Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best Non-Fiction of 2011

My last book list to close out the year - my favorite non-fiction of 2011:

Mental Floss The Book (book of lists, obvs)

An Accidental Mother by Katherine Anne Kindred (memoir)

John Adams by David McCullough (biography)

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (memoir)

Southern Ladies and Gentlemen by Florence King (Southern humor)

One Nation Under Dog by Michael Schaffer (social science)

Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholos D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (social science)

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog (social science)

The Heroine's Bookshelf by Erin Blakemore (book about books)

Bossypants by Tina Fey (humor)

Is Everyone Hannging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling


Friday, December 30, 2011

Best YA of 2011

My favorite Young Adult books from 2011, in no particular order:

Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
Side note: I totally didn't think I would enjoy these based on the covers.  Contemporary YA that isn't dealing with an "issue" isn't my thing.  But both of these books were among my favorites this year - they are adorable.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe (technically this is a 2012 release, but I read an ARC this year and loved it)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Best Adult Fiction of 2011

I am hopelessly behind on reviews, so instead of writing them I am, obviously, working on my best of lists for this year.  Here's what I loved most in adult fiction, chronologically:

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (Historical Fiction)

The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear (King Killer Chronicles) by Patrick Rothfuss (fantasy)


Storm of Swords (Book Three in the Song of Ice and Fire Series) by George R.R. Martin (fantasy)

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Historical Fiction)

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen (Contemporary Fiction/Magical Realism)

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (Literary Fiction)

Feed by Mira Grant (Zombie Fantasy)

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (Literary Fiction)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book Review: All The Flowers In Shanghai by Duncan Jepson


All The Flowers in Shanghai is set during the 1930's in China on the brink of the Cultural Revolution.  The main character is Xiao Feng, a young woman forced by her parents into a marriage with the oldest son of the  wealthy and highly esteemed Sang family.  Feng's one role in marriage is to provide the Sang's with a male heir and she is treated cruely by her new family.  In her anger and bitterness, she finds a way to get revenge on the family but it comes with a terrible price.

Writing
About on par with what I expect from a historical fiction novel.  It was well-researched, although the historical setting takes a back seat to the story.  The writing kept me interested without being overly descriptive and wordy.  I was briefly bothered by Feng's use of American slang (four letter words mostly) that really didn't seem to fit well in the setting, but it wasn't something that ruined the book for me.  

Entertainment Value
I enjoyed the book, but I didn't like the ending.  That doesn't mean that the ending was bad or didn't fit with the story, but it wasn't what I wanted from the characters.  I rushed through probably the last fifty pages because I had lost interest in the story once the final plot point fell into place.  I also wished that the Cultural Revolution had played more of a role in the overall story.

Overall
I recommend it to readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in Asia.  If you read and liked Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I think you would certainly enjoy this one as well.  Just don't go into it expecting a detailed history of the Cultural Revolution - I think it actually reads better if you are already familiar to some extent with Mao and his policies and the sweep of the Cultural Revolution.  I think this would be a good book to read along with Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.

Thank you to TLC for sending me a copy to review.  Click here to see the list of all the others who are reviewing this one.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I know it probably seems like I've forgotten you, Reader Friends, but I'm still alive and kicking, although I have been very sick for about two weeks now.  I think I'm starting to come around though and I'll be back on here regularly in no time.  For now I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas!  Here's hoping that your holidays are full of comfort and joy!


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Book Review: The Heroine's Bookshelf

What do Elizabeth Bennett, Anne Shirley, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Scout Finch have in common?  All of them are amazing literary heroines written by equally amazing female authors.  The Heroine's Bookshelf profiles each of these characters and their authors, along with several others, in a series of essays celebrating the qualities that make them heroines such as happiness, fight, faith, etc.

Writing
It's not a deep, academic dissection of character, but the essays are still insightful and well thought out.  They're also accessible to every reader, not just the literature scholar.  And the fact that they are so easy to read may encourage more timid readers to pick up a classic that may have intimidated them before.

Entertainment Value
Again, I think the key here is how accessible the essays are.  They're the perfect length for reading one at a time, but they're so interesting that it's also easy to sit down and devour the whole book (which I did).  I think it helped that I had read most of the books that were discussed (I haven't read Gone With the Wind or the Colette books), but I was also really motivated to reread some of them and to pick up the ones I haven't experienced before.

Overall
I recommend it for anyone who loves books or is interested in the lives of women authors.  I also think this would make a really great book for graduates or teens who are into literature and looking to learn a little bit more about what it takes to be a heroine.

Thank you to TLC for sending me a copy to review.
You can see the full schedule with the other reviewing blogs by clicking here.
You can also click here to get an idea of what the book contains at the author's website



Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Review: Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

You may remember that Jackson Pearce is one of the authors we were privileged to get to meet/hear speak at Decatur Book Festival this year. 
*She's the one on the end in the pink, signing Crystal's copy of Sweetly*

I read her first book, Sisters Red, two years ago after hearing my friend Ashley rave about her and fell in love with it.  Sweetly is the second book in the series, although they aren't books that have to be read in order.  I mean, Sweetly makes more sense if you've read Sisters Red, but it doesn't feature the same characters or ruin anything from the first book.  It does still feature the fenris (werewolfish creatures) and those who hunt them, but this one includes someone who may or may not be a witch.  Just like Sisters Red is an interpretation of Red Riding Hood, Sweetly is a modern take on Hansel and Gretel, starring siblings Ansel and Gretchen (who are adorable).  The sibling aspect reminded me somewhat of Mira Grant's Feed.  I LOVE reading books where siblings are extraoardinarily close.  If you've read Sisters Red, you'll also recognize Samuel Reynolds, Gretchen's love interest.

Writing
This book accomplished exactly what I want a YA book to do - suck me into the story so completely that I don't notice anything else.  The writing isn't obtrusive in any positive or negative way.  The main focus is on the story itself and I appreciate that in YA fiction especially.  What I usually want when I read YA is an escape into a fascinating story and that is absolutely what I got with this one. 

Entertainment Value
I read it in one sitting, if that tells you anything.  I almost never stay up unreasonably late reading, but this one kept me up well past my normal bed time.  It doesn't stick to the Hansel and Gretel story as closely as Sisters Red stuck to the Red Riding Hood story, but it really didn't make a difference for me.  I enjoyed it just as much and actually noticed it more when it all came together at the end.  I really liked each of the characters and how the story unfolded.  Even the moral ambiguity of some characters appealed to me. 

Overall:
Highly recommend it, especially to those who enjoy YA or modern fairy tale retellings.  If you're enjoying Grimm or Happily Ever After or any of the modern fairy tale movies that are currently out, this is also a good choice for you.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Book Review: The Betsy-Tacy Treasury


I would hope that every little girl met Betsy, Tacy, and Tib as a child, but, sadly, I don't think that's the case.  I was fortunate enough to read these several times throughout my childhood, so I was thrilled when my friend Trish from TLC offered this new collection of the first four books in the series for review.  If you aren't familiar, these books were written in the 1940's and 50's by Maud Hart Lovelace and are based on her own turn of the century childhood.  Betsy, Tacy, and Tib are three little girls who meet when they are five years old and grow up together.  These books follow the girls and their adventures at ages 5, 8, 10, and 12.

Writing
So cute!  I honestly just love Maud Hart Lovelace and these books are so well written.  I enjoyed them just as much as an adult as I did when I read them as a child.  A lot of the writing is, obviously, dated, and the turn of the century setting is very different than the way children live now, but the books honestly transcend that.  I don't think it's hard to identify with and care about these little girls regardless of the time differences.  They remind me a lot of the Little House on the Prairie books that way.  It's also a really fun way to teach kids about how things were when their grandparents were young.

Entertainment Value
It doesn't matter how old I get, I will always be entertained by the exploits of Betsy, Tacy, and Tib.  I honestly just can't recommend the books more highly.  If you have little girls or if you were ever a little girl, these are must-reads.  They are seriously adorable.  I also really liked the new formatting of this treasury.  It has all the classic Lois Lenski illustrations as well as introductions from authors like Judy Bloom and Meg Cabot.  And at the end there is a section with historical information about Maud Hart Lovelace and the time and setting.  I'm actually adding the rest of the books in the series (also collected in treasuries like this one) for Christmas this year - no higher recommendation than that!

Some links you may want to check out:
The Betsy-Tacy Society
The Betsy-Tacy Convention (I have never had the slightest inclination to go to Minnesota, but I'd totally go for this)
Other bloggers reviewing this book

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What I Read In November

I got a lot read in the first part of the month, but these last few weeks have been somewhat slow.  In the past week I've done a 3 mile charity walk, celebrated Thanksgiving, married off my little sister, and single-handedly orchestrated a graduation ceremony with over 300 people in attendance.  I'm burned out and was too tired to read much on some nights (I'm never so tired that I can't read anything).

In November I read:

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
Mozart's Last Aria by Matt Rees
Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres
An Accidental Mother by Katherine Anne Kindred
Want to Go Private by Sara Darer Littman
Conversations and Cosmopolitans by Robert and Jane Rave
Betsy-Tacy; Betsy-Tacy and Tib; and Besty, Tacy, and Tib Go Over the Big Hill by Maud Hart Lovelace
Meg by Steve Alten
Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Rigg

Total this month: 11
Total this year: 108
Pages read this year: 37,707
Money saved through buying used, reviewing, and using the library: $1101.09

That means that I met my goal of 100.  I feel like it's reasonable to think I could push the goal to 125 at this point, but I don't think I will.  I want to relax this last month and not feel pressured in any way.  I am going to try to spend the month reading 2011 releases (other than those I've already committed to for tours) and getting as many of those complete as possible.

Not much to sum up that wasn't already covered in the Thanksgiving post, but feel free to look back and see!

What did you read this month?


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Book Review: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

I picked up The History of Love earlier this year at a book sale and it probably would have languished on my shelf (or in my closet or stacked on the floor or wherever else books land in my house), but part the Nesties' Fall Book Challenge was to trade recommendations with a friend.  By some stroke of luck, I was paired with Jacki (who blogs at Lovely Little Shelf) and who just so happens to be my reading twin.  She recommended this one and I, of course, fell in love.  It's not really a book that lends itself well to summary, as it's a story within a story within a story, but it's a beautiful meditation on love of all kinds.

Writing
Holy. Moly.  Yes.  This isn't an easy read, but it's a beautiful read.  I had some moments where I wasn't quite sure where I was in the story (it all came together at the end) but I still couldn't put it down because the words were just so beautiful.  I can't rave enough about the quality of the writing.

Entertainment Value
I was worried when I started this one.  I'd heard that there wasn't just a whole lot in the way of plot (which is kind of a literary fiction stereotype to being with) and I knew the main character, Leo Gursky, was old.  When I started reading and realized he was old and lonely, I almost stopped right then.  There are a few things that I just can't handle in books: dead mamas, little boys who just want their distant daddies to love them, and lonely old people.  I actively try to avoid books with those themes and I was kind of stressed when I realized that a major theme of this book was going to be Leo's loneliness.  If it weren't for Jacki, I probably would have thrown in the towel, and I'm so glad I didn't. 

The novel is also most definitely character-driven.  It's about motivations and family and what love means - it's not a juicy gossip novel and there's not really any action.  So you can't go into it expecting lots of drama or, honestly, much of anything plot-wise.  But that doesn't mean it's not interesting.  All of the characters are fleshed out and their motivations are understandable and sympathetic.  It's just a beautiful story (stories) and very moving. 

Overall:
Highly recommend it, especially for lovers of character-driven novels or literary ficton, aspiring writers, or those who enjoy reading about complex emotions.  If you're looking for a quick read or a fast pace, this isn't the one for you, but the beautiful writing more than makes up for the lack of plot.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: Conversations and Cosmopolitans by Robert and Jane Rave


This book is a memoir of sorts coauthored by a mother and son.  Robert Rave came out to his parents in a letter at the age of 21 and his announcement prompted his mother to embark on her own discovery of who she really was outside of her life as a mother and wife.  This book follows some of the conversations, emails, and life events they shared as they both became honest with each other and themselves about who they were.

Writing
The writing was somewhat less than impressive for me. There were portions that rang true and genuine, especially from Jane, but a lot of Robert's writing was awkward, particularly his dialogue.  It seemed stiff and unnatural.  I also felt like several sections didn't really serve any purpose in the book.  It was kind of like hearing a coworker tell you a series of unrelated, mundane stories along the lines of "then I pulled the milk carton out of the fridge and - you'll never guess - the milk had gone bad!"  And you nod along and pretend to be amused but really you're just wondering why they think this is significant enough to tell.  In the book's case there were plenty of moments that fit perfectly and were truly significant but also a fair amount that were kind of dull and meaningless.

Entertainment Value
I suppose the dull parts could fit in this section as well.  I was just bored with too many portions to say it was truly entertaining.  There were some very funny stories, but overall it just didn't resonate with me in any particularly attention grabbing way.  I was ready for it to be over.  I also hate to say this, since Robert Rave is obviously a real person, but man he drove me nuts with the doormat behavior.  Several times in the book I wanted his mama to grab him by the shoulder and shake him and tell him to stop letting people take advantage of him.  It's probably because I have a thing for mamas in general, but I did truly love Jane.  She was adorable and obviously a loving and devoted mother. 

Overall: Meh.  I think there are better books to spend your time on - it gets a "do not recommend".  But, as always, I am grateful to the author and TLC Tours for giving me the opportunity to read it and I suggest that you take a look at the recommendations of other bloggers on the tour.  You can click here to find the list.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

This is going to be an incredibly busy holiday weekend for me and my family.  This morning, Chief and I are starting things off early by participating in the Turkey Trot, which is a fun run to benefit the Kideny Foundation.  We're actually just doing the three mile walk, but even that is a huge stretch for me.  Then we'll head over to my parents' house for lunch with these people:

And playing with this little guy:
That's right, Reader Friends.  George has arrived.  And he has footie pajamas. Aunt Julie is in love.

Saturday is the day before Sugar Bear's wedding.  We're trying to fit in some family pictures, finalizing wedding preparations, the rehearsal dinner (we rehearsed today), and a lingerie shower with her college friends (thrown by yours truly).  And Sunday is the big day!  Needless to say, I will not be around so much over the next few days.  I'm going to try to have a few reviews scheduled to post over the next few days, but honestly I'm not sure it'll happen.  I've got student presentations to attend tonight AND the dog needs a bath before tomorrow AND I've committed to making dessert for Thanksgiving AND I need to do all the decorations and food preparation for the shower...

So if I don't make it back to post any reviews before Monday, have a wonderful holiday weekend!  Hopefully I'll have pictures galore (featuring George of course) and Sugar Bear's wedding.  If you're lucky I'll even have some of George AT Sugar Bear's wedding.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Book Blogging Drama: Disclosure and Plagiarism

Plagiarism has kind of been the theme of my week.  I caught a student plagiarizing at least 98% of her final paper this week at school.  Then, yesterday, I was checking my blog stats and noticed a large number of hits from one particular site, which I, of course, visited.  I found an article that used original content from this blog, along with pictures (taken by me with my camera in my house) but didn't mention my blog or my name.  To be fair, a link to a tutorial posted on my blog was included in the article, but my pictures weren't credited.  I wasn't asked if my material could be used and the author of the article was compensated for an article that contained my uncited original material. I wasn't pleased and emailed the author (nicely) to ask that the article be updated with appropriate credit.  She agreed (not as nicely), but whatevs, situation resolved successfully.

But today, as I was reading about last week's brawl over Friday Reads and blogger disclosure and all that (by the way a great summary can be found on Florinda's blog The Three R's here), it got me thinking about what reasonable expectation bloggers should have regarding compensation and credit from other sources.  It seems that one side of the argument is that bloggers are putting a lot of work into creating reviews and memes and site content to entertain and attract readers and that compensation is a logical expectation for that amount of work and that the disclosure of compensation is nice, but not a deal breaker for readers.  The other side of the argument is that it is dishonest to present book blogging as a hobby when you are in reality being paid by an author or publisher for your writing.

So I want to go ahead and address both of these issues head on in a post that I can reference back to if needed.  I may go ahead and make part of this part of an FAQ page in the future. 

1) All content created here is original and I (most of the time) put time and thought into what to write about and how I write.  I don't expect to ever be financially compensated (and wouldn't ever ask to be), but I do expect to be appropriately credited for my work.  If you'd like to use something from my blog, I'd be happy to let you, but please ask first.  Don't just take original pictures, ideas, or writing and pass it off as your own or use it to augment your own blog (to be clear, not all of this happened yesterday, but I want to take this opportunity to get rid of any confusion).  Appropriate credit, to me, means that you make it clear in your post or article or however you choose to use it that whatever content you use originated here.  A link to my blog at the bottom of your post doesn't convey that.  Use of my blog name or my name and a link to the original content source does.

2) While I do put a good deal of time (and occasionally small amounts of money) into this blog, I do not expect to be compensated for what is, essentially, a hobby.  I get the argument that bloggers put in a lot of time (often enough to be at least a part time job), but for me this is about my enjoyment and what I hope is my readers' enjoyment, and not a money-making venture.  So, heads up, no income coming from any of this.  I do gratefully acknowledge that I am given books by authors, publishers, and publicists and will continue to acknowledge those gifts in the future.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review: The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood


First of all, how apt is it that this YA fantasy about plants is written by a woman named Maryrose Wood?  Perfect.  It's about a young girl who has grown up in relative seclusion with a botanist father who is called on to perform various doctor duties using his encyclopedic knowledge of plants.  Jessamine, the daughter, is learning the tricks of the trade from her father, but there is one part of his garden that is locked and she is forbidden to enter.  A boy shows up on their doorstep (his name is Weed which is really just terribly unfortunate) and she falls for him.  Weed can communicate with plants and with his help they uncover a mystery.

Writing
The first half was fairly typical YA fantasy.  It was entertaining and easy to read and didn't jump out at me as especially awesome or especially poor.  The second half was off the charts crazy.  Weed can indeed communicate with plants, but I expected more of an ESP-type thing or an intuition of feeling.  Instead, the plants basically grow legs and turn into what I imagined as Disney characters.  The dialogue between Weed and the plants is, frankly, ridiculous.  It goes from being a pretty serious story with moderately interesting characters to an animated movie.

Entertainment Value
This one was offered by Harper Collins as a free preview before the second book's release.  I was able to read it at work (shhhhh) and it was more entertaining than work.  I actually was really into the first half and then the plants started talking and things got crazy.  The plant prince tried to seduce Jessamine (or at least I think that's what was happening) so of course Weed had to save her.  Like I said, it beat actual work, but I'm glad I didn't spend real time reading it. 

It's quick and easy and as long as it's free and you like quick, easy, YA, go ahead and give it a try.  I wouldn't recommend spending any real money on it, although I am somewhat curious to know what will happen to Weed and Jessamine next...it's possible that I will read the sequel. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Book Review: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunities for Women Worldwide

This book should be required reading for all high schools, church groups, community organizations, basically everyone.  It's an incredibly touching account from journalists Nicholos Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn of the oppression women are experiencing around the world in the forms of sex slavery, female genital mutilation, the use of rape as a weapon of war, the murder of women as a form of population control or political gain, and the proliferation of AIDS.  They have travelled around the world and liberated women from these situations.  The real beauty of the book is that the authors not only present the humanitarian issues facing women in the developing world, but they also present solutions on international, national, corporate, and personal levels.

Writing
Excellent reporting, professional journalism, and detailed research.  Absolutely no complaints.

Entertainment Value
The personal stories from women around the world are touching as are the authors' descriptions of the situations and threats women are facing in the developing world.  The solutions to these problems are inspiring and motivating.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  Like I said in my introduction, this book should be required reading for high school/college students.

One aspect I particularly appreciated was the balanced viewpoint of the authors.  There is a chapter on religion that I was nervous to read.  And the authors do criticize the role that some religions (fundamental Christianity and Islam) play in the oppression of women, particularly in developing countries.  However, the authors present solutions that don't reject Muslim or Christian beliefs, but integrate them into a healthy view of women.  They also advocate not for a-religious aid but for a nonpartisan, inter-religion effort that puts the welfare of women before either a liberal or conservative religious or political agenda.  Also, the authors recognize the impact of Christian missions worldwide, which means so much to me as the daughter of Christian missionaries.  I feel like the secular media frequently ignores the positive contributions of Christian (Protestant and Catholic) missions, but these authors acknowledge their positive impact. 

Please give the book a try - it may very well change your life.  Also, check out a new website I found yesterday while I was browsing the internet.  The site (http://www.slaveryfootprint.org/) contains an application that allows you to answer questions about the products you consume and then gives you an estimate of the number of slaves who work for you worldwide (according to my consumption habits, I have 27 slaves working for me).  It also pinpoints where slaves who produce the products you consume may be located and provides information about what products may be produced by slaves.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Review: Hell's Belles by Seale Ballenger


I've had this one on my TBR for quite a while now, so I was pretty excited to find it at McKays for $0.75.  It's a book of short essays and facts about famous Southern women - actresses, authors, singers, politicians, socialites, and criminals.  Each essay is only a page or two long and has a brief biography of the woman and how she influenced the South.  It also has some fun quotes and fact lists, things like that.

Writing
I hate to say it, because I want everything Southern to be awesome, but the writing in this was pretty poor.  Lots of typos, grammatical errors, and awkward phrasing that really took away from the fun of the book.  The writing was a huge distraction from a fun topic.

Entertainment Value
It's not that hard for me to put aside so-so or even poor writing in the case of good entertainment.  But the writing in this one was so bad that it kept me from enjoying the book.  All I could think of was how much editing it needed and what changes I would make to make it better.

It's a really cute idea but the book needs some serious editing and rewriting in sections.  It's an older book, so I doubt that'll happen.  Do not recommend.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In My Mailbox (25 pt 2)

Not only did I get some great books for review last week, I also made a trip to the used bookstore and used some store credit to pick up these books:

Bad Girls of the Bible (this one was actually in the free bin)
Vision in White by Nora Roberts (I've never read Nora Robers but my Nestie friends rave about this series)

Riding the Bus With My Sister by Rachel Simon
A Common Life: The Wedding Story by Jan Karon (also from the free bin!)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins (another gift from my friend Rev)

The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia by Laura miller
Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres (I'm currently reading her newest book about Jim Jones and it is fascinating)

The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank
Literary Feuds by Anthony Arthur

Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen

I also picked up these books at Barnes and Noble using a gift card I found when I cleaned out the garage and an awesome coupon I got off of Facebook thanks to a Nestie (see why I love them?)


Forever (finished up my set - the first two are signed thanks to Nesties) and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Envy by Anna Godbersen (just need The Luxe to finish up my set)