Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Finding Time to Listen to Audiobooks

Photo Courtesy of LibAmanda

I posted recently about listening to bookish and non-bookish podcasts during my commute each day, but I didn't really mention the amount of time I spend listening throughout my day.  When people ask how I read so many books, I'm always sure to mention what a big role audiobooks play for me.  I listen to at least one, sometimes two or three, each month.  If you're looking for a way to incorporate more reading into your life, here are a few of my favorite ways to make time to listen.

1.  While Commuting
Whether you ride a train, drive yourself, or walk to work, this is prime audiobook listening time.  Even if your commute is short, you can work in a book over the course of a month or so.  And if you include time spent running errands, it adds up quickly, at least for me.

2.  While Doing Housework
If anything can ease the drudgery of housework, it's an audio book.  Here's my favorite trick for listening to audiobooks while cleaning, especially if you're using a phone as your listening device: Stick your phone in an empty juice glass.  It makes the perfect speaker system and you can carry it around with you as you work.  You could always just use earbuds and an armband or your pocket, but I hate earbuds and prefer to have more freedom to move when I'm cleaning.

3.  While I Sew/Craft
I don't like to sit still.  And I'm a huge fan of multi-tasking.  So while I'd never sit down and do nothing but listen to an audio book, I love being able to feel like I'm accomplishing something while I'm being entertained.  Since I like to sew and craft, the two are a perfect fit.  I use my juice cup trick again for easy listening.

4.  While Doing Lady Things
Nothing ultra personal here, don't worry.  But as a lady, I spend an hour or so a day on hygiene/beauty tasks.  Things that don't require 100% of my attention, and lend themselves to listening, like shaving my legs, putting on/taking off makeup, doing my eyebrows, painting my nails, etc are the perfect time for getting in some chapters.

And as a bonus, I'll give you a few more ways to work in listening time that don't work for me, but might for you:

  • Exercising: I swim, so it won't happen till I get a waterproof MP3 player (hint, hint - Christmas gift) but it's a great time for listening if you're on a treadmill or track
  • Walking the dog: I tried, but I feel guilty for not giving the puppies my attention while walking.  Obviously, they need me to converse with them or their feelings get hurt.
  • Grocery Shopping: I feel weird about having headphones in at the grocery store, but if you don't, go for it!
  • Waiting in line/at the doctor's office: Again, I feel weird about headphone use in public and I'm worried I'll miss something important.  But it would be a good time for listening if it didn't make me feel weird

 How about you, Reader Friends?  When do you listen to audiobooks?  And how do you feel about wearing headphones in public places?  Am I being weird for no reason?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

From Goodreads:
Until the moment he receives a frantic call from his father, Daniel believed his parents were headed into a peaceful, well-deserved retirement. They had sold their home and business in London and bid farewell to England, setting off to begin life anew on a remote, bucolic farm in rural Sweden.

But with that phone call, everything changes. Your mother's not well, his father tells him. She's been imagining things-terrible, terrible things. She has had a psychotic breakdown and been committed to a mental hospital.

Daniel prepares to rush to Sweden on the first available flight. Before he can board the plane, his father contacts him with even more frightening news: his mother has discharged herself from hospital and he doesn't know where she is. 

Then his mother calls:
"I'm sure your father has spoken to you. Everything that man has told you is a lie. I'm not mad. I don't need a doctor. I need the police. I'm about to board a flight to London. Meet me at Heathrow."

Caught between his parents, and unsure of who to believe or trust, Daniel becomes his mother's unwilling judge and jury as she tells him an urgent tale of secrets, of lies, of a horrible crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father.
I was impressed.  The Nesties have strongly recommended Smith's other books, and I've had an interest in them, but it took this one to get me to break down and give him a try.  We've got an unreliable narrator, the potential for either serious mental illness or a deep conspiracy, and family drama - all my favorite things.  At first I was really put off by the style of the writing.  We have our narrator, Daniel, who tells the story in straightforward fashion.  But his standard narration is broken up by the story being told to him by his mother.  Her portions don't include quotation marks, so it took me a while to catch on to the difference between Daniel's first person narration and his mother's first person  narration to Daniel.  It was tricky for a while distinguishing between the two, but once I was familiar with each voice, I could tell them apart with no problem.

Entertainment Value
In addition to my confusion over the two voices, I also had a hard time getting off the ground with this story.  The first quarter of the book dragged a bit and I wasn't totally into it.  That said, by the end of the first hundred pages I was hooked.  I stayed up way too late the night before a weekend trip to finish it, which is highly unusual for me, but I just HAD to know how it ended.  It's a book where the tension just continuously builds until the reveal at the end.  And I honestly had no idea which direction the story would take.  The ending was a complete shock, and one that made the slow start worthwhile.

For fans of psychological suspense, this is a must-read.  I'd compare it to books by Gillian Flynn and Megan Abbott, although maybe not quite as dark.  I'd also say it reads like Until You're Mine, How to Be A Good Wife, and The Silent Wife.  It has some violence, some sex, and some bad language, but nothing that I'd consider extreme.

Thank to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Book Review: Design Your Life by Ellen and Julia Lupton

From Goodreads:
Design Your Life is a series of irreverent and realistic snapshots about objects and how we interact with them. By leading design thinker Ellen Lupton and her twin sister Julia Lupton, it shows how design is about much more than what’s bought at high-end stores or the modern look at IKEA. Design is critical thinking: a way to look at the world and wonder why things work, and why they don’t.

Illustrated with original paintings of objects both ordinary and odd,Design Your Life casts a sharp eye on everything from roller bags, bras, toilet paper, and stuffed animals to parenting, piles, porches, and potted plants. Using humor and insight Ellen and Julia explore the practical side of everyday design, looking at how it impacts your life in unexpected ways and what you can do about it. Speaking to the popular interest in design as well as people’s desire to make their own way through a mass-produced world, this thoughtful book takes a fresh and humorous approach to make some serious points about the impact of design on our lives.
Very well done from a writing standpoint.  I found the short chapters to be very readable and understandable, even to someone as ignorant about the world of design as myself.  I feel like both experts and neophytes can get something from this book, though, particularly because it is so cleverly done and so funny.  The author makes her subject, everyday items, interesting and appealing, and presents her design information in a way that's easily accessible to all readers.

Entertainment Value
As you can tell from my assessment of the writing, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I'm interested in design, but have no knowledge, skills, or experience to base that interest on.  I was pleased with how easy it was to read this book and how I was able to grasp the concepts being presented, particularly as they were presented in a manner that was really enjoyable to read.

I thoroughly enjoyed my read and recommend it to anyone who has an interest in design.  It's definitely not going to appeal to everyone though - it's exactly what it says it is: a book about the design, function, and use of everyday objects.  A great read with very nice illustrations, but will appeal to a limited audience.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Review: The Truth About Alice

From Goodreads:
Everyone has a lot to say about Alice Franklin, and it’s stopped mattering whether it’s true. The rumors started at a party when Alice supposedly had sex with two guys in one night. When school starts everyone almost forgets about Alice until one of those guys, super-popular Brandon, dies in a car wreck that was allegedly all Alice’s fault. Now the only friend she has is a boy who may be the only other person who knows the truth, but is too afraid to admit it. Told from the perspectives of popular girl Elaine, football star Josh, former outcast Kelsie, and shy genius Kurt, we see how everyone has a motive to bring – and keep – Alice down.
To be honest, the writing isn't something that I paid particular attention to in this book.  I find that's a common theme for me in reading and reviewing YA novels, particularly in what I'd consider the "Issues" subgenre.  Particularly in a book that's a short as this one, with a clearly defined message to be conveyed, there just isn't room for a lot of the stylistic devices that I'd look for in a longer book that isn't so issue-driven.

That said, there were no flaws in the writing that took me out of the story.  I liked the shifting perspectives and thought all of the characters were believable as teenagers.  It doesn't have the adultified teen speak that some YA novels fall prey to.  Overall, I was satisfied with the writing, even if nothing in particular jumped out at me as exceptional.

Entertainment Value
This is where books that fall into the "Issues" subgenre really shine for me.  It's one of my favorite types of book to read for pleasure.  I devoured this one in one sitting.  It's heartbreaking to see how things become so twisted for Alice, based purely on the small actions of her classmates.  Each characters tells a small untruth or fudges a bit, but Alice pays a huge price for those lies.  I was really moved by how easily this horrible thing happens to Alice, whose mother is too busy with her own problems to realize Alice is drowning.

Definitely worth reading, particularly for those who are fans of Contemporary YA books that focus on a specific issue.  It's a good look at how easy it is for the small compromises we make can impact people around us - and a great book for teens on the cost to others when you put fitting in or popularity above honestly.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Book Review: The Girl With All the Gifts

From Goodreads: 
Not every gift is a blessing.

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.

When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite. But they don't laugh.

Melanie is a very special girl.

Emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end, The Girl With All the Gifts is the most powerful and affecting thriller you will read this year.
For some reason the books that I fall in love with are always the hardest to write about.  I want to say things in just the right way that people will know that this is a book that must be read.  The Girl With All the Gifts is one of those books.  I'll try to just hit the highlights and keep the gushing to a minimum.

First of all, you'll notice that the publisher's summary is sparse.  That's because to say anymore would take away from what, for me, was the highlight of the book.  The reader's expectations and assumptions about the world Carey has created are constantly shifting and being torn down.  Just when you think you have a good grasp on where things are headed and how you'd classify the book, something new is revealed.

Secondly, the characters are ridiculously compelling and complex.  As with the plot, you are constantly forced to reevaluate how you see each character.  I am a huge fan of characters you love to hate, and this book has plenty, but there are also characters you think you love to hate, who eventually you just come to love.

I cannot rave enough about the quality of the writing and the way the author uses language to give each character and unique voice, even though we don't have first person points of view for any of them.  I feel like we really get into their heads and learn their motivations so thoroughly, as a result of the choices she makes in expressing each voice.

Entertainment Value
So in addition to being well-written and having compelling characters, the plot itself is downright crazy.  There are so many twists and turns and shocks that you  never see coming.  I was absolutely engrossed from the first pages.  I don't want to say too much plot-wise because I don't want to give away any details, but I thoroughly enjoyed having my world rocked several times over the course of the book, as my assumptions proved false yet again.  It's definitely fast paced and enthralling, but neither the characters nor the writing suffer from the pacing.  I loved it.  So much that I devoured all 400+ pages over the course of two days.  

Please read this book.  And then call me, text me, message me, send me a smoke signal, whatever you need to do so that we can discuss how amazing it is.  It's definitely earned a spot on my best books of 2014 list and I'll be buying a copy for my shelf ASAP.  The only warnings I have are that there is strong language and violence, verging on gory at times.  But in such an amazing, creepy, keep you up at night way.  Also, it gets bonus points for sciencey stuff.  This is the kind of book that makes me love the genre, even if I refuse to say exactly what genre that is.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Book Review: The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan

From Goodreads:
Dr. Kate Philo and her scientific exploration team make a breathtaking discovery in the Arctic: the body of a man buried deep in the ice. As a scientist in a groundbreaking project run by the egocentric and paranoid Erastus Carthage, Kate has brought small creatures -plankton, krill, shrimp - "back to life." Never have the team's methods been attempted on a large life form.

Heedless of the consequences, Carthage orders that the frozen man be brought back to the lab in Boston, and reanimated. As the man begins to regain his memories, the team learns that he was-is-a judge, Jeremiah Rice, and the last thing he remembers is falling overboard into the Arctic Ocean in 1906. When news of the Lazarus Project and Jeremiah Rice breaks, it ignites a media firestorm and massive protests by religious fundamentalists.

Thrown together by circumstances beyond their control, Kate and Jeremiah grow closer. But the clock is ticking and Jeremiah's new life is slipping away. With Carthage planning to exploit Jeremiah while he can, Kate must decide how far she is willing to go to protect the man she has come to love.
Although Kiernan is an accomplished journalist and has published two works of non-fiction, this is his debut novel - not that you could tell from the writing.  I was very impressed with how well done this book was.  I think it could have gone off the rails at several points (particularly when dealing with time travel/reanimation of frozen corpses), but he handles the scientific details nicely.  He doesn't get so involved that the novel drags, but he covers enough details to make the book plausible and keep the reader from second guessing how things happened.  The characters are well-developed and, while not always sympathetic, compelling.  I particularly like that we are given chapters in a second person voice from the villains point of view, placing the reader in his shoes.

Entertainment Value
It's on the long side (close to 500 pages), but I feel like I flew through it.  I just couldn't get enough of the story. Jeremiah's character, in particular, fascinated me.  My favorite scenes were the ones where he experiences modern life for the first time and his interpretation of the changes in the world.  I also enjoyed the authors take on how religious groups, politicians, and society as a whole would react to technological developments that allowed for the reanimation of a man frozen over 100 years ago.

I definitely recommend giving this one a try.  It's got a great love story, but I think that takes second place to the dynamic characters and the overarching implications of the book - and I appreciated that.  I think readers who enjoy contemporary fiction with a somewhat literary bent will enjoy this one as well.

Thanks to TLC for providing me with a copy to review.  Click here to see the other stops on the tour!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Book Review: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi

From Goodreads: 
In Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi describes his dramatic journey from Islam to Christianity, complete with friendships, investigations, and supernatural dreams along the way. Providing an intimate window into a loving Muslim home, Qureshi shares how he developed a passion for Islam before discovering, almost against his will, evidence that Jesus rose from the dead and claimed to be God. Unable to deny the arguments but not wanting to deny his family, Qureshi's inner turmoil will challenge Christians and Muslims alike. Engaging and thought-provoking, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus tells a powerful story of the clash between Islam and Christianity in one man's heart---and of the peace he eventually found in Jesus.
As far as the content is concerned, I feel like Qureshi does a great job of presenting information in a way that makes sense and is easy to understand.  Unfortunately, I felt like he chose the wrong way to present that information stylistically.  The book seems to be a memoir, beginning with Qureshi's early life and progressing to the here and now.  However, most of his early experiences are presented in a way that is a thin veil for explaining Islam.  I'm not complaining about the content.  I'm interested in Islam and loved reading about the beliefs from an Islamic point of view.  But I felt like trying to disguise the factual information that Qureshi needed to present with a somewhat half-hearted storyline was a mistake.  I was not at all intrigued by the mundane happenings of his early life and I felt like they didn't serve much of a purpose.  I'd have preferred to read just the description of the underlying beliefs of Islam without the life story details.

Once Qureshi gets to college, however, the story picks up and becomes more interesting.  I'm not sure exactly how I would have worked his early life into the story, but it seemed to be an afterthought compared to the real meat of the story - Qureshi's conversion experiences.  I very much appreciated the use of Christian and Muslim apologetics throughout the story and the fact that Qureshi provided so many sources to readers for further study.

Entertainment Value
As I mentioned above, I found the subject matter and the depth of exploration of both Islam and Christianity to be very compelling.  I like feeling like I've come away from a book with new knowledge, and I certainly gained that from this one.  I wasn't necessarily a fan of the way the information was presented in the first half of the book, though, and I feel like the disconnect I felt from the story hampered my enjoyment.

Because the book is so detailed regarding both religions, I came away happy with what I had learned.  I liked Qureshi and I felt like I really identified with his hunger for knowledge.  It's also a great overview of Islam and Christianity from an apologetics view point.  I might have enjoyed it more if it were presented in a different way, but the quality of information earns no complaints.  I'd recommend this to Christians who have a particular interest in Islam or apologetics and to those who are looking to understand the basics of the Islamic faith.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing a copy for me to review!