Sunday, September 23, 2018

Operation Annotation!

I have been M.I.A. lately, but not because I haven't been reading. I've just gotten picky with my reading choices. I gave The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang more than 250 pages before I came to the conclusion that I was bored by the book. Part 1 of the book was pretty good, but I felt like Part 2 was a completely different story. Life is too short to read books I'm just not into. I finished Autoboyography by Christina Lauren, which I liked but weeks passed and I forgot to write a review.

I had a birthday recently, and of course what does any bookworm do with birthday money? You spend it wisely on practical things like bills. Right? Just kidding, I bought more books.

For my latest book haul I bought:

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

The Air You Breathe by Frances de Pontes Pebbles

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I'm going through a thriller and fantasy phase these days. But I'm not sure when I'll get to these. :) Having too many books is a good problem in my opinion.


Here is my current reading pile and the subject of my latest blog post!


I'm currently reading The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter, The Power by Naomi Alderman, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Educated by Tara Westover, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling.

I often read more than one book at a time because I just like to have choices. Sometimes I'm in the mood for one book over the other. However reading so many books at once comes with challenges. The main challenge is my memory.

When I started this blog, eight years ago, I used to take notes on each book. I would keep a legal pad nearby while I read so I could jot down key plot points, quotes, and my overall thoughts. In the beginning I liked doing that because it helped me remember the book, especially when it came time to write a review. But eventually I got tired of the legal pad. I read a lot more when I started this blog, 75 books on average a year, and jotting down notes began to feel like homework. I hate homework! So I abandoned the legal pad.

Fast forward to the end of 2016, and I started to think I needed to go back to taking notes. Remembering what I read wasn't coming so easy. But I wasn't quite sure of the method I should be taking. Well the question was answered for me with the company Christmas gift -- a moleskine notebook. I took it as a sign. As part of my reading goals for 2017, I kept a reading journal for a full year. Same principle as the legal pad, except it was much smaller and easier to carry around.

As 2017 came to a close and my notebook was almost out of pages, I started thinking about what I should do for 2018. I did buy another journal, but it wasn't quite what I thought it was. Some of those pictures on Amazon.com are deceiving. I bought a notebook thinking it was small but it turned out to be much larger than I wanted. I read a lot during my commute to and from work, pulling out a large notebook every couple of minutes gets to be a bit annoying. I didn't want to stop taking notes, but I kept thinking I need a different approach.

What does one do when they need ideas? Google it! And then eventually go on YouTube! And that is how Operation Annotation began! I went down the YouTube rabbit hole, watching video after video on annotating books. Everyone has a different method. Index cards, post-it flags, highlighters, pens, color-coding, and so much more. Some people actually (GASP) WRITE IN THEIR BOOKS!! At the start of this venture I was very much against writing in my books, I mean that's BLASPHEMY! I had already been annotating my books by using a reading journal, but taking it further has been a mixed bag for me.

In February, I switched from using a reading journal to using post-it flags and index cards. Each book I read I kept 3-4 index cards in the book, which I used to write down my thoughts, and I used post-its to flag key parts of the book.

But . . . I found the post-its I was using to be too big. I bought the wide ones (right) first. I was trying to convince myself these were the right ones. . . and they weren't. They were too clunky. Then I bought the skinnier post-its. The size was better but even those I didn't like. Yes, I'm picky about post-its too! So yeah I abandoned those and just stuck with the index cards.

I still felt like I could be doing more with my reading. So I went down the YouTube rabbit hole again. I watched some of the same videos again! Especially the ones where people described writing in their books. I'm just so against book abuse. Yes I once considered writing in books to be abuse! Notice I said "once considered." Because . . .  I have gone to the dark side. . .


I WROTE IN MY BOOK!! Above is a page in my copy of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. And I haven't stopped there . . .


Here's a page from my copy of The Power. I finally found the right mix for me . . .


I even found the right combination of pens, highlighters, and post-its. A fine point pen, a Sharpie, and small post-it flags finally made me feel ok about (GASP) WRITING IN MY BOOKS. Now, I'm not writing in all my books or even taking notes on every book. I haven't felt the need to take notes on Harry Potter because I just want to experience the books naturally. This is my first time reading the books and I just want explore Potter Mania without notes. Maybe on a second read, I'll consider it. :)

I'm actually liking this form of annotation. I'm even thinking, "I need a special pencil case for this!" In reality it gets to be a little cumbersome digging in my backpack for a post-it on the subway, so yeah a pencil case is in my near future!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

My take on: To Kill a Mockingbird

I'm not sure how I made it through grade school, undergrad, and graduate school without reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. . .but I did! I'm pretty sure it was assigned once as summer reading in eighth or ninth grade, but I'm also pretty sure I pretended to read it. I wasn't as into reading then as I am now. When the opportunity presented itself to review the graphic novel adaptation, by Fred Fordham, I jumped at the chance.

This is one of those classic books that I feel out of the loop on. I know the basic story. Scout's father, Atticus Finch, defends a black man against a rape charge in the deep south during the 1930s. And that's all I knew.

I'm not going to rehash all of the details of this book because I think that's been done for decades. I'm just going to focus on my thoughts on the overall story and the illustrations.

My No. 1 thought? Given the current political climate, reading this book illustrated, for me, that not a lot has changed. Black men were feared in the 1930s, and that is still the case in many places throughout the world. Women who are strong, independent, or have a different way of thinking than the status quo are feared or seen as weird. Scout definitely embodies those qualities. She wants to be accepted as one of the boys even if they don't accept her. Scout challenges just about every person she interacts with, even her own father. She's more perceptive than people give her credit for.

As a graphic novel this has it's pluses and minuses. The illustrations are a little basic, not very vivid. What's the right word? The illustrations weren't "popping" for me. I read a galley without the full color illustrations, but I don't think color would have changed my opinion. It felt like something was missing, and maybe that's because some context from the original novel couldn't fully translate to the illustrated format. However some of the illustrations did work for me. The courtroom scenes are where the illustrations actually start to get good. I think Fred Fordham did a good job of showing the tension in the courtroom. The witnesses, especially the alleged "victim", go through a range of emotions, and I saw that clearly through the illustrations.

The graphic novel edition has some shining moments, but I think I need to read the original book to get the full context/experience.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

My take on: Not Her Daughter

Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey is a gripping and emotional story that explores what makes a family and what it truly means to be a parent.

Sarah Walker is still reeling from a breakup with her longtime boyfriend, Ethan, but gets through everyday by drowning herself in work. She still can't figure out why after years of dating, that she wasn't the one for Ethan. Why didn't he love her enough? Why didn't he propose? It's a bit of an obsession for Sarah. As a child, Sarah had a mother who didn't seem to love her or her father, and who eventually abandoned the family. It's something Sarah has never gotten over.

A chance encounter with a stressed out family, and their five-year-old daughter, offers Sarah an opportunity at redemption.

Emma Townsend is lonely and afraid. She's afraid of her mother, Amy. Nothing Emma does is ever right. Anything can set off her mother. If Emma doesn't move fast enough, Amy will yell at her. If Emma doesn't respond fast enough, Amy will yell at her. Her father is no help. Can anyone help?

Sarah thinks it's her duty to help Emma. After spotting the little girl at an airport with her family, Sarah is convinced that Emma is an abused child. A few minutes standing in an airport security line, and Sarah is convinced that it's her responsibility to rescue Emma. But what can Sarah do? She's not family. She has no authority to intervene. And more importantly she has no proof there's anything wrong with the Townsend family. There's nothing Sarah can do at the airport, as they both go their separate ways. But when their paths cross again, Sarah makes it her mission to find out what is wrong with Emma and her family. An opportunity to rescue Emma presents itself, and Sarah has a tough decision to make. Let Emma stay with her family or take her away from her family. She chooses to take Emma. She chooses to kidnap Emma. She chooses to commit a crime rather than take Emma to the police or child protective services.

The book alternates between Sarah and Amy's perspectives. I found myself sympathizing with both women. If I could help someone I believe to be in danger, yes I would help in anyway I could. Anyway I legally could. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed this book. But if this were real life, I would be screaming at Sarah for being SO STUPID!! I don't understand people who thinks it's their job to butt into someone else's life without knowing all of the facts. Because I think Sarah didn't have all of the facts. Without even reading Amy's perspective, I immediately thought yes she's a bad parent, a borderline abusive parent. But kidnapping a child is not the answer. Amy seemed like a woman who let the responsibilities of parenthood overwhelm her. She never wanted to be a parent, but she also never took time for herself once she became one. She took out her frustration on her children, especially Emma.

This book definitely has a compulsive quality to it. Last week, I was about 150 pages in and at the end of each chapter I kept saying to myself just one more chapter, just one more chapter. Well I kept doing that until I finished the book. Sarah's on the run with Emma, and I wanted to see how many close calls could she get out of. On one hand I don't want her to caught, but on the other I do for committing such a stupid crime. The ending was both satisfying and frustrating. Read the book to know what I'm talking about! Trust me this is a book and an author to put on your radar!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Macmillan) in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

My experience reading Stephen King's It

Thirteen months. It took me thirteen months to finish a book. Yes, I have finished other books in that timespan, but it took me more than a year to finish Stephen King's It. As I'm sure many of you know, this book is nearly 1,200 pages. I have never in my life read a single book that long.

I had illusions that I would read the book in time for the 2017 movie adaptation. I grew up on the 1990 TV movie. Tim Curry will always be Pennywise in my heart. But I digress. I started this book in early July of 2017, needless to say I was barely 100 pages in by the time the film came out in September.

But I was determined to finish. This was my third attempt at reading It. Both times I don't think I got beyond more than 80 pages. I didn't want to quit this time. This book went with me on not one but two vacations, to Virginia and Maui, and several commutes to work. Prior to It, the only Stephen King books I read to date were Carrie and Misery. You know back when King wrote normal size books. I never went beyond those two because the rest of his books seem to be equal in weight to a small child.

Just a few days ago, I finally finished. As much as I admire King's ability to craft a story and chastise the current White House resident on Twitter, this book left me a little verklempt!

King's imagination is awesome, but he seems to not know when enough is enough.

This book is more than 30 years old, so I'm not going to rehash every minute detail. Ninety percent of the book was clicking on all cylinders for me. The strong friendship of the Loser's Club, Bill, Eddie, Stan, Ben, Richie, Mike, and Beverly shines throughout. One minute they can be cracking jokes on each other and ready to fight bully Henry Bowers to the death in the next. But......the last ten percent of the book is another matter. The cosmic turtle, the spider, and the COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY child sex scene kept this from being a four-star read for me. It's like King had a fully-thought out idea/plot for 1,092 pages. Then came page 1,093, when Beverly sets an incredibly INSANE plan in motion. I don't care what anyone says, not even Stephen King himself, I will NEVER be convinced that the "child ritual" was essential to the plot. I can forgive the confusing passages about the cosmic turtle and the spider, but children having sex was a bridge too far. There were also moments of racism and homophobia that I could have done without.

I knew and understood what I was reading for ninety percent of the book, but the rest just left me corn-fused!

This thirteen month experience has not turned me off reading more books by King. I need some time to recover but eventually I want to tackle The Stand, The Outsider, Under the Dome (the last season of the TV adaptation SUCKED, which I'm still mad about), Sleeping Beauties, and Duma Key. At the rate I read It, I might not be finished with this list for at least five years. Oh I hope not!

Rating: Give it a try

Thursday, August 9, 2018

My take on: Under a Dark Sky

Lori Rader-Day, author of Under a Dark Sky, introduced me to something I didn't know existed -- dark sky parks.

The best way I know how to describe a dark sky park? A place that eschews artificial light sources and embraces the natural beauty that the forest and the wide open sky have to offer. Sounds beautiful....as long as you're not afraid of the dark! Not a typical vacation spot, but one such park is at the heart of my latest read, Under a Dark Sky.

I said yes to a blog tour simple because I wanted to know what a dark sky park was and how it relates to the story. In this book it's the sight of a murder.

Eden Wallace is still reeling from the death of her husband Bix. She's cried all she can cry. Gone through bouts of anger and frustration. And after nine months has worn out the patience of her family and friends. She's still grieving and worst of all she's not sleeping. While most people sleep in the night, Eden is wide awake. Afraid of the dark, Eden spends her nights with every single light on. Once sunlight creeps through the curtains, Eden feels it's safe enough to shut her eyes. This fear of the dark often consumes Eden, she can't even step outside once it gets dark. But even Eden realizes it's time to face her fear. When the opportunity presents itself, Eden takes a leap of faith but she gets more than she bargained for.

Eden discovers Bix had a reservation for them at dark sky park. A few days exploring nature's beauty -- in the dark. What was supposed to a be surprise for their 10th wedding anniversary could prove to be Eden's salvation. But she should have read the fine print a little more clearly. Thinking she has an entire house to herself, Eden is stunned to find a young couple, Paris and Dev, already there. Paris and Dev are none too pleased to see Eden either, as they were anticipating sharing the house with their old college buddies. Yes, it's a house share and no one realized it until it was too late. Rather than risk getting stuck in traffic -- in the dark -- Eden reluctantly decides to stay just for the night and then head home. She'll stick to her room and let the youngins' enjoy themselves. Of course that's not how it goes!

As more people start to arrive, Eden gets a first-hand look at the so-called "tight" relationships her new housemates share. Sam is flaky and between jobs. Martha enjoys a playful but platonic closeness to Sam. Dev is friendly despite his fiancee Paris' surly demeanor. Hillary is bubbly and friendly, but she's clearly the newbie of the group because no one likes her. She only gets to partake of the reunion because she's Malloy's girlfriend. Malloy. He's clearly the leader of the group. Everyone gravitates to him. The men want to be him and the women want to be with him. Even Eden is drawn to his magnetic personality. In this house, Eden and Hillary are clearly not welcome. If Eden can make it through the night, she leave this frat house in the morning. What should have been a chance for Eden to relax is quickly shattered when Malloy is murdered. Once the murder happens, these "friends" turn on each other quickly.

This had the right elements for what I'm looking for in a thriller: a mysterious/unfamiliar setting, an unreliable narrator, and several potential suspects. I mean I'm a bit floored that someone would actually want to vacation in darkness. To each his own. But...the P A C I N G!! The pacing was just too slow for me. For me, the ending of chapter of a thriller should leave you thirsting for the next one.   I never got that feeling with this book. Some of the characters just seemed like children who never grew up, and that's not something I can relate to. Malloy seemed like more than a man, he's practically a religion to these people. They revered him above all else. They went to him with every problem, triumph, and heartbreak. It seemed a little weird to me. Overall, the book is not all bad, but it just wasn't for me.


Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.


Friday, July 27, 2018

My take on: The Last Thing I Told You

Therapist Dr. Mark Fabian has been murdered.

Detective Henry Peacher automatically zeroes in on Dr. Fabian's patients as potential suspects.

Before his death, Dr. Fabian pulled the files of two former patients, Nadine Raines and Johnny Streeter. Both of whom have troubled pasts.

As a teenager, Nadine attacked one of her teachers. Such an attack wasn't in her character, she had never done anything like that before. There were no signs, no warnings that Nadine had any violent tendencies. Despite Dr. Fabian's best efforts, he never could get Nadine to admit to him or to herself the real reason Nadine attacked her teacher. Even decades later, Nadine still can't understand it. Does Nadine blame Dr. Fabian for not helping her understand her behavior? Could that be a motive for murder?

However, with Johnny Streeter there were lots of signs pointing to his penchant for violence. Streeter is serving a life sentence for a mass shooting at a nursing home. He obviously didn't kill Dr. Fabian, but what is Johnny's connection to his former therapist's demise? And...does Nadine have anything to do with it?

Should be enough for Henry to build a case? Or is there more to the story. Yes, of course there is more to the story. Told in the alternating perspectives of Henry and Nadine, The Last Thing I Told You by Emily Arsenault, is about more than just a murder. Dr. Fabian's death is merely a catalyst to Henry and Nadine examining the depths of human behavior. Nadine is of course looking at herself and wondering how to keep the disturbing thoughts swirling around in her head from completely consuming her. Through Dr. Fabian's notes and patient records, Henry learns that not everything is as it seems. Just because a person can appear to be ok on the outside, it doesn't mean that person doesn't need help on the inside -- even Henry himself. This case has forced Henry to confront demons from his own past. It was the bullets from his gun that stopped Johnny Streeter and prevented him from killing more people, but Henry has always wondered what would have happened if he had intervened sooner? Sure he stopped a killer, but does that make him a hero? Or just someone who happened to be in the right place at the right time?

After about 100 pages, I was starting to wonder where this book was going? In my opinion it was too obvious to have Nadine be the killer. But as I got further into the story, I started to think maybe she is a killer. In the chapters she narrates, Nadine is speaking directly to Dr. Fabian. With each page, it seemed like she was apologizing to him for taking his life. But maybe she's just apologizing for not truly embracing therapy? When she began therapy, she was an aloof, self-absorbed teenager. As an adult, she has more life experiences and can look at her past with more insight. Then there is Dr. Fabian himself. He was starting to slip, forgetting patient names and mixing up patients. Was someone catching on to his behavior? Could that be a motive for murder? There were so many twists and turns. This wasn't your standard psychological thriller. I liked that there was a lot of depth to it and would definitely read another book by this author again!


Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours. 


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

My take on: Between You and Me

I own several books by Susan Wiggs, but up until a month ago I had only read one. After reading her latest, Between You & Me, I'm up to two books and I need to read more! With just two books of hers under my belt, I can tell she focuses on stories about family, heartache, and love. And I'm always a sucker for a book about family.

At first, I wasn't sure how a book like Between You & Me could work. It's a clash of cultures. A career-driven doctor, Reese Powell, and a simple Amish farmer, Caleb Stoltz, meet after a freak accident, somehow they form a deep friendship and eventually fall in love. How does a relationship like that even stand a chance? Or how does a writer make what seems impossible possible and sustain that idea for 300-plus pages? Yes, I had my doubts and I was pleasantly surprised.

Caleb has lived most of his life according to his Amish faith. But he has had a taste of the modern world, and almost left the Amish community for good. But a sense of duty and love for his extended family, pulled Caleb out of the modern world and back into plain life. The murders of Caleb's brother, John, and his wife left their children, Hannah and Jonah, orphans. If not for Caleb, the children would have been left in the care of their strict and abusive grandfather, Asa. Caleb will do anything and everything for his niece and nephew, even if it means putting aside his own dreams. In many ways, Caleb is a lot like Reese Powell. Reese's parents have had her life planned out from the moment she was born. Her parents are successful doctors, with a successful and thriving practice. So Reese must be the same. She has to go for the high-profile specialities, she has to apply to the best hospitals for her residency, and when her residency is done she has to join her parents' practice. What if being a big-shot doctor isn't what Reese wants? She loves being a doctor and helping people, but Reese could be happy at a small hospital.

When is Reese going to do what she wants?

When is Caleb going to do what he wants?

A chance encounter brings Caleb and Reese together, forcing them to confront their fears, hopes, and dreams.

Jonah is badly injured in a farm accident. Caleb is left with the devastating choice of saving his life with modern medicine or potentially letting him die. Of course Caleb chooses life, and Jonah is taken to the hospital where Reese works. Reese is in her final year of medical school, so technically she isn't a doctor yet. But she gets to observe Jonah's case, even offering medical advice and emotional support to Caleb. At first, Reese feels like she's just doing her job. She checks up on a patient like any medical professional would. She gets Caleb a change of fresh clothes so he doesn't have to sit in bloody clothes. She sits with Caleb at Jonah's bedside. She helps Caleb find a place to stay while Jonah recovers. Once Jonah is awake, she even bonds with him. At some point, this goes beyond a doctor/patient relationship. It becomes a friendship, and soon even more.

How could a relationship between Caleb and Reese be successful longterm? How will they handle the inevitable questions from friends and family members? Why invest so much time in someone who might be unavailable to you literally and figuratively?

This isn't a story about how modern life is better than being Amish. Or that being Amish is better than living in the modern world. It's a story about what can happen if you let your hopes and dreams fall by the wayside. You can still find a way to make others happy without losing yourself in the process. In case you couldn't tell, I loved this book!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours


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