Friday, January 29, 2016

How to Be Alive: A Guide To The Kind of Happiness That Helps The World
In How to Be Alive, Beavan shares his insights on finding the path that’s right for you. Drawing on everything from classic literature and philosophy to current science, and combining that with his own experiences alongside those of the many people he has met along the way, Colin explores a broad array of transformational lifestyle adjustments—small and large—that offer security and meaning in a world confronted by ecological crises, economic upheaval, and ongoing war and social injustice. In the process, he helps readers embark on the quest for a “good life” of their own—lives both better for them and the planet. 
I'm kind of on a self-help kick lately, but I've been focusing more on books like this one that are less traditional.  I love that Beavan is looking for a plan that not only provides individual happiness, but a plan that also helps the other people who share our space and the world as a whole.

Writing
No complaints at all - Beavan is obviously a skilled journalist and has experience writing both memoir and inspirational-type non-fiction.  He does a great job of integrating information from a wide array of sources, including various religions, works of literature, and history to find what works best from each tradition.  He's able to incorporate all of these in ways that remain respectful to the beliefs of the tradition he's drawing from, but also apply to a wider audience, which I appreciated.

Entertainment Value
At almost 450 pages, it's a bit dense for a self-help book.  There's a lot of information and sometimes it does feel repetitive and/or generic.  One of my pet peeves is the use of "self help" lingo and this does fall into that trap sometimes.  That said, those are really personal preferences of my own.  I think it's a great guide to living in a way that honors who you are as a person and your own goals and aspirations, but also honors the people we live with and the world around us.  I really appreciated that emphasis on being a person who isn't just striving after personal happiness.

Overall
I recommend it to those like me who are enjoying the wide array of non-traditional self-help books currently on the market and to those who are looking to make some life changes in the new year.  It's always great to be in a place of newness and inspiration at the beginning of the year and Beavan provides that.  My only hesitations are in the length and the fact that some of the information could be better condensed.

Thanks to TLC for having me on the tour!  Click herefor the list of other tour stops and links to other reviews!


Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Choose Your Own Adventure Book Club: Adventure 7 - Books Authored by Bloggers

Our December CYOA meeting was derailed by the appearance of the 2015 End of Year Survey and the fact that none of us really read what we were supposed to read.  We did, however draw our choice for January - "Books Authored by Bloggers".  We're all pretty book-ternet involved, so this was a pretty easy one.

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives
I chose Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin (click here to see her blog).  It was amazing and life-changing and has made a huge difference in the way I'm living so far this year...but you'll have to wait till the end of the month for my full review.  I can't say enough great things about it.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
I also read a few excerpts from Hyperbole and a Half (click here to see the blog), but didn't finish all the way.  It was a reread, so I'm already familiar with the hilarity of her work, but a refresher of the joy in this book is always nice.

Dancing Barefoot
Stephanie read Dancing Barefoot by Wil Wheaton (click here to see the blog).  She said she enjoyed the collection, particularly the Star Trek essays, but that it lacked cohesion overall.  I'm still putting it on my list because, Wil Wheaton.  NFT.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
Courtney was the smartest one of all of us and read Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed (click here to see the blog).  I think all of us listen to the Dear Sugar podcast and discuss her thoughts on things frequently.  I also think most of us have read the book and we had a great discussion about the way Strayed can convey even the hardest truths that people don't want to hear with love and compassion.  If you haven't read it yet, you must.  

Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck
Courtney's also working her way through Do Over by Jon Acuff (click here to see the blog).  In case none of you have realized it yet, figuring out what to do with your life is hard.  And this seems like an excellent book to read to motivate yourself to figure the hard stuff out.  It got tons of amazing reviews last year - and I made sure to grab a library copy for the library where I work!

Girl Online (Girl Online, #1)
Halina and Sarah both read Girl Online by Zoe Sugg (click here to see her blog).  There was a ton of talk when this was released about whether or not Sugg had help writing it and the ethics of blogger books, so I was glad to have a first hand account from actual readers of the book.  Both agreed that it was fun and easy to read, but definitely intended for a young audience.  

Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab
Rachel went with Jacksonland by Steve Inskeep, who isn't a blogger, but is an NPR/podcast host, which fit our very broad criteria.  Even though I'm not much of a reader of straight up history, Rachel convinced me to add this one to my TBR list when she told us how much of it is set in the area where we live.  It's always fun to read about the history of places we know and can go visit.

The Princess and the Pony
Rachel also read the Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton (click here to see her blog).  I'm obsessed with Beaton's cartoons about history and literature and general geekery and found this children's book as delightful as Rachel did.

And of course, we've got a list of books we discussed, but that did not fit the theme.  It had been over a month since we'd all seen each other so we had TONS of book talk to do.  Here's the list of what we raved about after we stopped talking blogger books:

The Lunar Chronicles - if read this series, let Stephanie know because she has FEELINGS about it.  I gave up after Cinder but she convinced me to give it another try based on said feels.
Six of Crows - Rachel's FEELINGSS book.
Emmy and Oliver
Daughter of Smoke and Bone - the whole world has FEELINGS about this one, myself included
This One Summer
Everything ever created by Brene Brown, but particularly The Gifts of Imperfection - so many FEELINGS I can't even take it.

Check back again next month when we'll be reading from the prompt: Book by a Southern Author

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Audiobook Reviews: Winter at the Door and The Girls She Left Behind by Sarah Graves

Winter at the Door (Lizzie Snow, #1)
From Goodreads:
Moving from Boston to remote Bearkill, Maine, isn’t homicide cop Lizzie Snow’s idea of a step up. But breaking away from tragedy and personal betrayal is at least a step in the right direction. Her dead sister’s fate still torments her, as does her long-missing niece’s disappearance. Lizzie hopes to find the mysteriously vanished child here, amid the coming ice and snow. But in the Great North Woods, something darker and more dangerous than punishing winter is also bound for Bearkill...

A rash of freak accidents and suicides has left a string of dead men—all former local cops. Now the same cruel eyes that watched them die are on Lizzie—and so is the pressure to find out what sort of monster has his hooks in this town, what his ruthless game is, and just how brutally he’ll play to win. Whatever the truth is, its twisted roots lie in the desolate backwoods of Allagash County: where the desperate disappear, the corrupt find shelter, and the innocent lose everything. It’s there that a cunning and utterly cold-blooded killer plans the fate of the helpless lives at his mercy—one of whom may be the lost child Lizzie will do anything to save. As a blizzard bears down, and Bearkill’s dark secrets claw their way to the surface, Lizzie gears up for a showdown that could leave the deep, driven snow stained blood red.
Anytime I can find another good episodic crime/detective thriller, I'm pleased.  It's like finding another show to binge like Criminal Minds or SVU.  It's perfect mindless listening - I like something that keeps me interested and has lots of twists and turns, but is easy enough to follow that it doesn't require my total attention.  I can clean the house or drive or color while I listen and not miss anything major if I'm momentarily distracted.  So I was pleased to find this series on Hoopla, my current go-to for audiobooks.

I wasn't, however, pleased with the book itself.  There's nothing super awful about it, but I didn't feel like it lived up to my expectations.  I wasn't super excited about the main character or her love interests, and I felt like the plot was all over the place.  There are about five major plot lines going on and only a couple of them wind up mattering.  All of the time spent exploring the extraneous plot lines dragged and left me annoyed when I found out they didn't even matter.  The characters are fairly cliche and pretty static.  I was unimpressed, but decided to go ahead and give the second book a try...

The Girls She Left Behind (Lizzie Snow, #2)
For Lizzie Snow, the ice and snow of her first punishing North Woods winter are dreadful enough. But near the small town of Bearkill a stubborn forest fire now rages out of control, and as embers swirl dangerously in the smoke-filled air, a teenage girl with a history of running away has dropped out of sight again. The locals and the law both think Tara Wylie is up to her old tricks—until her mother receives a terrifying text message.

Equally disturbing: Henry Gemerle—a kidnapper and rapist who once held three girls prisoner for fifteen years—has escaped, and may be lurking in Bearkill. As the fire closes in, Lizzie teams up with her boss Sheriff Cody Chevrier and state cop Dylan Hudson to search for the missing girl and the wily fugitive. But they're blocked by Tara's mother, a frustrating teller of needless lies and keeper of dark, incomprehensible secrets.

Following a trail of grisly clues—a bloodstained motel room, a makeshift coffin in a shallow grave—Lizzie is drawn ever closer to the flames in her race to save an innocent and corner a monster. Someone else also wants to find Tara Wylie and Henry Gemerle, though, for reasons that have nothing to do with mercy or justice. And when they all meet, the inferno threatening Bearkill will pale in comparison to the hell that's about to break loose.
This one is better.  There are fewer plot lines to follow and every thread the author begins actually leads somewhere, which was nice.  It didn't take me as long to listen to this one because I was more involved in the story, since it was more concise and focused.  On more than one occasion I thought I had figured out who the bad guy was and what the motivations were only to be surprised by a twist I didn't see coming - which was a huge refresher after the first book.

I still didn't really love any of the characters or care about their outcomes.  I also thought it was interesting that the author chose to use another act of nature (a fire this time, rather than a blizzard) to add suspense to the climax.  It made me feel like she has to use something outside of the story itself to add drama and make up for what she hasn't achieved in the plot and characters.  If the series continues, I'll be interested to see if she has another natural disaster to keep things moving along.

As much as I enjoy small town settings, its also somewhat problematic to me that Bear Kill is a sleepy little town where nothing ever happens - until the main character moves there.  Then there are suddenly serial killers and kidnappers and organized crime members coming out of the woodwork.  It's not an uncommon thing to happen in a crime series set in the small town, but it always makes me cringe a little to think that suddenly EVERYONE evil in the world is coming to Bear Kill, Maine to commit their crimes just by happenstance.

Overall
This is a series I'll probably give up on.  I thought the second book was much improved, but neither thrilled me enough to keep reading.  I didn't like the main character and I feel like I could find something just as engrossing but without the problematic aspects that I found in these.  I WILL however be keeping an eye on the series, because I really want to know if there will be another natural disaster in the next book.

Thanks to my local library for providing me with access to these!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Short Story Review: The Little Men by Megan Abbott

The Little Men
In 1953, Penny is just another washed-up, wannabe Hollywood actress who is past her prime. She has settled in to a quiet lifestyle, and when she finds a low-rent bungalow in Canyon Arms, it’s a dream come true; Penny takes to the place instantly. But the dream cottage with its French doors and tiled courtyard may not be as perfect as it seems. Penny’s new neighbors start filling her head with stories about past tenants, whispering voices, and a suicide that may not have been a suicide at all. Soon enough, Penny starts hearing strange noises and she can’t help but wonder about the true fate of the bookseller who died in her home a dozen years earlier. Her suspicions are only fueled by the ominous inscription that she discovers in a book that’s closely guarded by her landlord. . . .
Writing
Megan Abbott is an automatic read for me and I was super excited to see this ebook short story released last fall.  She's already great at psychological suspense in the contemporary thrillers I've read and I knew she had noir thrillers in her past, but hadn't read them.  This book combines both genres into something really special.  There's gas-lighting, there's 1950's Hollywood, it's dark and eerie, and I had no idea where she was headed.  Excellent piece of short fiction and very well done.

Entertainment Value
See above, I guess?  The writing is great and the story enthralls from the first page.  The length is perfect for a half hour or so break in the workday, although it was hard to stop dwelling on it after I was finished.  She does a lot of great genre nods, but it also is its own unique work.  I'd take a million more like this any day.

Overall
Yes for fans of short stories, yes for fans of thrillers, yes for fans of noir, and yes for anyone looking for an excellent and fast story to completely suck them in for a short period of time.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Coloring Book Review: Cats in Paris by Won-Sun Jang


This gorgeously illustrated adult coloring book draws readers into the secret world of cats in Paris as they explore the city's most famous (and feline-friendly) spots.

Say bonjour to the cats of Paris as they slink through its fabled streets and alleyways, from Montmartre to the Shakespeare and Company bookshop and into a feline-filled land of playful imagination. Featuring intricate pen-and-ink drawings of tabbies, Persians, Siamese, and more, this evocative coloring book’s frisky kitties lie in wait for your colorful stylings.
I can't remember how much I've talked about on here, but I have fallen into the adult coloring craze totally and completely.  I'm obsessed.  Like, half of my Christmas wish list this year was coloring-related.  So I jumped at the chance to review this beautiful book about cats and Paris.  I mean, the cat on the cover even looks a little like Pompom.  How could I say no?  Prepare yourself for an onslaught of images - this post will have a lot.


This is the current work in progress, begun last night.  The black and white Pompom-esque kitty is our host on a guided tour of Paris, which is adorable and features all the traditional tourist spots...including...


Shakespeare and Co.!  Cats, Paris, books.  I probably don't need to post more, but I will.


About half the book is devoted to images of cats around Paris and the other half is full of images like thiese one with various patterns and cats and cat-related things.  I've had my eye on a set of watercolor colored pencils that I think will be the perfect pair for this style of art.


"My name is Pompom and I approve of this coloring book."

If you're a fan of books, cats, and coloring, you must get yourself a copy of this one.  It's earned a spot on top of my coloring pile!

Thanks to Blogging for Books for providing me with a copy to review.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Book Review Minis: Finishing out 2015 in YA

Carry On
From Goodreads:
Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.
So if Rowell writes it, I will read it.  EVEN if it's a book that was inspired by a fanfic written by a character in a previous book that was inspired by Harry Potter.  Ya'll, fanfic is just NOT my thing - if it's yours, that's awesome, but it's not for me.  Which is why it took me a while to read Fangirl (which I thoroughly enjoyed) and made me hesitant to read Carry On.  Also Carry On is huge and I didn't want to devote myself to a doorstop that I'm not going to enjoy.  However.  This book is absolutely terrific and so much fun to read.  As a Harry Potter fangirl, I felt like this pushed all of the right buttons.  I'm sure if I were a fanfic reader I'd have picked up on even more, but there's plenty to enjoy here regardless.  It's adorable and sweet and gave me butterflies and kept me intensely entertained throughout.

Since You've Been Gone

It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just…disappears. All she leaves behind is a to-do list.

On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back?

Apple picking at night? Okay, easy enough.

Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not?

Kiss a stranger? Um... 

Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected), to check things off Sloane's list. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go skinny-dipping? Wait...what?
The Nesties read this one in November and even though I'm not a huge fan of contemporary YA romance, I decided to give it a try on audio since I had a lengthy roadtrip around the same time.  I did enjoy the listen and I think this was better than many contemporary YA romances - particularly because the love interest isn't the main character's soul mate.  It's got the ending you'd expect, but they acknowledge being teenagers and not knowing what's in store for them.  My biggest pet peeve is books where characters find their true love at sixteen and just know they'll be together forever.  This is a sweet story that maintains a grip on reality, and I liked that.  Of course, I had my few requisite old lady moments - teenagers, your friends shouldn't be pressuring you to do things that make you uncomfortable (like sneaking into clubs when you're underage) and standing up for yourself and refusing to do those things doesn't make you boring.  If you're uncomfortable, go with that feeling and trust your gut - so sayeth old lady Julie with years of boring experience behind her.

 I'll Meet You There
If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.

Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.
This was the November FYA pick and, again, I read it despite my hesitation regarding the YA contemporary romance genre.  Like Since You've Been Gone, I thought it was better than many in its genre.  I liked that Skylar had issues other than boys and dealt with them maturely.  I loved the motel owner and Skylar's BFFs.  I thought there were some slightly subversive elements to the story, like an unrequited romance that remains unrequited, but I wish they had been explored more deeply.  Alas, it doesn't end the way I wished it would, but I could handle it.  At least no one got married?  It doesn't revolutionize the genre, but it wasn't horrible and it reads quickly, so if contemporary YA is your thing, you should give it a try.

Dumplin' (Dumplin', #1)
Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.
This book, ya'll.  This book.  Probably one of my absolute favorites of the year and you probably noticed that it appeared more than once on my end of year survey.  I suppose it could be considered contemporary YA romance because it is set in the now and it is YA and there is a romantic plot, but to me that does no justice to what the book is really about.  My fear was that I'd read another book about a plus-sized heroine who has self-esteem issues.  Instead, I got to meet Dumplin', who OWNS her body and her relationships and everything else.  Not that she's never insecure or never does the wrong thing, but man, is she amazing.  She's not ashamed of herself and pretty much dares anyone else to be either.  This is basically the definition of a strong female character and I can't WAIT to read more from the author.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Book Review: Humans of New York: Stories

Humans of New York: Stories
In the summer of 2010, photographer Brandon Stanton began an ambitious project -to single-handedly create a photographic census of New York City. The photos he took and the accompanying interviews became the blog Humans of New York. His audience steadily grew from a few hundred followers to, at present count, over twelve million. In 2013, his book Humans of New York, based on that blog, was published and immediately catapulted to the top of the NY Times Bestseller List where it has appeared for over forty-five weeks. Now, Brandon is back with the Humans of New York book that his loyal followers have been waiting for: Humans of New York: Stories. 
Ever since Brandon began interviewing people on the streets of New York, the dialogue he's had with them has increasingly become as in-depth, intriguing and moving as the photos themselves. Humans of New York: Stories presents a whole new group of people in stunning photographs, with a rich design and, most importantly, longer stories that delve deeper and surprise with greater candor.
Just a few short words on this one, instead of my standard review.  This book, like Stanton's first, consists of photos of people from the streets of NYC along with quotes or stories that they share with Stanton when he photographs them.  It's an absolute joy to read, and I dare you to try to make it through the whole thing without tearing up at least once.  It doesn't take long to read - I couldn't stop myself from devouring it, but I think it could also be a fun one to linger over as well.  I highly recommend tracking a copy down and following the author on Facebook as well.

Thanks to my local library for providing me with a copy.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Book Review: Slade House by David Mitchell

Slade House
Keep your eyes peeled for a small black iron door.

Down the road from a working-class British pub, along the brick wall of a narrow alley, if the conditions are exactly right, you’ll find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. Every nine years, the house’s residents—an odd brother and sister—extend a unique invitation to someone who’s different or lonely: a precocious teenager, a recently divorced policeman, a shy college student. But what really goes on inside Slade House? For those who find out, it’s already too late. . . .

Spanning five decades, from the last days of the 1970s to the present, leaping genres, and barreling toward an astonishing conclusion, this intricately woven novel will pull you into a reality-warping new vision of the haunted house story—as only David Mitchell could imagine it.
Writing
This is my first attempt at David Mitchell and I was quite pleased.  I'm still a little bit afraid to venture into his longer books, but I was quite impressed with the writing here.  I can't say it blew my mind in terms of literary value - it read like more literary than usual horror, which is what it's meant to be.  I liked the way it was told in linked short stories and appreciated the characters, although I felt like the last two chapters had a LOT of information packed in.

Entertainment Value
This is a great book that fits in well with my love of WTFery.  I had numerous "wait, what?" moments, which is always nice.  And I was thoroughly creeped out in more than one place.  It's a fast read, not very long at all, and it moves quickly form character to character.  I was surprised by the ending and was left guessing until the "big reveal"at the end.

Overall
I didn't realize before reading that this is set in the same world as The Bone Clocks.  You don't need to have read The Bone Clocks in order to enjoy this story, but apparently it helps some - I've seen other reviewers mention tidbits they picked up here and there that relate to the world of The Bone Clocks.  But again, you really don't need to have read that one to get a lot out of Slade House.  I'm glad I picked it up and recommend it to fans of literary horror and those who just enjoy a good dose of weird.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Book Reviews: The Frozen Dead and The Circle by Bernard Minier

The Frozen Dead (Commandant Martin Servaz, #1) The Circle (Commandant Martin Servaz, #2)
The first victim is a horse: its headless body hangs suspended from the edge of a frozen cliff.
On the same day as the gruesome discovery, a young psychiatrist starts her first job at a secure asylum for the criminally insane, just a few miles away. 
Commandant Servaz, a Toulouse city cop, can't believe he has been called out over the death of an animal. But there is something disturbing about this crime that he cannot ignore.
Then DNA from one of the most notorious inmates of the asylum is found on the corpse... and a few days later the first murder takes place. 
In this snowbound valley, deep in the Pyrenees, a dark story of madness and revenge is unfolding. It will take all of Servaz's skill to solve it.
From Goodreads:
They find the boy by the swimming pool, dolls floating on its surface. 
Inside the house, his teacher lies dead. 
But he claims to remember nothing... 
June 2010. In the middle of a World Cup match, Martin Servaz receives a call from a long-lost lover. A few miles away in the town of Marsac, Classics professor Claire Diemar has been brutally murdered.
As if that weren't disturbing enough, Servaz receives a cryptic e-mail indicating that Julian Hirtmann, the most twisted of all serial killers, is back…and hitting a little too close to home. With death and chaos surrounding the small university town in Southern France where he was once a student and where his daughter is now enrolled, Servaz must act quickly. 
Apparently, I had added The Frozen Dead to my TBR list long ago and forgotten it until I realized that The Circle was part two in a series.  I had to quickly backtrack and downloaded The Frozen Dead on audio so that I could make my way to The Circle via NetGalley before it was archived.  I also had no idea when I started either that the books were originally written in French and are translations.  I'm so glad I stumbled into them though because I can see this quickly becoming a favorite series of crime fiction for me.

Writing
Very well done.  I can't say that this is the most believable of any fiction I've ever read - there are a lot of crazy coincidences and shocking red herrings along the way, but I enjoyed every moment of each book.  I think the characters are well-done and compelling - I loved the relationship between Servaz and Irene Ziegler and the non-romantic partnership between them.  I also though the ideas for plots were novel enough to pass for a decent crime series and kept me reading through both books.

Entertainment Value
Again, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the first and reading the second.  I rushed through both, listening or reading at every available moment because I genuinely cared about the endings.  I didn't figure things out too far from the big reveal, which is always a positive.  Anytime I stay up late finishing I know I've found a page-turner.  In terms of audiobooks, I absolutely loved hearing the book read with a French accent (The Frozen Dead) and hope to see The Circle read by the same narrator at some point.

Overall
If you're a fan of crime fiction, this is a good series to try.  I think it's also fun to read a book set in a place that isn't as familiar (almost always the US or the UK when I'm reading crime).  I learned a lot about how the French police/gendarmerie work and feel like I expanded my horizons a bit beyond what I normally look for.

Thanks to my library for providing me with The Frozen Dead and to NetGalley for providing me with The Circle.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Book Review: It Ended Badly by Jennifer Wright

It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History
Spanning eras and cultures from ancient Rome to medieval England to 1950s Hollywood, Jennifer Wright's It Ended Badlyguides you through the worst of the worst in historically bad breakups. In the throes of heartbreak, Emperor Nero had just about everyone he ever loved-from his old tutor to most of his friends-put to death. Oscar Wilde's lover, whom he went to jail for, abandoned him when faced with being cut off financially from his wealthy family and wrote several self-serving books denying the entire affair. And poor volatile Caroline Lamb sent Lord Byron one hell of a torch letter and enclosed a bloody lock of her own pubic hair. Your obsessive social media stalking of your ex isn't looking so bad now, is it? 
With a wry wit and considerable empathy, Wright digs deep into the archives to bring these thirteen terrible breakups to life. She educates, entertains, and really puts your own bad breakup conduct into perspective. It Ended Badly is for anyone who's ever loved and lost and maybe sent one too many ill-considered late-night emails to their ex, reminding us that no matter how badly we've behaved, no one is as bad as Henry VIII.
Writing
This was an absolute blast to read.  I devoured it in two sittings because the style is just so engaging.  I love, love, love the way the author combines humor with history.  She's clearly done her research on each subject, and she combines it well with wit and drama.  I love these kind of histories that focus on the small stories in the lives of great people (Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love is another I enjoyed).

Entertainment Value
As above, I think the author does a great job of making history a blast to read.  I'm guilty of avoiding books of history at times out of fear of being bored, but this kind of entertaining take on things does a lot to draw me in.  I couldn't stop reading (or laughing) and I left the book wanting to do further research into several of the people profiled.

Overall
I highly recommend this to others like me who are interested in history, but afraid of reading something dry.  This is the furthest thing from dry, and may inspire you, like me to dig deeper into some of the lives we get a glimpse of here.  I plan on following the author and reading whatever she publishes next, and there's not really a greater compliment than that, now is there?

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Drop Caps Challenge: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens



It took me long enough (a good six months) to make my way through this one.  I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time I read it the summer before tenth grade, but it just took me forever to make my way through it.

Image result for penguin drop caps d
D is for Dickens. The orphan Pip is destined to become a blacksmith like his brother-in-law Joe. But when Pip meets the beautiful Estella Havisham, he yearns for a gentleman’s education in order to woo her. A mysterious legacy answers his ambition, and changes the course of his life, taking him far from the Marshes of youth—far, so he thinks, from his early terrifying encounter with an escaped convict, and his sister’s class resentments. In this fictional autobiography, Pip’s coming-of-age story becomes representative of the changing social landscape of nineteenth century England. As Pip’s education provides upward social mobility, he must also learn hard lessons about self-delusion and forgiveness, love and loss, and the true nature of his Great Expectations. 
Writing
I really, really love me some Dickens.  He writes the best, most detailed characters (and tons of them).  Really the plot of this was secondary to me in comparison to all of the delightful and exquisitely nuanced characters that we get to meet.  It was also fun to compare it to how I felt about it as a teenager - my feelings about Pip and his treatment of Joe were so much stronger this time around.

Entertainment Value
Ok, so it DID take me six months to read this.  I'm not sure that I could really call it a page turner, but that doesn't mean I wasn't enjoying the experience or found it less than entertaining.  The size is intimidating, but I thoroughly enjoyed taking myself through it at a leisurely pace and really feeling like I got involved in the characters and their personalities.

Overall
One of my favorite choices for the collection so far.  I loved it as much this time as I did when I read it in high school and I feel like I got some things from it that I missed when reading it at a younger age.  I highly recommend giving this one a try if you're looking to get into classics and you enjoy books with richly drawn characters.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Book Review: Pop Goes the Weasel by M.J. Arlidge

Pop Goes the Weasel (Helen Grace, #2)
A man’s body is found in an empty house. 
A gruesome memento of his murder is sent to his wife and children.

He is the first victim, and Detective Helen Grace knows he will not be the last. But why would a happily married man be this far from home in the dead of night?

The media call it Jack the Ripper in reverse: a serial killer preying on family men who lead hidden double lives.

Helen can sense the fury behind the murders. But what she cannot possibly predict is how volatile this killer is—or what is waiting for her at the end of the chase...
Writing
This was my second DI Helen Grace book and I enjoyed it as much as I did Eeny Meeny.  The writing is fairly standard for the genre - short chapters with suspenseful endings that force you to keep reading to see what will happen in the next chapter.  It's something I might critique in any other genre, but to be honest I love it as a convention of the thriller/mystery genre.

Entertainment Value
Exactly what I like in a thriller.  I had a hard time putting it down and zipped through it in two sittings.  The story is novel and I didn't figure out the whodunnit until I got close to the end.  There's even a bit of depth to the characters that doesn't exist in every thriller.  I'm thoroughly pleased and look forward to continuing the series.

Overall
If you, like me, love shows like Criminal Minds or SVU, this is a series you'll love.  It's got that procedural, crime of the week feel to it, but it's also not recycling plots or borrowing from other books.  I like the main character, I like the conflicts in her character, and I enjoy the mysteries she's faced so far.  One note, reader will want to start with the first book, Eeny Meeny, as this second book contains spoilers and plot points that won't make sense without having read the first.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Book Review: This Is What You Just Put In Your Mouth? by Patrick di Justo

This Is What You Just Put in Your Mouth?: From Eggnog to Beef Jerky, the Surprising Secrets
What do a cup of coffee and cockroach pheromone have in common? How is Fix-A-Flat like sugarless gum? Is a Slim Jim meat stick really alive? If I Can't Believe It's Not Butter isn't butter, what is it?

All of these pressing questions and more are answered in This Is What You Just Put In Your Mouth? Based on his popular Wired magazine column "What's Inside," Patrick Di Justo takes a cold, hard, and incredibly funny look at the shocking, disgusting, and often dumbfounding ingredients found in everyday products, from Cool Whip and Tide Pods to Spam and Play-Doh. He also shares the madcap stories of his extensive research, including tracking down a reclusive condiment heir, partnering with a cop to get his hands on heroin, and getting tight-lipped snack-food execs to talk. Along the way, he schools us on product histories, label decoding, and the highfalutin chemistry concepts behind everything from Midol to Hostess fruit pies.
Writing
There's absolutely nothing wrong with the writing here at all, but I do think the style and length of each chapter is better suited to magazine writing.  If I were reading these articles one at a time I would have enjoyed them much more than trying to read through them as I would any other book in a linear, start to finish fashion.  It took me several months to get through it and I still felt like I was reading it to get through it, not because I was enjoying it.  Again, this isn't a reflection of the author's skill as a writer, maybe just my opinion that the writing is better suited for its original purpose, a magazine column.

Entertainment Value
It's described as funny, and honestly, I have to say that just didn't come through for me.  As above, I think it could very well be related to the format - I'm just not sure that this column needed to be collected in this format.  I think it might have translated to book format better if it had focused more in depth on fewer products, as opposed to only having one to two pages for each product.  It's an interesting idea and one that I think is done very well by the columnist, but I'm not sure that it worked for me as a book as well as I expected it to.

Overall
I think it works best as what I would describe as a bathroom book - something you pick up and read a bit of for just a minute or two and then put back.  It wasn't designed to be read the way I most enjoy reading and I don't think the column format worked well as a book in this case, at least not for me.  It took me a lot longer than expected to make my way through what was pretty simple reading, just because I wasn't hooked.

Thank you to Blogging for Books for providing me with a copy to review.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2015 Recap in Statistics

I don't think I'm the only reader out here in blogland who would claim to have a particular fascination with statistics and spreadsheets, especially those related to reading.  So last year I created the ULTIMATE READING SPREADSHEET.  It tracks, I kid you not, everything.  It took me hours and hours, and I did it all just so that I could post all of my data here for you.  

AND, because I love you, I'm going to post a link to the 2016 spreadsheet here that you can copy and use for yourself if you are so inclined - just be sure to actually copy it and not just fill in the blanks on MY copy.  Also, don't sell it or anything.  But share it with anyone you want.  I love free stuff and I love sharing stuff I made - but I also love credit, so, you know, link back to me and all that fun stuff.  If you can figure out Google docs and blogging, you know how to give proper credit.  Enjoy!  And enjoy my stats post, compiled from the spreadsheet!

The Basics

Books read in 2015: 202
Pages read in 2015: 58,884
Best year ever!!!  Yay me!

Best reading month in number of books: March
Best reading month in number of pages: June

Male author: 77
Female author: 125

Genres

Adult Fiction: 96
Adult Non-fiction: 80
Poetry: 4
Young Adult: 22

Most frequently read subgenres: graphic novel, speculative fiction, suspense/thriller, memoir, and contemporary YA

Format

Ebook: 70
Paperback: 39
Hardback: 57
Audiobook: 36

Hours/days spent listening to audiobooks: 362 hours and 45 minutes, or approximately 15 days

Money

Spent on books: $90.93
Total cost if I had purchased every book I read: $3066.26
Money saved by reading free (library/review) books: $2975.27

Sources

Chattanooga Public Library: 36
County Public Library: 39
Free Library of Philadelphia: 21
Library where I work: 8
Review (Netgalley): 57
Review (Publisher): 17
Review (TLC Book Tours): 13
Own: 6
Borrowed: 3
Gift: 2

Ratings

I don't rate books here on my blog, but I do on Goodreads.  I gave three books one star, nineteen books two stars, fifty books three stars, 87 books four stars, and 43 books five stars.  

I think, however, the best way for me to tell whether or not I had a great reading year is not through star ratings but through my own private and completely subjective rating system of "was it worth it?"  At the end of each year I scroll through my spreadsheet and highlight books that, could I go back in time, I'd tell myself not to bother reading.  

The books that fit the "not worth it" designation aren't necessarily the worst books I read.  Sometimes books I hate are worth it for the scathing review I get to write.  Books that get labeled "not worth it" were usually neither notably good or notably bad.  If I can't remember the plot or the characters, that's usually a good indication the book wasn't worth it.  

In 2015, I marked 31 books as not worth the read.  It felt like a lot as I was marking, but given that I read 202 books in 2015, it comes out to roughly 15%.  Honestly, that's a number I can live with.  When you read a huge variety of authors and genres, you're going to find some that just don't do anything for you.  It worked out to 2-3 misses each month out of a total of an average of 16-17 books per month.  Obviously, I'd love to report zero "not worth it" books, but I'm happy with my number this year.  I think it reflects good reading choices for the most part, as well as follow through on my continual resolution to stop reading boring books.

Alright, that's it for my yearly stats.  If you posted any on your own blogs, I'd love to see them or hear about them in the comments!



Tuesday, January 5, 2016

2016 Goals and Plans


I'm not a big one for making resolutions, but I try to always have some general idea of what I'd like to accomplish each year.  If When I fail, it's easier to find motivation to pick myself up and try again if I'm not breaking a resolution, just having a pit stop on the road to reaching my goals.  Here's what I'd like to accomplish in 2016:

In reading:
  • I've set my goal this year at 150 books.  I read more this year, but I want to start with reasonable expectations.  I'll bump it up if it looks like 150 is too easy.
  • Keep going with the Penguin Drop Caps series.  I made it through D last year, which wasn't quite what I had set my goal at.  This year I'm lowering from one a month to one a quarter, which worked well for me last year.  As I get to some of the shorter books, I may aim for more, but I'm starting with Middlemarch and want to give myself some space to take it slowly.
  • Read 25 books that I own as of today.  I'm continually astonished at how few of my own books I read, especially given the number I own.  Instead of setting an unrealistic goal for myself, I'm going to say twenty-five.  That's enough that I'll need to read a little more than two a month, which I think is a pretty attainable goal.
In blogging/book club
  • As always, continue to stay on top of reviews and books I've received from publishers.
  • Don't let the above goal rule my reading life.  It's great to be on top of things and get all my reviews posted quickly, but I don't want to let that dictate how I read.  I want to give myself a break in 2016 and read as eclectically as I feel like.
  • Don't read anything I just don't want to read, even if it's for book club.  We changed club to make things fun, and I want to spend this year embracing our "no rules" rule.
In my personal life:
  • Practice yoga consistently
  • Make some major diet changes - less sugar and carbs, more protein and vegetables
  • Try  new things
And, because I love seeing everyone's yearly goals and plans, here are a few from the CYOA ladies to get you inspired:
  • Read all of the books I've borrowed
  • Read more diverse authors
  • Read books I own
  • Pare down my book collection
  • Discover new authors
  • Get a library card
I'd love to hear your own goals and plans for books and life in 2016!

Monday, January 4, 2016

2015 End of Year Survey

reading-stats-2015-1024x278

Thanks as always to Jamie at Perpetual Page Turner for hosting this fun end of the year event!  I've skipped a few questions, so don't be shocked if the numbering is off.  My answers all have links to reviews and images, but I'm also going to add in italics the answers from the other members of the CYOA Book Club.  We did this for our December meeting instead of a book and it was a blast!

Number Of Books You Read: 203
Number of Re-Reads: 5
Genre You Read The Most From: Broadly, Adult Fiction.  Within that genre, Graphic Novels - although the shortness factored into that.  Outside of graphic novels, suspense/thriller was my top genre.


best-YA-books-2014

1. Best Book You Read In 2015?


The Library at Mount Char
, The Book of Strange New Things, This is My Body

    

CYOA says: The Martian, The Royal We, Shatter Me, Winger, The Grisha Series

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

      

CYOA says: For Darkness Shows the Stars, Rebel Belle, Where It Began, Shadowshaper

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?  

 4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?

Rejoicing in Lament and The Library at Mount Char
  
CYOA says: Nimona, Lumberjanes, The Martian, On the Island, Quiet

 5. Best series you started in 2015? Best Sequel of 2015? Best Series Ender of 2015?

Started: Drop Caps, Alice series
  
CYOA says: The Winner's Curse, Shatter Me, A Court of Thorn and Roses

Best sequel: Day Four

CYOA says: The Winner's Crime, Wild Seasons, The Walking Dead Graphic Novels

Best series ender: Royal Assassin
 

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2015?

Megan Mayhew Bergman, Noelle Stevenson

CYOA says: Taylor Jenkins Reed, Andrew Smith, Carla Norton

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

Ravensbruck, When Books Went to War
  
CYOA says: This One Summer, The Southern Reach Trilogy

 8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

Library at Mount Char


CYOA says: The Martian, Shatter Me, Court of Thorn and Roses

 9. Book You Read In 2015 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Nimona, Step Aside, Pops
  
CYOA says: Carry On, Winger, The Winner's Curse series, This One Summer, My True Love Gave to Me

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2015?
Penguin Drop Caps, So You've Been Publicly Shamed, The Book of Strange New Things, The Blondes
      

11. Most memorable character of 2015?

Willadean from Dumplin', Nimona from Nimona, David from The Library at Mount Char

CYOA says: Mark Whatney from The Martian, Cheryl Strayed in Wild, Nadia Bolz-Weber in Pastrix

 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2015?

My Antonia


CYOA says: I'll Give You the Sun, Carry On, The Little Prince, Garden Spells, Shatter Me

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2015?

This is My Body, Searching for Sunday, The Ancient Path


CYOA says: Quiet, Patrix, Love May Fail, You're Never Weird on the Internet, Almost, There Was a Little Girl

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2015 to finally read? 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle


CYOA says: Shatter Me, I'll Give You the Sun, I was Told There'd Be Cake, Landline

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2015?

Shortest - The Princess and the Pony, We Should All Be Feminists
  
Longest - Ravensbruck

 17. Book That Shocked You The Most

The Library at Mount Char


CYOA says: Beastly Bones, The Catcher in the Rye, Grasshopper Jungle

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

I'm surprised I actually had an answer this year - normally I'm not much of a shipper of anything.  But I did really enjoy one this year...
Alice and Hatter from Alice


CYOA says: Simon Snow and Baz from Carry On, Warner and Juliet from Shatter Me, Nick and Bex from The Royal We

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

Jackaby and Abigail Rook in Jackaby, Fitz and the Fool in the Assassin's Apprentice series, The Lumberjanes friends, Nimona and Lord Blackheart
      

CYOA says: Willowdean and Elle from Dumplin', Sam Smith and his brother from I'll Be There, Noah and Jude from I'll Give You the Sun

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2015 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

21. Best Book You Read In 2015 that You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

The Most Dangerous Animal of All


CYOA says: Bel Canto, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, The Martian, I'll Be There

23. Best 2015 debut you read?

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

The Book of Strange New Things, The Scorpion Rules
  

CYOA says: The Library at Mount Char, Court of Thorn and Roses, The Winner's Curse, Poison Study

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Dumplin'


CYOA says: Texts from Jane Eyre, Lumberjanes, The Shepherd's Crown, I'll Be There

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2015?

Searching for Sunday, Forgiven
  

CYOA says: Winger, I'll Be There, Love May Fail, This One Summer

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

This is My Body, A Reunion of Ghosts, Alice
    

CYOA says: Pastrix, Trigger Warning, Above Us Only Sky, Love Like Crazy

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2015?

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

Asking for It


CYOA says: Where It All Began, Guy in Real Life, Rose Under Fire
book-blogging

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2015?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the I Work at a Public Library tumblr this year.

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2015?

Maybe the review for Alice by Christina Henry?  This is a hard one.

3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?

It wasn't really a discussion, but the response to my post about the loss of our dog Chief was very special to me.  I even got emails from a few readers I've never heard from before, which was so sweet.

4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

I loved working with the Southern Literature Alliance at the Celebration of Southern Literature and the SmART auction this year.  I didn't make it to any big festivals for the first time in several years.

CYOA says: Southern Festival of Books, specifically the Erin Bow panel

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2015?

Meeting Jamie Quattro and telling her how much I enjoyed her book at the SmART auction. Also, putting in enough volunteer hours to earn a library card from the Chattanooga Public Library.

CYOA says: Sharing the illustrated Harry Potter with children, Skyping with Lacy Crawford, and making new friends through our FYA book club

6. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?

As always, I continue to struggle with staying on top of reviews.  I always over-request and, with as many books as I read, just can't manage to review every one, no matter how hard I try.

CYOA says: finishing books, reading classics

7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

The introduction to my Drop Caps series seems to be pretty popular, which makes me super happy!

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

Pompom can always use more love.

9. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

Hands down, my best bookish discovery was the new independent bookstore in my area, Starline Books.  Also learning that i could get a Chattanooga library card through volunteering rather than paying.  

10.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

My first goal was 150 books, which I obviously met and passed.  I was excited to make it to 203, which is my highest since I've been keeping track.  I didn't keep up with the Drop Caps series the way I had planned.  I made it through four rather than twelve, but I enjoyed it and my collection is still growing.  I also had the blogging goal of staying on top of reviews, and, as always, failed miserably.

looking-ahead-books-2015

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2015 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2016?

The Lake House by Kate Morton and Hunger by Roxane Gay
The Lake House  Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

CYOA says: Carry on, S, Bloody Jack series

4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2016?

I haven't been starting incomplete series for a while now, but I'm excited that the Winner's Curse trilogy and the Raven Boys series will be ending so I can finally dig into them.  I've heard nothing but raves about it.

CYOA says: The Winner's Kiss, The Raven King, Remembrance (Mediator #7), Summer Days and Summer Nights

Come back tomorrow and see the goals I'm setting for 2016 (as well as some goal ideas from the CYOA ladies!