Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas Mysteries

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 100!!!

I would like to thank NetGalley and Open Road Integrated Media for the opportunity to read and honestly review this book.

Christmas Mysteries: Ten Excerpts to Set the Season (Plus Three More to Celebrate the New Year) by various authors

Summary:
Ten excerpts from classic and contemporary mysteries with Christmas themes: Rest You Merry by Charlotte MacLeod; The Fourth Deadly Sin by Lawrence Sanders; The Egyptian Cross Mystery by Ellery Queen; Not a Creature was Stirring by Jane Haddam; The Midnight Before Christmas by William Bernhardt; Omit Flowers by Stuart Palmer; The Queen is Dead by Jane Dentinger; Killed on the Ice by William DeAndrea; The Shortest Day by Jane Langton; and The Sleeper by Gillian White.  Also includes three bonus excerpts with a New Year's theme: The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers; Stress by Loren D. Estleman; and The Clock Strikes Twelve by Patricia Wentworth.

My Opinion:
This book wasn't what I expected.  I expected the excerpts to follow a similar layout to what you would see in a magazine - a few lines of backstory to get you settled, a juicy point of the book to lure you in, and a conclusion with information on how to locate the book.  Instead, every one of these excerpts was the first chapter of the book.  Granted, this was still useful to see if I liked the author's writing style, and there were two or three that opened with action, but as far as "teasers" go, the first chapters may not have been the best selections.
As another small note, including books that are 4th, 5th, and even 11th in their respective series could create a further barrier when trying to draw new readers (as I assume the point is with a collection like this).  I read a chapter, liked it, then saw it was the 11th book in the series.  I have to read the series in order (and I can't be the only person that feels this way) so now I have to decide if I liked the chapter enough to commit to 11 books...based on the amount of mysteries available, my answer is probably not.
Of the 13 excerpts, I noted 5 authors I would like to read more from (Sanders, Haddam, Palmer, DeAndrea, and Estleman), I struggled to read 3 of the excerpts (by White, Sayers, and Wentworth), and I was neutral on the remaining 5.

My Favorite Excerpt:
Not a Creature was Stirring by Jane Haddam

A Permanent Member of the Family

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 99.

A Permanent Member of the Family by Russell Banks

Summary:
A collection of 12 short stories.

My Opinion:
The author has a very quiet poetic way of writing.  Each story was more about human behavior and emotions than big climatic events; I enjoyed it but it's not a writing style for everyone.  As with most short story collections, there was some unevenness but definitely more "hits" than "misses".
I had not read the author before but would definitely read another one of his books.

My Favorite Story:
"A Permanent Member of the Family" (the title story), although "Former Marine" was a very close second.

Undead and Unsure

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 98.

Undead and Unsure by MaryJanice Davidson
Book 12 in the Undead series

Summary (via the book jacket):
It's no surprise to Betsy that her trip to Hell with her sister, Laura, landed them in hot water.  Betsy isn't exactly sorry she killed the devil but it's put Laura in a damnable position: forced to assume to role of Satan (she may have the training but she looks good in red) - and in charge of billions of souls now that she's moved up in the world.  Or is that down?
But Betsy herself is in an odd new situation as well - that of being a responsible monarch suddenly in charge of all things earthbound, like her vampire husband, Sinclair, who has gone from relieved to ecstatic to downright reckless now that he can tolerate sunlight.  And if Sinclair isn't enough to contend with, Betsy's best friend Jessica is in her - hopefully - last trimester.  Considering she's been pregnant for way too many months, Jessica's become a veritable encyclopedia of what not to expect when you're expecting.  Oh, the horror...
Everything comes to a head at Thanksgiving dinner, which quickly - and literally - becomes Hell for Betsy and her family...

My Opinion:
This series gets crazier and crazier with each book.  While it does keep the story interesting since you never have a clue what direction it will go, it's unsettling to read a book that appears to have been written on the fly with no thought to plot development (backed into a corner?  Parallel Universe time!) or cohesion.  This series fell apart around the tenth book, and I hope the author takes a moment to calm down and gather her thoughts before the next book comes out.
Will I continue to read the series?  Of course.  Hopefully with more enjoyment than this book gave me.

Quote from the Book:
"Yes, this was one of the oddest confrontations I had ever taken part in, involving no less than the Antichrist, the beloved aunt of my childhood, an infant, a Civil War scholar, a billionaire, a homicide detective, and a dead physician."

Monday, December 30, 2013

Under the Duvet

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 97.

Under the Duvet by Marian Keyes

Summary:
A collection of nonfiction essays from author Marian Keyes, some of which were previously published in magazines and newspapers and some of which are published here for the first time.

My Opinion:
I really liked all of the fiction books by Keyes that I've read but it's been awhile since I had read anything by her.  So as I was scanning my books today looking for a light read, I decided to pull this one out (published in 2004, it's been on my shelf for years) and use the opportunity to revisit her writing.
Although her writing style seems to be a bit better suited for her longer fiction novels (just as the story picked up steam, it was over), I wasn't disappointed with this book.  It was a nice reminder for me to see if she's written anything recently that I haven't read yet.

My Favorite Story:
"Till Debt Us Do Part"

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 96.

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver

Summary (via the book jacket):
Noa P. Singleton never spoke a word in her own defense throughout a brief trial that ended with a jury finding her guilty of first-degree murder.  Ten years later, having accepted her fate, she sits on death row in a maximum-security penitentiary, just six months away from her execution date.
Seemingly out of the blue, she is visited by Marlene Dixon, a high-powered Philadelphia attorney who is also the mother of the woman Noa was imprisoned for killing.  Marlene tells Noa that she has changed her mind about the death penalty and Noa's sentence, and will do everything in her considerable power to convince the governor to commute the sentence to life in prison, in return for the one thing Noa is unwilling to trade: her story.
Marlene desperately wants Noa to reveal the events that led to her daughter's death - events that only Noa knows of and that she has never shared with a soul.  With death looming, Marlene believes that Noa may finally give her the answers she needs, though Noa is far from convinced that Marlene deserves the salvation she alone can deliver.  Inextricably linked by murder but with very different goals, Noa and Marlene wrestle with the sentences life itself can impose while they confront the best and worst of what makes us human in this haunting tale of love, anguish, and deception.

My Opinion:
Wow.  This book was outstanding.  I can say nothing else because peeling the layers away at your own pace is such an important part of the experience.  I'm still recovering.  I can't wait for someone else to read this so I can talk about ALL the feelings!

Quote from the Book:
"If I were to offer an explanation of why I did what I did, half of the public wouldn't believe it, and the other half wouldn't think it changed a thing.  The only people who would be transformed by a revelation are related to Sarah, and this so-called revelation isn't going to bring her back.  So why does anyone really need to know?"

Girl Walks into a Bar

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 95.

Girl Walks into a Bar...Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle by Rachel Dratch

Summary:
The longer the title, the shorter the summary.  Rachel Dratch (most famous for her time on SNL) writes about her attempts at dating, her surprise pregnancy at age 43, and new motherhood.
A quote from her book that sums it up pretty well:  "So you're forty-three and think you can't have kids but unexpectedly got pregnant on a trip to Hawaii with a guy you've known for six months who you think is a good guy but the two of you aren't even close to any sort of a commitment".

My Opinion:
A light, enjoyable read.  Rachel made me smile without forcing the funny and she is a great storyteller.

Quote from the Book:
"I was forty-three years old and I was actually seeing the benefits of not having kids and was accepting my fate after all those years of struggling.  Then, I met a guy in a bar."




Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Lady and Her Monsters

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 94.

The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece by Roseanne Montillo

Summary (excerpted from the book jacket):
This nonfiction book recounts how Mary Shelley's Victor Frankenstein mirrored actual scientists of the period.  Shelley and her contemporaries were artists, poets, and philosophers, united in captivation with the occultists and daring scientists risking their reputations and their immortal souls to advance our understanding of human anatomy and medicine.
These remarkable investigations could not be undertaken without the cutthroat grave robbers who prowled cemeteries for a supply of fresh corpses.  The newly dead were used for both private and very public autopsies and dissections, as well as the most daring trials of all: attempts at human reanimation through the application of electricity.
Juxtaposing monstrous mechanization and rising industrialism with the sublime beauty and decadence of the legendary Romantics who defined the age, Montillo takes us into the world where poets became legends in salons and boudoirs; where fame-hungry "doctors" conduct shocking performances for rabid, wide-eyed audiences; and where maniacal body snatchers secretly toil in castle dungeons.

My Opinion:
I started this book November 5 and just finished today.  The book is less than 300 pages.  That in and of itself is a pretty good indicator of how I feel about this book.
One of the consequences of random reading (and always finishing the books I start) is that a book I pick up on a whim can very quickly turn out to be a book that's not for me.  I can't fault the author.  Well, maybe I can fault the author a little...the second half of the book was very interesting and full of "fun facts" but I had become so bogged down by the details of the first half that I didn't enjoy it as much as I could have.
On the nonfiction spectrum, this is closer to the "textbook" side than the "reads like fiction but happens to be true" side.  This is not a criticism, just a note to those who consider reading it.

Quote from the Book:
"As the weeks passed, the critics continued to speculate that either Godwin [Mary's father] or Shelley [Mary's husband] had written Frankenstein.  In a way, they were right and wrong at the same time.  By birth and marriage, Mary was both a Godwin and a Shelley." ~ one of the things I learned from this book - Frankenstein was originally published anonymously.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Paris Wife

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 93.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Summary (via Goodreads):
A deeply evocative of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.
Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight year old who has all but given up on love and happiness - until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever.  Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group - the fabled "Lost Generation" - that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill-prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy.  Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and his circle of friends into the novel that becomes The Sun Also Rises.  Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging.  Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage - a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they've fought so hard for.
A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.

My Opinion:
What made this book engaging was the name recognition of all the characters, but knowing that they were real people added to the overall sadness of this book.  Although fictional, the author appears to have done her research and followed the timeline and events as accurately as possible.
I felt so sad for Hadley.  Hemingway had his demons and would have been impossible to live with at times, but he seemed to truly love her.  Although I don't make excuses for men that cheat, I will say that there seems to be a certain type of man that is very susceptible to women stroking their egos, and the women that deliberately prey on those men make me sick.  I don't like admitting it, but a small part of me was pleased to discover that Pauline found herself in the same position as Hadley as Hemingway overlapped relationships and married four times before ending his life.

Quote from the Book:
"You suffer for his career.  What do you get in the end?" [Kitty asked]
"The satisfaction of knowing he couldn't do it without me." [Hadley responded]

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Reconstructing Amelia

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 92.

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Summary (via the book jacket):
When Kate, single mother and law firm partner, gets an urgent phone call summoning her to her daughter's exclusive private school, she's shocked.  Amelia has been suspended for cheating, something that would be completely out of character for her over-achieving, well-behaved daughter.
Kate rushes to Grace Hall, but what she finds when she finally arrives is beyond comprehension.  Her daughter Amelia is dead.  Despondent over having been caught cheating, Amelia has jumped from the school's roof in an act of impulsive suicide.  At least that's the story Grace Hall and the police tell Kate.  In a state of shock and overcome by grief, Kate tries to come to grips with this life-shattering news.  Then she gets an anonymous text:
Amelia didn't jump.
The moment she sees that message, Kate knows in her heart it's true.  Clearly Amelia had secrets, and a life Kate knew nothing about.  Wracked by guilt, Kate is determined to find out what those secrets were and who could have hated her daughter enough to kill.  She searches through Amelia's e-mails, texts, and Facebook updates, piecing together the last troubled days of her daughter's life.

My Opinion:
What an incredibly well-written book.  It's hard to say I enjoyed reading it because I felt nauseous the entire time, but it definitely kept my attention and I read it quickly to find out what would happen.  The entirely realistic portrayal of bullying and peer pressure was difficult to read (and made me want to lock my kids, especially my 3 daughters, away in a tower so I don't have to send them to high school).  Although most of the plot points were foreshadowed, it didn't take anything away from the journey and the way everything came together was still a surprise.

Quote from the Book:
"Because in some magical, cosmic way, mothers were supposed to know every important thing about her children.  Kate had worried from the start that she might lack this special motherly intuition, but she'd always believed her genuine closeness with Amelia would overcome any shortfall.  She'd been so very wrong.  That was obvious now."

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

How To Be a Woman

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 91.

How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

Summary (via Goodreads):
Though they have the vote and the Pill and haven't been burned as witches since 1727, life isn't exactly a stroll down the catwalk for modern women.  They are beset by uncertainties and questions: Why are they supposed to get Brazilians?  Why do bras hurt?  Why the incessant talk about babies?  And do men secretly hate them?
Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women's lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from the riot of adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother.  With rapier wit, Moran slices right to the truth - whether it's about the workplace, strip clubs, love, fat, abortion, popular entertainment, or children - to jump-start a new conversation about feminism.  With humor, insight, and verve, How To Be a Woman lays bare the reasons female rights and empowerment are essential issues not only for women today but also for society itself.

My Opinion:
I love hearing all sorts of opinions, as long as the person sharing them realizes they're just opinions and it's okay to agree/disagree with them.  When opinions are presented as facts and anyone who disagrees is ridiculed, I'm done.  If I want to be preached to, I know where to go; I don't need it to sneak up on me in a book.
While some chapters were better than others (I especially liked "I Am In Love!"), my overall opinion is that I just read a 301 page sermon.
Although her intentions seem to be good, I don't think the author is as doing as much for feminism as she thinks she is.  Giving up the list of stereotypical "do's and don'ts" is a great idea; the problem is that she then inserts her own list of "do's and don'ts".  I admit my instinct was to begin naming the expectations of hers that I disagreed with but that's hypocritical and unproductive, so I will just say the way her opinions were presented led me to feel extremely judged when I disagreed with them.  Since most of the women I know may have similar disagreements, I can't recommend this book to them; feeling judged is extremely unpleasant.

Quote from the Book:
"But the problem with battling yourself is that even if you win, you lose."

Sunday, December 15, 2013

I Don't Want to Kill You

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 90.

I Don't Want to Kill You by Dan Wells

Summary (via the book jacket):
John Cleaver has called a demon - literally called it on the phone - and challenged it to a fight.  He's faced two monsters already, barely escaping with his life, and now he's done running; he's bringing the fight to them.  As he wades through the town's darkest secrets, searching for any sign of who the demon might be, one thing becomes all too clear: in a game of cat and mouse with a supernatural killer, you are always the mouse.
In I Am Not a Serial Killer, we watched a budding sociopath break every rule he had to save his town from evil.  In Mr. Monster, we held our breath as he fought madly with himself, struggling to stay in control.  Now John Wayne Cleaver has master his twisted talents and embraced his role as a killer of killers.  I Don't Want to Kill You brings his story to a thundering climax of suspicion, mayhem, and death.
It's time to punish the guilty.
And in a town full of secrets, everyone is guilty of something.

My Opinion:
This was an excellent trilogy, and this book may be my favorite of the three.  The author does a great job of building suspense, breaking the tension, then building it up again.  And the ending...wow.  Even though it wrapped up really well, there was just enough of the old "The End???" trick creepy movies use to keep me thinking after the book was closed.
It was very visual and I think it would translate well into a movie.  I wouldn't watch it because I hate scary movies, but I think other people would enjoy it.
Recommended to someone looking for quick but dark reads.

Quote from the Book:
"Yes, finding a killer is easy.  Finding someone before they kill is almost impossible."


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mr. Monster

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 89.

Mr. Monster by Dan Wells
Book 2 in the John Cleaver trilogy

Summary (via Goodreads):
In I am not a Serial Killer, John Wayne Cleaver saved his town from a murderer even more appalling than the serial killers he obsessively studies.
But it turns out even demons have friends, and the disappearance of one has brought another to Clayton County.  Soon there are new victims for John to work on at the mortuary and a new mystery to solve.  But John has tasted death, and the dark nature he uses as a weapon - the terrifying persona he calls "Mr. Monster" - might now be using him.
No one in Clayton is safe unless John can vanquish two nighmarish adversaries: the unknown demon he must hunt and the inner demon he can never escape.

My Opinion:
John is such an authentic character that I worry about the mental health of the author.  All of the little details, like using "it" instead of "he/she" when referring to people, were spot on.
The mystery was great; it was unusual and the supernatural tinge wasn't overdone.  But what kept me turning the pages was John's inner turmoil (again, perfectly written).  As he relaxes his rules and pushes his limits, will he still be able to control Mr. Monster?  I'm ready to jump right into the third book and find out!
I would recommend this to fans of psychological thrillers, but it is necessary to read "I am not a Serial Killer" first to get the full experience.

Quote from the Book:
"Was it possible to be two people, one good and one bad, or was I forced to be a mix of both - a good person forever tainted by evil?"





Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Takedown Twenty

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 88.

Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich
Book 20 of the Stephanie Plum mystery series (not counting the novellas)

Summary:
More Stephanie Plum shenanigans.
If you're a reader of the series you already know the basics.  If you've never read the series, what the heck are you doing trying to jump to number 20?

My Opinion:
Knowing my dwindling enthusiasm for this series, a friend asked if I was planning to read this book.  My response: "Yes, I commit to series to the bitter end".

Now that I've read it, I can confirm what I knew going in...I'm bitter.  Oh so bitter.

I guess I should say *spoiler alert* but to me these aren't spoilers because NOTHING happened that would surprise anyone that's read this series.
- Although she comes thisclose to choosing (and c'mon, we all know who she's going to end up with anyway), she doesn't.
- A car is destroyed.
- Granny is inappropriate.
- There's a random animal subplot.
- Everything implausibly wraps up in the end through no talent or skill on Stephanie's part.

Normally negative reviews are very hard for me to write but I had no trouble with this one.  The author is an established writer who will end up on the bestseller list no matter what she churns out...it's time to stop phoning it in and wrap this series up already.

Quote from the Book:
"I'd been saving the champagne for a special occasion, and it seemed like seeing a giraffe running down the street qualified."

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Bitches of Brooklyn

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 87.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Chestnut Hill Books for the opportunity to read and honestly review this book.

The Bitches of Brooklyn by Rosemary Harris

Summary (via Goodreads):
Four friends from Brooklyn await the arrival of a fifth at a Cape Cod bungalow where they spend an all-girls weekend every summer.  But this time the fifth woman doesn't show.  Instead she sends a note that reads - "I've run off with one of your men".
Fast, funny and filled with Harris' trademark snappy dialog and quirky characters forced to reevaluate their friendships, their marriages, and their memories.

My Opinion:
I'm pretty neutral about this book - neither great nor bad, it didn't generate much emotion for me either way.  I thought the premise was intriguing but it had less bite than I expected based on the title and description.  A quick, light read; I was definitely interested in who the man was but the big reveal didn't knock my socks off.

Quote of the Blog:
*Since I read an ARC of this book, I can't quote directly from it as I normally would.  Instead, I've found another quote that seems fitting.
"Talk between women friends is always therapy..." ~ Jayne Anne Phillips

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

I am Not a Serial Killer

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 86.

I am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells
Book 1 in the John Cleaver trilogy

Summary (via Goodreads):
John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it.
He's spent his life doing his best not to live up to his potential.
He's obsessed with serial killers, but really doesn't want to become one.  So for his own sake, and the safety of those around him, he lives by rigid rules he's written for himself, practicing normal life as if it were a private religion that could save him for damnation.
Dead bodies are normal to John.  He likes them, actually.  They don't demand or expect the empathy he's unable to offer.  Perhaps that's what gives him the objectivity to recognize that there's something different about the body the police have just found behind the Wash-n-Dry Laundromat - and to appreciate what that difference means.
Now, for the first time, John has to confront a danger outside himself, a threat he can't control, a menace to everything and everyone he would love, if only he could.

My Opinion:
This book was full of suspense but it doesn't come from guessing who the Clayton Killer is.  That is revealed fairly early in the book, and what a jawdropping twist it was!  The suspense comes as John tries to figure out how to stop [the killer - no pronoun spoilers here!] and the cat/mouse game they play.
This is the first book in a trilogy and I'm jumping right into the second - after the way this book ended, I'm interested to see what direction the author goes.
Not for the squeamish, but not because of the killings.  John works in a mortuary and there are very detailed descriptions of the process of preparing the body, especially embalming.

Quote from the Book:
"The lack of emotional connection with other people has the odd effect of making you feel separate and alien...this drives some sociopaths to feel superior, as if the whole of humanity were simply animals to be hunted or put down; others feels a hot, jealous rage, desperate to have what they cannot.  I simply felt alone, one leaf sitting miles away from a giant, communal pile." ~ John, describing his sociopathy

Monday, December 2, 2013

4 to 16 Characters

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 85.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Lemon Sherbet Press for the opportunity to read and honestly review this book.

4 to 16 Characters by Kelly Hourihan

Summary (via Goodreads):
Fifteen-year-old Jane Shilling's best friends don't know her real name.  In fact, they don't know anything about her at all.  Jane's life has collapsed in the last few years; following the death of her mother, her father turned to drinking, and Jane is reeling from the double blow.  To escape, Jane devises a number of online personas, each with a distinct personality, life history, and set of friends.  But things become trickier when she finds herself drawing close to some of her online friends, and winds up struggling with the question of how to maintain a real friendship while masquerading as a fake person.  With the help of Gary, a socially awkward classmate and competitive Skeeball player who is Jane's only offline friend, and Nora, her therapist, Jane begins to sift through her issues.  The only catch is that that involves taking a long, hard look at what her life's like when the computer is shut off, and that's a reality she's been fighting for years.

My Opinion:
This was a very emotional book, and I felt it.  I hated it for being so real and raw as I read it with sweaty palms, while at the same time I loved it for being so real and raw because it made the book so readable.  It was almost annoying how perfectly the author wrote teen angst.  This isn't a criticism of the writing; the opposite, actually.  She captured teen drama so accurately that I rolled my eyes as I remembered how important and life-changing things felt at the time but looking back now...not so much.

Some may complain about the format (presented entirely through online material like e-mails, instant messages, private blog entries, etc.) but I think it really worked for the story, a girl who spends all of her time online to escape reality.  The private blog entries are just the new version of the "Dear Diary" books I read when I was younger...same concept, updated format.  Also, being able to share her therapy sessions by having the therapist talk to her via IM to make her more comfortable...brilliant.

Two things dampened the overall experience for me.  First, the ending was a bit "Pollyanna".  I'm not a monster and I'm glad things started looking up, but the speed at which everything came together felt a little rushed after I spent the majority of the book praising its authenticity and honesty.  Second, the characters around Jane were a little one-dimensional.  Jane was written so fully and well, I was disappointed that the same thought didn't go into the people she was surrounded by.

Overall, I liked this book.  I would definitely recommend it to high school girls but it could be a little too emo-dramatic to have a big impact on an adult audience (although the writing is great and the emotional appeal is there).

Quote of the Blog:
*Since I read an ARC of this book, I can't quote directly from it as I normally would.  Instead, I've found another quote that seems fitting.
"I'm so much cooler online" ~ Brad Paisley, lyric from the song "Online" (which was running through my mind as I read this book)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Ding Dong! Gorilla!

Although I normally don't review the books I read with my kids, I am making an exception for this book to show my appreciation to NetGalley and Peachtree Publishers; we had the opportunity to read it in exchange for an honest review.
I have a daughter that also read this book, and my review will include her opinion as well.

Ding Dong! Gorilla! by Michelle Robinson

Summary (via NetGalley):
A little boy has a lot of explaining to do when a gorilla comes over and makes a mess of the house...and that's not even the BAD news!
While his mother gets ready upstairs, a boy is waiting for the delivery of a great big pizza with extra cheese.  When the doorbell rings, it isn't the pizza guy it's a gorilla!  Without even being invited in, the gorilla heads straight for mischief.  He dumps out the boy's toy box, colors on the walls, kicks soccer balls in the house, and makes a giant mess in the kitchen.  And that's not even the bad news!  While all this mayhem is going on, the real pizza boy comes, and the gorilla doesn't leave any for the family!

Megan's Opinion (my 7 year old 2nd grader):
"It was a nice book and it was sad at the end because there wasn't any pizza and he went through all that for no pizza.  And all he wanted was some pizza but then a gorilla came in and crashed everything.  The pictures were very neat and they were very colorful.  I thought it was funny when the pizza boy ran away because of the gorilla."

My Opinion:
This was a very cute book.  It was a perfect length with great illustrations.  A fun story.  




Bellman & Black

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 84.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Atria Books for the opportunity to read and honestly review this book.

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

Summary (via NetGalley):
One moment in time can haunt you forever.
Caught up in a moment of boyhood competition, William Bellman recklessly aims his slingshot at a rook resting on a branch, killing the bird instantly.  It is a small but cruel act, and is soon forgotten.  By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seem sot have put the whole incident behind him.  It was as if he never killed the thing at all.  But rooks don't forget.
Years later, when a stranger mysteriously enters William's life, his fortunes begin to turn - and the terrible and unforeseen consequences of his past indiscretion take root.  In a desperate bid to save the only precious thing he has left, he enters into a rather strange bargain with an even stranger partner.  Together, they found a decidedly macabre business.
And Bellman & Black is born.

My Opinion:
This book was intriguing but not exciting.  It was quiet, building and building to the end.  My only complaint is that the ending felt a little too soft and quiet; I expected a more climatic moment between Bellman and Black.
It held my interest and was well-written, and I will read more by the author.

Quote of the Blog:
*Since this was an ARC, I can't quote directly from the book like I normally would.  Instead I've found another quote that seems fitting.
"Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal." ~ Irish headstone


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hate List

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 83.

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Summary (via the book jacket):
Five months ago, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria.  Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create.  A list of people and things she and Nick hated.  The list he used to pick his targets.
Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year.  Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends, and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.

My Opinion:
When a mass shooting occurs, I think of the loved ones of the perpetrators, especially the moms.  They have very real grief but are isolated, judged, and blamed while the world demonizes their loved one.  
The author tackled a delicate, unpopular perspective, and did it well.  Valerie loved Nick and is trying to reconcile her horror at what he did with her love for the boyfriend he was.  She feels anger - at Nick for doing it, her friends and family for abandoning her (oh my heart ached for the way her parents treated her), and the world for blaming her.  Yet she can't completely discount their thoughts because she also feels guilty and blames herself for not seeing the signs and stopping him.
On the YA spectrum, this is closer to the "young" side than the "adult" side, but it was a solid, interesting read.

Quote from the Book:
"You were beloved, son.  You were my beloved.  Even after all of this, I still remember the beloved you.  I can't forget."

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Truth About Forever

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 82.

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

Summary (via Goodreads):
A long hot summer...
That's what Macy has to look forward to while her boyfriend, Jason, is away at Brain Camp.  Days will be spent at a boring job in the library, evenings will be filled with vocabulary drills for the SATs, and spare time will be passed with her mother, the two of them sharing a silent grief at the traumatic loss of her father.
But sometimes unexpected things can happen - things like the catering job at Wish, with its fun-loving, chaotic crew.  Or her sister's project of renovating the neglected beach house, awakening long-buried memories.  Things like meeting Wes, a boy with a past, a taste for Truth-telling, and an amazing artistic talent, the kind of boy that could turn any girl's world upside down.  As Macy ventures out of her shell, she begins to wonder, Is it really better to be safe than sorry?

My Opinion:
This book was okay.  It was a standard YA storyline with cookie cutter characters.
Maybe I'm disappointed because I've heard really good things about Sarah Dessen's books and expected this (the first one of hers I've read) to be outstanding.  I'm still interested and will definitely read another one of her books, but this particular one just didn't grab me.

Quote from the Book:
"I am not a spontaneous person.  But when you're alone in the world, really alone, you have no choice but to be open to suggestions."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

We'll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 81.

I would like to thank NetGalley and University of Minnesota Press for the opportunity to read and honestly review this book.

We'll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger's Daughter by Rachael Hanel

Summary (via Goodreads):
Rachael Hanel's name was inscribed on a gravestone when she was eleven years old.  Yet this wasn't at all unusual in her world: her father was a gravedigger in the small Minnesota town of Waseca, and death was her family's business.  Her parents were forty-two years old and in good health when they erected their gravestone - Rachael's name was simply a branch on the sprawling family tree etched on the back of the stone.  As she puts it: I grew up in cemeteries.
And you don't grow up in cemeteries - surrounded by headstones and stories, questions, curiosity - without becoming an adept and sensitive observer of death and loss as experienced by the people in this small town.  For Rachael Hanel, wandering among tombstones, reading the names, and wondering about the townsfolk and their lives, death was, in many ways, beautiful and mysterious.  Death and mourning: these she understood.  But when Rachael's father - Digger O'Dell - passes away suddenly when she is fifteen, she and her family are abruptly and harshly transformed from bystanders to participants.  And for the first time, Rachael realizes that death and grief are very different.

My Opinion:
I could relate to the author as she described her fascination with the stories behind the graves.  Like her, I also began reading true crime stories and obituaries at a very young age and I find cemeteries peaceful, respectful, and comforting.  From an early age my family instilled a deep appreciation of history and human experience and exploring cemeteries is something we did together and I continue to do; this makes me sound much more morbid than I actually am.
The author has a nice writing style.  This may not be a book that makes a big impact (as the author acknowledges, there is no big climatic ending), but personally, I enjoyed reading it.
I'm also happy the pictures were included in the digital copy I read; they complemented the text very well.
   
Quote of the Blog:
*Since I read an ARC of this book, I can't quote directly from it as I normally would.  Instead, I've found another quote that seems appropriate.
"The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living." ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

One Thousand White Women

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 80.

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus

Summary:
Historical fiction.

*The actual historical event*:   At a peace conference in 1854, a North Cheyenne chief requested that the U.S. Army provide one thousand white women as brides for his warriors; they reasoned this would be a good way to assimilate the Indians into Western civilization.  The request was denied.

*In the book*:  The request was approved.  May Dodd chooses to participate in the secret government program to escape her family after being committed to an insane asylum for loving a man beneath her station.  The story follows her journey west, her marriage to Little Wolf, and her conflict between two loves and two worlds.

My Opinion:
May Dodd is an excellent narrator because she is romantic and dramatic but also straightforward and honest.  The author has a very descriptive writing style; even the act of squatting to urinate was given poetic phrasing ("for the place I occupy on earth is no more permanent than the water I now make, absorbed by the sandy soil, dried instantly by the constant prairie wind...").
The ending was a bit abrupt but I understand the reasons why and the epilogue helped wrap everything up.
This is a solid book and I will read other books by the author.

Quote from the Book:
"Frankly, from the way I have been treated by the so-called 'civilized' people in my life, I rather look forward to residency among the savages."

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Let's Pretend This Never Happened

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 79.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Summary (via Goodreads):
Jenny Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives - the ones we'd like to pretend never happened - are in fact the ones that define us.  In this book, Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor.  Chapters include: "Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel";  "A Series of Angry Post-It Notes to My Husband"; "My Vagina is Fine. Thanks for Asking";  "And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane".  Pictures with captions (no one would believe these things without proof) accompany the text.

My Opinion:
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I wasn't familiar with her before but definitely will check out her blog.  I love her writing style and dark humor.
Recommended if you like off-beat stories and don't mind the word "vagina".

Quote from the Book:
"The weirdest thing about my getting a cow pregnant when I was in high school is that I wasn't even enrolled in that class."


Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Rapture of the Nerds

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 78.

The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross

Summary (via the book jacket):
It's the dusk of the twenty-first century, and Earth has a population of a billion or so.  For the most part, we're happy with our lot.  Those who aren't have emigrated off-planet, joining one of the swarming densethinker clades of the inner solar system.  These posthuman consciousnesses have mostly sworn off dealing with their still-human cousins, but their minds sometimes wander...and when that happens, they casually spam Earth's networks with disruptive technologies that emulsify whole industries, cultures, and spiritual systems.
A sane species would ignore these get-evolved-quick schemes, but there's always someone who'll take a bite from the forbidden apple.  So until the overminds get bored with stirring Earth's anthill, there's tech jury service: random humans, selected arbitrarily, charged with assessing dozens of new inventions and ruling on whether to let them loose.  Huw, a technophobic, misanthropic Welshman, has been selected for the latest jury.
And he'll do his best...despite an itchy technovirus, the apathy of the proletariat, and a couple of truly awful moments on bathroom floors.

My Opinion:
Yes, the summary is a bit jumbled but sci-fi stories are notoriously difficult to sum up so I gave it a shot based on the funny title and starred review from Booklist.  Unfortunately, the book is over and I'm still not clear on what exactly it was about, other than saying the summary didn't match the story.  Spoilers prevent me from saying more, but the themes and overtones were not what I expected at all.  The weirdness of the story would be offputting for some but that wasn't the case for me.  For me, it was the amount of utter concentration this book required to keep everything straight, especially at the beginning when new characters were being introduced constantly.  Although it settled down about halfway through (which is why I always finish the books I start), I just couldn't shake my initial reaction and it soured my experience.

At times it felt like a competition between the two authors to see who could write the biggest words and longest sentence possible.  There were many sentences to choose from but kudos to the one that wrote this: "Huw zones out during the endless subcommittee meetings that last into early evening, then suffers himself to be dragged to the hotel refectory by Doc Dagbjort and a dusky Romanian Lothario from the Cordon Bleu Catering Committee who casts pointed and ugly looks at him until he slouches away from his baklava and dispiritedly climbs the unfinished concrete utility stairway to sublevel 1, where his toil is to begin".

The starred review implies that maybe I just missed the boat on this one and I can accept that.  But my personal opinion...skip it.

Quote from the Book:
"Huw tries to imagine what the old Huw, the Huw who went down to his pottery every day, would have felt about being turned into a woman by a bunch of quiasisentient ants en route to immortal transcendence."

Monday, November 4, 2013

Then Again

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 77.

Then Again by Diane Keaton

Summary (excerpt from the book jacket):
In this memoir, Diane not only reveals herself to us, she also lets us meet in intimate detail her mother.  Over the course of her life, Dorothy kept eighty-five journals - literally thousands of pages - in which she wrote about her marriage, her children, and, most probingly, herself.  Dorothy also recorded memorable stories about Diane's grandparents.  Diane has sorted through these pages to paint an unflinching portrait of her mother - a woman restless with intellectual and creative energy, struggling to find an outlet for her talents - as well as her entire family, recounting a story that spans four generations and nearly a hundred years.

My Opinion:
Although I recognize Diane Keaton enough that I could hear her voice as I was reading it, I didn't pick this book up because I'm a huge fan and wanted to know more about her specifically.  I'm just an ardent observer of people and read biographies and memoirs for the snapshot they provide into others' lives and experiences.
As much as I read them, I struggle reviewing biographies and memoirs because it would be like judging someone's life.  I will say that as a book, it read a bit slowly and whimpered out to a soft ending, but as a life and relationship with her mother, she sounds very lucky to have remained true to herself and still had success.
Neutral on my recommendation.

Quote from the Book:
"Mom was different.  She didn't judge me or try to tell me what to think.  She let me think."

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Ick! Yuck! Ew!

Although I normally don't review the books I read with my kids, I am making an exception for this book to show my appreciation to NetGalley and Lerner Publishing Group; we had the opportunity to read it in exchange for an honest review.
I have a daughter that also read this book, and my review will include her opinion as well.

Ick! Yuck! Ew!: Our Gross American History by Lois Miner Huey

Summary:
The reader is transported to June 1770 to learn about "gross" daily life in early America.  The author is careful to note that she is only informing, not judging or making fun of early settlers; they did the best they could with the information they had at the time. 

Alison's Opinion (10 year old 4th grader):
"Well, it was informational and gross about the past.  Who knew people did that?  The chapter about poop was gross.  The second chapter was about bugs - how could people sleep with bugs crawling on them?  The third chapter was about germs - their diseases were disgusting and I'm glad we don't have them.  People usually lost their children.  The last chapter was about fashion and I'm glad we don't have to wear the heavy petticoats and we can just wear jeans.  I don't like corsets either, I prefer slouching.
I liked the book and I would recommend it to people who would want to know about the past.  But don't eat lunch right before reading it." 

My Opinion:
Yuck!  My head is itching after reading the chapter about bugs.  The chapter on fashion was the most interesting to me.  Fun fact: shoes weren't made for left and right feet; they all had the same shape, which would have been incredibly uncomfortable.
The book was well-written and informative.  Based on the level of information presented and the potential squeamishness (the real photo of a person with smallpox blisters especially), I would recommend it for ages 8-12.  


Thursday, October 31, 2013

8-Bit Christmas

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 76.

I would like to thank NetGalley and DB Press for the opportunity to read and honestly review this book.

8-Bit Christmas by Kevin Jakubowski

Summary (via Goodreads):
It's 1980-something and all nine-year-old Jake Doyle wants for Christmas is a Nintendo Entertainment System.  No Jose Conseco rookie card, no GI Joe hovercraft, no Teddy friggin' Ruxpin - just Nintendo.  But when a hyperactive Shih Tzu is accidentally crushed to death by a forty-two-inch television set and every parent in town blames Nintendo, it's up to Jake to take matters into his own hands.  The result is a Christmas quest of Super Mario Bros. proportions, filled with flaming wreaths, speeding minivans, lost retainers, fake Santas, hot teachers, snotty sisters, "Super Bowl Shuffles", and one very naked Cabbage Patch Kid.  Told from a nostalgic adult perspective, 8-Bit Christmas is a hilarious and heartfelt look back at the kid pop culture of the 1980's.

My Opinion:
I was browsing on NetGalley and randomly decided to give this book a try.  I'm so glad I did because it was fantastic!  I liked it for the same reasons I like to watch A Christmas Story every year...a straightforward plot (boy wants toy. how will boy get toy?)  but a super fun nostalgic ride.
Highly recommended, especially if you're a child of the '80's like me and/or you can identify the following things (just a few of the throwback references that made me smile): Family Double Dare, Domino's the Noid, Mr. Wizard, Book It (with the free personal pan pizza), and Nintendo (obviously).

Quote of the Blog:
*Since I read an ARC, I couldn't quote from the book directly like I normally do.  I will end with Nintendo's original slogan - "Now you're playing with power!"

Awesome Snacks and Appetizers

Although I normally don't review the books I read with my kids, I am making an exception for this book to show my appreciation to NetGalley and Lerner Publishing Group for the opportunity to read it.
I have a daughter that also read this book, and my review will include opinions from her as well.

Awesome Snacks and Appetizers by Kari Cornell

Summary:
A cookbook for beginners.  Includes photos for every recipe as well as definitions, equipment, and safety tips.  

Megan's Opinion (my 7 year old):  "It was nice.  I thought that it was interesting.  It had very good recipes that I would like to try sometime.  I thought the pigs in a blanket looked gooood.  I love to cook and I thought that the recipes looked good."

My Opinion:
I liked the variety in this cookbook - they went beyond the normal kids' fare, including things like spicy meat samosas, homemade guacamole, and black bean quesadillas.  The beginning was very thorough and the page of definitions for things like "bake", "grease", etc.  was helpful.
If you have a beginner that wants to do everything themselves, this book may be a little too advanced (browning hamburger, flipping quesadillas, etc.) but if you're like me and have a beginner that just wants to help and have fun working together, I recommend this book.



Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pictures of You

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 75.

Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt

Summary (via the book jacket):
Two women running away from their marriages collide on a foggy highway.  The survivor of the fatal accident is left to pick up the pieces not only of her own life but of the lives of the devastated husband and fragile son that the other woman left behind.  As these three lives intersect, the book asks, how well do we really know those we love and how do we open our hearts to forgive the unforgivable?

My Opinion:
An emotional story; I read the entire thing with a lump in my throat (but no tears).  Although there were some abrupt transitions, what I appreciated about this book is that it shows life is messy and gray and there isn't a perfect solution that will make everyone happy and whole again.  I didn't understand how some characters could make the choices they did, but that's realistic (and maddening) as well.  The characters did the best they could and while I was angry and sad as the story progressed, I was happy with where everyone ended up.  Sort of.
 
Quote from the Book:
"How could you ever know what choice was the right one and what opportunity might be a mistake you would regret all your life?"

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Motif for Murder

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 74.

Motif for Murder by Laura Childs
Book 4 of the Scrapbooking Mystery series

Summary (via Goodreads):
In the terrible wake of Hurricane Katrina, scrapbooking shop owner Carmela Bertrand has her hands full getting Memory Mine back in business - and her relationship with her ex-husband Shamus back on its feet.  But the reconciliation is shattered when Shamus is kidnapped from their home.  And when Carmela hurries to tell Shamus's Uncle Henry, she finds him sitting in his library - with a bullet through his forehead.
As a memorial to Uncle Henry, Carmela puts together a sentimental scrapbook of memories and keepsakes.  What she doesn't realize is that her book holds a clue that could identify the fiend behind the kidnapping and killing.  And when the murderer finds out she may be on to him, he's going to try to close the book on Carmela once and for all.

My Opinion:
I understand that with "amateur sleuth" mysteries, the reader must suspend disbelief as the main character puts together clues the professionals missed and comes out of very dangerous situations relatively unscathed.  However, this book reealllly tested the limits (can't say more to avoid spoilers).  For example, if you rescue someone from kidnappers and must flee the scene at 120 mph because they're chasing you, you shouldn't stop at a diner down the road, sit down for biscuits and gravy, and let the person you just rescued step outside the diner to make phone calls. *face palm*
It isn't a terrible book but since light mysteries are a huge genre with so many options, continuing this series won't be high on my priority list.

Quote from the Book:
"I've been eating and drinking for three solid hours, and if I have to run one more step I swear I'm going to either burp, belch, or hurl!  And you don't want to be in the line of fire for any of them."


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fall Reading

For me, fall reading = light reading (cozy mysteries, short stories, biographies, etc.).  Snuggling under a blanket with a book is one of my favorite ways to unwind and I don't have a lot of mental energy to spare at the moment...fall is a very hectic season for my family!  So the next few weeks will probably have a lot of blog posts (I've already reviewed 3 books this week and it's only Wednesday) as I plow through quick reads.  Enjoy!

All There Is

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 73.

All There Is: Love Stories from Storycorps by Dave Isay

Summary:
Dave Isay is the founder of Storycorps, an oral history project started in 2003 in which participants (relatives, friends, etc.) spend 40 minutes interviewing each other; one copy goes home with them and one copy goes to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
All of the stories in this book are about romantic love.

My Opinion:
Considering I could sit with elderly people and listen to them talk all day, this book was fascinating to me (not all the people in this book were elderly but those were my favorite stories).  Add in the fact that all of the stories were about looove...swoon.  It was joyful, heartbreaking (Beverly Eckert's story especially just tore me up), and inspiring.
Recommended for human interest saps like me.

Quote from the Book:
"It lasted fifty-three years, two months, and five days.  It's been rough, but every morning when I wake up she's included in my prayers, and I talk to her every night when I go to bed.  She was something.  One thing: If they ever let me in those pearly gates, I'm going to walk all over God's heaven until I find that girl.  And the first thing I'm going to do is ask her if she would marry me and do it all over again." ~ Leroy Morgan, age 85, remembering his late wife Vivian

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 72.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Summary (via Goodreads):
In the late 1970s, Larry Ott and Silas "32" Jones were boyhood pals in rural Mississippi.  Their worlds were as different as night and day: Larry, the child of lower-middle-class white parents, and Silas, the son of a poor, single black mother.  Yet for a few months the boys stepped outside of their circumstances and shared a special bond.  But then tragedy struck: Larry took a girl on a date to a drive-in movie, and she was never heard from again.  She was never found and never confessed, but all eyes rested on him as the culprit.  The incident shook the county and perhaps Silas most of all.  His friendship with Larry was broken, and then Silas left town.
More than twenty years have passed.  Larry, a mechanic, lives a solitary existence, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion.  Silas has returned as a constable.  He and Larry have no reason to cross paths until another girl disappears and Larry is blamed again.  And now the two men who once called each other friend are forced to confront the past they've buried and ignored for decades.

My Opinion:
Considering that I just started this book last night for my book club meeting tonight, I'm very lucky it was a quick read and I finished it with time to spare!
Both Larry and Silas were interesting characters and this book kept my attention.  It's the kind of book that drives me a bit crazy sometimes, where we know everything that is happening and the characters would be able to figure things out much faster if they would just TALK to each other, but it didn't drag on for too long before the story caught up to where the reader already was.
Perfectly neutral about my recommendation... 

Quote from the Book:
"M, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, humpback, humpback, I. - How southern children are taught to spell Mississippi" ~ this blurb at the beginning of the book explains the title but I'm not sure how it tied in to the story.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Some Assembly Required

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 71.

Some Assembly Required by Anne Lamott

Summary (via Goodreads):
In Some  Assembly Required, Anne Lamott enters a new and unexpected chapter of her own life: grandmotherhood.
Stunned to learn that her son Sam is about to become a father at nineteen, Lamott begins a journal about the first year of her grandson Jax's life.
In careful and often hilarious detail, Lamott and Sam - about whom she first wrote so movingly in Operating Instructions - struggle to balance their changing roles with the demands of college and work, as they both forge new relationships with Jax's mother, who has her own ideas about how to raise a child.  Lamott writes about the complex feelings that Jax fosters in her, recalling her own experiences with Sam when she was a single mother.  Over the course of the year, the rhythms of life, death, family, and friends unfold in surprising and joyful ways.
By turns poignant and funny, honest and touching, Some Assembly Required is the true story of how the birth of a baby changes a family - as this book will change everyone who reads it.

My Opinion:
I read this book because I liked Operating Instructions and wanted to see their journey continue.  I thought they would be similar since the premise and author are the same, but I was incorrect.  Unless you count her opinions that other people aren't making the right choices, there isn't nearly as much about her feelings and emotions as there was in the first book.  She still wrote with unflinching honesty and revealed very vulnerable moments but they weren't really her moments to share.  I'm sure my personal experiences as a daughter-in-law are shaping my opinion but there were times I thought Amy (Jax's mother) should have a few sentences of rebuttal to defend herself, and I thought some of the descriptions of Amy and her family were unnecessary (just because Amy fell in love with the son of a writer may not mean they wanted such personal family moments revealed).
I'm sure there are people that would love this book, especially her spiritual journey to India, but for me it wasn't what I expected and not my cup of tea.

Quote from the Book:
"We as parents have the illusion that we make our kids stronger, but they make us stronger." ~ Sam

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Case Histories

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 70.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
Book 1 of the Jackson Brodie series

Summary (via Goodreads):
Case one: A little girl goes missing in the night.

Case two: A beautiful young office worker falls victim to a maniac's apparently random attack.

Case three: A new mother finds herself trapped in a hell of her own making - with a very needy baby and a very demanding husband - until a fit of rage creates a grisly, bloody escape.

Thirty years after the first incident, as private investigator Jackson Brodie begins investigating all three cases, startling connections and discoveries emerge...

My Opinion:
This book had potential but never really took off for me.  It lost focus and the resolutions of the cases were anticlimatic, some because I saw them coming a mile away and some because I didn't see them coming but they were presented so casually that there was little time to have a reaction before the story moved on to something else.
I have other books by the author on my "to-read" shelf and am still planning to read them, but I wouldn't recommend this particular book.

Quote from the Book:
"It didn't matter how much you hated it, [your children] were always going to have secrets."

Monday, October 7, 2013

W is for Wasted

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 69.

W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton
Book 23 of the Kinsey Millhone series

Summary:
It begins when a homeless John Doe is found dead with Kinsey's name and number in his pocket.  She investigates his identity but discovering who he is only brings more questions, and soon Kinsey finds herself caught up in family drama, fraud, and murder.

My Opinion:
Another solid installment to the series.  What I like about the series is that Kinsey is matter-of-fact.  Personal details and relationships are used to expand the character but the cases are the focal point.  While she's dated various people throughout the series, there is no love triangle angst to be found, a lovely change from another female private investigator series that I'm growing tired of (I'm looking at you Stephanie Plum...you could learn a thing or two from Kinsey).  The mystery was fresh, there was enough action to be interesting but not completely over-the-top, and it wrapped up nicely.

Quote from the Book:
"Two dead men changed the course of my life that fall."


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Operating Instructions

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 68.

Operating Instructions: a Journal of my Son's First Year by Anne Lamott

Summary:
Published in 1993, this book is (as the title states) an account of the first year of her son Sam's life, from the mundane pleas for sleep to the deeper struggles of being a single mom and watching her dear friend battle cancer.

My Opinion:
I really like the author's writing style.  It's conversational and calm and while it does have great emotion, she doesn't beat you over the head with it.  It felt very personal but also global, so even though I don't know the people she talks about and we don't have many experiences in common, I could still relate.  Even though it was written over 20 years ago, it wasn't dated since it was mainly about her feelings and concerns as a mother and those base instincts (am i doing okay? are they healthy? are they happy?) never change...if you overlook the occasional references to Polaroids and Walkmans (and the quite frequent references to George H.W. Bush for some reason), it could have been written yesterday.
I'm interested to see how their family journey continued and plan to read Some Assembly Required, which has the same format but is about Sam's son, her first grandchild, very soon.        

Quote from the Book:
"Still, you know what the name Samuel means?  It means 'God has heard', like God heard me, heard my heart, and gave me the one thing that's ever worked in my entire life, someone to love."


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

William Shakespeare's Star Wars

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 67.

William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher

Summary:
The story of Star Wars retold in Shakespearean style.

My Opinion:
There isn't much to say for a review of this book...what you see is exactly what you get.  A novelty book for fans of Star Wars and Shakespeare, you must be a pretty big fan of both to enjoy this book.  

Quote from the Book:
"O help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, help.  Thou art mine only hope." ~ Leia

Friday, September 27, 2013

Mockingjay

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 66.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Summary (via Goodreads):
Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed.  Gale has escaped.  Katniss's family is safe.  Peeta has been captured by the Capitol.  District 13 really does exist.  There are rebels.  There are new leaders.  A revolution is unfolding.
It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it.  District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol.  Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans -- except Katniss.
The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss's willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem.  To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust.  She must become the rebels' Mockingjay -- no matter what the personal cost.

My Opinion:
I am so pleased that the author didn't run this series into the ground.  It arced in the perfect places for a trilogy and going beyond that would have taken away some of the freshness and appeal.  Even as it was, the last book felt a little stretched for material; I think since it's from Katniss's point of view and she wasn't as hands-on as she'd been in the past, there was more "telling" than "showing" in this book compared to the first two.  Just a minor point though because there were still plenty of twists and action, and the ending was very satisfying.
This series won't take long to read but I recommend blocking out time to do so...you definitely won't want to put them down once you start!

Quote from the Book:
"My ongoing struggle against the Capitol, which has so often felt like a solitary journey, has not been undertaken alone."

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Catching Fire

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 65.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Book 2 of The Hunger Games trilogy

Summary (via Goodreads):
Against all odds, Katniss has won the Hunger Games.  She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive.  Katniss should be relieved, happy even.  After all, she has returned to her family and her longtime friend, Gale.  Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be.  Gale holds her at an icy distance.  Peeta has turned his back on her completely.  And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol - a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.
Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she's afraid she cannot stop.  And what scares her even more is that she's not entirely convinced she should try.  As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitols' cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever.  If they can't prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.

My Opinion:
Wow, another excellent book!  A jawdropping plot twist leads to tons of action and surprises.  I'm in awe of the author for creating such unique situations and characters and I can't wait to find out what happens next.  The good thing about waiting to read these books is that I can roll right into the third one, sparing myself the cliffhanger agony so many other reviewers mentioned.
Highly recommended.

Quote from the Book:
"At some point, you have to stop running and turn around and face whoever wants you dead.  The hard thing is finding the courage to do it."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Year We Left Home

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 64.

The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson

Summary:
Beginning in 1973 and ending in 2003, this book tells the story of an Iowa family from the perspective of siblings Anita, Ryan, Blake, and Torrie and their cousin Chip.

My Opinion:
This book is a perfect example of why I always finish the books I start; the beginning through the late 70's was a slow start but then it took off and I really liked the rest of the book.  
The author does a fantastic job setting a scene and she has lovely phrasing (describing working construction as "work that used your body up like one more tool").  Her words combined with the fact that I'm an Iowa girl made it easy to lose myself in the pages.  I knew these characters, such as the farmer trying "exotic foreign food "...a burrito...for the first time, or the church ladies preparing their casseroles after a death, or the small town chitchat exchanges.  There was heartache and strife but underneath it all there was familiarity and a sense that everything would turn out alright.  
This book isn't for everyone but there definitely is an audience for it and I will read more books by this author.    

Quote from the Book:
"When he was younger he had wished to see the world, and then he had wished to change it, and then he had been afraid it was passing him by."

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Husbands and Wives Club

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 63.

The Husbands and Wives Club: a year in the life of a couples therapy group by Laurie Abraham

Summary:
For one year, journalist Laurie Abraham followed five couples as they went through the process of group marriage therapy.  This book is an expansion of her article "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" originally published in The New York Times Magazine .  

My Opinion:
Negative reviews are difficult to write but here I go...
There were two aspects to the book - the personal information about the couples and the technical information about theories.  Except for a few "aha" moments (the part about projective identification was especially fascinating), this book didn't hold my interest.
The way the author presented the information about the couples seemed skewed.  I'm not suggesting she put words in anyone's mouth, I just think what she chose to include and how she framed it was biased; she gave people she liked more leeway and more time in the book to justify their actions, and there was one person she absolutely threw under the bus.
As far as the theories and prominent therapists mentioned, I got lost and was skimming past the technical stuff by the end of the book.  I was very surprised by this given the fact that I have a psychology degree and have at least a passing familiarity with most of the things she mentioned.  I can't put my finger on exactly what the problem was, but it almost seemed like the author was reciting information without taking the time to actually understand what she was saying or finding a point of reference.
Based on the author's writing style, I would assume the article this book idea originated from would be better (condensed version focusing on one or two couples) but I'm not interested enough to find out.

Quote from the Book:
"The power in the group gives people permission, at the same time as it holds them back." ~ Judith Coche

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Hunger Games

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 62.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Summary (via the book jacket):
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts.  The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games.  But Katniss has been close to dead before - and survival, for her, is second nature.  Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender.  But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

My Opinion:
Why did it take me so long to read this book?  Besides the fact that I'm usually one of the last people to read popular books, I was a little nervous about the premise of this book - kids killing each other for a game didn't sound like something I'd be able to handle.  But the popularity just became too much to ignore so when I saw it on the shelf at the library, I grabbed it.  And I'm so glad I did...I loved it!
My concerns were relieved quickly; there is so much more to the story, and the deaths weren't gory or overdone.  This is the kind of book that was still on my mind when I wasn't reading it, and I was annoyed that real life kept interfering with my ability to finish it (darn kids insist on eating daily, and those soccer uniforms won't wash themselves!).  If I had my way, I would've absorbed it in one uninterrupted sitting and I will definitely plan accordingly when continuing the series.
Yes, I recommend it, but as one of the last people to read it, I'm not sure there's anyone left to recommend it to.

Quote from the Book:
"The one thing that distracts me at all is the view from the windows as we sail over the city and then to the wilderness beyond.  This is what birds see.  Only they're free and safe.  The very opposite of me."

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Undead and Underwater

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 61.

Undead and Underwater by MaryJanice Davidson

Summary:
Three humorous supernatural novellas in one book.

My Opinion:
Three novellas, three mini reviews.

Super, Girl!  - The author should have saved these new characters for a full length book because it didn't work as a novella; the potential of these characters felt wasted in this format.  Too much buildup led to a very rushed ending, and the bad guy was revealed as someone we'd never met before...fail.  [After I typed this, I went back and checked; the bad guy's name was technically mentioned one time but I stand by my impression that the reveal came out of left field]

Undead and Underwater - This crossover story featuring Betsy Taylor and Fred the Mermaid working together was entertaining and cute.  It's not necessary to have read either series but some of the jokes will be funnier if you have.  If you haven't read the series and want to, start with book 1; I completely disagree with the author's note that the books in her series stand alone and don't need to be read in order.  Plus I always insist on reading a series in order...it's kind of my thing.      

Incomer - This story focuses primarily on the Wyndham Werewolves but Betsy Taylor and Fred the Mermaid appear in it as well.  Again, it's not necessary to have read any of these series but the shorthand might make less sense if you haven't.  Again, not just one but BOTH bad guys were new characters not mentioned previously in the story...not okay.

If you're a fan of MaryJanice Davidson, it wouldn't hurt to read this book but you wouldn't miss much if you skipped it either.  If you've never read her before, don't start with this one; it's not her best work.

Quote from the Book:
"Besides, karma's going to get them."
"You have to make your own karma, Sean."
"I'm not sure you actually understand what karma is, Dad."

Friday, September 13, 2013

Dan Gets a Minivan

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 60.

Dan Gets a Minivan by Dan Zevin

Summary (via the book jacket):
The least hip citizen of Brooklyn, Dan Zevin has a working wife, two small children, a mother who visits each week to "help", and an obese Labrador mutt who prefers to be driven rather than walked.  How he got to this point is a bit of a blur.  There was a wedding, and then there was a puppy.  A home was purchased in New England.  A wife was promoted and transferred to New York.  A town house.  A new baby boy.  A new baby girl.  A stay-at-home dad was born.  A prescription for Xanax was filled.  Gray hairs appeared; gray hairs fell out.  Six years passed in six seconds.  And then came the minivan.
Dan Zevin, master of "Seinfeld-ian nothingness" (Time) is trying his best to make the transition from couplehood to familyhood.  Acclimating to the adult-oriented lifestyle has never been his strong suit, and this slice-of-midlife story chronicles the whole hilarious journey - from instituting date night to joining Costco; from touring Disneyland to recovering from knee surgery; from losing ambition to gaining perspective.  Where it's all heading is anyone's guess, but, for Dan, suburbia's calling - and his minivan has GPS.

My Opinion:
This was a quick, easy breezy read.  The author has a very conversational style and writes in a way that is entertaining and funny without making the last line of every chapter a punchline.
Each new chapter starts with a title page with a van at the bottom; it took me a few chapters to realize the van was moving forward with each chapter - a fun extra touch (and a reason why I still prefer actual books over e-books when possible).

My Favorite Chapter:
"Dating Ourselves"