Friday, December 28, 2012

Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

From Goodreads: Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

I really don't have much to say about the writing in this one.  It's one that I hear highly praised from many people, and I certainly enjoyed reading it, but nothing jumped out at me in the writing.  It didn't stand out above and beyond any other YA fantasy I read this year, but there were also no problems with it.  It's another case of being so into the story that the writing didn't stick out one way or the other.

I do think the author did an exceptional job of capturing a unique voice with Karou and Zuzana in particular, but I wasn't a huge fan of Akiva's dialogue.  He didn't stand out to me the way Karou and Zuzana did.

Entertainment Value
Mind-blowing.  I was SO INTO this story.  I loved the characters, especially Zuzana, Karou's best friend.  I think the voices were fresh and original.  In a lot of YA I think you could switch characters around and the dialogue would still match.  You could put one author's character in another author's book and no one would ever know the difference.  But Karou is totally unique.

I also think the story itself is fascinating and new in a genre that is populated by so many similar stories.  As a bonus, there is no love triangle, which was very refreshing.

I highly recommend reading it, especially as a "fun" read.  Make sure you have plenty of reading time on your hands because you won't want to put it down.  And be prepared for a bit of a wait - the second book is out, but the final book in the series won't be released until next year.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Review: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

From Goodreads1961 England. Laurel Nicolson is sixteen years old, dreaming alone in her childhood tree house during a family celebration at their home, Green Acres Farm. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and then observes her mother, Dorothy, speaking to him. And then she witnesses a crime.

Fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living in London. She returns to Green Acres for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday and finds herself overwhelmed by memories and questions she has not thought about for decades. She decides to find out the truth about the events of that summer day and lay to rest her own feelings of guilt. One photograph, of her mother and a woman Laurel has never met, called Vivian, is her first clue.

The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams, the lengths some people go to fulfill them, and the strange consequences they sometimes have. It is a story of lovers, friends, dreamers and schemers, play-acting and deception told against a backdrop of events that changed the world

As you can see, I'm totally giving up on writing my own reviews for this last week of the year.  My brain is just finished for the year.  I'm getting these last few written in advance so hopefully my week or so with no review writing will refresh me.

Kate Morton is my absolute favorite historical fiction author and one of my favorite authors all-around.  I think she handles historical fiction brilliantly, in terms of research and setting and in terms of telling an amazing story.  This story, set mainly during the London Blitz, brings both the period and the London scenery to life.  I usually don't like lots of detail in description, but Morton is able to include it in a way that works with the story and doesn't take away from it.

Entertainment Value
I truly enjoyed the experience of reading this one.  The main character wasn't my favorite, but I think being interested in her secrets helped me get past my dislike of her as a character.  Also, the secondary characters totally made up for it, especially Laurel and Vivian.  It kept me guessing and I didn't see the ending coming until I was almost on it, so that earns it bonus points.

If you like historical fiction, if you watch Downton Abbey or Call The Midwife, or if you enjoy the British WWII setting, you'll love it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book Review: The Seven Realms Series by Cinda Williams Chima

From Goodreads: This novel marks the first giant step in a momentous sci-fi journey orchestrated by Cinda Williams Chima, the author of the popular Warrior Heir series. Its two chief protagonists are ex-thief Han Alister, an impoverished commoner, and Raisa ana'Helena, the headstrong Princess Heir of the Fells. The Demon King brings them together, creating part of a volatile mix of action, magic, and danger. Empathetic characters; wizardly attacks.

I decided to only include a description of the first book because I don't want to give any spoilers for the series as a whole - and honestly it's pretty hard to describe the series as a whole without giving anything away.  All you really need to know is that it's YA epic/high fantasy.  And AMAZING.

The first half of The Demon King really, really dragged for me.  It's a lot of backstory and history of the Seven Realms world.  In some ways, I can overlook it because the second half of the book and each following book are fast-paced and intriguing.  But I do wish the author could have spaced out more of the backstory and history portions to pick up the pace at the beginning.  Other than that, I had no issues with the writing.  

Luke read them as well and I feel like this is a good place to mention that he felt like the writing was lazy in places.  He was annoyed at things like the use of the Gregorian/Christians/Western calendar in a world where mythology and ancient Rome (and thus many of the names of our months) did not exist.  While I can see his point, I wasn't bothered by it, particularly given the fact that this is intended for a YA audience.  But I think he made a good case, so I thought I'd include his thoughts in the review.

Entertainment Value
Like I said, the first half of book one is slow and then the series takes off and does not let up.  I read all four books over the course of a few days because I could not put them down.  There was crying and up way past my bedtime foolishness and shirking of my duties.  It was an amazing series.

I highly recommend it, especially to fans of high fantasy.  I think if you enjoyed Mistborn, The Kingkiller Chronicles, or any other YA fantasy, you'll be a big fan of the series.  Also, for those who share my conservatism, don't be put off by the titles.  I avoided reading these for a long time because I don't do demon/Satan books (yeah, I know, but I don't, so no use trying to convince me I'm wrong).  Anyway, the title put me off from even learning about the book, but my friend Joyce persisted and I finally read enough about them to learn that they really aren't in any way about demons, so no worries there.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Come thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel's strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

Photo by Lel4nd
Come Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a king
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring
By Thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By Thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Book Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

From Goodreads: WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart
Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls.

NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg
Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.

HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle
As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

If you've read Gone Girl, one of the wildly popular releases of this year, you'll have some kind of idea of what to expect from Sharp Objects, one of the author's earlier releases.  It's a very dark subject that deals with an astonishing array of issues: murder, self-harm, child abuse, mental illness, and the death of children.  It's not a happy book and I should warn you now that it doesn't have a happy ending.  It's not going to make you feel good.  That said, the writing is amazing. 

I think Flynn is a master at creating painfully flawed characters.  I can't even say love to hate, because each one of them has some sympathetic aspect that keeps you from hating them.  At the same time, none of them are truly likable either.  It hurts to read so much tragedy, and yet the characters all have relatable aspects.  I think my sympathy for even the worst characters in this book may be what makes this surpass Gone Girl for me.  As much as I enjoyed Gone Girl, I truly hated all the characters.  There weren't moments of sympathy for each one the way there are in Sharp Objects.

Entertainment Value
This isn't going to be for everyone.  Like I said, it's a dark book with a dark ending.  It's something that leaves you feeling haunted as opposed to hopeful.  That said, it was definitely a compelling read and one that I really enjoyed.  I was kept guessing through the whole thing, which is a huge plus.  I had various theories throughout the book and wound up being wrong on all accounts, which is my favorite.  My friend Joyce is reading it right now and I'm really enjoying hearing her theorize as she reads it. 

It's bleak, but it's also chilling.  I think if you're a fan of thrillers or of dark mysteries this is going to be right up your alley.  And if you read Gone Girl and liked it, this one is a must-read.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Audiobook Mini-Reviews Part 2

Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim / When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

I'll review the two of these together because they are so similar - essays by Sedaris on his life, family, and travels.  I think he's hilarious and I highly recommend giving him a try, especially if you're into dry wit.

What The Dead Know by Laura Lippman
Two sisters are mysteriously abducted from a mall and never heard from again...until thirty years later when a woman in a car accident claims to be one of the missing sisters.  I saw the twist coming, but it didn't at all take away from the pleasure of getting there.  I like Lippman a lot and plan on continuing to read her books.

And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

Another Lippman novel, although this one is less of a mystery/thriller than her others.  It tells the story of a suburban soccer mom who just happens to run an escort agency out of her home.  It examines a lot of the ethics involved in prositution, and, while I don't really agree at all with the conclusions the author reaches in the book, the story was interesting.  I preferred What The Dead Know, but would recommend this one as well.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
I could not have loved this book more.  It's a perfect mystery/puzzle for a librarian to solve and will appeal to any book-lover.  I'm anxious to force it on Luke because I think he'll love it too.  It's a must-read.

White Horse by Alex Adams
Post-apocalyptic story where an unleashed virus has killed most of the world's population and turned almost all survivors into grotesque mutated monsters.  The few survivors have to decide what it means to be human in the new world.  It's fairly graphic - some serious violence and language as well as multiple rapes.  If you can handle the mature content, though, I think it's worth the read, especially if you're a fan of the genre.

The Water's Lovely by Ruth Rendell
This is a mystery/thriller surrounding a woman who is determined to protect her younger sister, who has grown up suspected by her family of murdering her step-father.  Honestly, it was really disappointing.  I'm not saying I won't give Rendell another chance because she comes highly recommended, but the twist was a huge letdown and there were a ton of unneccessary secondary plots.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review: I Suck At Girls by Justin Halpern

In this book, blogger-turned-author Justin Halpern recounts his (mis)adventures with women before meeting and marrying his wife.  He starts with his childhood and chronicles how he learns about women and the awkward mistakes he makes along the way.  Of course, his blunt and outspoken father features prominently throughout the book.

Honestly, it was blog-worthy I think, as opposed to book-worthy.  It's funny and all, but something I'd rather read a bit at a time on a blog.  I wasn't terribly impressed.

Entertainment Value
Certainly entertaining and it made me laugh out loud several times.  If it were a blog, I'd follow it.  It's short and can be read a little bit at a time as there isn't really any plot.  Kind of like a sitcom - a decent diversion, but nothing to get all excited about.

If you're bored, or if you really liked Shit My Dad Says, then I think you should pick it up.  Otherwise, I think there are other humorous titles that make better books.

Thanks to Harper Collins for the chance to review this one! 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Worst Books of 2012

Yes that's right.  I'm doing a worst books I read this year post.  I found something to appreciate about almost all of the books I read this year, but a couple deserve special recognition for totally letting me down.

Lots of people I know, including Bestie, loved this book, but I was just bored.

Another book that has pretty good reviews over-all on Goodreads but was not for me.  Bonus points and my sincere respect for the author who was gracious and kind after some of her fans flipped out on me.

Ugh.  It was boring, but worse, it used a word I find appalling in a "funny" way.  I expect better.

I heard comparisons to Anna and the French Kiss.  I can only agree if you remove all the romance from the book, substitute abusive behavior and control, and make the characters all super trashy.

Listened to it on audio.  I think my teenage self would have been like "yeah, screw the man".  And my adult self is like "you stupid kids, get off my lawn."

Not Yet Reviewed
Too much "I know something you don't know" from the author.  The reveal was really obvious and so very slow.  I also didn't like the characters.

Not Yet Reviewed
Everyone in this book was so very unlikable.  I hated the main character.

There you have it: the books that let me down in a big way this year.  What about you?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Best Adult Non-Fiction of 2012

This is my last Best of 2012 post - I'm glad I managed to get them all in during the past week and a half or so, hopefully before everyone finished their Christmas shopping. Tomorrow I'll be posting the Worst books I read in 2012 - cause I'm a big old meanie like that.  :)

 Here are the best adult non-fiction books I read this year:

A great book about the impact of girly-girl culture on th e development of children, obviously girls in particular.

Super sweet (and true) stories collected by StoryCorps of people and love.  Adorable - and the cover looks amazing on the shelf.

Part poetry, part prose memoir of the author's journey through depression.

A look at the domestic sex trade in the United States and how it affects underage girls.

Scientific analysis of how the mind is affected by exercise.

Funniest book I read this year.  If you follow the Bloggess, you must read the book.

Another health book, but it's by AJ Jacobs, such it's less science-y and more funny.

Kristen Chenoweth's memoir.  I don't think I need to describe any further.

Tied with Let's Pretend This Never Happened for funniest book of the year.  I am a total Caitlin Moran convert and will be reading anything and everything else she puts out.

A fascinating look at motherhood - and I think actually has some ideas that I'll take away for when I have my own kids.

Not Yet Reviewed
Mary Roach is tied with AJ Jacobs for my favorite pop science author.  This one looks at various theories of the afterlife, focusing on reincarnation and the spiritism of the Victorian age, as well as current scientific methods of contacting the dead.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Best Adult Fiction of 2012

A couple of these made my audio list as well for their superb narration, but the books themselves were so amazing I couldn't leave them off this list where I can recognize them for their writing and entertainment value as well.

This probably could have also gone well as a fiction option under faith-based literature as it deals largely with, obviously issues of faith surounding a scandal within the Catholic church and the family that is affected.

I could not possibly love bad-seed type stories any more than I do, and this one was perfect.  Slow-building suspense and total creepiness, but with a literary bent.

Nothing can convince me that this epistolary novel, told in emails, is not based on me and Bestie.

Very dark and a great introduction to an author whose work I'll certainly be following in the future.  Led me to Sharp Objects, by the same author, which was also one of my favorites of this year.

Such a great read for pop culture enthusiasts, especially those devoted to the 90's, or for anyone who loves general geekery, video games, computer programming, or just an in general good puzzle.

Another more literary read.  Excellent characters and one that will make you think - and think hard - about writing and literature and what purposes they serve.

Adorable, hilarious, heartwarming, and endearing.  With a dose of amazing writing and an unforgettable narrator.

Not Yet Reviewed
This one, like Ready Player One, is a puzzle book and one that kept me guessing.  It's less focused on pop culture and video games and more focused on the world of bookselling, cryptography, and archivals.

Jackson is one of my all time favorite Southern fiction authors and this book was no different.  Like Where'd You Go, Bernadette, it features an amazing teen narrator.

Not Yet Reviewed
Do you like Downton Abbey?  If yes, go immediately to a bookstore, buy Kate Morton's books, and take them home to devour.  Each one I read becomes my new favorite.

How about you, Reader Friends?  Any great adult fiction that I've left off?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Best Faith-Related Literature of 2012

Originally I had intended this post to be my summary of Best YA Fiction of 2012.  But then I realized that all of my best YA books were also covered in Fantasy and Audiobooks with the exception of one.  I'll include that one in my best fiction section.  Since a free day opened up, I thought I'd devote a list to the best Faith-Based books I read this year, since I had some amazing ones.

Memoir of two college students who take a year off of school to travel major metropolitan areas of the United States and live as if they were homeless.  An amazing examination of how the church is succeeding and failing in caring for the poor.

Francis Chan is an author I've been meaning to read for years.  This year I was lucky enough to catch the Easter gift of all three of these books from Barnes and Noble, which was just the push I needed.  I'm so glad I gave him a try, too.  Crazy Love is his first book and focuses on what God's love means for Christians.  Bonus: the ebook version has hyperlinks to videos and extra materials.

A really great examination of what the Bible, as opposed to denomination or tradition, has to say about the Holy Spirit.

A Scripture-based look at giving yourself the same grace you give others.  It's all about learning to balance your giving to others with treating yourself the way Christ would treat you.  I made some big life changes based on what I learned in this one.

Not Yet Reviewed
This one is a bit dated, but is so remarkably timely due to recent current events.  It's about how secular humanism, plurality, and privatization of morality have impacted our culture and will impact our children in the future.

In addition, I have to say that Ravi Zacharias is the best discovery I made this year.  I have spent HOURS listening to the archived messages from his radio program Let My People Think.  The man is a brilliant scholar and theologian.  I have learned so very much from him and cannot recommend him highly enough.  Click here to visit his website.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Audiobook Mini-Reviews

I've gotten to the end of the year and desperately want to finish up with no outstanding reviews.  I mean, I will obviously have outstanding books that need to be read and reviewed, but I won't have books I read in 2012 waiting to be reviewed.  In order to do that (and keep my posts to once a day) I'm going to have to put out a couple posts full of mini-reviews, especially of audio books.  All of these are from the library, none were given to me in exchange for a review, so I don't feel as bad about not going into detail on them.  In no particular order:

I absolutely adored every second of this book, which is a memoir of Andy's life, focusing on his time in tv production and, particularly, his time at Bravo.  I am a dedicated fan of several versions of the housewives (Orange County, New York, New Jersey).  I can be talked into watching any of the others.  Anyway, Andy is totally my favorite housewife and a behind the scenes look at Bravo?  Yes, please!

That said, I think it's going to have a somewhat limited audience.  If you don't "know" Andy, don't watch the Housewives, or aren't into what goes on behind the scenes in tv production, I think a lot of this book is going to be of no interest. 

Andy narrates the book, which makes it all that much more wonderful.  I loved it, I highly recommend it, but I don't think it will be as appealing if you're not already a fan of his.

It physically pains me not to write a full review of this one.  I want to give it all the attention it deserves.  I may even come back to it at some point because it's just that amazing.  Southern fiction at its best, as I would say of all of Jackson's books. 

This one follows three generations of Southern women who have a dark secret hiding in their backyard - a secret that is uncovered and threatens their family.  Even without that intrigue, I'd have loved the book because of the characters.  Each and every one was so special in his and her own way.  I can't believe how well Jackson captured teenage Mosey's voice.  She was probably my favorite.  It was spot on. 

I recommend it for basically everyone I know.  I'll be giving at as a gift this year and in the future.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
I am hereby declaring that my next pet will be named General Goodtimes.  This book is just...mind-boggling.  The creativity, the cultural relevance, the humor, and the suprising depth.  I can't even begin to describe how much I loved this book - I think it should be required reading for all women.  And no one would mind they were required to read it because it's so funny.

The basic story is that a group of beauty pageant contestants are stranded on a desert island at the intersection of a potential armed conflict between The Corporation and a rebellious dictator.  It is the most delightful skewering of every single pop culture totem you can think of.

Also, even if you're already read it in print, you must listen to the audiobook because Libba Bray's voices?  Amazing.

This is a memoir written by a woman who grew up as a part of the FLDS church, under the direction of Warren Jeffs.  She was one of the key players in bringing Jeffs to justice and her story of being married at fourteen to an abusive husband is heart-breaking.  It's such an important story to tell, though. 

The writing isn't anything super amazing, but the book was ghost-written.  In this case, I'd consider the story itself to be the important part, not the writing.  The narrator does a fine job, but again, nothing to write home about.  What makes this compelling is Elissa's story and her courage in telling it.

The basic premise is that of a Southern-themed First Wives Club.  Three women are cheated on and exact revenge on their husbands.

I listened to the whole thing, which says something, right?  Honestly I just can't recommend it.  All of the characters were flat and stereotypical (a blunt, outspoken Northerner?  A sex-pot vamp?  A sweet, butter-wouldn't-melt homemaker?) and none were likable, even our heroines.  It was absolutely unbelievable, while not being so outrageous that it was worth suspending disbelief. 

The most annoying thing to me was that one of our heroines, who is plotting revenge on her cheating husband, starts an affair herself.  We are supposed to continue to think of her as virtuous because she doesn't actually have sex with her boyfriend, she just dates him, kisses him, and falls in love with him.  Look, if we're supposed to think the men are scum for cheating, I just can't get on board with it being ok for the wives, as long as they don't go all the way. 

Do not recommend.