Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

  • Annual Book Report

    Date: 2014.12.31 | Category: Books | Response: 0

    2014 was a productive year for reading. I have a healthy  (or maybe obsessively unhealthy) appetite for reading and audiobooks and, according to my Shelfari account, I read 88 books in 2014. I think that may be a new record. I have a feeling that number will dramatically decrease next year after the twins come, but I’ve got to enjoy it while I can, right? Too many books to review, so I’m going to pull some of my stand outs and highlight them here.

    YA Book Trilogy That I Thought Would Be Cheesy But Actually Turned Out to Be Kind of Creepy and Good

    The Immortal Rules
    The Eternity Cure
    The Forever Song

    by Julie Kagawa

    I think with the content of these books, they definitely lean toward more adult than young adult. But these books are what vampires should be. They are creepy, insane, cut throat and blood thirsty, while still managing to find their human side (at least some of them anyway). The setting was well done, and while the story sometimes lagged (especially at the beginning of the third one), all three books were well done and drew to a satisfying conclusion.

    Book That Made Me Nostalgic for My Own Marriage

    Landline by Rainbow Rowell

    Have you been in a relationship for a long time? Please read this book. Yes, it starts sad and the premise is kind of weird and a downer, but it made me remember the warmth of beginning a relationship and the joy of building it through the years. One of my favorite reads in 2014.

    Trilogy That Reminded Me of Lost in a Good Way

    The Southern Reach Trilogy: Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

    Liked Lost? Loved the creepy and mysterious aspects of it, but weren’t crazy about the show’s ending? Even if you liked the show’s ending, or haven’t seen the show, just read these. They are so mysterious and creepy and good.

    Favorite New Fantasy Sub-Genre Book (Psychics)

    The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

    Slow start, but great story about a group of people with psychic powers persecuted by the government and rounded up in to an alien controlled penal colony. Sounds weird and far-fetched. It is, but it’s great, complete with excellent world building.

    Page Turner That Made Me Scared of Social Media

    The Circle by David Eggers

    If you ever feel like social media is a bit too invasive and you sort of want to run and hide in an isolated cabin in the middle of the woods, this book might push you over the edge. It’s a little too prescient and spooky and will probably make you question everything you share and like online. Read it.

    Best Anthropologically Oriented Book

    Toss up between The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and Euphoria by Lily King

    One is a tome with great insight into overzealous missionary mentality and stubbornness, the other a short fictionalized take on the life of Margaret Mead. Both are worth reading and both make me want to find more books in this genre. The Poisonwood Bible, in particular, really stuck with me.

    Book that I Closed and Said, “Wow.”

    Red Rising by Pierce Brown

    This book was sort of like Ender’s Game meets The Hunger Games. It is intense and violent, but the story is gripping (after about the first 1/4 of it anyway) and I found myself absolutely engrossed in every moment of it. I enjoyed it so much that I contacted the author via social media to tell him so, and he wrote back to me, which of course made me even more smitten with the series (if you can be smitten with a book about a brilliant, brokenhearted young man going undercover and staging an uprising against a controlling elite society) . The second book in the series, Golden Son, comes out next week and I am counting down the days.

    The Pulitzer Prize Winner

    The Known World by Edward P. Jones

    I admit, in general, I have not liked books that have won big awards. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I’m hesitant to pick them up. This was picked for my book club, and while it was heavy (the topic was southern slavery), it was beautiful and moving and incredibly well written. One that will stick with me.

    Favorite YA Read

    Paper Towns by John Green

    I read a lot of young adult literature, and John Green is certainly the rock star author of YA right now, especially after The Fault in Our Stars book and movie were mega hits. I love that book, but Paper Towns may be my favorite of his. I love mysteries, and this book has a great mystery surrounded by a hilarious and determined set of characters on a quest. Parts of this book  made me laugh until tears rolled down my face and the plot was paced well and kept me guessing until the end. They just finished filming the movie of this one, so take it from me, now’s the time to read it so you know what everyone’s talking about when it comes out in theatres next year.

    Best Non-Fiction Reading

    Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill

    If you’re like me, then you’ve probably just written Scientology off as some celebrity fad religion hyped up to draw attention and bring publicity (any publicity) into the life of Tom Cruise. This book will change your perspective on that. Jenna Miscavige is the niece of the man who runs the Scientology religion across the globe.  This book is just crazy. I picked it up expecting it to be crazy, but like, laugh at the crazy people kind of crazy, not be appalled by the way they treat people crazy. This book was utterly horrifying and fascinating – like a train wreck. If you’re curious about Scientology, this one is worth reading.


    I just realized when I was making this list that I was hooked on books that creeped me out this year. I’m not sure what that’s about, but take it from someone who is generally a scaredy cat that these are worth digging into all the same. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did! Happy reading!

  • A Day for Me

    Date: 2014.06.07 | Category: Books, Family, Home, Leela Fish, Life, Me, OMG YAY! | Response: 15

    I am going to give you some insight into the brain of a mother of young children who is also an introvert.

    First, let me start by telling you how much I love my children (as if you didn’t already know by the overwhelming number of photographs and posts about them on my blog, Facebook, Instagram, etc). I love playing with them, doing things for them,  listening to them and laughing with them. But there are many days when bedtime comes around that I am counting down the moments until I can climb into bed, or sit in front of my computer and have some time to myself. That’s how I regenerate: quiet, alone time.

    This also creates a great force of guilt within myself. Because I work full time, I feel like my time with my children is somewhat limited and I need to soak it all up when I get it. And while the thought of some time to myself is intoxicating, it also makes me feel guilty for wanting to spend any free time I have away from my girls. (Side note: maybe this would be remedied if Sarah napped, but she gave that up well over a year ago).

    So, when Mark suggested bringing the girls out to his parents house for one whole Saturday, I experienced the immediate mixed feeling of guilt and excitement. But, I know his parents love playing with them and hanging out with them, so that made the decision much easier. And when loading the girls up in the car to go out to their house, Sarah told me to get out of the car so they could go. That also made me feel…  slightly jilted? better? relieved?

    I will say this, when they pulled out of the driveway, a big part of me wanted to go skipping through the house singing. So much time ahead of me and I had it all to myself. There was no one watching or judging me; no one pulling me in another direction. I was overwhelmed and didn’t know where to begin. I immediately thought about taking a nap, but then figured that would take up way to much of my alone time and quickly discarded that idea.

    Instead, I changed into some comfortable clothes and took the dogs on a long walk through the neighborhood, enjoyed the sunshine and listened to an audiobook that I love.

    Other things I did because I could:
    1. Ate a Counter Culture Humphrey for lunch while I watched So You Think You Can Dance.
    2. Went to Barnes and Noble and flipped through a book I’ve been really wanting, The Art of Neil Gaiman, only to get frustrated and put it down when I learned they don’t honor their own website’s prices (what the heck B&N?).
    3. Shopped at Old Navy unhindered and bought all things for myself (except some much needed socks for the girls).
    4. Went to the grocery store and bought the following: $5 sunglasses, sunscreen, popsicles and a soft drink.
    5.  Laid out a giant towel in the backyard, put on the sunscreen and read a book while sipping my drink for over an hour.
    6. Cooled down inside afterwards while still reading.
    7. Took a long shower (with no one interrupting me!)
    8.  Ordered the book I wanted off of B&N’s website with a gift card I had (and free shipping).

    Things I did not do because I didn’t want to:
    1. Laundry
    2. Clean
    3. Grocery shop

    And the day isn’t over! In a little bit the girls will be home for the evening and I will shower them in hugs and kisses. We will settle into our usual routine of dinner, bath and bed time. But then, I’m going to put away my introvert shoes, and go out for a girls night for a friend’s birthday. It’s been… years? since I’ve managed something like that. So here’s to a quiet day all for me, followed by drinks and what is sure to be an evening of laughter.

    And guess what? I don’t feel all that guilty after all.

  • Books of 2013

    Date: 2014.01.02 | Category: Books, Me | Response: 13

    It’s time for my annual rundown of books I read in 2013. I always love going back over my Shelfari list and remembering (or trying to forget) what I read over the course of the year. I read a lot leading up to Norah’s birth, then things slowed way down after that. But I still managed to read 56 books this year, and that makes me happy.

    Instead of my top 10, I’m going to list them a little differently like I did last year. So, let’s get to it.

    My favorite new Young Adult (YA) author: Rainbow Rowell
    I read all three of her books this year and absolutely loved them. Fangirl was probably my favorite, but Eleanor & Park was a very close second. And Attachments was pretty dang fantastic too. They all cover awkward young people at crucial moments in their young lives and manage to tie in great, nerdy things like Dungeons and Dragons, comic books and fan fiction. I also love that her characters and not perfect. Their hips are too big and foreheads too long. They are normal people with flaws, but most of them are easy to love.

    My Other Favorite YA Author I Discovered This Year: John Green
    The Fault in Our Stars is definitely one of the best books I read this past year about two kids with cancer who fall in love. It’s so sad, but so wonderful. Looking for Alaska was also quite good. ( And they are both only $3.99 in the Kindle store right now).

    Speaking of YA, I read a lot of it. And they are almost all done in trilogies. Several of those trilogies came to a close this year. Which leads me to:

    Worst Ending to a YA Trilogy: Allegiant by Veronica Roth
    I loved the first book in this series, Divergent. But after I finished reading Allegiant, I stopped, erased what I had just read in my head and made up my own ending, then shared it with my friend Susan. We both agreed my ending was better.

    Best YA Trilogy: The Infernal Devices (Clockwork Angel / Clockwork Prince / Clockwork Princess) by Cassandra Clare
    Forget that whole Mortal Instruments series Cassandra Clare wrote, The Infernal Devices books blow that out of the water. Not only is the writing better, but the story and characters are wonderful and it is one of the few YA trilogies I’ve read that actually ends well.

    Best Guilty Pleasure Reads: The Selection and The Elite by Kiera Cass
    It’s The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games. Both are sort of awfully wonderful.

    Worst Book That I Knew Would Be Bad and Still Felt Compelled to Read: Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris
    The conclusion to the Sookie Stackhouse books was absolutely terrible, but I had invested so much time in them I needed to know how they ended. Again, I probably should just write my own ending for that one too.

    Most Disturbing Book: The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
    I love warped fairy tales, and this is a fantastic one, but there is a scene with the huntress in this book that played on all my childhood nightmares and I still try not to think about it before I fall asleep sometimes.

    Best Non-Fiction Read: Wild by Cheryl Strayed
    This book made me want to get up and hike up mountains in the snow. My original review: “A great emotional, spiritual and physical adventure of one woman who chased away her sorrows through the amazing Pacific Crest Trail, walking over 1,100 miles. I’ve seen many people fault the author for being unprepared and an idiot, but I love that she owns her mistakes, chastises herself briefly and moves on. I love that they all lead up to her great accomplishment. A great read that makes me want to go backpacking again.” (Also only $3.99 in the Kindle store right now).

    Best Epic Fantasy: The Lions of al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
    I love that most of this author’s books are mostly single volume tales with an insane amount of world building and loosely based on real historical events. If you have the time and energy, pick this one up. The main female character is especially impressive.

    Craziest and Most Awesome Book About the Rainforest and Fertility : State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
    I have a whole new respect for doctors who do c-sections after reading this book. But there was this crazy, immersive, magical quality to this book that makes me want to read it again.

    Best Sci-Fi Classic That I Finally Read: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
    I got on a sci-fi kick this year and read quite a  bit of it, including a bunch of older titles that have won Hugo Awards, but this one was still my fave. This one about a boy who is basically bred by the government for his strategic war brain and the path they put him on really captivated me. (Also $3.99)

    Best Book About Messed Up People That They Made Into a Movie: The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
    I loved the crazy characters in this book and their weird weird story. Please read this before you watch the movie. The movie is great, but it’s much more feel-good than the book. And the book keeps one of the most important parts a mystery and the movie blurts it out right away. ($4.99)

    Best Fantasy Adventure: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
    You know how I feel about Neil. If you don’t, then you should know he’s my favorite. I was thrilled that he released a new book last year and it was everything I hoped it would be made of: good writing, great story and an insane imagination.

    Most Disappointing Read: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
    I’ve read a lot of books that have taken historical moments or tales and imbued them with strong women and mysticism (The Dovekeepers and The Mists of Avalon, for example). This one did that but fell short. This is the story of  the wars of the Plantagenets who ruled before the Tudors. I expected a lot more plot and drama. Instead, I felt like vast swathes of the story were skipped over and accepted for what they were.

    Best eBook Sensation: Wool by Hugh Howey
    Dystopian society living inside a silo buried in the ground. The worst offense you can do is ask to go outside. They fit you with a suit, let you out long enough to clean the lenses so everyone can see the outside world, then you die from the harsh outside environment. But there is, as with all good dystopian reads, something the higher ups aren’t letting the general population in on. This book grew in popularity when it was released only as an ebook. Howey has since released two more, but I haven’t picked them up. Still, a good read!

    Best Book About Clairvoyants: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
    This is apparently the first book of seven planned. I loved that is was something different (even if it was wrongly compared to Harry Potter). I think it was also a bit over-hyped, but I really loved the story about clairvoyant people being outlaws and collected and made as slaves to a crazy alien race, so I’ll forgive.

    Other Books Worth Picking Up:

    The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker – Magical realism about a golem and a jinni living and surviving in a more modern New York. A bit long, but good.
    Under the Never Sky ($2.99) / Into the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi – YA dystopia, but better than most I’ve read. And the final installment comes out this month!
    Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce – A girl goes missing and comes back many years later claiming to have been secreted away to fairyland. Is she telling the truth, or just insane?
    Across the Universe trilogy (Across the Universe / A Million Suns / Shades of Earth)  by Beth Revis – A floating spaceship full of people who have been cryogenically frozen and the people who maintain the ship. All of a sudden the frozen ones start getting killed…
    The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach – Beautiful writing about several college boys who play baseball. It actually made me care about baseball, but was way  too long.
    Shadow and Bone ($2.99) / Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo – The first two books in a very cool trilogy that taps into mythology and magic. Loved reading these.

    Note: I don’t get paid to do this (I wish!) But if you click and buy, I do get a few pennies to spend on buying myself more Kindle books. :) I’ve also noted where some of them are on sale for awesome prices in the Kindle store.

  • Book Update

    Date: 2013.08.13 | Category: Books | Response: 5

    I’ve read tons of books since my last book post. Here’s a quick review of some of them.

    Wild by Cheryl Strayed

    I am not usually a non-fiction reader, but after hearing rave reviews on this book I borrowed it from the library. I absolutely loved it. It’s the story of a girl who lost her mother in her college years and married to early and how her life falls apart because of those things. To save herself, she decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (which runs from Mexico to Canada) alone with almost no backpacking experience. Was she an idiot? Yes, and she has no problem admitting it. But I challenge you to finish this book and not feel inspired to hike hundreds of miles in the wilderness. It was like Eat, Pray, Love, but grittier.

    Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

    This is my third of Kay’s books to read. All of them are alternate history style novels surrounding big events and times in the past, and all have a fantasy twist. In this case the setting was ancient China and the challenge of a young man to survive after receiving a gift of 100 incredibly valuable horses that could cause a war. Not normally my type of thing, but I love the author and gave it a chance. It could have been really good, but it got bogged down in length and details. Still, I give it credit because the writing was stunning.

    Looking for Alaska by John Green

    After falling in love with The Fault in Our Stars, also by John Green, I couldn’t wait to sample another one of his books. I was pleasantly satisfied with this installment about students in a boarding school who enjoy pushing the rules and planning epic pranks. I laughed so much in this book… and cried a lot too. Well worth the read.

    Wool by Hugh Howey

    This book is a gem of the self-publishing world. After the author self-published, it went viral and has become an eBook phenomenon. And I can see why. Set in a dystopian future where the earth has become uninhabitable, everyone lives below ground in “silos.” People all have different jobs and work on different levels. And when a crime is committed, the person is sent out to “cleaning,” ie, wiping off the cameras so the people inside can have a view of outside, before the cleaner ultimately dies. The story follows  a girl who is picked to become the new sheriff of the silo and her discovery of the dark secrets that surround silo life and sustainability. A different kind of dystopian novel and cheap to boot, this story is one I still think about.

    The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

    A fan of American Gods by Neil Gaiman, I immediately saw the connection between it and this story about a golem (a woman made out of clay) and a jinni, called from a lamp thousands of years after he was entombed, both struggling to survive in New York City. Both are forced to  try to pass as human, despite having many obvious qualities that make them “other.” While the story definitely had it’s slow moments, I ended up enjoying it a lot as the plot picked up near the end.

    The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

    You should probably know I loved this book by sheer virtue of its writer. But the story itself was so creepy and fun and imaginative (though very short!) I’ve heard it described as a re-imagining of Neil’s own childhood and that makes me love it even more. Please go read this and then gush about how much you loved it with me.

    The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

    This book was recommended to me by a friend and I had no idea what I was getting into when I picked it up. It is one of the creepiest, most disturbing dark “fairy tales” I’ve ever read. It had a knack of bringing up some of my old childhood fears that I had long buried, and doing so in great detail. I found myself at night praying that I wouldn’t dream about the scenes from this book. Despite all that, or maybe even partly because of it, I enjoyed reading it and couldn’t put it down. It’s kind of like Narnia on LSD.

    Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

    I adored this story of a curvy, red-headed girl who has an awful home life and is mercilessly bullied, slowly developing a romantic relationship with a thin, nerdy Asian kid who loves comic books. The story is so sweet and so sad. And while I can see Noel’s point about the relationship not being believable, I could so picture myself as the curvy girl and my husband as the thin nerdy guy that it made it all the more wonderful for me. Plus, great writing!

    More to come…

  • Bring on the Goodies

    Date: 2013.06.17 | Category: Baby, Books, Food, Health, Me, OMG YAY!, Pregnancy | Response: 6

    Life has been insane! We’re down to about three more months before baby gets here and we’ve been scrambling to line things up in preparation, including obtaining a larger vehicle, cleaning out our guest bedroom so it can house the new nursery and trying to figure out what I need to replace that was either lost or destroyed after Sarah was born. Throw in a toddler who loves to get out of her new bed in the late hours of the night, a busy work and photography schedule, and work conference out of town tomorrow and you get one tired pregnant lady. But it’s all very exciting! Hopefully I’ll be able to tell you the whole story about the new vehicle when I get back next week if all the stars align like they’re supposed to next weekend.

    In the mean time, I give you a list of things that make my very full heart sing.

    1. Chobani Flips Key Lime Crumble. Let’s be honest here. If I could, I would eat real key lime pie every single day. There is something about that tart, sweet flavor that makes me swoon. However, I’m scared of gaining too much weight and I happened to find this little lovely. At 180 calories and made of Greek yogurt, I have no problem chowing down on these nearly every day. Plus, it has white chocolate chips and graham cracker crumbs that you mix in and it tastes nearly as good as real key lime pie. They sell these at my local grocery store for about $1.49 a piece.

    2. Apples and peanut butter. More specifically Fuji apples and Peter Pan creamy peanut butter. I seriously can not get enough of this combination, though again for the sake of weight gain I try to keep the peanut butter consumption down to every other day, but have no problem eating those apples all day every day.

    3. I’ve been a fan of Audible for a long time. I’ve only ever started listening to two of the 50 or so audiobooks from them that I own that I didn’t care for. My husband got me a yearlong subscription to them for Christmas and I put it to good use. I like audiobooks on a good day, but now that I’m exhausted at the end of the day, it’s so much easier to just zone out to Solitaire Blitz, or close my eyes and listen. They also help keep me awake when I’m editing photos and would really rather crawl under my desk and sleep. Subscriptions range from $14.95 a month and go up from there.

    4. Jersey Knit Skirts. While pushing through the Louisiana summer heat in my largest months of pregnancy doesn’t rate at the top of my favorite activities, I am so happy that I can still wear all my non-maternity jersey skirts. They stretch, go over or under the belly and, best of all, keep my wardrobe from being limited to the same three outfits. The one shown here is actually a maternity skirt, but really, who is going to be the wiser when I keep wearing it after baby comes? It’s stretchy and pops right back into shape. Old Navy, $29.94.

    5. Humphrey yogurts from Counter Culture. If you’re not from north Louisiana, you may be scratching your head at this one. We have a local eatery called Counter Culture and they dish up these amazing desserts (or lunch, I mean, it’s filled with fruit after all). Traditionally the Humphrey is made with their signature tangy frozen yogurt, granola, honey, strawberries, grapes and bananas. We sub out blueberries for the grapes most of the time. And they are amazing! If you’re ever in the area, get one.

    p.s. No one pays me to do this, I just thought I’d share.

  • Recent Reads

    Date: 2013.03.18 | Category: Books | Response: 4

    State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

    This book is the story of research that is taking place in the Amazon to help women extend their fertility cycles, the mysterious scientist who heads up that research and another scientist who disappeared while seeking her and progress on the drug. And while it sounds kind of heady, the story is so good! The build up takes a while, but as I followed Marina to Brazil and then into the Amazon where she meets the Lakashi tribe, I became more and more enamored. There are great characters throughout the whole story. And while there were moments in this book that were absolutely horrifying, I was so intrigued that I didn’t care. Stick with this one, it’s worth it.

    Cinder / Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

    The latest in YA sci-fi, the first book in this series puts a young cyborg girl in Cinderella’s shoes, identifying the societal bias against those who are part machine. There’s a prince, but there’s also a plague and a colony of creepy people who live on the moon and want to destroy earth. Cinder’s story is predictable, but not awful. The second book in the series, Scarlet, puts the lead character in the shoes of Little Red Riding Hood. Not nearly as good as Cinder, and trucking along at a slower pace, I was sad that this one was less of a sequel and more of another story that eventually connects up to the main one. Both stories are ok and easy reads, but I wouldn’t put them at the top of your to-read list.

    Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

    The sequel to Ender’s Game, this sci-fi book takes a look at a colony of humans inhabiting a planet where there are other sentient and intelligent life forms called “piggies.” In the wake of the destruction of the race of  “buggers,” in Ender’s Game, the humans are to stay as far removed from the piggies as possible while studying them. When someone calls for a “Speaker for the Dead” to publicly explain the life of her father figure (both the good and the bad), Ender makes the journey to fulfill that duty. This book is very philosophical and takes a look at the ethics of how we treat those who are different than us. It pulls in a great Catholic political tie, and sets Ender up as the genius hero. Not as good as Ender’s Game, but still a great sci-fi read.

    Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

    Do you like the show Arrested Development? Go get this book! It was written by Maria Semple, one of the writers for the show, and you can tell in all the dysfunction and kookiness that plays out in this book. Bernadette is a wild, artistic, dysfunctional mother, and her interactions with her daughter Bee, Bee’s uptight school, her Microsoft genius of a husband and her psychotic neighbor are fantastic. And when Bernadette disappears out of nowhere, the story really find its stride. Plus, it takes place in Seattle, has great stories about working for Microsoft and there’s a trip to Antarctica.

    A Million Suns / Shades of Earth by Beth Revis

    After reading these two concluding books to Across the Universe, I was so happy to have found a YA trilogy where ALL THREE books were excellent. While the first two take place in a spaceship and look at the weird society there and lies that are hidden within, the third book takes place on another planet and was like reading season four of Lost. If you want a good YA trilogy fix and like sci-fi, pick these up!

  • Sci-Fi, Family and Baseball

    Date: 2013.02.01 | Category: Books | Response: 6

    I think it’s time to talk books again. I’ve read a bunch since I last posted, so I’ll share a few of them here.

    The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

    This movie, staring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, has gotten a lot of acclaim. So when Noel recommended it, I picked it up and I am so glad I did. While the premise seems a little strange – a man who has been in a mental institution and suffering from memory loss moves back in with his parents and meets another mentally unstable woman – the story is quite a gem. From the angry, football obsessed father to the Asian Invasion bus they tailgate with, to the slow understanding of what Pat actually faced, the story unwinds at a great tempo and you come to appreciate the characters and their actions despite the consequences. I really enjoyed this book.

    The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

    I really wanted to love this book. I know it won prizes and everyone says great things, but I had trouble getting over the pretentiousness of it. Ultimately it is a book about memory and how our perceptions of memories may not actually match up with the truth about the past. I kind of wanted to scream, “Yes, I get it! Now get on with the story.” I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either. This book did make me think though, and the ending surprised me.

    The Diviners by Libba Bray

    First you should know this book is the beginning of a series. I didn’t know that and was angry at anticlimactic ending of the book. It’s essentially a supernatural murder mystery about a serial killer performing ritual style murders that takes place in New York City during the 1920’s. The characters become more interesting as the story unfolds, but many of them are introduced and don’t really play a role in the main plot at all, which was frustrating. The book was on the long side and the ending was frustrating, but overall the plot was interesting. 3 out of 5 stars.

    Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

    I have shameless love for this book, but then it’s fantasy, ties into Arthurian legend, has a magic school and a strong female lead. There are several things in this book that remind me of Harry Potter, but not in a way that makes me angry. A girl is discovered for her ability to channel light, something no one else can do. She’s sent away to be trained at a magic school in the hopes she will ultimately defeat the literal growing darkness that divides the land. Also the first in a series, you’ve been warned!

    Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

    One of the most famous sci-fi books of all time, I’ve had it on my to-read list. And when Among Others mentioned it, I decided to go ahead and pick it up. As I read the book, I kept seeing how so many other stories I’ve read and movies I’ve seen were influenced by it. A young boy, Ender, is selected in an effort to lead a space war against an alien race known as the Buggers. His training is pushed to the limits in a series of games aboard a training school in space. While there is some crazy violence, especially by a young child, the book was still great and has a surprising ending. A must read for it’s influence in current culture and because the movie comes out this November.

    The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

    A book about baseball at a liberal arts college and how five people are tied to each other and the sport. This book is really beautifully written and I loved the small liberal arts college/Melville background that reminded me so much of the college I went to (just sub in Jack London for Melville). There’s a baseball prodigy, a college president and his daughter who is running from her failed marriage, Owen, the well spoken beautiful gay student and Mike Schwartz, the captain of the baseball team who makes it is goal to make Henry the best possible player.

    For a while I thought I didn’t like the book, but I realized that I was just frustrated for the characters and felt so deeply for them – which I think is a great accomplishment. Some of the scenes though were really tough for me to get through, and I didn’t always understand the actions of some of the characters. But overall, I think it was a great coming of age story with complex, well thought out and developed characters. I do think the book is a little too long. I feel bad saying that because the writing was so great, but I was ready for it to end about eight chapters before it actually did. A little editing would have made this a five star read for me.

    Across the Universe by Beth Revis

    I’ve started digging my way into sci-fi, and this book fits nicely in the genre. The book starts off with a family being cryogenically frozen for a 300 year journey to another planet. When the girl is woken up before the other frozens, she becomes enmeshed in the creepy society that lives and works aboard the ship and Elder, a teenager who is next in line to lead. A great mystery with a sci-fi twist.  The first of a trilogy, but good news, all three books are published! I’m half way through the second book in the series now, A Million Suns, and it’s equally as good, if not better than the first.

  • 2012 in Books

    Date: 2013.01.06 | Category: Books | Response: 7

    At the end of the year, I usually do a summary of my favorite books I read over the course of the year with a summary, but since I’ve already summarized most of the books I’ve read this year, I thought I’d give out my own special brand of awards to my favorites.

    Shelfari tells me I read 53 this year, but it lied because it didn’t include books that I re-read in that tally (all seven Harry Potter books, Jane Eyre and A Discovery of Witches). So that gives me 62 books. What can I say? I spent a lot of time with a breast pump the first part of this year.

    So, just for fun, here are some awards for books I read this year:

    Best Young Adult Book Series:
    Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth

    Best Historical Fiction:
    Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

    Most Visually Beautiful Book:
    The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

    Book Whose Terrible Writing Made Me Want to Pull All of My Hair Out and Cry:
    Fifty Shades of Gray by E.L. James

    Best Epic Fantasy:
    A tie between the Song of Fire and Ice Series by George R.R. Martin and Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay.

    Worst Conclusion to a Trilogy:
    Reached by Ally Condie

    Worst Prequel to a Series:
    The Kill Order by James Dashner

    Most Fun Book About Video Games and the 80’s Ever:
    Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

    Book That Surprised Me the Most:
    Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

    Best Memoir:
    Happy Accidents by Jane Lynch

    Best Supernatural Series:
    Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs

    Most Disappointing After All the Hype:
    A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

    Book That Looked and Sounded Creepy But Was Actually Great Fun:
    Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

    Book that I Wanted to Hug the Most:
    Among Others by Jo Walton

    What about you? Read anything worth your own brand of award?

  • 2012

    Date: 2012.12.31 | Category: Books, Family, Friends, Leela Fish, Life, Mark, Me, Nostalgia, Pets, Sarah, Work | Response: 9

    2012 has come to an end, and I must say it’s been a fantastic year.

    We had some firsts:
    • Sarah had a first birthday and first birthday party!
    • I photographed my first (and second) destination weddings.
    • I took a baby to the beach.
    • I visited Pittsburgh for the first (and second) times.
    • We flew with a toddler.
    • We got to be the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.
    • I ran my first 10k with Becki.
    • I led my first big scale donation collection for a family in need.
    • I became a gym regular.
    • I nearly mowed over an NFL quarterback with a stroller.
    • I took Sarah to the zoo (in Indianapolis).

    We traveled to:
    • Dallas, TX
    • Lafayette, LA
    • Indianapolis, IN
    • Pittsburgh, PA
    • Ft. Walton Beach, FL
    • Austin, TX

    I met some of my fellow bloggers for the first time in person including:
    Unapologetically Mundane
    Bluz Dude
    Carpetbagger (and Mrs. Bagger).

    We lost Mark’s grandmother, Sarah’s namesake, and had to battle with that grief.

    But there were babies born to best friends: Susan had Olivia and Tammy had Kiriel.

    We learned what Addison’s Disease is when we nearly lost Leela at the ER Vet clinic.

    I read a lot of books. According to Shelfari, 53 total. (I’m going to do a post on the best and worst soon!) And I gained an awesome reading partner in Noel.

    I redesigned a magazine and won awards for design on The Best of Times.

    2012 did have its share of sorrow, but it was also filled with so much joy and love. Here’s to a happier and beautiful 2013!

  • Assassins, a Woodpecker, an Angel War, Dragons and a Fairy Tale

    Date: 2012.11.20 | Category: Books | Response: 2

    And here are the rest of the books I’ve plunged into over the last couple of months.

    The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

    Is it weird that I wasn’t really sure what to think of this book the whole time I read it? And I actually like it more now in retrospect than when I was actually reading it. The story is about two brothers who are killers-for-hire, taking jobs at the bequest of the mysterious Commodore. On their quest to seek out and kill a man in San Francisco, they run into a witch, a weeping man, a red she bear and a man who has discovered a chemical way to find gold during the gold rush, among others. There’s a horse you feel sorry for as well and a man who’s been looking for gold for so long on his own that he has convinced himself that the dirt he uses to make coffee is actual coffee. It’s obvious these characters represent more than what the appear, and I liked that. I liked the easy way the characters spoke and the dark humor throughout. The whole time I was reading, I was reminded of Oh Brother Where Art Thou. And after reading, I saw that many people related this story to Coen brothers’ films.

    Bottom Line: It’s weird, but a good read if you like Coen Brothers movies and allegory.

    Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

    A tragic coming of age story centered around… a giant woodpecker? First, let me say that I love that this story was set in a small town in Arkansas where the mundane details tell much of the story. When some guy claims to have spotted an extinct woodpecker, the whole town explodes with excitement. And that’s just the background of the story. At the forefront are two unrelated suicides, a guy who becomes obsessed with the Book of Enoch and the Archangel Gabriel and the kidnapping of a 15-year-old boy and how those who are close to him cope. It’s sad with moments of humor tied in. And when all the dots finally start to connect near the end, I began to enjoy it.

    Bottom Line: Looking for something realistic, southern and a little sad and weird? This is your book. Plus, it’s a quick read.

    Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

    I have been waiting for this sequel to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone for over a year now, and I was like a kid on Christmas morning when it came out. I loved the first installment so much that I couldn’t wait to see what happened. So man was I disappointed when my favorite strong willed heroine turned into a spineless, helpless girl doing the bidding of someone she hated. To preface, the first installment pits chimaeras (creatures made from a combination of different animals and human features) against angels in a centuries long war. The main character, Karou, has a forbidden love affair with the enemy, only to be accidently betrayed by him at the end of the book. The second book is a story of war, with all the long scenes of devastation, death and remorse that come with it. Love is all but squashed in it as the two main characters wallow in self pity and doubt, losing all the things that made me love them in the first book. This book is still as beautifully written as the first, but where the first installment was fast paced, this one stalls in unnecessary war descriptions. That being said, I’ll still read the final installment when it’s finished because, as the book pushes “hope,” I have hope it will finish with the main characters finding their feet again.

    Bottom Line: If you’ve read Daughter of Smoke and Bone (and if you haven’t, you should), then pick this one up to find what happens, but prepare yourself for a sad and overly drawn out installment.

    Among Others by Jo Walton

    Oh. My. Gosh. I think this book was written for me personally. At least it feels like it was. It’s almost hard for me to review because I know not everyone will love it as much as I do. This is the story of a 15-year-old girl who runs away from her Welsh home only to be placed in the hands of a father she’s never known and her three aunts. They in turn put her in an expensive English boarding school. But, the special thing about this book is that the girl, Mori, can do a bit of magic and has suffered from some mysterious injury that has left her crippled and killed her twin. Oh, and her mother is a mad witch and she can see and sometimes talk to fairies who get her to do their bidding. It sounds crazy, but the way the author tells the story, it seems as if all of that was perfectly plausible. To top it off, Mori is an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy books, paying homage to all the classics in the genre throughout the story, particularly The Lord of the Rings and Ursula LeGuin novels. The plot isn’t exactly fast paced, but I was under its spell so I didn’t care. This book is truly a love letter to the SF/fantasy genre and won the Nebula Award and Hugo Award this year. Oh, and the language is beautiful!

    Bottom Line: If you love sci-fi and fantasy literature, read this book. If you don’t, then I’m not sure if you’ll like it. Either way, it holds a special place in my heart.

    Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey

    Among Others prompted me to look up some of the classic sci-fi/fantasy books Mori mentions. One series I’ve always heard references to but never read were the Pern books. Dragonflight is the first in the series. I was hesitant to start it because I’ve found a lot of books written in the early 60’s have dry prose. But this book kicked that stereotype right out of the window. On the planet Pern, humankind has become complacent after 400 years without attacks from Threads that fly off a red planet when it’s near, burrow into the ground and kill the earth. Back when the Threads fell often, humans engineered dragons to combat them. In the many years of peace, the dragons have dwindled, the Lords of the surrounding lands no longer see a need for them and the dragon leader has become complacent.  When a dragon queen egg appears, dragon riders go in search for the right woman for the dragon to choose as her “weyrmate.” Lessa is plucked from the dregs and turns out to be the dragon’s match. And as the red star appears and the Threads threaten to fall again, a new dragon leader takes charge. A great story of love, determination, time travel and, of course, dragons.

    Bottom line: This book should be on the reading list of any sci-fi/fantasy buff, or anyone who loves an epic adventure story.