (The Passage and Dracula). It's not for any specific reason except that I get bored at some point. But, I am going to try again, and I will actually follow through this time!

I am currently doing the read-a-long for The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell that is hosted by Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity. I haven't heard much about this book, but what I have heard has been AH-mazing. I picked up this book just recently and am through two chapters so far. This read-a-long is September 1st through 30th.

The second one I'm doing will be October 1st through 31st and is hosted by both Ti @ Book Chatter and Sandy @ You've GOTTA Read This for the book Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. My husband is going to do this one as well (along with our read of Frankenstein which I mentioned before).

I'm looking forward to both of these! And I'm glad to be joining the read-a-longs of some of my favorite bloggers along with other fave bloggers who will also be reading!

Review: The Three by Sarah Lotz

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Title: The Three
Author: Sarah Lotz
Pages: 480
Genre: Fiction; Thriller/horror
Publisher: Little, Brown & Co. (Hachette)
Pub. Date: May 20, 2014

I have mixed feelings about The Three. It was creepy (good) but weird, enthralling but irritating, captivating but repetitive. I was drawn to this one by the premise and my interest lately in scarier things. (It's like I'm a teenager again!... almost). Basically, four planes crash on the same day. There are no survivors except for three children. Before long, all these conspiracy theories arise about the kids. Are they a part of alien experiments? Are they a sign of the apocalypse? Large groups form  that believe in each theory. The End Time Believers create a religious group called the "Pamelists" in honor of the one adult, Pam, who managed to send a partial message by phone before she passed. But as horrible as all this is, some of the people who are around the kids can't deny that there is something different about the kids who survived... but isn't that normal considering they've been through such a trauma??

I initially thought the way the story was told was clever and interesting: the entire book is basically the narrator's non-fiction book, Black Thursday: From Crash to Conspiracy, and is told through various (many, many) interviews that the "author" did. There are also chat room transcripts and magazine articles. While this was interesting at first it became way. too. much. These are the things that moved the story along, but I do think it could have done with moving a little faster because, as I mentioned earlier, it felt repetitive after a while. And by the end of the book, the last 75 pages or so, I had pretty much lost all interest.

On the other hand, I did find the book to be engaging. There was a lot of foreshadowing and just overall creepiness that made me want to read more. Even though it isn't really a scary book per se, there was one night when I didn't turn the light off when I went to sleep, because the whole things with the kids was creeping me out a little too much! The whole evangelist thing was funny but scary in a whole different way.

So, while I felt mixed emotions throughout the reading and after, I still think ultimately it was an interesting read and would still recommend it for maybe some fall/scary/Halloween themed reading.

Sunday Salon

Sunday, August 31, 2014

I know it's been a while, but I am back for now. (Does the Sunday Salon image above look a little blurry to you?)

Anyway, I have been experiencing some extreme stress and anxiety lately and have found that escaping into reading again (and doing some blogging, even though I haven't posted yet) has been a great solution. The main thing we have still been dealing with are our fertility issues. I don't know where I left off, but after four failed IUIs and two canceled cycles, we ultimately decided to go the IVF route. The process was surprisingly emotionally difficult. It was, unfortunately, unsuccessful, which is also scary because other than trying this again (which is the current plan), we are coming up on the end of this journey. Very depressing. Very anxiety inducing. So, with all the stress at home, I have been letting work stress (which seems extra high lately anyway) really get to me!! I need a vacation so bad. Soon we will be attending a family wedding out of state, but I have a strong feeling the festivities for that week will not help me feel at all relaxed.

Okay, so in books... I recently read The Three by Sarah Lotz which I have written the review for and will post soon. I am really looking forward to some other fall reading I have planned. (My husband and I have Frankenstein planned for our annual read together). But otherwise I am reading Bad Feminist which I am enjoying. And I am re-reading Beautiful Ruins, which I loved, for book club in September. (I just looked back at the comments from when I wrote that review, and now I am thinking maybe I should listen to the audio this time around since I just started the re-read! But just looked at the library and they only have the audio on actual cd... so I have it on hold. Hopefully I'll get it in time to listen before book club!) I am also reading Five Days at Memorial which I was so excited about reading when it first came out but then never got around to it. I also need to finish re-reading Gone Girl before the movie comes out!

That's about it for now!

Review: Don't Try to Find Me by Holly Brown

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Title: Don't Try to Find Me
Author: Holly Brown
Pages: 384
Genre: fiction
Publisher: William Morrow (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: July 8, 2014

The reason I decided to read this one was because it was compared to both Reconstructing Amelia and Gone Girl, both of which I loved... it is about a 14-year-old girl, Marley, that runs away. Her parents set up a website to find her as well as a Facebook page and a Twitter account and do a "publicity tour" all in an effort to find her. But then all the social media involvement unleashes some secrets that make the parents start to look suspicious. Did Marley really run away?? Or did her parents have something to do with her disappearance??

In terms of comparison to Reconstructing Amelia: It is extremely similar. The chapters alternate between the mother and a journal written in by Marley. There are a handful of Facebook conversations thrown in with a few "imaginary Facebook" status updates. We simultaneously see some scary stuff that a teenager is dealing with (which is very relevant today!) and how her relationship to her parents contributed to this. It did a very good job of demonstrating how the relationship between them went wrong which makes sense because the author is a marriage and family therapist. It also had the same suspenseful feel in figuring out the "mystery" which made the book difficult to put down. There is an aspect that is related to the show, "Catfish", which added suspense to the story too.

In terms of comparison to Gone Girl: Okay, so I can see where they are trying to go with this one... but it is definitely no Gone Girl. And the aspect in which there is an even slight comparison I thought was anti-climactic. I would have liked the book much better if what could be considered somewhat of a "twist" was more fleshed out and played a larger piece of the story. I didn't see it coming, really, so once I realized it I thought "Ah!!" and then that was it... it went nowhere.

So overall, I thought Don't Try to Find Me was an okay read. It was suspenseful and difficult to put down but, ultimately, the ending didn't satisfy me as I'd hoped.

Personal Rating: 3/5

Review: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Title: Mr. Mercedes
Author: Stephen King
Pages: 448
Genre: Fiction; mystery/thriller
Publisher: Scribner (Simon & Schuster)
Pub. Date: June 3, 2014

Stephen King's latest book, Mr. Mercedes, starts off with a psychopathic killer driving his car through a mass of people waiting in line for a job fair, murdering several and hurting others. He manages to escape and his case essentially becomes cold. The owner of the car whom he stole it from then kills herself, presumably from the guilt of leaving her car accessible.

Retired Detective Hodges then enters the story; he's experiencing a newly retired life which feels pointless until he is drawn into this case, basically by Mr. Mercedes himself, and decides to try to find the killer on his own. In the meantime, Mr. Mercedes has plans for more evil, so the retired detective's search for him becomes a race to save thousands of people.

I read through this one quickly. I liked all the characters (well except Mr. Mercedes of course, but his character was done well for who he was). Mr. Mercedes, of course, was creeeepy. Reading his thoughts was often cringe worthy for so many different reasons. There were lots of cliffhangers, and I never wanted to stop reading when the chapters ended. I felt like there was an element of "true crime" to it as well in that this story was relevant to some of the scary things our country has experienced in recent years in terms of mass murders... I always find myself wanting to understand more, so even though this was fiction, reading from the killer's point of view was informative in a way (though disturbing!)

What I did not like was the significant amount of references to race... for Mr. Mercedes they made sense because they were part of his character and thoughts.. But there was a large amount of focus on Det. Hodges's lawn person and his race and how he overcomes the stereotypes, etc., but they have this inside joke about how he refers to Hodges as "Massa Hodges", and this joke is really played out, and I'm not completely sure what the point of that was. That was slightly distracting for me.

Would definitely recommend this, and a good starter for those who have not read King before and maybe are afraid of some of his scarier stuff. Also, Mr. Mercedes is apparently the first in a planned trilogy! The second book comes out in 2015.

Review: That Night by Chevy Stevens

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Title: That Night
Author: Chevy Stevens
Pages: 370
Genre: Fiction; mystery/thriller
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (Macmillan)
Pub. Date: June 17, 2014

I read two of Chevy Stevens's previous three books, Still Missing and Never Knowing, and found both to be great thrilling and suspenseful reads. So I was happy to have the opportunity to read her latest.

In That Night, we follow the story line of Toni, a woman in her mid-thirties, who has spent almost the last twenty years in prison for the murder of her sister. The only issue is she was falsely accused and no wants to find out what really happened. The book is told through two different timelines - the current one in which Toni is trying to be straight and not get in trouble with her probation officer while still trying to find out the truth about who killed her sister - and the past story line from when she was a teenager, was arrested, convicted, and then her time in prison.

This was a fast and suspenseful read that kept me guessing. I did guess one thing but was still surprised to find out I was right about that. I disliked some of the girls in the book, but it does well at depicting high school cliques and bullying. The author's reference to pop culture and trends was so reminiscent of junior high for me (the character is in high school) and transported me back to my 1996 as well! The relationship between the main character and her sister bugged me because I wish they were closer, and the mom in this book made me so mad! But that was just part of the story and not a writing or character issue. ;)

I would definitely recommend this for fans of this genre.

Review: The Most Dangerous Animal Of All by Gary L. Stewart & Susan Mustafa

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Title: The Most Dangerous Animal of All
Subtitle: Searching For My Father and Finding the Zodiac Killer
Pages: 334 (367 including notes, etc.)
Genre: Non-ficiton; True crime; Memoir
Publisher: Harper (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: May 13, 2014

In 2007 I went to the theater and saw the then latest Jake Gyllenhaal movie, Zodiac. It was based on the true story of the Zodiac Murders in the 70's which I hadn't known anything about up until then, but it was interesting and the movie itself was really good. And then, coincidentally, I watched the movie again last month when a friend of mine was visiting because she hadn't seen it before and it was on Netflix. So I was super interested in this book when it came out. (And just a side note, the cover is so interesting. The front and back cover is a picture of the believed-to-be serial killer and the dust jacket is red and clear. My hubby is reading this one too, and he and I agreed to keep the dust jacket on while reading this, because I can't just have a large serial killer's face sitting around my house!)

Anyway, it took me a minute to get into the book, but then once I did it was hard to put down! One of the authors, Gary Stewart, was surprisingly reunited with his birth mother at the age of 39. This eventually led him to look more for his father. He started to find signs that his father may have been the infamous Zodiac killer of the 70's, so he continued to research it for the next twelve years and provides his evidence and reasoning for how he believes his father, Earl Van Best Jr. "Van", was this serial killer.

The book is broken up into three parts: first he writes about the history of the romance between Van and his mother and then the second two parts are about his investigation and when his father becomes the Zodiac. It was fascinating and, especially if you are into true crime, you will fly through it. I can't remember if the author's conclusions were the same as the movie's or not, but I feel like the movie thought it was someone else. It's convincing in the movie, but so is the book, so I'm not sure about all that. I do wish that the author would have mentioned the movie and his thoughts on that, since he was doing all his investigating already when the movie came out. But other than that and feeling like it ended somewhat abruptly, I really enjoyed this book. If nothing else, it is an interesting look at the factors that influenced the development of a possible serial killer.

Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Title: Americanah
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
Pages: 588
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Anchor Books (Random House)
Pub. Date: May 14, 2013 (hardcover); March 4, 2014 (paperback);

I am having a serious book hangover after reading this. I'm writing this review a couple days after finishing the book, and I have had serious issues with trying to start another book because this has been in my head. I mean, it's not that this was my favorite read ever, because it wasn't, but it was very good and really threw a lot out there. I have not read a book as direct and straightforward, especially related to the topic of race and belonging, as Americanah.

I'm taking the synopsis from for this one: Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.

So, really, this book was not about their relationship as the synopsis makes it out to be. That's sort of the backdrop to everything, but the real story is about life in America, London, and Nigeria for Ifemelu (mostly) and Obinze. It's about life as an American Black (AB) and a a Non-American Black (NAB) and how their experiences are different, how non blacks respond to them in general and to them as different groups, the ways in which they (ABs and NABs) relate and in which they can't. It's about the dynamics of Nigerians in Nigeria and how they are changed after moving abroad.

There is really a LOT about race and belonging throughout the book - so much insight and so direct. I laughed because at one point I started to feel like everything was so in-your-face (just totally straightforward) and shortly after that the characters in the book are at a dinner party talking about publishing books and how readers want things to be subtle because they're uncomfortable with reading about this topic unless it's barely there, only understandable by reading in between the lines. Oops!

Americanah is such a social commentary on our society. Through Ifemelu's journey from Nigeria to America and back we learn from her experiences and from her blog posts about race. But even though that is the focus, there is also a story, and I miss reading about Ifemelu and her friends and family! I would recommend this to anyone who loves literary fiction. And I've said this before about other books, but it's one of those that I feel would be a huge benefit to people learning about or who are interested in sociology.

Sunday Salon

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I miss blogging and I miss the book blogging community, but I am enjoying the freedom from obligation. I am still torn over what I want to do with the blog, whether I should blog about other topics, etc. But I say that every time I'm here and then I end up not posting anything in forever anyway... I am still working on getting some more reviews done too!

So recently I decided to delete my google+ account which I never used. I hesitated for so long because it makes it look like it will delete EVERYTHING google which includes my gmails and this blog, but I finally did it and it was fine. BUT, before I did that I had started deleting all pictures I had connected to my google account and didn't realize I was literally deleting all the pictures off my blog!!! So now every post I've ever written is missing a picture (except for the few I fixed). My big project is to replace them all.

On a related note, does anyone know how to back up a blogspot blog? I really think I should do that before I end up losing all my posts too, but I'm not sure how!

In reading, I finished Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche not too long ago and it was really difficult for me to read anything after that for a while! I will post the review for that this week. It was a heavy, but very good, book. It took me a few days to be able to pick up another book, but I decided to return to my comfort reads/authors and am now working on Fly Away by Kristin Hannah which is not currently keeping my attention. :(

Things have been going well for the most part otherwise. We celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary this past week. We dressed up and had a great dinner at Eddie V's. Yesterday my husband and our friend spent the day at Megacon, the local comic book convention, while we girls walked around the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival. In terms of fertility treatments, we're working on a fourth since the first three didn't work. This is our last of this type of treatment before we talk about the big major kind!

That's all for now.. Hopefully I'll post some more reviews soon!

Review: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Title: Reconstructing Amelia
Author: Kimberly McCreight
Pages: 380
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: April 2, 2013 (hardcover); December 3, 2013 (paperback)

I'm sad that I didn't write a review for this one as soon as I read it because, unfortunately, I'm forgetting a lot of the details and reasons I loved it. That being said, I did love it! Reconstructing Amelia got a lot of comparisons to Gone Girl, and I disagree. However, it still has it's own craziness and twists and as I stated in my Best of 2013 post, by the end I felt like I'd been punched in the gut! It is one of those books that is a whirlwind as you come up on the end.

For a quick recap, the book starts out with the reader knowing that Amelia, the daughter of attorney, Kate Baron, has committed suicide by jumping off the roof of her school. It's especially sudden for Kate, as she had been on the way to the school after being told her daughter had been caught cheating. This was totally out of character for Amelia who was a great student and a really good kid. Kate grieves as normal, but then she receives an anonymous text saying "Amelia didn't jump." This validates what Kate was thinking anyway, so she starts a mission to investigate and figure out what really happened.

The book is narrated partly by Kate but also partly by Amelia, so we, readers, get insight into what was actually going on her life before Kate does. We get access to some Facebook posts, text messages, and e-mails which was a fun way to get to know her on top of her narration. There are also random scandalous blog posts from a anonymous writer. We see how Amelia gets caught up with some of the wrong "popular" crowd and watch as the drama gets out of control. Honestly, for the first 100 pages or so I thought it was just good and didn't think it was worth all the hype... BUT, then after that it started to move really fast and there were so many little mysteries and characters to figure out. Everyone seems to be involved in one way or another. If you have a teenaged daughter I could see where this book could be a little scary, and it is telling what adolescent girls today are dealing with as we see the unraveling that Amelia goes through.

I wish I could remember more specifically what I liked about this one, but I did list it at one of my best of 2013, and it was a great book to finish 2013 with. I highly recommend it!!  READ IT!!

Review: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Title: The Invention of Wings
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Pages: 369
Genre: Fiction; Historical
Publisher: Viking (Penguin Group)
Pub. Date: January 7, 2014

I don't think I was able to give this book quite the fair shake because for the majority of the book I just kept comparing it to The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom which I have yet to review but which I listed on the Best of 2013 list. I read that book back in August 2013 (and this in January 2014), but I couldn't get it and the characters out of my mind! The two stories were very similar. In The Invention of Wings, we follow the lives of Sarah Grimke from the time she is 11-years-old and the same aged slave, Hetty "Handful" Grimke. Sarah is gifted Handful as her own slave for her 11th birthday, but Sarah develops more of a friendship with Handful, even teaching her how to read and write. Sarah has ambitions of a career when she becomes an adult, and even as a child she recognizes that she does not agree with slavery.

Where this book differed from The Kitchen House for me was that the latter was focused much more on the relationship and the characters themselves. In the former, it seemed the first half to 3/4s of the book were focused on developing a timeline and glimpses of Sarah's ambitions and thoughts about slavery. It seemed as though this portion of the book was developing the foundation for the plot related to Sarah's abolitionist leanings as an adult. The Invention of Wings is based on the true story of Sarah Grimke who was an abolitionist and women's rights advocate in the 1800's, who fought for all this much to the chagrin of her family and that of the entire community and culture in Charleston, South Carolina. I was very interested in this part of the story, but because so much of the book was spent building up, I felt like this part was rushed through too fast. I did find it interesting to learn how even the Quakers and other abolitionists didn't necessarily believe in racial equality and how they often demonstrated hypocritical behaviors! It was also interesting the conflict between pursuing abolition of slavery at the same time as women's rights.

I really wish the focus of this book had been the part with Sarah as an adult. I initially rated this 3/5 after I finished the book, but then I realized I spent a lot of time afterwards thinking about the characters and wanting to return to the story. So I changed my rating to a 4. It turns out I did develop a connection to the characters. So, yes, this was in all a very good book. But I can't help feeling that if you are going to read a book somewhere within the area of this topic, I would go with The Kitchen House first!

Review: The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

Monday, January 27, 2014

Title: The Devil Wears Prada
Author: Lauren Weisberger
Pages: 432
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday (Random House)
Pub. Date: April 15, 2003

So, the reason I picked this one up is because I wanted to read the sequel, Revenge Wears Prada, as soon as I saw it was out but didn't feel right doing so since I hadn't read this one - only seen the movie. The movie version is, however, one of my favorites, and I've enjoyed all of Weisberger's other books (I've read them all) so I figured, why not? (I actually planned on reading the sequel when I went to Thailand, but to date I have not yet read it, lol).

Real quick recap for those who don't know: Andy (Andrea) Sachs, studious and fashion-backwards, is fresh out of college with a desire to work for the New York Times. She ends up taking a job as an assistant to the editor-in-chief of fashion magazine, Runway, Miranda Priestly, who is an icy cold horrid woman whom the fashion world reveres as a goddess. Andy tries to stick it out for a year because she has heard that a year working for her essentially equals three to four years at any other job and could catapult her to any place she'd want to work. But Miranda is the most devilish and difficult boss one could possibly work and whose ridiculousness adds to the book's humor.

Even though I saw the movie, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one! And the movie was different enough that I was kept wondering what was going to happen next while enjoying the parts that were similar. As with all book/movie comparisons, I liked that I was able to read more into Andy's thought processes. In the movie, I don't think we quite understood how much Andy was still hating everything along the way - more like she morphed into one of the Runway girls herself, whereas in the book she may look and play the part but is very clearly still understanding of how ridiculous it is. Just as with the movie I was so saddened by how her family and friends ended up taking a backseat to her job; the movie changed the dynamics, though, in the relationships, and the book actually made things more serious in some ways which was surprising. It made sense in the book but I can see why they changed that in the movie because it did seem sort of out of place with the atmosphere of the story. (But that could also be because it was the biggest difference from what I'm used to watching).

The Devil Wears Prada was a super fun book that I definitely recommend, especially if you're a fan of the movie but haven't read the book yet. I'm glad I went back and read this one.

Review: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Monday, January 6, 2014

Title: Beautiful Ruins Author: Jess Walter
Pages: 337
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: June 12, 2012 (hardcover); April 2, 2013 (paperback)

This book was on many "best of" lists in 2012...  I loved Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets, so that drew me to this as well. But with a fairly vague synopsis and it being so different than Financial Lives, I kept putting it off. But I should have known better! I hate to say the same thing so many other bloggers said, but it really IS so hard to explain, and it really IS about so many things, but I'll do my best.

The main storyline, if you can narrow it down, follows a young man, Pasquale, in 1962 Porto Vergogna, Italy, as he tries to turn his family's hotel, The Hotel Adequate View, into a tourist destination. Then there's the American actress who turns up to stay at his hotel while filming a movie (Cleopatra with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, yes the real one) in Rome. There's the American man who goes to Italy every year in an attempt to get away and write a book. Then present day, there's a famous movie producer, Michael Deane and his frustrated assistant, Claire. There's Shane, a spoiled script writer trying to pitch his movie. There's a middle aged man whose life has gone pretty much nowhere after being in various bands who then starts a comedy music show. Each of these characters is all connected, and you don't have to wait until the end to find out how. Within the first third of the book at least you know how most are connected. You may not like all the characters, but they are all so interesting and in some instances, scandalous.

It's not just the characters and their stories that illuminate Beautiful Ruins though. Not only is the writing intelligent (and infused with subtle humor), but the storytelling methods were so clever. Though there's mostly traditional narration, there's also a chapter from a book, part of a memoir, a pitched movie script, a play, and I could be forgetting something. Each of these was interesting, moved the story forward, and added so much. Then there's also the themes running through the book of people living their lives trying to accomplish their dreams and not always quite getting there - but maybe finding themselves along the way. It's also about how the people in our lives affect us. I loved the following quotes.

"This is what happens when you live in dreams, he thought: you dream this and you dream that and you sleep right through your life." -pg 218

All we have is the story we tell. Everything we do, every decision we make, our strength, weakness, motivation, history, and character -- what we believe -- none of it is real; it's all part of the story we tell. But here's the thing: it's our goddamned story!" -pg 266

Another interesting thing was the way Walters incorporated the real life scandals that took place during the filming of the movie, Cleopatra. He even made Richard Burton a character in the book!

Anyway, loved Beautiful Ruins! It's still in my head after several days, and now I can't wait to read more of Walter's books!

Rating: 5 out of 5