Tuesday, December 31, 2013

End of the Year Book Survey


Courtesy of Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner

1. Best Book You Read In 2013?  

Even after making all of those Best of lists, this is an incredibly hard decision.  I feel like I had a really good year of reading.  My very favorites though were: Tenth of December by George Saunders, The End Of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe, 7 by Jen Hatmaker, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, and Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson.  I didn't hate it, but it was probably the one I was most exciting for and it just didn't live up to her others for me.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013?

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe.  I had purposefully ignored it because I don't do books where mothers die, but Jacki at We Still Read convinced me and it wound up being one of my favorites.

4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013?

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker.  I can'at stop raving about this one.  

5. Best series you discovered in 2013?

This one is easy.  Harry Potter, hands down.  

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2013?

Several of these: Jen Hatmaker, George Saunders, Karen Russel, Chuck Klosterman, Jonathan Maberry

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

The End of Your Life Book Club again.  Like I said, I absolutely refuse to read books with dying mothers, but I'm so glad I stretched for this one.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?

The Harry Potter books.  I've been listening to them and have found myself inventing cleaning in order to listen longer.  My house has never looked better.

9. Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

I'm really not much of a re-reader, but I re-read Bossypants by Tina Fey this year and it's one that I can see myself reading again.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2013?


Parasite by Mira Grant

11. Most memorable character in 2013? 

All of the Harry Potter characters, Leonard Peacock from Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, Dexter from Darkly Dreaming Dexter

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?

Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013?

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read?

The Harry Potter series, definitely.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2013?

I'm skipping this one because I don't do a good job of keeping track of quotes and passages.

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?

Shortest: Matchless by Gregory McGuire
Longest: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

 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!

Mother, Mother by Koren Zailkas - I was dying to discuss the ending with my friend Joyce.  I also loved reading Hopeless by Colleen Hoover and discussing as I was reading.

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

Eleanor and Park from Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris, Gulp by Mary Roach

20. Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

Hopeless by Colleen Hoover (recommended by my friend Joyce), The End of Your Life Book Club and 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess (recommended by Jacki)

21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2013?

This one I'd have to really sit down and figure out, but I'd guess non-fiction?  Or general adult fiction?

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013?

Another one I'm skipping - I don't really get book crushes the way everyone else seems to.

23. Best 2013 debut you read?

The Dinner by Herman Koch (not technically his debut, but his English language debut)

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?

Tenth of December by George Saunders, Flora by Gail Godwin

25. Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2013?

Harry Potter for sure.  I've definitely had the most fun texting my friends and tweeting while listening to it.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2013?

I'm not a crier during books at all, but there have been quite a few tears shed over Harry Potter.  When Neville gets 10 points for Gryffindor?  I almost had to pull my car over.

27. Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out?

Flora by Gail Godwin

 

2014 Books


1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2013 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2014?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2014 (non-debut)?

Isla and the Happily Ever After

3. 2014 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

Alienation by Melissa Landers (kind of a cheat because I've already read it, but it's awesome), Push Girl by Chelsie Hill and Jessica Love, and Damesel Distressed by Kelsey Macke.  All three of these are Nestie-written!

4. Series Ending You Are Most Anticipating in 2014?

Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor (Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy)

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging In 2014?

For this one, you'll have to check back tomorrow!

If any of you participate in this survey, link me below - I want to make sure I check it out!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Haul: Christmas Edition

Merry Christmas, Reader Friends!  I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday.  Luke and I travelled this year to be with his family.  The trip was killer, but it was great to see his mother and grandparents.  Of course, my Christmas involved books, as you knew it had to.  I got some great gifts, a few for review, and an epic haul from the library.

Gifts (all from Luke, who is amazing at gift-giving)

Shakespearean insult band-aids

Hyperbole and A Half by Allie Brosh - also I lied, this one is actually from my friend Joyce!  ILY, Joycie!

The Best American Short Stories 1999 and 2000 - my collection is now complete from 1989 - 2012.  I'll be picking up the 2013 editions ASAP.

The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Dark of Deep Below by Patrick Rothfuss

And it's signed and numbered!

For Review/Bought at McKays

Death in Reel Time by Brynn Bonner (courtesy of Gallery Books)
Chasing Utopia by Nikki Giovanni (courtesy of William Morrow)

The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley (courtesy of TLC tours)
South of Broad by Pat Conroy (picked up at McKays)

The Meaning of Wife by Anne Kingston (another McKays find)

Epic Library Haul

Spillover: Aminal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen
Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller
The Milk of Birds by Sylvia Whitman

The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers by Scott Carney
The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrick Bonhoeffer

Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy by John Bowe
Shoot The Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression by Sally Brampton

How about you, Reader Friends?  Did you get anything amazingly bookish for Christmas?


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Mini-Reviews: Cartwheel by Jennifer DuBois and Waiting To Be Heard by Amanda Knox


Loosely based on the real life story of Amanda Knox and the murder of her roommate in Italy, Cartwheel is a fictional account of an American college student, Lily Hayes, who spends a semester in Argentina.  Just a few weeks into the semester, Lily's roommate, Katy, is found murdered in the home of their host family.  Lily's bizarre behavior leads to her arrest and trial for the killing.  

I went into this book largely unfamiliar with the Amanda Knox story, but intrigued by the premise.  And it wound up being totally worth it - I was thrilled with the quality of the writing and engrossed in the story itself.  We get to see the viewpoints of many different characters, each of which gives another look at Lily's motivations and true character.  From her parents, to her boyfriends, to the prosecutor, to Lily herself, each person's point of view plays a role in whether Lily is seen as a monster or an innocent.  


Having finished Cartwheel, I was anxious to learn more about the case that inspired the novel.  So I grabbed a copy of Amanda Knox's memoir, Waiting To Be Heard, in which she details her side of the story.  Her roommate, Meredith Kercher, was murdered during a semester abroad in Italy.  Knox and her boyfriend were both arrested and eventually convicted of the murder, although the conviction was ultimately overturned - although not before Knox spent three years in an Italian prison.

It was definitely fascinating to hear the true story from Knox's point of view, especially having just finished Cartwheel.  I liked being able to compare the stories and see where DuBois borrowed from fact and where she invented her own characters.  As far as Knox's story goes, I felt like maybe it could have been shorter.  There was a lot of her protesting her innocence.  Not to say she's not convincing, and after three years in prison, I'm sure she feels the need to proclaim her innocence, but it became repetitive after a while.  

Both books are good, but Cartwheel was definitely my favorite of the two.  I think both are worth reading, though, especially if you read them together.  Good for fans of true crime, but with a more literary bent.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Book Review: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick


There are only four people Leonard Peacock cares about: his teacher, Herr Silverman; a violin prodigy, Babeck; his crush, Lauren; and his elderly neighbor, Walt.  Today, on his birthday, he plans to tell each of them goodbye forever.  Once he's done that, he'll take his grandfather's gun and kill his ex-best friend and then himself.  The reasons for this decision are revealed to the reader over the course of the day, as Leonard visits each of the four people he cares for.

Writing
I was impressed.  I think this is one great example of a Young Adult novel that also crosses into the literary fiction genre.  That doesn't mean that the book is difficult to read or suffers from lack of plot, though.  It mainly, for me, means that the depth in terms of characterization is incredible.  Leonard is such a deep and complex character - he totally made the book for me.  I loved that he really felt like that weird outcast kid, and not always in a lovable, quirky-cute way.  He can be obnoxious.  Quick also does a superb job of crafting a believable high school setting.

Entertainment Value
I read this in two sittings, and not just because I waited until the last minute before our book club meeting.  Despite being complex and richly characterized, it's an easy and fairly quick read.  I'd recommend having some tissues on hand, because it can be heart-wrenching.  It's ultimately a beautiful story about finding family and connecting and figuring out how to deal with the hand we are dealt.

Overall
I highly recommend giving it a try.  It was an across the board hit with my book club and inspired an epic meeting that lasted through several hours and a change of venue, as Panera closed before we could finish discussing.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Book Review: Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn Jackson is an automatic read for me - I'll read anything she puts out, regardless.  So I was thrilled to receive a copy of her latest, Someone Else's Love Story, for review.  It's the story of Shandi, a young single mother who finds herself taken hostage in a convenience store with her son.  The handsome William Ashe steps between the robber and her son, and Shandi falls head over heels for her rescuer.  William is struggling with his own past, but finds himself opening up to Shandi and her young son, as both of them come to terms with their histories and discovering who they are as a result of their pasts.

Writing
Well done, as always.  I really admire the way that Jackson is able to blend aspects of faith into her fiction, without writing anything preachy or trite.  She also captures the South beautifully, as she does in all of her other books.  This one is as thoughtfully written as her others - and is funny and charming to boot.

Entertainment Value
As much as I enjoyed and appreciated the writing in this one, I wasn't as drawn into the story as I have been with her others.  While I'm usually totally wrapped up in Jackson's characters, I had a harder time connecting to Shandi.  I liked William more, but I just wasn't captivated by him either.  It's a great read, but not my favorite by Jackson.


Overall
If you're a fan of Southern fiction, or if you're a fan of the author's, you'll definitely want to read this one.  But if you're new to the author or genre, I might recommend that you start with A Grown Up Kind of Pretty or Between, Georgia instead.

Thank you to William Morrow for providing me a copy to review.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Biggest Disappointments of 2013


I'm not sure what it says about my spirit of Christmas peace and cheer, but I am as interested, if not more interested, in what people read and hated in 2013 as I am in what they loved.  Because of that interest, I am pleased to bring you the books that I found most disappointing in 2013.


This one was on track to be one of my favorites of the year, until the last fifty pages.  Rarely do I let the ending of a story ruin a book for me, but this one was particularly awful.  It completely undid all of the character development of the first half of the book and made no sense in conjunction with the rest of the story.


I read and loved another of Phillips' books in this same series earlier in the year, so I was totally let down when this one proved to be poorly written, tasteless, and somewhat offensive in terms of content.  I still can't get over how much I didn't like the main characters and the unreported and largely unremarked upon sexual harassment of the female main character, including a near rape, did me in.  Not sure I'll try the author again.


One of the longest reviews I wrote this year, largely because there were so many thing I disliked about this book.  The writing was awful, it dragged on and on, and had some fairly racist/sexist connotations.  I will DEFINITELY not be trying this author again, which is a shame because his premise (a virtual reality for training armed forces that is populated by the most nefarious criminals in history) is actually really interesting.


Another giant disappointment.  I've had this on my list for years, and once I got my GA Pines library card I was pleased to find it readily available through my system.  Unfortunately, the book itself was a letdown.  I didn't think the writing was anywhere nearly as exceptional as it is billed, and I didn't see any real point to the story.  I could get past the loads of violence if I felt like it happened for a reason or made any sense, but it seemed to just be there for the sake of being there.  Sure that might make it edgy, but it doesn't make it good.


Yawn.  Not a good way to describe a thriller, but there you have it.  Just so boring and unremarkable in every way.  Honestly, I'd be hard pressed to give you a summary or even tell you who dunnit because it was so un-memorable.


I was super excited to read this one with Luke.  We were both in the mood for some high fantasy, and this seemed to fit the same mold as some others we've really enjoyed - The Seven Realms Series, Mistborn, etc.  Unfortunately it really fell flat.  I had a hard time pushing through the whole thing and there were so many major inconsistencies in the book that I got frustrated reading it easily.  Not a terrible read, but a letdown given our high expectations.  We intended to do a joint review, but gave up the idea because neither of us had any strong feelings or interest in it at all.


Another ARC that I had super high hopes for and was let down by.  This one, like some of the others, wasn't terrible, but I felt like the premise was more exciting and entertaining than the actual book turned out to be.  It's the story of a high schooler who goes to an expensive prep school on scholarship.  For spending money, she babysits children (and sometimes other teens) from her school and cures them over the sins while she's at it.  Each chapter tackles one of the seven deadly sins.  Sounds fun, right?  Unfortunately it was just so-so and the ending was downright awful.


This is the one that may get rotten tomatoes thrown at me.  The vast majority of the readers I trust loved this book and have raved about it.  I, however, just thought it was ok.  I found his writing to be fine, but I felt like the story dragged.  It just wasn't at all what I was expecting, which was amazing.  I felt like I got "just ok" out of it.  So while it's definitely not one of the worst books I've read all year, it was the most disappointing in terms of how much I expected to love it and how little I actually did.

And now it's your turn.  Throw tomatoes, tell me I'm wrong, or chime in with your least favorites!



Thursday, December 19, 2013

Best of the Best of 2013 Lists


I really wanted this list to encompass all of my favorite blogs, but, of course, I've gotten behind on my blog reading, so these are just my favorite "best of" lists through December 15th or so.  I'm sure there are holes, but all of these lists stuck out to me as exceptional.  Enjoy!

Adults Books 4 Teens

NPR

Slate

Huffington Post

NY Times

The Well-Read Redhead

Book Riot

Casual Optimist

Super Librarian

Book Riot's books that deserve more attention

Writing from the Tub

Jessica Love Writes

We Still Read's Best YA of 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Best Adult Non-Fiction of 2013


My amazing non-fiction reads this year rivaled short stories in terms of volume.  I read so many great works of non-fiction this year.


A beautiful memoir of depression told by an amazing author.  No much more to be said, except that after I posted, the author actually tweeted me, which pretty much made my life.


An outsider's look at the world of Christian Pop Culture.  I loved that it gave me some new insight into aspects of life as a Christian that I've always taken for granted or overlooked as natural.


Such a great book - a memoir of the author's year spent focusing on various experts' advice on achieving happiness across all areas of her life.  I took away several pieces of advice that have stuck with me all year - particularly in the area of decluttering.


A great exploration of the place introverts occupy in the world and why people with introverted personalities are key in the operation of businesses, religious organizations, and families.


A beautiful story told by an award-winning journalist who spent three years in the slums of Mumbai, living amongst the families there to research this book.


Essay-length answers to advice-seekers from the author of the Dear Sugar column, who also happens to be the author of the wildly successful memoir Wild.  I haven't read Wild, but I loved these essays.  Strayed gets right to the heart of things and her advice is wonderful.


I resisted reading this one, knowing that it's about the author's experiences reading with his mother as she is treated for terminal cancer, but I'm so glad Jacki convinced me to give it a try.  It's touching and sad, but more focused on the love of reading passed down from mother to son and the actual books themselves.


I'll read anything Mary Roach publishes.  Her pop science books are hilarious, readable, and sneak in tons of great information while you're not looking.  This one focuses on what happens from the time food goes in the mouth until, well, you know.


This one is a totally engrossing look at the history of scientology and the role it currently plays in the lives and affairs of celebrities, as well as the abuses against members.  Absolutely fascinating.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Luke's Best of 2013


[Note from Julie: I convinced Luke to sit down last night and write a few words about the best books he's read this year, so I'm pleased to bring you a special guest post from my favorite man!  Enjoy!]

First, let's get the easy ones out of the way. 

I'm a huge Brandon Sanderson fan and read two books that he released this year, The Rithmatist and Steelheart, both the first books in two separate Young Adult series. Both were set in alternate versions of our world (the United States specifically) as opposed to the cosmere of his other books.
Like all of Brandon Sanderson's writing, both had widely varied, yet very defined "magic" systems.


The Rithmatist had the characters drawing geometrically based chalk designs that the user could then bring to life to perform different roles.


Steelheart was inspired by Brandon Sanderson getting cut off in traffic one day and thinking what would have happened if he would have had super powers at that moment (a not very good thing, he admitted).  Thus, Steelheart is set in a near future where a giant ball in the sky called "The Calamity" has imbued certain people with superpowers at the expense of their humanity.  It takes place in Chicago where an Epic (super-powered human) has turned the entire city to steel and holds control over the entire population.

While not on the level as Way of Kings (my current favorite Sanderson book), they were very good YA books and were very entertaining.  The thing that I like about Sanderson the most is that he continues to progress as a writer (his short story The Emperor's Soul won a Hugo this year) and it's evident.

I am happy to report that the second book in the Stormlight Archives, Word of Radiance, is now in the publisher's hands and will be released early next year.  Time to do a reread of Way of Kings!

More recently I've been reading (listening to) the Joe Ledger series by Jonathan Maberry.  Set in a pretty close world to ours, this series follows Captain Joe Ledger who gets recruited by a super secret department of the government that has little to no red tape in order to rapidly respond to terrorist threats. I think the reason I like these books so much is that in a lot of ways, the main character reminds me of another character from one of my favorite series, The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

Maberry does a great job of filling out all of his characters, even the one-off throw-away ones, while not being so wordy that the story gets lost.  So far I've gotten through the first two books, Patient Zero and Dragon Factory, as well as the collection of short stories that encompass those first two books.  I've just started on the third, The King of Plagues, today and look forward to reading it!


So, there you have it folks, my favorite reads for this year.  Perhaps you have enjoyed them as well!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Best Short-Form Works of 2013

I've been hearing all year long that 2013 is the "Year of the Short Story".  I'm not sure how true that was for everyone else, but it was definitely true for me.  I've also included a few collections of essays in this list, since this seemed the most logical place for them.

Short Stories


George Saunders wasn't even on my radar at the beginning of the year, so I'm grateful that so many book blogs raved over Tenth of December.  Listening to Tenth of December is really what kicked off my passion this year for the short story and led me to several of his other collections, including In Persuasion Nation.


Vampires In the Lemon Grove is another that got rave reviews when it was released in February, including some comparisons to Saunders.  I've had the author's novel Swamplandia! on my shelf for ages, but I decided to start out with her short stories and I'm glad I did.  I'll still get around to the novel, but both of these collections were amazing and the perfect follow-ups/companions to Saunders' stories.


This is an example of a book where the cover just reached out and grabbed me.  I kept seeing on the FLP website and finally bit the bullet and checked it out.  It's a beautiful collection, featuring stories that center around mothers and daughters.  I have high hopes for the author and will definitely read her future works.


I had my doubts going into this collection of interconnected short stories.  Lots of authors are putting out memoirs or YA novels these days, and I didn't want to see Ringwald fail, especially in taking on something more literary.  To my delight, the book was a total success.  I loved the stories and the way they all seemed to fit together. 

Essays


If you enjoy David Sedaris, you need to give Rakoff a try.  He's got the same dry, sarcastic humor that makes Sedaris a favorite of mine.  And he's not afraid to say what he's thinking, even if it's not always nice.  He's an admitted pessimist and brings that dark humor to his essays.


And of course Sedaris himself earns a spot with his latest collection of essays.  These are an absolutely hilarious take on daily life and its trials and tribulations.


Probably my favorite essay collection of the year, this one is a compilation of Patchett's non-fiction writings for various periodicals from major literary publications to travel writings to articles about her pets.  I particularly enjoyed the wealth of knowledge she shares on writing.