Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn


After reading and enjoying Sharp Objects and Gone Girl last year, my friend Joyce and I decided to read Dark Places, Gillian Flynn's second book, together at the beginning of the year.  When Libby was seven her mother and two sisters were murdered in her home and her troubled teenage brother convicted of the killings.  Now, twenty-five years later, Libby has started to question what really happened and begins to investigate with the help of a secret society who is obsessed with the murders.

Writing
Gillian Flynn is really a master at characterization.  Her characters are almost exclusively unlikable and at times even repulsive, but with a slight tinge of something sympathetic.  They are just so very horrible and yet, as a reader, I'm drawn to them and intrigued by them.  They all have reasons for being evil.  And little quirks that make you feel sorry for them just when you are so overwhelmed by their repulsiveness that you feel like giving up.  They're believable.  Just totally completely believable.  Maybe I don't know anyone like them - but I know people who could become like them given that set of circumstances.  The plot is really secondary in terms of writing because her characters are such train wrecks.

Entertainment Value
Ok, so I know I just raved about the characterization, but as far as entertainment goes, this was my least favorite of Flynn's books.  It was good - although I think it started a bit slow - and certainly kept my attention.  But the darkness was just a little bit too unrelenting for me.  Everyone is just truly awful, which in some ways I like, but I wanted to see one normal person.  One person who is not totally, irrevocably damaged to the point of no salvation.  And it's honestly just not there.  Yes, the characters are sympathetic and believable and incredibly complex, but the sheer amount of sub-plot horrible-ness was overwhelming.  The book is dark enough dealing with a family massacre, an absentee father, and a disturbed young woman. The numerous subplots and rabbit trails just made it depressing.

Overall
I liked the book.  If you're a fan of Flynn's or of other dark authors/books I think you ought to read it and that you'll enjoy it.  Just be warned that there really isn't much in the way of hope or redemption at any point.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book Review: Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders is inspired by a true story of a village called Eyam in England, which experienced an outbreak of the plague in 1666.  Our story focuses on Anna, a housemaid for the village priest, and her experiences with loss, family, and community as the village is cut off from all other society in an effort to contain the plague.

Writing
So this is kind of a modern classic, right?  It's a New York Times and Washington Post notable book, it's a best seller, and you'll find it on all kinds of "Best of" and "Required Reading" lists.  I felt obligated to read it and have had it on my list for years.  After reading it, I'm honestly lost as to where to start in reviewing the writing.  I feel like it was almost two separate books.

The first book - made up of the first 250 or so pages - was amazing.  I thought the writing was beautiful, I love the characters, and I was very impressed with the overall quality as well as the author's storytelling capabilities.

And then the last fifty pages happened and it wasn't even in the same world as the first section.  Things just go absolutely nuts in the last fifty pages.  I don't want to spoil, but I could not, even by the largest stretch, suspend my disbelief that far.  It was totally and completely unbelievable, not just based on history and fact (the book is not a fantasy) but also based on everything the author had established about the characters to that point.  You can't write two hundred and fifty pages of character development and then turn around and have the characters act against everything you've already established.  No, just no.

Entertainment Value
Despite my anger at the fact that the last few pages of the book take place in some alternate universe with characters who do not in any way resemble the characters we've established throughout the rest of the novel, I actually was quite entertained by the whole thing.  I mean, I'll always be entertained by crazy stuff happening, but in this case being entertained was not the best thing.  The crazy stuff, while crazily entertaining, had absolutely no place in the book.

Overall
The ending ruined it.  I'm not ready to say I don't recommend it, because I feel like the first part of the book is really good.  And it's not a horrible waste of time in the way a more believable but cliched and un-memorable story would be.  This one is certainly memorable and inspired discussion between me and the friends who have read it - so in that way it was a success.  Just don't model your upcoming plague novel on the last fifty pages, ok?

Monday, January 28, 2013

When Books Attack

For my birthday, Luke got me a new set of bookcases to help me meet my goal of getting all the books off the floor this year.  No more piles, everything will be shelved and organized!  Yesterday we moved furniture around and put up the new bookcases, which were lovely and looked like this, before I filled them with books.

After I spent an hour or so carrying books from all over the hours and carefully arranging them on the shelves, I decided to take a break before posting my full-shelf picture and lay on the bed and watch some 30 Rock on the iPad.  And then it happened. [Dramatic Pause].  My books attacked me.  The entire shelving unit (which Luke and I had failed to anchor to the wall, thinking we're too cool for that kind of precaution-taking) fell over on top of me, my bed, and my bedside table.


Thankfully, I wasn't hit too hard and don't have any major battle wounds, just a bruised leg.  But my bedside table and bed were not so lucky.  The table is gouged and the corner of the bookcases punched a hole straight through the foot board of my wonderful sleigh bed.  It scared the living daylights out of me, of course, and I was super worried that my books had been messed up.  Luke picked it all up while I laid on the bed and moaned and groaned.  The good news is that all the books are ok.  No need to panic.  I have some nasty bruises and my bed is going to need to be replaced, but at least the corner went through the wood and not through my leg.

Lesson learned, Reader Friends: always, always, always anchor your bookcases to the wall.  And, of course, once I get the bookcases rebuilt and restocked I'll be posting pictures.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book Review: Darkness Visible by William Styron


Darkness Visible was recommended to me about a year ago by my therapist, at a time when I was dealing with a very significant depressive episode.  I just don't think it's possible to explain to someone who hasn't experienced it what it's like to be unable to get out of bed.  My therapist recommended Styron because she thought it would be good for me to read about someone who was, like me, incapacitated by depression.  However, she recommended that I give it some time.  I've been watching for the book since then, but it never showed up at McKays.  So I finally requested it for Christmas, and, because he's wonderful, Luke obliged.

Writing
It's William Styron.  I mean what else is left to say?  The writing is beautiful and touching and shows both a personal and social side of depression that should be important to everyone, but is obviously particularly important to those who suffer from it.  His writing is inclusive - I don't think you need to have been crippled by depression to empathize with Styron.  His choice of words are appropriate and beautiful at the same time.  I loved every word.

Entertainment Value
Well, it's a book about depression, so obviously it's not going to be a fun, light read.  I would say that the book is more important than entertaining, although my natural sympathy for and identification with Styron made it an encouraging read for me.  It's also short - between 80 and 90 pages in the hardback version I read.  It's not a difficult book to read, and I think it is genuinely useful for those who are looking for someone to identify with or for those who may not have had experience with depression and would like insight.

Overall
I highly recommend reading this one, even if depression isn't an issue for you.  It's a good example, beautifully written, of an issue that needs more understanding.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review: An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer


The story of a young woman who comes of age with an acute fear of losing her parents (the first half of the book give or take) and then joins a secret society of Shakespeare enthusiasts at Wellesley, only to become embroiled in a scandal (it's a secret society, what else is to be expected?).  Basically it's a coming of age story about a very relatable and intriguing young woman as she grows into herself.

Writing
I thoroughly enjoyed the writing, particularly for a debut.  I think in any book aspiring to literary fiction, especially a first book, a bit of self-importance is going to exist and that is true in this book.  However, I didn't find many of the problems in it that I typically see in "wanna-be" literary fiction.  I think the author certainly has what it takes to walk that narrow line between women's fiction and literary fiction that is so difficult to describe and possibly has what it takes to break into literary fiction.  

Entertainment Value
I also thoroughly enjoyed the story.  I loved Naomi's character and I found her compelling and intriguing as well as immensely believable.  I do not think the book does itself a favor by highlighting the secret Shakespeare society aspect of the story.  I found it to be much more in line with a typical coming of age at a prestigious university/boarding school novel than a scandalous secret society book, although that aspect does play out in the plot.  I much more favor the comparisons to Prep and The Dead Poet's Society than I do comparisons to The Secret History.

Overall
I recommend it.  It's not a fast-paced story and the reader shouldn't go in expecting a secret society thriller.  But I do think the author manages to avoid the "standard fare" problems that I think frequently plague books that attempt to combine or sit the fence on the literary fiction/women's fiction border.  So many of those books read exactly the same to me, but this one stands out because of the main character.  

Thank you to TLC and the author and publisher for sending me a copy to review.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review: The Best American Non-Required Reading 2002

I'm a huge fan of the Best American Series, and have been collecting the Best American Short Stories and Best American Non-required Reading books for several years.  Somehow, though, I've neglected to read large portions of my collection.  So one of my goals this year is to read one book from either collection each month.  I decided to start with the first edition of Non-Required Reading, from 2002.  This series, edited by Dave Eggers, is intended for what would now be considered a Young Adult audience, although the forward to this edition, interestingly enough, discusses how passe the term "young adult" is in these modern times.  It's a mixture of fiction, non-fiction, and graphic novel formats and focuses on issues that will appeal to a younger audience.

Writing
I actually read this for the first time in 2002, the summer after I graduated from high school.  I think it appealed to me much more at that time in my life.  And, although I've read other reviews that describe the book as a bit more pretentious and condescending than the others in the collection, I'm not sure if my opinion was colored more by my experience reading it as a pretentious high school graduate or by the actual pretension of the book.

I enjoyed the essays and investigative journalism portions, but the short stories just felt very 2002 to me.  Like I should put it in a box with my copy of Bridges With Spirit and Ultimate Fakebook CDs.  They're just trying so very hard to be indie (although I think this was before "indie" was a thing) and intellectual.  But again, this could be largely colored by my memories of my own self-important, special snowflake, too cool to be cool mind-set.  Yes, I had that phase.

Entertainment Value
Again, I really enjoyed the non-fiction essays and the investigative journalism.  At the same time, I wasn't really a huge fan of any of the short stories, with the exception of "Fourth Angry Mouse" by David Schickler.  I felt like it was entertaining but also meaningful in a more subtle way than the other short stories, which were either purposefully obtuse or too in-your-face.

Overall
I really love the series, even though this year isn't my favorite.  It was interesting to go back and read this first book in the series and see some of the rough spots that are cleaned up in following editions.  I'm looking forward to continuing my read (and rereads) of the series.  I think that I'll continue chronologically through the Non-required Reading, so I can better see the evolution of the content.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Audiobook Review: Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Blue Nights is something of a follow up book to The Year of Magical Thinking, although it can certainly be read on its own.  The Year of Magical Thinking focused on Didion's loss of her husband at a time when her daughter was also gravely ill.  Quintana, Didion's daughter, eventually passed away as a result of that illness.  This memoir deals with the issues surrounding losing a child, but largely explores Quintana's childhood and relationship with her mother.

Writing
I enjoyed it just as much as I enjoyed The Year of Magical Thinking.  Didion is obviously a talented writer.  This book, like The Year of Magical Thinking, is engrossing, moving, and the words are beautiful to listen to.  Her regrets as a parent are heartbreaking and her insights into grief are universal.  I found the repetition of themes that seemed to put off other reviewers to be a very truthful way to present the cyclical nature of grief. I thought her style perfectly mirrored her "message" if you will.

Entertainment Value
The book is heartbreaking, but engrossing.  Like The Year of Magical Thinking, it isn't a cheerful book, but it is compulsively relatable.  Another criticism I saw frequently for this book on Goodreads is that Didion isn't a "good" parent, that her failures as a parent make her unlikable, or that she is too pretentious, dropping names and vacations and labels left and right.  All of those criticisms are just ridiculous.

This isn't a manual on how to be a parent.  This is a memoir of loss and regret.  The point of the book is not whether or not you think Joan Didion is a good mother or whether or not you think others should emulate her, the point is her examination of her own failings as a mother and her exploration of grief.  Were this a parenting manual, you may have ground to criticize, but it's not.  Also, yes, Didion is rich and well-connected.  Believe it or not, the wealthy are not immune from suffering.  It makes sense that you will recognize the names of her acquaintances and friends, as Didion is a well-respected writer whose friends are naturally other writers.

It's the same problem that I think plagues Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of A Tiger Mother.  Neither of these books are meant to make a statement about the quality of parenting or a recommendation for a certain parenting style.  They are personal stories of what the author did, whether or not those actions were likable.  Your disagreement with the author's choices should not impact your assessment of the quality or entertainment value of the book.  I just don't understand this logic.

Narration
I loved the narrator of The Year of Magical Thinking and was hoping she would also narrate Blue Nights, but unfortunately they chose someone else.  This narrator wasn't bad, and I got used to her voice, but it sounded too young for me.  I couldn't imagine her as Joan Didion the way I could with the original narrator.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Book Review: They Call Me Naughty Lola

I have had this book on my TBR list for basically forever and finally remembered to add it to my wishlist for Christmas this year.  Luke won all sorts of prizes for the books he gave this year and this one was included.  It's a collection of personal ads from the London Review of Books, where the ads themselves are seen as a form of art as much as a solicitation of romance.  For example:

I've divorced better men than you. And worn more expensive shoes than these. So don't think placing this ad is the biggest comedown I've ever had to make. Sensitive F, 34.


It's a collection of personal ads, so I won't review it the way I usually do.  I'll just say that I read it on my plane trip to Chicago and it was the perfect plane book.  I could pick it up and put it down between flights without any problems and it was laugh out loud entertaining.  I think it's the perfect book for a nightstand, an airplane trip, something to read while the baby naps, standing in line, etc.  If you get a chance, pick it up.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Book Review: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

The Omnivore's Dilemma is actually much simpler than I expected it to be.  It comes down to one very basic question: what should we eat?  Pollan takes three different tracks throughout the book: the industrialized track (prepackaged, fast food, typically corn-based), organic food (locally produced, seasonal, made without hormones and antibiotics), and foraged food (hunting, gathering, gardening).  In each section he eats a meal created using only ingredients made with those products.

Writing
I think the writing was well-done.  As far as research is concerned, it seems as if Pollan had many first-hand experiences, but fewer data sources.  I've heard critiques that his views are simplified.  However, I think Pollan succeeds in making a sometimes difficult topic approachable.  I felt like Pollan approached the subject of where our food comes from and why it matters from a down-to-earth perspective that is easy to relate to. He doesn't advocate immediately cutting out all processed foods.  I've been really turned off by books that I feel like are attempting to guilt me into eating organic or paleo or seasonal or whatever.  Pollan did a great job of motivating me to start off with baby steps.  Since reading this we've cut out foods with high fructose corn syrup and anything partially-hydrogenated.

Entertainment Value
My other fear with this book, besides being guilt-tripped, was that the author would be boring.  After my experience with Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I was leery of more preachy, not-so-interesting food books.  But Pollan really made the topic fascinating - probably because he did go on so many trips and attempt to experience first hand as much of the food industry as possible.  I also liked that he addressed things like the difficulty of finding seasonal produce in some areas, the cost of eating organic, and other issues that I feel like many other books don't address.

Overall
I wouldn't take this book as my new nutrition Bible, but I did find it very motivating.  Since reading it, we've changed some of our eating habits and have plans to change more over time.  I liked that Pollan acknowledged the problems with changing eating habits and the associated costs and took a moderate view. What I took away from the book was to, when possible, choose the least processed food product you can afford and have access to.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review: Deliver Us From Evil by Ravi Zacharias

Oh Ravi.  I may have mentioned once or twice before that I am absolutely obsessed with Ravi Zacharias.  And that he's brilliant.  Any time I come up with anything even halfway insightful, Luke says "You heard that from Ravi, didn't you?".  He knows me so well.  Anyway, the first book I read and reviewed by Ravi after falling in love with his radio broadcast/podcast (Let My People Think) actually turned out to be edited rather than authored by Ravi.  I liked it, but felt it was a bit simplistic.  I was hoping for something a bit deeper and more similar to his radio program and boy did I get it.  This is one of the most difficult books I read in 2012. It is a moral, historical, philosophical, and, obviously, theological, look at the problem of evil in our culture.

The book itself was written in 1996, so many of Ravi's references to example of evil in the culture are a bit dated.  However, I think the message is so remarkably apt for today.  I was finishing this book when the Newtown shootings occurred and I was blown away by how appropriate the analysis in the book was for the situation.  Ravi's basic premise is that secularization has led to a loss of shame, pluralization has led to a loss of reason, and privatization and led to a loss of meaning.  Those three factors combine to contribute to the modern state of evil.

Writing
One of the reasons I have so very much respect for Ravi (yes, I do call him by his first name because I feel like he would want me to.  In my mind, we are MFEO) is that he is so very educated.  Not only does he have an incredibly detailed and intricate knowledge of the Bible and church tradition and analysis of Scripture, but he is also culturally knowledgeable.  He quotes the major literary figures, knows classical music well, has an amazing grasp of philosophy, and can analyze history like an expert.  He knows his stuff.  You may not agree with his interpretations, but man, you cannot claim that he doesn't know what he's talking about.

Entertainment Value
This is a difficult read, no bones about it.  We're introduced to philosophical, historical, and theological ideas on an academic level.  I found the book difficult enough that I needed to take notes as I read, especially since I couldn't sit down and read it through.  I had to take it piece by piece and keep things outlined in order to follow the arguments.

That said, it was absolutely fascinating.  I feel like I grew both intellectually and spiritually from the experience.  I recommend taking it by chapters as opposed to trying to read through the entire thing at once.  I also recommend taking notes because it is complex.

Overall
If you aren't a Christian and you aren't interested in apologetics, theology, philosophy, or the place of religion in culture, this may not be for you.  It's not fiction and it's not an easy read.  But, if the topics interest you, if you're a Christian, or if you're open-minded and interested in an intellectual look at a Christian interpretation of society, this is an amazing read.  I can't say enough good things about it and about the author.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

2013 Goals: Book-related and Personal

I'm a couple days behind on starting my resolutions, but better late than never, right?  I've made more book-related goals than personal goals this year, just because I'm still debating the efficacy of setting goals for my life like "get more healthy" that are hard to meet and setting specific goals like "walk five days a week" that make me feel like a failure when I inevitably mess up.  It's not that I'm NOT setting personal goals regarding health and fitness, it's just that I haven't decided exactly how I want to do that yet.

Of most interest to my Reader Friends will be my book-related goals, so I'll post those first:

1) Number-wise, I'd like to read 130 books in 2013, just like last year.  I feel like it's an achievable number that allows me to read the books I want, not trying to fit in as many as I can.  At the same time, it's high enough that I have to challenge myself to read more than I watch TV, which I need.

2)  Browse more.  Every month I'm going to go to the bookstore and buy a book that I haven't heard of anywhere before.  Nothing that is on my TBR, nothing that I saw on GoodReads or that was recommended by a Nestie.  One book a month that I found just by spending some time browsing the bookstore in person, not online.

3)  Fewer books published in 2013.  I read too many 2012 released in 2012 and neglected older books that I probably would have enjoyed more.

4) Along a similar vein: be more selective in what I read.  So after tallying up my reads from 2012, I went back through and marked all the titles that I had absolutely no feelings about.  A few were books that made my least favorite list, but many were books that I gave favorable or at least mediocre reviews.  My criteria for marking was whether or not that book made any impact on me at all - did I particularly enjoy the plot or characters, did the writing make me think (even if I thought it was bad), and could I come up with any feeling,  positive or negative about the book.

Sadly, I marked 28 books (22 of which were for review) on my list that I had no thoughts or feelings on.     They were a fine enough diversion, but they didn't really even inspire dislike.  The plots and characters were generic and didn't leave a lasting impression.  They were totally generic and interchangeable.  That's not good.

I expect some disappointments in any reading year with a few books, but this year 20% of the books I read were unmemorable and, let's just say it, a waste of time.  If the story is so generic that I don't remember it less than a year after reading it, it's too generic.  It just reinforces to me that I need to be more selective.

Fewer books accepted for review and fewer spontaneous reads.  More books from my TBR, more books that are vetted by other reviewers, more books that I specifically choose, as opposed to books that I choose on a whim based on an email from a publicist or author because they sound "ok".  I'm only going for "amazing" this year.  

5) Shelve all the books.  Luke doesn't know about this one yet.  But we have a serious book clutter problem.  I mean, Luke knows that part, obviously, but he doesn't know that I plan to tackle it completely this year.  By the end of the year, it is my goal to have no books piled on the floor or stashed in the closet.  Seeing as how we currently have books on the floor in the master bedroom, office, guest room, and living room and my closet has more books than clothes, this will be a major undertaking.

6) Keep going with the Presidential Challenge.  Six presidential biographies over the course of the year.

7) One book in my Best American collection per month.

And on a personal note:

1) Complete the 52 Weeks to an Organized Home Challenge.  In addition, throw away, store, and donate everything I don't use regularly.  Everything.  Get rid of stuff that isn't serving a purposes.  If I forgot that it exists, it isn't special enough to keep.

2) More time with Luke and the pets, as always.

3) Less comparing of myself to other people.

4) Fix up our downstairs doors.  Something is off with our back porch door alignment and we're going to need a contractor to come look at it.  I've been putting it off way too long.  This is the year.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Audiobook Review: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

It's really hard to describe this book without making it sound, at worst, pornographic, and at best, salacious. And it's really, really neither of those things.  It focuses entirely on the wedding night of a young couple, both of whom are virgins, and who have grown up in an era where sexuality, and the act of intimacy itself, were not discussed frankly.  We also get the story of how they met, but the main focus of the story is on how their lack of communication over the act of sex and their own apprehensions and miscommunication over the course of an hour or so doom their entire future.

Writing
Beautiful.  Absolutely captivating.  I am becoming more and more a fan of McEwan's with every book I read.  I listened to this one almost immediately after finishing Sweet Tooth and I have to say that it's my favorite McEwan book so far.  In 2007 it was, deservingly in my opinion, nominated for the Booker Prize.  Most criticisms I've seen focus on the length, but I found that the 170 or so pages were a perfect vehicle for the story McEwan had to tell.

Entertainment Value
I was a bit nervous about beginning this one.  I had just finished Sweet Tooth, another "literary" novel, and the fact that this was an entire book devoted to the span of an hour or so made me wonder if it could hold my attention.  I admit it, I like to mix up my heavier reads with brain candy.  And I usually like books that have a plot.  My main problem with much of literary fiction is that nothing ever happens.  And that's exactly what this book is - nothing really happens, we just get very detailed looks at two characters.  But it blew me away.

One reason I loved this book so much was that I identified so very strongly with Florence.  While I did not grow up in the 1940's and 50's, I did grow up in a culture where sexuality and sex were not frankly discussed and were considered somewhat vulgar to mention in the presence of anyone other than your spouse (Southern Baptist, right here).  I was a virgin on my wedding night as well and I had so many of the same thoughts and fears as Florence.  It blew my mind that, of all people, Ian McEwan could get into the mind of an innocent, virginal, frightened young woman the way he did.  But he nailed it (pun intended).  Honestly, I have to say that I think McEwan did a better job of capturing the mindset, fears, and insecurities of virginity better than any of the books I read to prepare for marriage.

Narration
It's always my preference for an author to narrate his or her own book, so I was glad to hear McEwan's voice.  I think the author can capture the tone better than a paid actor or actress or reader or whatever you call them.  Of all people, the author knows a character's intonation and pronunciation.  I also liked the question and answer session that is included at the end of the book.  McEwan revealed some of his intentions in writing the book that cleared up ambiguous portions for me, particularly the hints that there could have been abuse in Florence's past.  It makes me feel ridiculously proud when I realize that I picked up on something subtle that an author like McEwan was trying to convey.

Overall
I think this is an amazing character/situation study.  My concerns about being bored with a book that covers such a short time period and is almost exclusively internal monologue were totally unfounded.  I was enthralled and amazed at McEwan's ability to capture the situation that so mirrored my own, particularly from the point of view of a woman.  I'm very impressed.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Book Review: The Uninvited by Liz Jensen

I know I've said it on here before, but I do love creepy children.  I mean really.  Not the demonic kind, but the just plain evil kind.  The Uninvited is a type of creepy child I haven't read before, though.  It's about an epidemic that sweeps the world and turns children into homicidal monsters.  Hesketh Lock is our protagonist  - an anthropologist with Aspergers, whose investigation of the phenomenon takes a personal turn when his stepson starts to show signs that he could be infected.

Writing
I really appreciated the writing.  I liked Hesketh as a narrator.  The fact that he has Asperger's makes him interesting and unique, but I also think the author kept that from becoming the main focus of the book - which was a big plus for me.  It made him a novel character and his quirks kept me interested, but it didn't feel like an "issue" book.  The focus wasn't on his autism, that was just a small part of his character.

My one complaint with the writing revolves around the ending.  It was a little bit too abrupt and the message was a little overpowering.  I could have done with less focus on moralizing and more focus on tying up the strings well.  The reveal of the big twist just happened a little too fast for me to like it.  That said, it wasn't such a problem that it kept me from enjoying the book.

Entertainment Value
I was certainly entertained.  It held my attention and I was desperate to know the reason for the children's violence.  It didn't strike me as particularly gory or violent, although there are some violent and possibly disturbing scenes briefly described.  The focus of the book, however, was less on blood and gore and more on Hesketh's characters, particularly his struggles as a father figure during a time when children are being rounded up and institutionalized.

One aspect that really grabbed me was Hesketh's role in the life of Freddy, his step-son.  Hesketh never actually married Freddy's mother and is not Freddy's biological father, although he loves Freddy as if he were his own.  Hesketh's tentative role in Freddy's life is in jeopardy for much of the book, as Freddy's mother is unsure if she wants Hesketh to remain in Freddy's life.  This family dynamic has captivated me in other books as well (An Accidental Mother is one example).

Overall
I recommend giving this one a try if you're at all interested in more literary takes on dystopian fiction or maybe even horror.  I'm also interested to hear what others thought of the ending.  If you're interested in reading another review, my friend Kelly at The Well-read Redhead has a great review posted.

Monday, January 7, 2013

What I Read in 2012

I'm finally getting around to wrapping up my 2012 reading with some statistics and a full list of books I read. I'll include that list at the bottom, because I'm sure not everyone will want to scroll through the entire thing.  I'll start with what I think are the most interesting stats:

General
Books Read in 2012: 138
Pages Read in 2012: 39,315

Money-related
In these, I use the Barnes and Noble website's current price listing for the format in which I read the book.  I count any books I purchased in 2012 towards the "amount spent" but I do not count any books purchased prior to 2012.

Retail cost of books I read: $1659.85
Amount I spent on books I read: $174.02
Amount I saved by reading books I bought in previous years, review copies, and library copies: $1485.83

Format
Paperbacks: 43
Hardbacks: 20
Ebooks: 48
Audio: 27

Source
Review copy from publisher/publicist: 17
Purchased in 2012: 16
Gifted: 4
Already owned: 11
NetGalley: 13
Edelweiss: 2
Borrowed: 5
Library: 44
Review copy from TLC tours: 26

The Full List:
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship of Her Own Making
Bossypants
Cinder
Under the Overpass
Faith 
Cinderella Ate My Daughter
All There Is
The Ruins of Us
The Fault In Our Stars
Killing the Black Dog
Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto
James Madison
Before I Go To Sleep
Spin
Only You Sierra
Delicacy
What Happened To Hannah
Dancergirl
Agorafabulous
Come And Find Me
This Beautiful Life
Monument 14
Girls Like Us
Whatever You Love
Losing Clementine
The Night Circus
More Beauty, Less Beast
Hystera
Cruising Attitude
The Night She Disappeared
The Scorpio Races
The Child Who
We Need To Talk About Kevin
Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
Beautiful Disaster
Thirsty
The Song Remains the Same
Insurgent
Crazy Love
Sleepfaring
The Lover's Dictionary
In The Bag
Drop Dead Healthy
Mistborn: The Final Empire
The Well of Ascension
Let's Pretend This Never Happened
Year of the Gadfly
Marriage Confidential
The Hero of Ages
Into The Darkest Corner
I Remember Nothing
Coming of Age on Zoloft
I Feel Bad About My Neck
The Virgin Cure
Big Girl Small
This Is A Book
Secret Heroes: Everyday Americans Who Shaped Our World
Wallflower In Bloom
Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit
Attachments
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
It Looked Different On The Model
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
The Thief
Two and Twenty Dark Tales
Who Made God?  And Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith
I'd Know You Anywhere
Objects of My Affection
MWF Seeking BFF
Predators I Have Known
I Was Told There'd Be Cake
Baltimore Blues
The Queen of Attolia
Gone Girl
If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won't)
The King of Attolia
A Little Bit Wicked
Pretty In Plaid
Faith and Other Flat Tires
A Conspiracy of Kings
The Roots of the Olive Tree
Spook
Slummy Mummy
Ready Player One
Little Brother
Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes A Day
Bitter Is The New Black
How Did You Get This Number
Sultry With A Twist
Revenge of the Kudzu Debutantes
How To Be A Woman
Virgins
Dare Me
The One I Left Behind
Beauty Queens
The Maze Runner
The Uninvited
Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
Off Balance
I Suck at Girls
Things Your Dog Doesn't Want You To Know
Kilts and Kraken
Stolen Innocence
Most Talkative
Sharp Objects
Falling Together
And When She Was Good
What The Dead Know
The Demon King
The Gray Wolf Throne
White Horse
Moranthology
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
The Exiled Queen
When You Are Engulfed in Flames
The Crimson Crown
Iron: Or, the War After
A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty
Judging A Book By Its Lover
Black Dahlia and White Rose
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories
Genius
The Water's Lovely
Sweet Tooth
The Secret Keeper
The Guilty One
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Book Store
Legion
Under the Covers and Between the Sheets
Blue Nights
A Shot of Sultry
On Chesil Beach
Deliver Us From Evil
The Omnivore's Dilemma 
They Call Me Naughty Lola
The Outcast





Friday, January 4, 2013

Book Review: Legion by Brandon Sanderson

Legion is a novella by Brandon Sanderson that tells the story of a man who has a unique form of mental illness that allows him to hallucinate various personalities, each of whom has a unique set of skills.  He is aware that they are hallucinations, but he interacts with them as if they were individuals - and his vast array of knowledge makes him sought after as a mercenary.

Writing
While I really like Sanderson as an author, I wasn't thrilled with this one.  Luke has been pushing me to read it ever since he got it.  He loved it.  But it's a novella and I really, really don't like novellas.  I love short stories and I love novels, but I find novellas to be awkward on the whole.  It's too long to make the kind of statement that short stories are known for, but it's also not long enough to get to know and care for the characters.

That was my main problem with this book: I liked the main character and was interested in his condition and his motivations, especially the loss of his lover/therapist, but the book is just too short to go into any detail on these things.  Aspects that would make great subplots in a novel took up too much space in a novella and wound up taking away from the plot and making all the characters simplistic and poorly developed.  I really wish Sanderson would rework this story or character as a novel, because I think the concept is fascinating, but it didn't work in this format.

Entertainment Value
I liked it and was certainly entertained, but because of the length I felt like just when I was finally into the story and getting to know the characters, the whole thing started winding up.  I didn't get to know anyone the way I would have liked and there were way too many characters for the length.  I couldn't get past the way the story wraps up so quickly.  It went by way too fast for me to recommend as an entertaining read.  Sanderson is a master of the slow buildup, but in a novella there's no time for that.

Overall
I think your time would be better spent reading one of his novels - especially the Mistborn books!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What I Read In December

December was a big month for me in terms of reading and in terms of my personal life.  I'll summarize what I read first and then give you some peeks at what I've been up to outside of books.  In December I read:

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories by Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and the HitRECORD project
Genius by Stephen T. Seagle
The Water's Lovely by Ruth Rendell
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Legion by Brandon Sanderson
Under The Covers and Between the Sheets by C. Alan Joyce
Blue Nights by Joan Didion
A Shot of Sultry by Macy Beckett
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Deliver Us From Evil by Ravi Zacharias
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
They Call Me Naughty Lola by David Rose, The London Review of Books
The Outcast by Sadie Jones

Total books read in December: 16
Total read in 2012: 138
Pages read in 2012: 39,315
Money saved by reading library books, review copies, and books I own: $1485.83

In terms of my personal life, I had a lot going on in December.  I got to go to a Christmas performance by the Symphony with Sugar Bear and we had dinner several times.  My Mema and Aunt Barbara came for Christmas and we got to spend some time with them.  I had to say goodbye to Bestie who is going to be in boot camp for the next three months.  And I got to make a short trip to Chicago to see David, Elisabeth, Georgie, and Baby Gemma, which was pretty much the highlight of my year.

In the weeks before I left for Chicago, I was basically consumed with making this play mat for Georgie.  Sugar Bear named it Georgeville because on one side it has all the places Georgie likes to go in his town.  On the other side I've got a stuffed alphabet that can velcro on and off.  And it was a hit!  This is Georgie playing with it the day after I had to go home.

Meeting Baby Gemma (one month old) for the first time.  She's a perfect little angel.

Baby Gemma with her Dit-Dit.

Julie's favorite little boy in all the world.  



Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Book Review: The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon


In 1985, 13 year old Reggie's mother was the final victim of a serial killer known as Neptune, who cut off one hand of his victims and left it on the doorstep of the police station five days before staging the body of the victim in public.  Reggie's mother's body however, never turned up.  Twenty-five years later, Reggie has moved away from her small hometown and is a successful architect, but has never managed to put her past fully behind her.  Then she gets a call from a homeless shelter saying her mother has been found alive.  As Reggie searches desperately for the truth, Neptune resurfaces and Reggie must race to discover his identity before he kills again.

Writing
I love Jennifer McMahon and this title was no exception.  It's well-written and deliciously creepy.  I loved the characters, especially Reggie, who I connected with emotionally.  It's a thriller, so the writing is par for the course for the genre.  McMahon is one of my favorite types of thriller writers - the suspense and plot carry the book.  It's thrilling and holds my attention without inserting unnecessary attempt at being literary, but the writing is also good enough to keep me from being distracted by poorly constructed dialogue or gaping plot holes.

Entertainment Value
I also think the author did an amazing job of keeping the book scary and holding the reader's attention without resorting to graphic depictions of violence.  It's certainly scary, but it is a much more subtle suspense than many thrillers that rely on torture porn to hold the attention of readers.  McMahon is able to capture the reader without the use of cheap tricks commonly found in thrillers.  I read it in two sittings and loved every minute.

Overall
McMahon is quickly becoming one of my favorite suspense authors.  She writes well, doesn't over-embellish, and refrains from using gore to keep the reader interested.  Her books make sense and are easy to read, but the writing is done well, so there aren't any distractions.  I recommend giving it a try.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

End of the Year Book Survey

Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner is hosting this awesome end of the year survey.  Check out the survey page to see all the link-ups from your favorite book bloggers!
1. Best Book You Read In 2012? (You can break it down by genre if you want) 
This one is just about impossible to answer.  And since I've already named my favorites of the year in each genre, I'll go ahead and try to limit it to one.  I'm going to say that my favorite this year was How to Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran.
2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?
Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  I was so pumped when I got it and so let down when I read it.
 3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012? 
The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner.  This was a total spur of the moment read based on what was available at the library on the day I was bored and looking for an ebook - and I am convinced that it was Providence!
 4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012?
And as a PS: I am super annoyed with all of you who have not listened to me and read these yet.
 5. Best series you discovered in 2012?
 6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?
Brandon Sanderson and Gillian Flynn
7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?
Honestly, I find this hard to answer, because I read such a wide variety of genres.  I think Spark by John Ratey could qualify for this though, as exercise isn't something I typically read about.  Another could be Black Dahlia and White Rose by Joyce Carol Oates.  I love short stories, but in looking back over the past few years it's something I haven't read much of.
 8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?
 9. Book You Read In 2012 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year:
I almost never reread, but I can see myself going through How To Be A Woman again.
10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?
All There Is by Dave Isay - I've put in a picture, but honestly you have to see the white cover and the embossed tiny hearts in real life to get what an amazing cover it is.



11. Most memorable character in 2012? 

Kevin from We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2012?
13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012? 
 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read? 
Luke has been asking me to read this one forever and I finally caved.  SUCH a good decision!
 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2012? 
I'm really bad with quotes - I don't have any noted or written down.
 16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2012? 
 17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!
Pretty much the entirety of The Crimson Crown series, but also the Mistborn books and Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2012 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).
I loved Zuzana and Carou in Daughter of Smoke and Bone; Big and Mosey from A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty; Beth and Jennifer in Attachments.
19. Favorite Book You Read in 2012 From An Author You Read Previously
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater; The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
20. Best Book You Read That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:
Gotta be the Crimson Crown books.  Joyce wins best book-recommending friend of the year for pushing these relentlessly!

 Book Blogging/Reading Life in 2012 (optional)

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2012? 
2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2012? 
I don't really have one - I'm pretty pleased with all of my reviews.
3. Best discussion you had on your blog?

4. Most thought-provoking review or discussion you read on somebody else’s blog?

I actually really appreciated the discussion at Stacked that stemmed from "The ARC Stops Here"
5. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?
Decatur Book Festival and the Savannah Book Festival

6. Best moment of book blogging in 2012?

Meh.
7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?
We Need To Talk About Kevin (Movie Review) is far and away the all-time most popular post this year and probably of all time.  It's kind of weird.
8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?
9. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?
My Sony e-Reader.  I am obsessed.
10.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?
My goal was to read 125 books - I wound up finishing with 138!


Looking Ahead…


1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2012 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2013?
All of them?  I honestly can't pick just one - I read based on what I'm interested in at the moment, so I rarely plan ahead and prioritize.
2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2013?
I'm looking forward to finishing the Divergent Series.
3. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging In 2013?
Keep up with reviews!  I'm still behind with last year's reviews, so who knows if this will happen, but it would be so nice.  As far as numbers go, I'm going for 130.