Saturday, September 29, 2012

Book Review: Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman

I downloaded this one from the library after reading and loving Lippman's I'd Know You Anywhere.  It's the first book in her Tess Monaghan series, featuring unemployed journalist Tess Monaghan who stumbles into a job as a private detective when a friend is accused of the murder of a prominent Baltimore lawyer.

This is Lippman's first book and I think it shows.  It's not that it has any major problems, but I also wasn't really impressed with the writing.  Many of the characters felt flat and there were way too many subplots going on.  The subplots did set a good back story for Monaghan, and at some point I'll probably keep reading to see how that back story plays out.

Entertainment Value
Again, I could tell it was a debut.  It just didn't capture my attention the way I'd Know You Anywhere did.  The characters weren't as compelling and it lacked the same depth.  Also, and I hate to say it this way, but I was less intrigued by the crime.  I just didn't find it as exciting, which probably says a lot about how I'm desensitized to murder, but it just wasn't as interesting to me.  

I'll definitely keep going with the series as I have time, but it's not something I feel compelled to follow up on immediately.  It's a good, light read, but I feel like I'll spread the series out over the next few years, not something I'll NEED to finish, the way I do with many series.  I'd recommend it to fans of detective series.  It seems fairly typical fare for that genre.  I'd compare it to early James Patterson (when he still, presumably, wrote his own books). 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Audiobook Review: I Was Told There'd Be Cake and How Did You Get This Number by Sloane Crosley

Since Crosley wrote both of these books and I listened to them within a month of each other and have the same basic opinions on both, I thought I'd kill two books with one review.  These are books of humorous essays about Crosley's life as a single New Yorker, relating eisodes fom her childhood, travels, and career.

Obviously, since I listened to both books, I find the author hilarious.  She narrates the audiobooks herself and she does an excellent job.  Her sense of humor and style are perfect for me - she's witty and dry and sarcastic, but also able to laugh at herself. 

Humor is always hard to review because you either find the author funny or you don't.  I think if you like Jen Lancaster, Jenny Lawson, etc. you'll also like Sloane Crosley.  As a word of caution, she's got a bit of a potty mouth and has some crude stories, but nothing that had me clutching my pearls.  Like I said, if you like Jen Lancaster and Jenny Lawson, you'll probably like Sloane Crosley.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Haul (7)

I try to mention where my books come from every so often on here so no one gets the wrong idea and starts to think I'm rolling in disposable income.  This week I have a ton of new books, but I paid $23 for all of them.  I do "buy" a lot of books, but I rarely spend much money.  I save up Luke's pocket change when I do laundry for the biannual library sale (which was this week) and I trade in old books for store credit at the used book store.  I read fast enough to keep myself ahead of the game in store credit, so most of the time I pay nothing for the books I get from the used book store. 

If you do it right, you can build an amazing collection for a very small amount of money.  I may not always have the of-the-moment best seller, but the thing about bestsellers is that within six months the used bookstores typically have an overstock of them and put them on the bargain shelf.  If you can hold your horses for just a few months, you can save up to $15 that way.  I'm going to put prices on here so you can see just how cheap you can get them if you're willing to wait.  Everything I got this week has been on my "to buy" list for a while, I've just been waiting for the right price.  So, through the library book sale and through the used book store, here's what I got this week:

Used book store:

Read, Remember, Recommend - it's a book journal with a bunch of fun lists where you can check off what you have, what you want to get, what you've read, etc. $2 (I used store credit, so free for me)
The Book On the Bookshelf $0.75 (store credit)

The Likeness by Tana French $0.75 (store credit)
The Beach House by Jane Green $1.00 (store credit)

The Novel 100 $0.75 (store credit)
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee $1.00 (store credit)
Total spent at McKays: nothing

Library Sale:

Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue $1.00
Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez $2.00

Oogy by Larry Levin $2.00
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson $1.00

Five new additions to my Best American Short Stories collection $10.00

Awakenings by Oliver Sacks $1.00
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth $2.00

America by John Stewart $2.00
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton $2.00

Total spent at library sale: $23

For Review:

Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos
Forgotten by Catherine McKenzie

P.S.  One last observation related to the books I got this week.  If you are a fan of Downton Abbey (I started Season One and fell in love this weekend) you should read Kate Morton.  That is all.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Book Review: Predators I Have Known by Alan Dean Foster

I have to preface my review of this book by telling you guys that I am boring and unsophisticated and I know it.  The thing is, I hate travelling.  I don't want to go backpacking through Europe or walk through the rainforests or hike giant mountains.  I mean, Europe would be nice, but I'd like to see it via luxury hotels and maybe some spa treatments.  The thought of site-seeing makes me get a little twitchy.  Which is why I love travel books, especially travel books dealing with exotic locales and less than climate controlled conditions.  I can read about it without experiencing the unpleasantness of it, if that makes sense.  Again, I know it's unsophisticated and boring of me, but I'm a homebody, what can I say?

Anyway,  Alan Dean Foster is a science fiction author (I haven't read his fiction) who also spends a large amount of time travelling, particularly adventure-focused travelling (AKA: the kind I will never do).  This book is something of a travel memoir, but it revolves around the predators, large and small, that Foster has encountered on his travels.  We're talking sharks, big cats, and snakes, but also those that you may not typically consider when you think of predators, like leeches, otters, and ants.

The writing for me was just so-so.  I wasn't all that impressed.  I've read better travel memoirs in terms of writing - this isn't the next Bill Bryson by any means.  But it wasn't bad either.  The stories were interesting, but too many pages were devoted to conversations that weren't important or interesting to anyone other than friends of the author.

Entertainment Value
As I mentioned above, some of the stories included more extraneous information and dialogue than I really care for.  There were parts that dragged.  But overall, I really enjoyed reading about the places Foster has visited and the predators he has seen.  Even though I'm not really interested in travelling the world and collecting leech stories myself, I do like to read about others' experiences and I'm a huge fan of nature shows (yay Planet Earth) so this was an ideal read for me (in my own leech-free, rodent-free, climate controlled home).

If you like travel memoirs or nature shows, I think it's worth checking out.

I reviewed this one in e-galley format, thanks to NetGalley.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Book Review: MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche

After moving to Chicago to be with her boyfriend, Rachel Bertsche realized that she was missing out on the female friendships she had left behind - specifically a BFF (best friend forever, if you're living in the stone age).  So she decides for one year to take every opportunity available in her city to make new friends by going on one friend date a week.  She goes on friendship speed dates, joins a friending website, and even rents a friend.  The book chronicles her experiences and how her search changes her life and her feelings about friendship.

I was totally prepared to bond with this book.  I haven't always had a BFF and there have been times when I felt like the only girl in the world without a group of besties.  I went into it hoping for some identification with the author and to maybe learn some things about how she improves her friendships.  But I came out of the book really convinced that I am totally happy with my friendships.  I've got the Nesties, I've got Bestie, I've got friends at church, at the dog park, and at work, and I have Sugar Bear.  I mean honestly, can you think of a better BFF than a sister?  Talk about shared history - we have Sugar Bear's entire life in common. 

I thought the writing was nice.  I wasn't over-impressed, but it was certainly well thought out and detailed.  Pretty much what you'd expect from this type of memoir.  Easy to read and follow.

Entertainment Value
It was just ok for me.  I didn't identify with the author the way I wanted to.  It seemed to me that she already had two best friends, they just didn't live near her.  And she had several groups of close friends that she spent time with on a regular basis.  I didn't really get why she felt like she needed new friends, but I think the concept was interesting.  I just got bored of reading about every single one of her friend dates.  I think the book would make a better blog or even be better as a shorter book.  The different methods she uses to make friends are all interesting, but I didn't think I needed to read about all 52 friend dates.

What I did find interesting and did identify with was how the internet figured into Bertsche's experiences.  I met some of my very closest and dearest friends through the internet.  They are people who would fall in the BFF/can call any time of the day or night category.  I've also used the internet to meet local people who have the same interests I do - in particular, other people with Great Danes.  There's a local group of Dane owners who meet up at the dog park occasionally that we got involved with after finding them online. 

I think people really underestimate the walls that are broken down for friendship by the internet.  Some of my closest friends live in Alabama and the mid-West and even in Canada, but through text, Google chat, Twitter, and Google Hangout, I see them more than I see many of my local friends.  It's not the same as if we all lived in the same city, but it's really the next best thing.

It's an interesting concept and an ok read, but I think it dragged on way too long.  I would have preferred it in blog format (it seems like one of those blogs that got turned into a book) or if she had taken out some of the less interesting stories.  But if these kind of memoirs interest you, you may want to give it a try.

I won an ARE of this one in a contest hosted by Random House on Shelf Awareness.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Audiobook Review: Objects of My Affection by Jill Smolinksi

Lucy's life is headed in the wrong direction.  She's just sent her teenage son to rehab instead of college, she's living in a friend's spare bedroom, and her boyfriend dumped her.  She desperately need some income, so she takes a high paying job clearing out the home of a reclusive artist, who is also a compulsive hoarder.  Not only is Marva somewhat difficult to deal with, she's also hiding some major secrets.

I need to come up with a name for a book genre to describe this type of book.  When I say chick lit, I picture a book about a young single girl who shops and looks for love.  When I say women's lit, I think of something more serious, an issue book, like Jodi Picoult or Anna Quindlen.  I like both of those genres, but I also love this third genre that I don't have a name for - books that are less about shopping and fashion and being you and single, but are also not dealing with some serious moral dilemma.  They are lighthearted and humorous, but also deal with more serious life issues than gossiping coworkers or shoe-related dramas.  They usually feature women in their 30's or 40's who aren't just beginning their lives as adults, but they aren't super serious and are usually very humorous.  I just need to come up with a good descriptive word.  Any ideas?  While you think, I'll  review the book, which I loved.

Exactly what I love to read in this non-genre.  It's funny and witty and smart without being silly or immature.  The characters development is perfect.  I wouldn't say Lucy starts the book not knowing who she is - she's a grown woman and has a definite grasp on her inner workings - but she really learns to take charge throughout the book.  She develops a spine and learns how to be most assertive and active in her decisions, rather than just letting life happen to her.  I love seeing a character change like this in a book, and I think Smolinski does it well.  It happens naturally and gradually, and I really felt like Lucy was a real person - a person I'd love to know. 

Entertainment Value
The author did an amazing job of blending lighthearted humor and a little bit of romance with something that could easily have become an "issue" book.  Hoarding has become something of a pop culture disorder due to all the reality shows about it, and this could have become a serious melodrama really easily.  But Smolinski tempers the seriousness with a lighthearted tone and lovable characters.  Marva, the artist, is also not the typical hoarder that you see on reality shows.  There are no cat skeletons or plates of rotting food.  She has lots of stuff and she is certainly reluctant to get rid of it, but I appreciated that Smolinski kept it in the area of plot device and didn't move it into the central theme of the book.  The characters are what makes this book perfect and they're allowed to shine, which is what made the book great for me.

No problems with the narrator.  She has a clear voice and reads at a good tempo.  For me, this is the ideal genre to listen to while driving, walking, or cleaning the house.  I'm into the story and I can keep following the plot while doing other things - it's not something so intellectual that I have to devote my entire attention to in order to understand.

I downloaded this one to Overdrive from my local library.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Decatur Book Festival 2012

I'm finally ready to bite the bullet and write this post.  

I spent way, way too much money, as always.

Earl & Mooch signed anthology.

Bear Snores On, signed by Karma Wilson, to be sent to my nephew.

Signed copy of The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

You can't see the signatures, but signed copies of Unwind and Unwholly by Neal Schusterman

Another signature from Maureen Johnson in my Zombies vs. Unicorns anthology

Bound South by Susan Rebecca White (also blessedly air conditioned reading)

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - the highlight for me.

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

AND, the sweetest, most thoughtful gift ever from Andrea: coasters with my favorite Southern sayings on them!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Review: A Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris

I keep trying to think of a way to describe this book that doesn't make it sound like true crime and I just can't.  But you guys should know that I am NOT a true crime reader.  I think true crime as a genre exists to sensationalize violent crimes and use them to entertain the masses.  It takes the same amount of "forensic science" that you can find on an episode of CSI and sells it to readers as top notch scientific information that makes them feel like experts getting the inside scoop.  I really just don't like it.  But, while this one has the outward appearance of a true crime, it really is more like investigative journalism.  The author is an Academy Award-winning filmaker and former private detective, but this does not read like a crime story. 

The basic summary is that in the early 1970's a horrific triple murder was committed on an army base.  A woman and her two children were killed but the husband survived.  He claimed drug-addled hippies attacked them.  Over the course of the next 20 years he would be tried, convicted, released, sent back to prison, etc. for the crime.  Errol Morris doesn't go so far as to claim that the man is necessarily innocent, but he does poke enormous holes in the state's ability to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  Where I think this one diverts from typical true crime is that the crime plays a very small role in the book.  We aren't treated to exploitative descriptions of the crime - it is really barely described at all.  I hugely appreciated that because I am not a fan of real-life depictions of violence.  But it IS fascinating as a work of investigative journalism.

I wasn't a huge fan of Morris's writing style.  I can tell he's a very intelligent man and I was very impressed with his research and documentation skills, but I wasn't really thrilled with his writing technique.  It was very basic with lots of very short sentences.  It didn't flow the way I expected it to and it suffers from some of the simplification that I think all true crime suffers from.  I felt like it was being written for the lowest common denominator.  However, like I said above, his investigation and documentation are flawless. 

Entertainment Value
This one is kind of a chunker (over 500 pages) but it reads so quickly, probably because of the simplicity of the writing.  It also contains a lot of charts, graphs, and diagrams that were used in the trial.  When I saw how long it was, I'll admit I was anticipating a tiresome trudge through it, but it kept me entertained and moved fast enough to hold my interest.  There was some redundancy, but the nature of the book requires it to accurately describe the court case.

I'm torn on whether or not to recommend this one.  I actually really enjoyed it, but I'm not sure most of my readers would feel the same way.  If you're into procedurals or true crime, I think this is better than most of that fare and you should definitely give it a try.  If you aren't interested in court cases, how trials work, and the minute details that are significant in proving guilt and innocence,  I don't think you're going to be a fan.  When I review a book that I really like I can usually think of at least one book loving friend who will also enjoy it but I'm having a hard time coming up with someone specific I'd recommend this one to.  That said, I truly enjoyed it.

Thanks to TLC for letting me be part of this tour.  Check out this link to see the other stops!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book Review: I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman

When this one came out two years ago it was all over the book blogs I enjoy (seriously?  I've been part of the blogging world long enough to say that?) and it's the first time that Laura Lippman really appeared on my radar.  Eliza has a nice home, two kids, a great husband, and a past she'd like to forget.  As a child, she was kidnapped by a serial killer and held hostage for six weeks.  She was the only one of his victims to survive and her testimony led to his death row conviction.  As his execution date approaches, Eliza begins to get phone calls and letters from Walter, delivered mysteriously and revealing that Walter knows more about her life than she could have imagined. 

Perfectly creepy.  The story alternates between Eliza's experiences as a child during the time she is held hostage by Walter and her experiences with Walter as an adult.  Even though you know Eliza is safe with Walter in prison and you know how her story as a child ends, Lippman manages to keep the reader in suspense through the whole book.

Entertainment Value
Again, perfectly creepy.  This is just what I wanted in a psychological thriller/suspense novel.  I read it quickly and when I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about it and looking forward to reading more. 

I highly recommend picking it up if you like the psychological thriller/suspense genre.  Be warned that, while I certainly wouldn't consider the book graphic or anywhere near the category of torture porn, it does center around a serial killer who rapes his victims, including Eliza.  None of these rapes are portrayed graphically but they are acknowledged, so keep that in mind if it's something that you're uncomfortable reading.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Book Review: Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith

I'm all ready to go with my DBF post, but I'm feeling moody about how I look in the pictures today AND I realized I haven't posted a book review in over a week, so I decided to hold off.  Instead I'm going to review this book about the difficult issues raised by faith - specifically Christian faith.  You can see from the cover that it is edited by my main man Ravi Zacharias.  Ravi is my hero and it is very common in my house for my sentences to start with "Ravis says..."  In fact, it's gotten to the point that anytime I say anything that could possibly be insightful, Luke automatically responds with "Did you hear that on Ravi?"  I'd be offended but usually the answer is yes.

Ravi, however, didn't really write this one.  He wrote one chapter and the other editor, Norman Giesler, wrote two (I think) chapters, but mostly they worked as editors and the chapters are compiled from other authors and theologians, who are all very qualified, but are, alas, not my Ravi.  So, I was somewhat disappointed once I got home and realized it wasn't actually Ravi writing, but the subject matter itself is still very interesting.  It answers a lot of the typical questions that are raised regarding Christianity - like the historicity of Jesus, the literal interpretation of the Bible and the divine inspiration of the Bible, the Christian response to other religions, etc. 

Very nice.  Obviously, since Ravi edited it.  No complaints about the writing style or presentation, but I will say this: it's written for those who are already Christians.  I say that because the entire book uses the Bible as evidence for backing up many of the answers to the questions addressed.  If you believe the Bible is true, then this is fine, but it doesn't answer the questions of those who are already unconvinced.  There are some historical documents and citations included, but overall the Bible/the words of Christ are used as evidence.  I think if the book is intended for those who are questioning their faith or do not already believe in the Bible, this could be problematic. 

Entertainment Value
I found it very interesting, but as I mentioned above, it's really more suited for a Christian audience who believes in the Bible as God's Word than for those who are not Christians or doubt the divine inspiration of the Bible.  I think it would be an excellent book for a small group/Bible study to go through and discuss - I've considered suggesting it to my church group.

My one crtitique for the "entertainment value" is that the book is a bit on the simple side.  Again, I think it's excellent for a small group study or for a new believer or someone who is not as secure in their faith.  But if you've grown up as a Christian and you've spent a lot of your life involved in studying the Bible and persuing further knowledge, it's probably something you've already heard.  I enjoyed it as a refresher, but it wasn't full of new insight or information that I hadn't heard in some other format before. 

Perfect book for new believers, those who want to refresh their knowledge or begin exploring issues of theology, or for a small group/discussion type Bible study.  Not really ideal for those who are already well versed in the Scripture and theology and looking for deeper reading and also not ideal for those who don't already believe the Bible is truth.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Book Hooked Tragedy

You guys recognize this little booger, right?  My sweet little old man kitty, Sly.  Sly has developed a nasty habit this year.  He's started peeing on the carpet.  At first we thought it was just the one spot in the hall.  We put up a super tall pet gate that he couldn't jump over and started cleaning out his litter box twice a day instead of just once.  Things seemed fine.  But when I came home from DBF I noticed a very distinct, unpleasant smell.  It turns out Sly had found a corner of the house that isn't frequently used and had turned it into his special secret litter box.  And had been doing so for quite a while.  Where was the secret litter box? 

That's right, Reader Friends.  Sly has been using the bottom row and back corner of my bookcase as his own personal toilet.  For quite some time.  Long enough that I had to throw away all of my black and yellow bottom row of books AND the bookcases. 

Warped, damaged bottoms of bookcases.

Ruined books.

More ruined books.

Basically, complete and total disaster.  Luke and I spent all night last night taking all of my books and knick knacks off the shelves and determining what could be kept and what had to go.  I would guess maybe 45 books total had to be tossed.  I know it's a small amount when you consider that I am approaching 1500 books in my library, but it still hurt.  A lot. 

Rescued books piled around the house.

Thankfully, Luke and I also have Smart Shelves, which fit together in interlocking pieces.  This means that instead of having to throw away the entire wall of bookcases, we only had to throw away the ruined pieces.  Luke ordered replacements for me today, so my bookcases should be up again soon, minus the yellow and black portions that had to be trashed.  This means two things:

A) I need to go book shopping to fill in my yellow and black sections


B) I'm going to have to redo my entire shelving system. 

I'm considering switching from orienting my books horizontally by color to orienting them vertically by color.  Just to switch things up.  Either way, I'm thinking this is a good opportunity to do a vlog post showing how I put my shelves together and how I arrange the books since thats a question that I'm asked a lot on here.  What do you guys think?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What I Read in August

I can't help but brag a little in this post - August was an amazing reading month for me.  Joining the Free Library of Philadelphia was one of the best uses of $25 ever.  I've been able to listen to tons of audiobooks and read lots of ebooks.  I highly recommend checking it out if you like ebooks/audiobooks and your local library doesn't have the best collection.  Here's what I read this month:

Two And Twenty Dark Tales edited by Nina Berry (a collection of dark reimaginings of Mother Good rhymes from YA authors)

Who Made God? And Answers To Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith edited by Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler

I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman

Objects of My Affection by Jill Smolinski

MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche

Predators I Have Known by Alan Dean Foster

I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won't) by Betty White

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

A Little Bit Wicked by Kristen Chenoweth

Pretty in Plaid by Jen Lancaster

Faith and Other Flat Tires by Andrea Palpant Dilley

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

Also, I finally got caught up on all my statistics.

Total books read this month: 16
Total books read this year: 80
Pages read this year: 25,880
Money saved by using the library/buying used/reviewing: $886.52

As far as interesting things happening in my personal life during the month of August, the biggest was Decatur Book Festival.  Other than that, I managed to avoid almost all exposure to the outdoors, caulked my bathroom, and took plenty of weekend naps (because how else am I supposed to make it through summer?).  I'll have a DBF post coming up in the next few days AND I have bonus footage of the puppies playing soccer in the backyard with Luke (not me because, obviously, outside = hot = not happening).