Friday, September 27, 2013


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 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

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

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

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  [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'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"

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Submission

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 59.

The Submission by Amy Waldman

Summary (via the book jacket):
A jury gathers in Manhatten to select a memorial for the victims of a devastating terrorist attack.  Their fraught deliberations complete, the jurors open the envelope containing the anonymous winner's name - and discover he is an American Muslim.  Instantly they are cast into roiling debate about the claims of grief, the ambiguities of art, and the meaning of Islam.  Their conflicted response is only a preamble to the country's.
The memorial's designer is an enigmatic, ambitious architect named Mohammad Khan.  His fiercest defender on the jury is its sole widow, the self-possessed and mediagenic Claire Burwell.  But when the news of his selection leaks to the press, she finds herself under pressure from outraged family members and in collision with hungry journalists, wary activists, opportunistic politicians, fellow jurors, and Khan himself - as unknowable as he is gifted.  In the fights for both advantage and their ideals, all will bring the emotional weight of their own histories to bear on the urgent questions of how to remember, and understand, a nation tragedy.
In this deeply humane novel, the breadth of Amy Waldman's cast of characters in matched by her startling ability to conjure their perspectives.  A striking portrait of a fractured city striving to make itself whole, The Submission is a piercing and reasonant novel by an important new talent.

My Opinion:
Here's the deal: it's going to sound like I didn't like this book, but I did.
It was uncomfortable to read because it was so unfortunately realistic (I wish it wasn't so easy to picture the bigotry and discrimination occurring in real life but I know it does), but it wasn't difficult to read because the author wrote such accessible, flawed human characters.  
Although it is almost exclusively about emotions (everyone agrees on the facts yet their reactions are so different), it wasn't an overly emotional book.  It gave me room to think; by not feeling emotionally manipulated or steered toward one side over the other, I was able to read it like an observational study on human behavior.  I would say I almost felt detached but that sounds negative; I found it very interesting and read quickly to find out what the resolution would be.
I give a lot of credit to the author for remaining true to the characters throughout the entire book.  The ending didn't feel forced - there was no unrealistic "kumbaya" moment where everyone discovered we're not so different after all but it wasn't all bleak either.  Just like life.
Quote from the Book:
"But sometimes America has to be pushed - it has to be reminded of what it is."

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bad Habits

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 58.

Bad Habits: Confessions of a Recovering Catholic by Jenny McCarthy

Jenny McCarthy wrote this book about being raised in a very religious household and the journey she took to discover her own personal faith (with a few other topics thrown in as well).

My Opinion:
She makes some valid points when questioning the faith but the presentation is just too over the top, fair or not, to resonate with a large audience.  I wasn't offended by this book, I just didn't like it.
You have to be familiar with the Catholic Church to understand the rituals and lessons she references but most practicing Catholics wouldn't like her tone.  There are plenty of lapsed Catholics but I think it would be a tough sell for them as well...the story of when she visited the Vatican is outlandishly disrespectful.  For her karma's sake, I hope it's not true, although she strikes me as a very honest person (and who would make something like that up?)  It's too serious for people that like her funny books and too funny for people that liked her serious books.
Although she writes in a very readable tone and parts of this book were interesting, it's too uneven for me to recommend (and based on the reasons above, I'm not sure what audience I would recommend it to anyway).

Quote from the Book:
"But the problem was I was being held accountable for all my negative actions.  I wanted a place that held me accountable for my positive ones too," (describing why she looked beyond the Catholic Church for her spirituality)