Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Review: The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe

Oh man.  I love a good story about an outbreak of some kind of killer illness.  The Andromeda Strain?  Read it and seen every Sci-Fi original movie based on it.  So when I saw a YA outbreak novel available on Netgalley I had to read it.  The Way We Fall is about how a teen girl, Kaelyn, deals with the outbreak of a deadly virus on the small island where she lives with her family. 

Average.  As I'd expect from an outbreak-themed novel, the plot takes precedence over the writing.  There's nothing much to comment on, good or bad, in terms of the writing itself because the main focus of the novel isn't characterization or setting, but plot alone.

Entertainment Value:
Off the charts.  I loved it!  I certainly couldn't put it down - the plot was intriguing and compelling.  I read it in just a few hours and was thoroughly entertained.  The characters are interesting, but it's really the outbreak part of the story that appealed to me.  I loved hearing how it started, how the government responded to the initial reports from the island, the eventual quarantine, and the fight for survival as resources run low.  Even if they weren't 100% believable, I still found the characters likable and was rooting for their survival. 

I recommend it to all YA readers and to those who are interested in outbreak-style novels.  I'd also recommend it to those who have been enjoying the current wave of dystopian fiction and are interested in a different sort of post-apocalyptic world.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Another Vlog About Books

I got a new webcam for my birthday and wanted to try it out! I'll be linking to the other Nestie's vlogs as they post them and if any of my blog followers want to play alone, leave a link and I'll post yours too!

Here's the list of questions:

1) Show us or tell us about the most valuable book in your collection - either for monetary or sentimental value.

2) What are your literary pet peeves?

3) What is your favorite non-book literary possession?

4) Show us/tell us about where you usually read.

5) Give up a literary confession - something you do that would drive other readers nuts.

6) What book/genre is your guilty pleasure?

7) Describe your biggest fangirl moment relating to books.

8) What book have you reread the most times?

9) How many books do you own?

10) Show us/tell us about how your books are organized.

11) Do you lend books to friends?  If so, how do you make sure you get them back?

Book Review: Faith by Jennifer Haigh

Faith is the story of Father Art as told by his half-sister Sheila.  Father Art has been accused of molesting a child in his church, and Sheila returns to her hometown to defend him.  However, she learns that her family is hiding some secrets, long buried, that may impact her own interpretation of the events and her brother's innocence or guilt.

Beautiful.  This was literary fiction at its best for me - beautiful writing that is accessible and engrossing at the same time.  This isn't one that you'll struggle to get through, but it's also not one that sacrifices characterization or depth for the sake of plot.  You spend the majority of the story not knowing if Father Art is guilty or innocent, but that isn't the major focus of the book.  You get inside the characters heads through Sheila, although at the beginning she admits that she is reconstructing events the way she imagines they occurred in some cases.  I liked not having an omniscient narrator and only knowing what Sheila knows and filling in the blanks as she fills them in.  I cared deeply about each character and was fascinated to see the ways they dealt with the issue guilt and belief in the face of this enormous test of faith.

Entertainment Value
Completely engrossing.  I couldn't put it down.  It's not an easy read, but it's also not so difficult that you feel like it's dragging.  I read it over the course of two days because I couldn't put it down.  The issue of whether or not Father Art is guilty is intriguing, but I was more interested in the development of the characters and how each character's own faith was highlighted and tested throughout the book. 

This was my first five star book of the year.  I'm so glad I had the opportunity to read it because I was starting to worry that I was in a slump.  I've had trouble concentrating on the books I've read so far this year, but this was the exception.  I was into the story and the characters through the entire book and couldn't get enough.  I highly recommend this to all readers, even if you aren't typically interested in literary fiction.  This is a good one to start with if you don't usually read in the genre because it does have an intriguing plot.  I also loved that the author addressed the issue of religious faith from multiple points of view without expressing her own biases.  I doubt it would ever happen because of the language used in the book (several uses of the "f word") but I'd love to see this book sold in Christian bookstores. 

Thank you to Trish at TLC for including me on the tour.  Click here to see a list of other reviews from the tour.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Book Review: The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

This book was given to me on my birthday last year, so I think it's appropriate that I review it on my birthday this year.  For the record, it came from my now brother in law, then just Sugar Bear's boyfriend.  He had heard about how much I love drama and thought this was a fairly good soap opera type book.  And of course it is a very classic story that spans generations and is full of the dramz.  Maggie Cleary and her forbiden love, Father Ralph are the focus of the story, which is set in Australia surrounding World War II.

I honestly didn't really find it to be exceptional.  I've read many reviews on Goodreads saying otherwise, but I wasn't terribly impressed.  I didn't fall in love with any of the characters and at parts the plot dragged.  I did find the descriptions of Australia and New Zealand to be stunning.

Entertainment Value
Decent.  I wasn't blown away by the drama in it the way I expected to be.  But I think part of that is that I'm reading it at a time when so much more is available to us in the way of family drama.  When the book was released in 1977, I think the idea of a priest having an affair and illegitimate child would have been a lot more shocking than it is now.  Which is kind of sad.  But in a time when sex scandals involving priests are much more horrific, I kind of felt like "ok, and...?"  That said, the book still held my interest.  It's a long book and I didn't consider giving up on it at any points. 

I'd give it a try if you're a fan of romance novels, family dramas, or Australian historical fiction.  As I mentioned in the writing review, there are some beautiful descriptions of the Austalian landscape.  It's a decent read, but after a steady diet of shows like The OC and One Tree Hill (yes I watched both) I didn't find it as shocking as I think it would have been for readers in the 70's.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

In My Mailbox (29)

I mentioned at the beginning of the year that my new goals include walking every single day - and so far I've yet to miss a day, even when it's rained.  I'm also working on giving myself non-food rewards.  I'm almost at 50 miles since the beginning of the year AND I worked some overtime this morning, so I decided to go ahead and give myself a reward and went to the used bookstore with a stack of books to trade.  I got:

Library Confidential: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas In The Public Library
The Mighty Queens of Freeville

Eye Contact
Those That Wake

Belong to Me
Vernon God Little

This Is A Book (I don't know anything about it but Buddy was reading a copy at Christmas and I want to be able to talk to him about it, so I grabbed a copy)
Women Who Love Books Too Much (as if that title is even possible!)

Some Girls: My Life In A Harem
Assisted Loving: Tales of Double Dating With My Dad

Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading
Amy And Isabelle

It was also a good week for review books:

What Happened To Hannah by Mary Kay McComas 
Spin by Catherine McKenzie
Both of these came for upcoming TLC tours

Diary of a Mad Fat Girl
All There Is: Love Stories From Storycorps

Friday, January 20, 2012

Library Video

No book reviews today, just this awesome video from Buzzfeed with tv and movie clips of libraries.  How many do you recognize?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Book Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Ransom Riggs, the author of Miss Peregrine's Home was inspired to write the book when he found some creepy old pictures of children in what appeared to be supernatural poses - such as the cover shot.  He wound up finding several collections of these photos and used them to illustrate his YA novel.  The premise is interesting: a school for kids with supernatural abilities discovered by a young boy whose grandfather attended the school.  And the pictures themselves are wonderfully creepy.  As far as the book itself, well...

Basic YA fiction-style and generic quality.  Not great, not awful.  No complaints but also no raves.

Entertainment Value
This part is tricky.  I loved the first half of the book.  I was deliciously creeped out by the tragedy that occurs in the main character (Jacob)'s family at the beginning of the book.  I was intrigued by the school and what would happen when Jacob found it.  I was really into it.  And then things started to go downhill.  The last half of the book was a struggle to get through.  Once Jacob finds the school and meets the students, the book totally shifts gears.  I felt like I was reading two different books by the end.  The second half was slow and drawn out with a surprise cliff hanger ending.  Not only did I not enjoy the second half, I was super annoyed by the "surprise" sequel.  There's no indication on the cover or the GR page or anywhere else that this is a series book, but at the end we are left with a major cliffhanger ending.  When you look up the author on GR you can find out he has a sequel planned.  Because of how slow the second half of the book is, it really comes across to me as a case of the author drawing out what could have been a stand alone book into a series to sell more books.  I was not impressed.

I didn't hate the book.  If you really wanted to read it, I don't think you should avoid it just because I didn't like it.  I didn't dislike it so much that I'd specifically recommend against reading it.  But my recommendation if you're on the fence is that you check out the pictures and save your time reading something else.  I won't be picking up the sequel.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Book Review: The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories

This is seriously the cutest cover ever, right?  I mean, look how precious!  Also, please note the name on the cover - Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  When I got the email asking me to review this, I was beyond thrilled.  I hadn't heard of the HITRECORD project, but I looked into it once I knew I'd be reviewing the book and it's really cool.  I'll let JGL himself tell you about it:

These stories are so tiny that it's hard to do my usual writing/entertainment value review for them.  They are only a sentence or two long at most, and half of the book is illustrations.  The book is precious - the stories are by turns funny, cute, inspiring, and touching.  And the illustrations are amazing.  I only wish they were bigger or sold in the project's store so I could buy some as art.  They DO have some cute t-shirts and tote bags, so be sure to check that out.  If nothing else, do yourself a favor and find a copy of the book (the first in a three part series).  It's adorable!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book Review: The Ruins of Us by Keija Parssinen

The Ruins of Us is a beautiful story of marriage and family set in Saudi Arabia.  Rosalie is an American expatriate who grew up in Saudi Arabia and fell in the love with the country.  Her family moved back to Texas, but Rosalie met and married Abdullah in college and moved back to Saudi Arabia.  When the book begins, Rosalie and Abdullah have been married and living in Saudi Arabia for 25 years.  When Rosalie learns that Abdullah has taken a second wife, she must decide whether she loves Saudi Arabia enough to stay or if she will leave Abdullah.  The turmoil between Rosalie and Abdullah blinds them to the increasing religious fervor of their son Faisal.  The story is told in alternating voices: Rosalie's, Abdullah's, Faisal's, and Dave Coleman's (a family friend).

The writing in this book is, in my opinion, exceptional.  I love when authors can recreate vivid moments and experiences that unite the reader with the characters.  For example, I have never lived in Saudi Arabia and have never found out that my husband has another wife (hopefully I can go my whole life without that one).  But a passage Parssinen writes about how it's easier to feel resolve to do something difficult at night and how those resolves break down in the light of morning completely resonated with me.  I've had that exact same feeling. 

Entertainment Value
This is definitely a character-driven novel.  There are a few plot-oriented things that happen, but the majority of the book takes place in the character's minds.  This may not appeal to all readers or to those who are expecting drama and shocking twists.  However, I fully enjoyed the experience of each character's point of view, his or her personality, and how they interpret the events surrounding the story.  This isn't a fast read, but it's a beautiful read and something I think will appeal to lovers of literary fiction.

I recommend it to those who appreciate beautiful writing, love character-driving novels, or are lovers of contemporary literary fiction.  I also recommend it to those with a special interest in the Middle East, the treatment of women in Muslim cultures, or the issues surrounding violent Islamic extremists.

Thank you to Trish at TLC for letting me be a part of this tour and check out this page for the list of other reviewers.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Book Review: Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski

As a college student, Mike Yankoski hadn't had much of a chance to put his faith in God to the test.  Compared to many others in the world, he had lived a life of relative ease.  So when the opportunity arose - a semester off of college - he teamed up with another college student, Sam, to put their faith into action.  They wanted to find out what it was like to be homeless in America.  They planned a six month period of time, during which they would experience homelessness in six different US cities.  They took only thrift store puchased sleeping bags, one change of clothes, and their guitars.  To travel from city to city they panhandled and they lived only off of the money they earned pan handling and from shelters and food kitchens.

I'd describe this as well-written light non-fiction.  Because it's really a memoir, there isn't a lot of fact presentation or research that needs to accompany it.  It's written in an accessible way that I think makes the book appealing to a variety of people, including teens and possibly even middle graders.  At times simplistic, I think the writing really accomplished what the author wanted: to make his story available to a wide variety of readers. 

Entertainment Value
I was pulled in from the first chapter.  The story of what Yankoski goes through as a homeless person is moving and intriguing on its own, but what really made me love it was the spiritual insight.  A major criticism of modern Christianity is that Christians do not do enough to help those in need.  Yankoski's experiences show both sides of this: some Christians are generous and some reject the men based on their appearance.  And this need for acceptance and generosity from the Christian community aren't the only spiritual insights gleaned from the book.  Many passages challenged me on a personal level in various aspects of my life, including my attitude towards the poor. 

I highly recommend giving this one a try.  It is a work of Christian non-fiction, so be aware that it's going to be coming from that point of view, but I think this one could also appeal to non-believers.  Yankoski doesn't preach and the book doesn't require that readers agree with Yankoski's religious beliefs, although they do play a large role in the book.  It's also a very accessible book and will appeal to a wide range of reading styles, abilities, and ages.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

In My Mailbox (29)

Hello Reader Friends!  I really wanted to make this vloggy, but my web cam broke this week so you'll have to content yourself with pictures.  I'll appease you with one of Chief helping me blog.  And by helping I mean snuggling all over me and totally distracting me.

Could you say no to snuggled with this precious boy?  Ok, on to the books!

I hadn't pre-ordered a copy of this or really even planned to get it, but I saw a signed copy on sale at the grocery store.  The Nesties have all been raving about it and on an impulse I bought it.  I've read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, but none of Green's other books, so I'm excited to try this one out.

These two came for review through TLC
Faith by Jennifer Haigh
Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein

And Home Front by Kristen Hannah from Emily at Wunderkind PR

I also got a good-sized delivery of Barnes and Noble purchases this week:
Cook Yourself Thin
Brava, Valentine by Adriana Trigiani

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell

Killing the Black Dog by Les Murray
Voluntary Madness

This is Once Upon a Magic Christmas by my precious friend Natalie Cone.  Natalie came to visit me yesterday and brought me this beautiful book that she wrote for her niece and nephew for Christmas.  I can't wait to read it.  And of course I made her sign my copy.  This way when she's a famous author, I'll have a signed copy of her first published work!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder is a cyborg living in New Shanghai in the days following World War IV.  There's a plague sweeping the world and an alien race known as the Lunars who are threatening the peace forged after the war.  Cinder, however, is just a humble mechanic working to support her step-mother and two step-sisters.  She's not involved in the larger political turmoil - or so she thinks.  A chance encounter with the heir to the empire, Prince Kai, sets Cinder on a path that she never expected.

Meh.  I hate to say so, but I was unimpressed with the writing.  The author seemed to fall into the trap of telling the reader instead of showing the reader.  I felt like all of the parallels to the Cinderella story that Cinder is based on were just so explicitly pointed out that it took away from the story.  An example from the beginning of the book is a character who points out an old car by saying it looks like a pumpkin.  Hmmmm...wonder what Cinder will be driving to ball later?  The foreshadowing is SO obvious and over the top that there aren't any surprises.  I'm usually fairly oblivious, but I guessed the surprise twist within the first couple of chapters.

Entertainment Value
Again, this one got a big time meh.  I've passed it on to Bestie to see what she thinks, but I was also unimpressed with the entertainment value.  Like I mentioned above the foreshadowing was so heavy that it was distracting from the story.  It also took about 300 pages for the book to feel like it really got started.  The last 100 or so pages held my attention but it felt like such work getting there.  WAY too much setting up the background and foreshadowing the future - I kept expecting things to pick up but it seemed like a large portion of the book involved Cinder travelling back and forth from the palace and having things very explicitly explained to her in a way that left no room for the reader to wonder what would happen next.  I feel like I've had a hard time concentrating in general lately, so it's possible that this played a roll in my distraction as I was reading the book, but the pacing was definitely off, regardless of my ability to concentrate.  It'll be interesting to see what Bestie thinks of it.

I don't think it's worth the time.  For a YA novel it's fairly long (the review copy I read was around 400 pages) and just not interesting enough to justify the time investment.  I won't be reading future books in the series - by the time I started to care at all about the characters the book ended in a major cliff hanger.  I hate feeling like an author has dragged the story out to make a series (sell more books) and that was the impression I got from this one.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Book Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

September is a little girl from Omaha, Nebraska, who finds herself spirited away by the Green Wind to Fairyland.  There she finds adventure - retrieving a sword for the Marquess, who is threatening to make everyone in Fairyland miserable - and friendship - in the form of a boy named Saturday and a wyvern who may just be descended from a library.

The book is meant to imitate the charm of Victorian children's literature in style.  I found that it reminded me of books like At the Back of the North Wind  and The Light Princess.  Others have drawn comparisons to Alice in Wonderland.  There are some beautiful passages and some very memorable lines, such as:

"It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else."

That one may need to be painted into something to hang on my library wall...

Entertainment Value
For some reason, despite the beautiful writing, the plot of this one really didn't do much for me.  I don't know why - everyone I know who has read it raves about it.  One good reading friend even compared it to the Narnia books.  And I totally trust the opinion of those readers, so I can't really explain why this one just didn't resonate with me the way children's fantasy usually does.  I think it had to do with how meandering the plot was and how unimportant the main task September is given winds up being in the whole scheme of things.  This charm for me was completely in the writing and not in the plot.  I just didn't connect with it. 

I recommend it for lover's of children's literature based on the writing style, which I loved, and the story, which I didn't love, but was loved by many trusted Reader Friends.  I also recommend it to those who love Victorian-era writing: this is a great recreation of that style.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Out with the old, in with the, well, old: a personal post

Last February I listed out six priorities for the year that I think I'll probably end up sticking with for the new year as well.  Even though I'm not making any new resolutions, I am continuing to evaluate my priorities.  So here's how I did on each in 2011 and what I hope each will look like in 2012 - this may be very long:

1) My relationship with God.  2011 was a hard year for me spiritually.  In the very beginning of 2011 we left our church, the church we had been members of for three years and a church I had attended as a child.  We didn't leave under good circumstances, something that was not a reflection of the church as a whole, but of a few people within the church.  I really struggled (and still struggle) with forgiving those people and moving on.  We stopped attending church for a while, but got back in the habit mid-year and wound up joining a new church.  We love our new church and our small group - several of the couples even live in our neighborhood. 

In 2012 we'll keep working on getting to know these people.  Luke has started playing bass in the worship band and I start my first nursery rotation on Sunday.  We're also doing a Bible study together as a couple and, hopefully tonight, I'll be starting another Bible study with my good friend Laurel.

2)  My marriage.  After posting this is in February Luke and I really made an effort to start spending more time together.  We started doing more things as a family with the dogs and really bonded over those activities - therapy dog training for Chief and agility courses for Dexter.  We planned to attend a FamilyLife Marriage Conference in the fall, but wound up distracted with holiday plans and Sugar Bear's wedding and didn't make it. 

In 2012 we're really hoping to get away just the two of us for a short vacation.  We don't have any other specific plans, but I'm sure we'll figure something out.  Any ideas?

3) My family.  In 2011 we spent a lot of time (and money) on our sweet boys.  Sly is still alive and in amazing health for being 16 years old.  He's an easy pet - food, water, and snuggles and he's happy.  The little boys took up a lot more of our time (and did I mention money?).  We put in a fence in the spring to give them space to run around and had both of them neutered and their stomachs tacked to prevent bloat.  Dexter started his agility courses and Chief got his Canine Good Citizen certification and started doing some therapy work with foster kids.

In 2012, we will hopefully complete Chief's Therapy Dog International and Therapy Dog Incorporated ceritifications and continue to work with kids.  Chief also joins me on my walks every morning and is an amazing companion.  Dexter is still doing agility and Luke is considering having him compete if he continues to do well.

4) My health.  In 2011 I tried several times to get motivated to exercise and just didn't do it.  Nothing seemed to work, even knowing that Sugar Bear's wedding was coming up and I would be standing in front of everyone next to her skinny little self.  Seeing the pictures from the wedding was a huge wake up call.  I was also very, very sick in December.  I lost about ten pounds just from being sick and saw a huge difference in the way I look. 

In 2012 I'm hoping to finally find the motivation to get in shape.  Instead of setting a weight loss goal or motivating myself to be thinner, I'm thinking of my mental health and the benefits of exercise and treating daily walks like a stress and depression prevention prescription.  I'll walk 40 minutes to an hour a day, no excuses.  So far, thinking of it this way has made a huge difference.  In the past ten days I've walked every single day, a total of 25 miles.  I've also got a group of friends holding me accountable to check in every day on my walks.  Their encouragement is making a huge difference.

5) My hobbies.  In 2011 I was able to spend a fair amount of time on my hobbies.  I did more painting and art projects and fewer furniture projects than I had planned.  I read fewer books than I read in 2010 but I read more pages total.  I also saved over $1000 by reviewing books and buying from our used bookstores.  Oh and we did a lot of work on the bookcases in the library, getting the arranged by color an adding on to them.

In 2012, I'd like to continue with my art projects but also add in some more furniture refinishes.  I'd also like to add bookcases and a desk to my bedroom.  As far as reading is concerned, I've set my goal at 125 books for the year and, as always, to out-read my total page number. 

6) My house.  In 2011 I worked hard on getting my house in order and keeping it that way.  I had my ups and downs, but I'm pleased to say that right now my house looks good.  I can have company over and not be ashamed or be hiding things in closets and rushing around to clean at the last minute.  Things look good.  We also made some major home improvements in 2011 - a new air conditioning system, the addition of a piano, and the fence. 

In 2012 I hope to keep up the cleanliness of my house and continue to organize things in practical ways.  My kitchen cabinets and pantry could use a major organization rehaul, as could Luke's office and the guest room/my craft closet.

Whew!  If you've made it this far, congratulations!  If you're just wondering when I'll get back to reviews, look here tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Book Review: Lit! A Christian Guide To Reading by Tony Reinke

I was thrilled to see this title by Tony Reinke, addressing a topic that I think is sorely under-addressed in Christian circles.  There are lots of Christian books available on reading the Bible - how to read it, why to read it, etc, but not many books on why it's important for Christians to be well-versed and knowledgable in secular literature.  This book addresses both the whys and hows regarding the reading of secular literature.  There are also sections on why it's important (and creative ways) for Christian parents to encourage fiction reading in their children as well as a chapter on why it's important for pastor's to model reading habits for their congregations. 

Very good non-fiction.  I was interested and compelled to continue reading and the author covered all of his topics with depth and clarity.  No complaints here.

Entertainment Value
I love that this book is addressing the reading of secular fiction in a way that I haven't seen in other books.  However, the book as a whole is really geared towards those who don't currently read much.  Reinke has wonderful ideas that are really well expressed on how to make reading a part of your daily life.  For me, however, a lot of this information doesn't apply.  Obviously reading is already a part of my daily life.  I appreciate and agree with all of Reinke's suggestions, but it wasn't new information.  If you're already a big time reader, which I would guess most of you are if you're reading this blog, this one isn't going to blow your mind with new information.  However, if you're not not a reader or if you don't find yourself making time to read the things you'd like to read or if you need a new take on why it's our responsibility as Christians to read good books, this is a great choice.

Highly recommend it to those who don't read as much as they'd like or aren't sure why reading secular fiction, especially the classics, is important.  I also would recommend it to Christian readers who want to inspire others to read.  It's inspired me to think about ways that I can work towards promoting reading within my church.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Book Review: An Accidental Mother by Katherine Anne Kindred

This beautiful memoir details an aspect of blended families that I hadn't ever considered before - what happens to a step-parent following the break up of the blended family.  Kate Kindred had given up on relationships after a failed marriage when she unexpectedly met and fell in love with Jim.  Jim had custody of a young son, Michael, from his own previous marriage.  Kate hadn't planned on children, but fell in love with Michael as well and the family spent six years living together, with Kate raising Michael like her own child.  When Jim and Kate's relationship ended, however, Jim denied Kate all contact with Michael.  Even though Kate had raised Michael, she had no legal recourse and no options for enforcing any visitation.

The writing is exactly what I look for in a memoir - nothing too heavy or detail-y, like you'd expect from a biography, but with a large focus on the author's emotions surrounding this portion of her life.  Kindred did an amazing job of conveying those emotions in a way that is both a beautiful portrait of the choices she made to be a mother of a child that was not hers biologically and heartbreaking in their depiction of her loss.

Entertainment Value
I'm not sure how many times I can say heartbreaking in a review, but there you have it.  The book is short and hard to put down.  I read it over the course of an hour or two one night.  Easy to get through, but touching and have I mentioned heartbreaking yet?  Because it is.  I can't imagine what it would be like to lose a child you had raised from a very young age and have absolutely no options regarding even the basic visitation of that child.  As I mentioned earlier, I had never given any thought to this possibility, but I can only imagine how many parents face this kind of thing. 

I highly recommend picking this one up - especially if you're in any kind of blended family situation, but also if you like the memoir genre or if you're any other kind of non-traditional parent.  This is a beautiful story of motherhood and that love and connection that transcends biological parenthood.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

In My Mailbox (27)

Book Review: Mental_Floss The Book

If you're familiar with Mental_Floss, then you know already how awesome it is that such a thing as Mental_Floss The Book exists.  If somehow you have missed out, it's a magazine for geeks that focuses on all kinds of trivia.  This book is made up completely of random trivia lists that have appeared in Mental_Floss.  Some examples?  This list is from the Goodreads Publisher description and should give you an idea:
Five Presidential Fashion Flubs
Seven Shameless Abuses of Diplomatic Immunity
Five Units of Measurement Weirder Than the Metric System
Four Toys That Have Gone to War for America
Seven Reasons Mister Rogers Was the Best Neighbor Ever
Five Things Your Body Can Do After You Die
Four Foods People Actually Die For
Seven Things Walmart Has Banned
Ten “Q” Words That Aren’t “Q-U” Words
Four Horrifying Parasites to Keep You Awake at Night
Five Articles of Clothing That Caused Riots
Four Memorable Moments in Cross-Dressing History
Five Doomsdays We’ve Already Survived

It's hard to do my typical Writing/EntertainmentValue review on this kind of book.  If you're not interested by now then I'm afraid there's no hope.  Trust me when I say that you need to check this out.  I cannot recommend it enough to basically anyone with the ability to read.  It's a great bathroom book, a great book for when you're sick, a great book to carry around and read a little at a time in doctors' offices, etc, etc ad nauseum.  Buy this book!  I'm not even kidding.

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Bookcases, Or I Think I Have A Problem

For Christmas this year, Luke did really well on gift-giving.  He gave me a gorgeous charm bracelet with a book charm and a Great Dane charm, AND he gave me new bookcases.  Here's a picture of the new bookcases and a few others of our library.  I'll get to my problem in a minute:

These are the new shelves.  Actually they're the old shelves, but with an addition.  Where the blue books are, I used to only have a half set.  Luke bought the rest of the pieces to finish out that set so not that entire wall is books.

This is the picture from the doorway

And from the bookshelves looking at the couch - the piano is on the left.  Sorry it's so dim!

These are the shelves on either side of the sofa.  They are vintage printables that honestly I'd really like to replace with something more authentic-looking and old book covers that I bought at the antiquarian book fair.

One more picture of the whole thing, plus kitty.  

Ok, so you probably noticed in the pictures above that I have a lot of books.  You can even see on either side of my smaller bookcase by the fireplace that books are stacked on the floor.  But here is the problem:  those aren't all of my books.

Bookcase #1 in Luke's office

Bookcase #2 in Luke's office

My bedroom floor

My closet

And Reader Friends, this isn't all of it!  There are currently piles on my dresser, on my nightstand, and on the kitchen table.  There is also a shelf of cookbooks in the dining room.  I am out of control.  The worst thing is that I have absolutely no plans to stop.  I see people say things like "I'm not buying a single book next year, I'm going to read what I have" and it just blows my mind.  I'm going to read what I have too, but I'm also going to keep buying, especially used books.  Speaking of, I think there's a box from Barnes and Noble on it's way that I ought to be looking for...

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Book Review: The Western Lit Survival Kit by Sandra Newman

I know I start a lot of reviews this way, but check out how cute the cover on this book is!  Just in case you can't tell, it's a Swiss Army Knife with caricatures of the major Western Lit authors in it - get it?  Get it?  Ok, anyway, this book is exactly like it sounds - a summary of the authors and works that make up the Western Literary cannon.  It starts with the Greeks and goes through modern literature.  The difference between this book and most text books is that it's hilarious.  In addition to being, as the title says, irreverently funny, the author also provides us with three scales to measure each work: importance, accessibility, and fun.  It reminded me a little bit of my own review process.

The author is certainly funny and has done her research well.  Mixed in with the important information about the authors' works we also get a view of their lives, their contemporaries, and the world events surrounding their writing.  I really appreciated that I received a well-rounded view of the work in its proper context.

Entertainment Value:
Again, the book is funny.  I can't say that I think it will be entertaining for everyone, but I think that it's a good read for a variety of people.  It's not a version of Cliff's Notes, so don't run out to buy it thinking you're going to use it in place of reading the actual work.  However, it's a great book for those of us who love literature to use in deciding which works to focus on.  I want to push myself to read more classics and this book is a great guide to help me decide which to start with and which can wait a while or maybe need to be taken off the good old TBR all together.

I recommend it to those who are already in love with reading and want an idea of how to focus their time.  I also recommend it to those who may not be in love with reading, but want to be conversant in the general area of Western Lit.  I highly recommend it to those who are like me and can't resist a good book about books.

Thank you to Lisa at TLC Tours for including me on this one and click here to see a list of the rest of the tour stops!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Book Review: A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres

I think everyone can agree that Jim Jones and "drinking the kool aid" are a pretty ingrained part of pop culture and legendary news.  I wasn't born when the mass killings and suicides at Jonestown took place, but I felt like I had a basic grasp of what had happened based on those pop culture references.  However, many of those ideas weren't based in fact, as I learned through reading this book.  It reminded me a lot of Columbine by Dave Cullen, but I actually found Scheeres' reporting to be better.  Regardless, this was an exciting book and dispelled a lot of inaccuracies that I had taken for granted - and it was fascinating on top of all that.

Excellent reporting.  In a book about Jim Jones and Jonestown, it would be really easy for any author to editorialize, particulary regarding Jones himself.  The term "raving lunatic" is actually completely, literally factual.  Despite that, the author really refrains from inserting her own opinions, which made the book much more enjoyable for me.  She does a great job of showing why people trusted Jones, how he was able to manipulate him, and what made him tick.

Entertainment Value
Again, the excellent reporting made for a very readable book.  That reporting combined with the shocking nature of the story made the book hard to put down.  I read it in just a few sittings, despite the serious subject matter because once I started I couldn't stop. 

I highly recommend picking this one up, especially for those of you who are interested in cults, psychology, or historical events shown in a new light.  Also, as I mentioned earlier, if you read and enjoyed Columbine I think you would enjoy this one (and vice versa).  Enthusiastic endorsement from me (it even made it to my favorite non-fiction of 2011 list).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Book Review: Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Grey is a fictional story that is based on the real life of the author's family history.  It follows Lina, a young Lithuanian girl, and her family as they are taken from their home in the night by the invading Russian army and forced to travel to a labor camp in Siberia.  It's a unique look at the happenings in Lithuania and Russia during World War II, an aspect that is often overlooked.

Beautiful.  Sepetys really captures the horrible things that Lina's family must endure in a way that is also hopeful and inspiring.  The writing is a bit simplistic, but in this case I really appreciated it.  Sepetys doesn't try to sound literary, but let's the story shine in it's simplicity.  The writing style also means that it can appeal to a wider audience in terms of age.  I would recommend it for anyone from middle school through adulthood.

Entertainment Value
The plot moves quickly and the characters were completely relatable.  I cared deeply about the family and what happened to them.  Again, I think the story is suitable for a wide audience - I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to a middle school student, but I also think adults would enjoy it.  The subject matter is heavy, but Sepetys conveys it in a way that I think mature middle grade readers can handle.

I highly recommend reading it.  I think it gives insight into a part of history that is often overlooked (the Siberian labor camps of World War II) in a way that is accessible to a wide audience.  I think it would go along well with the books that are typically read about the Holocaust, such as The Diary of Anne Frank and The Hiding Place.

Monday, January 2, 2012

What I Read in December

I'm not going to lie, Reader Friends, December was a hard month for me and Luke.  I was very sick for about three weeks.  I read some during that time, but almost all light reading that didn't require much thought.  I got way behind on ARC reading and on reviews, but hopefully I'll get caught back up soon.  Nothing much happened in the way of my goals because I spent so much time sick.  But I did read some good books:

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown
The Mental Floss Book of Lists
All The Flowers in Shanghai
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady
Southern Ladies and Gentlemen
The Southern Girl's Guide to Surviving the Newlywed Years
The Heroine's Bookshelf
Get Out of That Pit
Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading
Please Stop Laughing At Me 
Total this month: 11
Total this year: 119
Pages read this year: 40,194
Money saved through buying used, reviewing, and using the library: $1197.11

I've got a bunch of stats to post from the year as a whole, but I'm saving them for another day because I left them at work, and don't want to go through the trouble of tallying my books up again! 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

In My Mailbox (26)

I had a ton of books this time, so the video got a little long.  Also, don't you love how YouTube seems to find the absolute most unflattering moment of the video for the screen capture?  Leave a comment letting me know what you got this week!  Happy New Year!