Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Bye bye 2016!!!

We made it! The final days of 2016 are finally coming to a close. My life was actually pretty stable, despite the lack of extra money in my wallet. However, I would wager the world at large is ready to put 2016 in the rearview mirror.

I personally was stunned that the orange terror will now be in the Oval Office. So much so that I had to walk away from newspapers, news, and all forms of social media for two weeks. Leading up to the election, I had absorbed so much media that I had to take a break. Instead, I turned to my favorite form of entertainment -- BOOKS!

Books are a great way to distract from reality. A great way to enter worlds different from your own. Last year, I vowed to read more. I set a goal of 75 books, but halfway through the year I knew I wasn't going to hit that mark. It was a nice try. Then, I decided to lower my goal to 40 books. I thought that was more attainable. But........I came up short. I topped out at 34 books. Still more than last year. I read only 27 books last year. So I'm glad I was able to read just a little bit more. There were some books that I started and didn't finish because I just wasn't into them. Although, there were a lot of books I was into. So read on......

Best books of 2016
(Please note, not all of these books were published in 2016. I just happened to read them in 2016)
 
 
1. If You Left by Ashley Prentice Norton: A great read on the toll mental illness can take on marriage and family.
 
2. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson: A lyrical coming of age story about a teenage girl trying to find her place in life. 

3. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley: The only two survivors of a deadly plane crash have to navigate the aftermath.

4. One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid: Some people only get one true love. What if fate gives you a chance at two? What would you do?

5. All the Winters After by Seré Prince Halverson: A family used to running from their problems finally have to face them.
 
6. The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris: A young immigrant tries to make it in America, but at a cost.
 
7. The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel: I'm still not sure how to describe this book, but it's the most unique story I read all year. 
 
8. Noah's Wife by Lindsay Starck: A modern-day take on the biblical story of Noah.
 
9. Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: My first foray with a vampire fantasy novel.  
 
10. Girl Unbroken by Regina Calcaterra and Rosie Maloney: One woman's story of her odyssey through foster care and an erratic mother.
 
11. Gaining Visibility by Pamela Hearon: A sweet romance to end my reading year.
 
 
 
 
 
 
The not so good books of 2016
(Please note, not all of these books were published in 2016. I just happened to read them in 2016)
 
1. Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris: This was just bad, borderline tragedy porn. The plot just didn't make a lot of sense to me. It went to the extreme for seemingly no reason.
 
2. The Sun in Your Eyes by Deborah Shapiro: This was just boring!
 
3. The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi: I wanted to like this. A young girl cursed with a deadly horoscope. It certainly got my attention, but writing was just overly descriptive -- borderline overkill.
 
4. The Summer of Me by Angela Benson: This book had an overly spiritual and uplifting message, but that message was very heavy-handed.
 
5. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: After all the hype surrounding this book, I had high hopes and was disappointed.
 
 
How did I do with reading resolutions in 2016?
 
No so good. I read 34 books for a total of 10,948 pages. I wanted at least 50 percent of the books I read to be books I purchased. But I only read five of my own books -- the same amount as last year. That's a big fail on my part. I can only aim to do better in 2016. Instead of 50 percent, how about just doubling the amount? So I only read five of my own books in 2016, I need to read at least 10 of my own books in 2017. That sounds doable. :)

Lets take a look at my other resolutions from 2016:

--Buy less books: That's one I did a good job of sticking to. I only bought books on special occasions: my birthday, the office book fair, and Christmas. I think I can do it again in 2017.

--Read more sci-fi/fantasy books: This one was difficult. I would say this is a work in progress. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin was at the top of my list. I gave it 150 pages, but I couldn't give it anymore. I just didn't understand it. It's not a good sign if I have to keep reading the appendix to understand your book. But I think I will give this another shot in 2017. I did get out of my contemporary bubble in 2016. That's progress.

--Less social media: This is something I still struggle with. The election results did force me to pull away from all forms of media in general. But getting off Twitter is still hard. Perhaps taking the app off my phone would help!

--Read more e-books: Of the 34 books I read, three were e-books. I really prefer print to digital, and that's not going to change anytime soon.

--Listen to an audiobook: EPIC FAIL. Not a single book I read was audio. I got nothing on how to change this one.

--Read more non-fiction: I didn't get to Dead Wake by Erik Larson, yet. But I did read six non-fiction books, compared to zero in 2015.

--Read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: Nope, not yet.

--Start the Song of Ice and Fire Series: So-so, I'm 200 pages into A Game of Thrones. I like it, but it's going to take a while to get through such a thick book.

--Read more Harry Potter books: I re-read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. But this time I read the illustrated edition. I think having pictures helped. I definitely have a greater appreciation for book 1 than I did the first time around. Next up is the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Reading resolutions for 2017

Keep a reading journal: When I first started blogging, I did take notes on the books I was reading. But at some point I stopped. Looking back, I think my reviews were more in depth and easier to write because I took notes. I had words to look at when I was writing my reviews. When I stopped, it was hard to remember my thoughts. I read multiple books at the same time, and sometimes I have to re-read passages to jog my memory. I have already started my reading journal, and I will keep it up for a full year. 
 
Try for 50: I would love to get back to the years when I could read 60+, but I'm not there yet. Fifty seems like a good number.


Finish the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer: I did read Cinder this year. I started Scarlet, but had to put it down. I was reading too many books at the time and something had to give. 

Read a book I assume I will hate: I watch a lot of videos on YouTube. So many book bloggers on YouTube seem to love Twilight, but I do a major eyeroll whenever I hear that. I've read a few passages of Twilight, and they've all been bad. But maybe I'm wrong.

I think that's it for resolutions. If I have too many, I think I'm going to overextend myself. What are your resolutions?
 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

My take on: Gaining Visibility

Ending my year of reviews with an uplifting read, Gaining Visibility by Pamela Hearon.

Julia Berkwith is at a crossroads. Her daughter, Melissa, has moved to Alaska to be with her boyfriend. Her ex-husband, Frank, has moved to Hawaii to be with a much younger woman. Everyone has moved on except Julia. She deserves a life of her own. She has a lot to celebrate. She's a breast cancer survivor. But in a twisted way, surviving cancer also led to the end of her marriage. Frank couldn't or wouldn't play the part of the supportive husband. In a way, Julia became invisible to Frank. He no longer saw the woman he married. All he could see were the scars of cancer.

However, Julia's mother-in-law and close confidant, Hettie, is determined to get her daughter-in-law back into the dating game. Maybe more than dating....just straight sex works too. Yes, Hettie wants Julia to forget about her no-good son, Frank. Hettie wants Julia to get back into the saddle. Yes, Hettie is one sassy lady. But Julia has other ideas. Rather than wallow at the loss of her marriage, Julia is taking a dream trip to Italy. She's going to eat, she's going to hike a famous trail, and just take in the beauty of Italy. Love is the last thing on Julia's mind. But fate and love are about to enter Julia's life.

While in Italy, a freak injury lands Julia literally in the hands of a handsome Italian god named Vitale. Yes, he's drop dead gorgeous. But he can't possibly be interested in Julia. Can he? Maybe there is a physical attraction, but it's probably just lust. At least that's what Julia keeps telling herself. Vitale is in his thirties and Julia is in her forties. He speaks in broken English, there's often a lot lost in translation between them. He even gives her a new name, Julietta. Yet these two find they have a lot in common. They both have a love of art, and Vitale just happens to be a talented artist. Both have suffered great losses. At times, both of them suffer from a lack of confidence. Julia refuses to believe or to see that a younger man could love her and her scars. Vitale refuses to believe or to see that he doesn't have to fix everything and everyone. Both of them need to open their eyes and show just a hint of vulnerability.

Julia and Vitale both had a lot of ups and downs, but there is still hope out there. There is still hope for love and happiness, but only if they both see it. Julia and Vitale believe the world sees them one way, but in fact they've closed their eyes to the world. Their own perceptions are blinding Julia and Vitale to what's right in front of them -- each other. For me, this endearing romance was the perfect read to end the year.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

My take on: Hidden Figures

History is filled with a number of untold or under-told stories. Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly, is no different. It's the story of the incredible black women who helped launch astronauts such as John Glenn and Neil Armstrong to outer space. They were known as "human computers," but they were so much more.

Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were mathematicians, teachers, mothers, and wives. They had to deal with sexism and racism at a time when Jim Crow laws were still the norm. But everyday they got to work doing what they loved and had a passion for.

During World War II, the men were at war and women were needed in the workplace. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), now known as NASA, put out the call for women to serve their country. Women could play a small or a big part in winning the war. Women like Dorothy Vaughn. Dorothy, a college grad, went down the path many educated black women did before her -- by becoming a teacher. But she struggled to provided for her family on a teacher's salary, leading her to work in a laundry during the summer breaks. She wanted more. When the opportunity to work for the NACA presented itself it was too good to pass up. The NACA paid more than twice her teacher's salary. The opportunity for more and the call to serve also brought Mary, Katherine, and Christine to the NACA.

While black women played an important role in space exploration and aviation, it didn't change their role in the boardroom or in society at large. To be recognized or noticed for their work, female computers at the NACA had to team up or work under their male counterparts. Many men got the credit for the hard work done by women. Bathrooms and cafeterias at the NACA were still segregated. Buses were still segregated. Schools were still segregated. Progress was coming just not enough and not fast enough.

This was an important story and it deserved to be told. But.....I didn't like the way it was told. This book was often difficult to follow. I wish the author had just focused on the stories of the four women, but this book was very broad in its scope. There's heavy details on mathematics, segregation, racism, and science. Single books could be written on those topics alone, and trying to mash them all together just didn't work for me. The book often drifts away from Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine and gets bogged down in reflecting on the ever changing civil rights era. There's nothing wrong with giving some background for context, but sometimes the societal changes dominated what should be at the heart of this book -- the women of the NACA.

Rating: Give it a try

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

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Cover Reveal: Until it Fades by K.A. Tucker


About UNTIL IT FADES:

A sexy new romance about a small-town woman who saves the life of a mysterious man, and finds herself unexpectedly thrown into a whirlwind love affair, featuring bestselling author K. A. Tucker’s signature “well-constructed, pulse-pounding suspense” (USA TODAY).

Twenty-four-year-old truck stop waitress and single mother Catherine Wright has simple goals: to give her five-year-old daughter a happy life and to never again be the talk of the town in Balsam, Pennsylvania: population three thousand outside of tourist season.

And then one foggy night, on a lonely road back from another failed attempt at a relationship, Catherine saves a man’s life. It isn’t until after the police have arrived that Catherine realizes exactly who it is she has saved: Brett Madden, hockey icon and media darling.

Catherine has already had her fifteen minutes of fame and the last thing she wants is to have her past dragged back into the spotlight, only this time on a national stage. So she hides her identity. It works.

For a time.

But when she finds the man she saved standing on her doorstep, desperate to thank her, all that changes. What begins as an immediate friendship quickly turns into something neither of them expected. Something that Catherine isn’t sure she can handle; something that Catherine is afraid to trust.

Because how long can an extraordinary man like Brett be interested in an ordinary woman like Catherine…before the spark fades?



About K.A. Tucker:

K.A. Tucker writes captivating stories with an edge.

She is the USA Today bestselling author of 14 books, including Ten Tiny Breaths and Burying Water, and her latest Adult Suspense novel, He Will Be My Ruin. Her books have been featured in national publications including USA Today, Globe & Mail, Suspense Magazine, and Publisher's Weekly.

K.A. Tucker currently resides in a quaint town outside of Toronto with her husband, two beautiful girls, and a Chug.

Links:

Website ** Twitter ** Facebook ** Novel Goodreads ** Author Goodreads ** YouTube ** Pinterest ** Instagram

Saturday, December 3, 2016

My take on: Station Eleven

Civilization has collapsed, wiped out by a deadly flu. Those who survive are left to ponder what now? Strip humanity of everything they love, everything they take for granted and what will they become? What lengths will they go to survive.

"What choice do I have? You know how this . . . this time we live in, you know how it forces a person to do things." -- Pg. 292

I wanted to believe the hype surrounding Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel but....I just don't. This was the hot book two years ago. I read nothing but glowing reviews on blogs, Goodreads, newspapers, and magazines. I bought the book two years, but didn't actually read it until recently. As I read this, I definitely saw the depth and creativity of the author's writing. But I just wasn't getting what made this book so great. Is something wrong with me? What am I missing? What am I not getting?

It all begins on a theater stage in Toronto. Actor Arthur Leander, famous for his many ex-wives and a favorite target for the paparazzi, is performing King Lear. The play has barely begun before Arthur collapses on stage from an apparent heart attack. Former gossip photographer turned EMT Jeevan Chaudhary leaps into action to help Arthur, but it's all for naught. Arthur dies. He dies the same night the Georgian flu spreads across the globe. In a panic, Jeevan buys out the grocery store and cocoons himself and his brother, Frank, in an apartment. Not everyone is as lucky as Jeevan. People die trying to evade the outbreak. Slowly, everyday life breaks down. Electricity becomes a thing of the past. Running water becomes a thing of the past. All the modern conveniences that people take for granted become a thing of the past.

Fifteen years after the outbreak, the people who remain are scattered in various factions. Kirsten, a former child actor, is part of the Traveling Symphony. They're a group of actors and musicians who travel from town to town performing Shakespeare. It sounds weird to be performing when life has become so hopeless for so many. But entertainment, however brief, is a welcome distraction from the people they've become. What kind of people are left on Earth? The kind that mark their kills with tattoos on their arms. The kind that create a new civilization in an abandoned airport. And, in one small town, the kind of people that follow a self-appointed prophet. A prophet who spouts Bible phrases, thinks women are sexual property, and demands obedience -- or suffer the consequences.

This is a non-linear narrative, and that's probably my biggest problem with this book. I'm not against non-linear books, but it didn't work for me here. I was often re-reading passages because I wasn't always sure when things were taking place. There are also big gaps for some of the characters. Jeevan's story takes prominence for the first couple of chapters, but then we don't hear from him again for nearly two hundred pages. Frustrating! I wanted to know more about him. I connected with his character early on, but then I found myself not really caring once Jeevan appeared again. Despite dying in the first chapter, Arthur is a big part of the novel. What led to him becoming a scandal-prone actor and eventually his demise plays prominently throughout the book. Somehow Arthur's life has touched everyone from his friends, like Clark, to his ex-wives, to his son, Tyler, and to Kirsten.

This was a display of imaginative storytelling, but it seems so reminiscent of works that already existed before this. The Walking Dead and Hunger Games come to mind, featuring characters I care about. I didn't really find myself caring about the characters in Station Eleven. I found myself a little bored, wondering when the point was going to manifest itself and it never did.

Rating: Meh

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

My take on: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

A book about books for book lovers, a book that talks at length about other books, and mix in a small town full of quirky characters = SIGN ME UP!

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald has been on my TBR pile for months.

Book-crazy Sara has come all the way from Sweden to the small town of Broken Wheel, Iowa. She's come to see Amy, her equally book-crazy pen pal. But unfortunately Amy dies just before Sara arrives. The busybodies of Broken Wheel, Iowa, rally around Sara. They treat Sara as Amy would treat her. Grace, owner of the local diner, is quick to shove a burger and fries in front of Sara. George, a lonely but charming man, is thrust into the role of chauffeur and tour guide. Jen writes the town newsletter, taking on the responsibility of making Broken Wheel more appealing and charming than Hope, a larger neighboring town. Jen also makes it her business to play matchmaker with Sara and Tom, Amy's nephew. She could care less that Sara and Tom don't really want a relationship.

The only real relationship Sara has ever had has been with books. She can easily get lost in a story, in a character. She can easily lose hours of time in a book. Life can pass her by. She can find more intrigue and mystery in a book than in real life.

"What was so great about reality? Amy was dead, and Sara was stuck here in a car with a man who clearly disliked her. With books, she could be whoever she wanted , wherever she wanted. She could be tough, beautiful, charming; she could come up with the perfect line at the perfect moment, and she could . . . experience things. Real things. Things that happened to real people." -- Pg. 49 

I can totally relate to that quote. Sometimes, especially after this election, reality can really suck. Just a couple of hours with a book and you can easily forget about bills, work, and . . . . . just about everything.

With Amy gone, Sara begins to question her role in this town. Everyone is going out of their way to make her feel welcome. No one will let her pay for anything. How can Sara give back? How can Sara show how much she appreciates the generosity? Well,  it all comes back to the books. Amy's home is filled with books. Filled with the stories Amy and Sara used to write to each other about. Books were a joy they could share, and Sara is convinced she can share that joy with the town.

Using Amy's vast collection, Sara opens a bookstore. The town, a.k.a. the future readers of Broken Wheel, don't  really know what to think? What purpose does a bookstore have in a town that barely reads? But Sara's charm and vast knowledge of books begins to win people over. Slowly, Sara brings a brightness to the town that was sorely missing. People begin to see the joy in not just books but in each other. People begin opening themselves up to people, experiences, friendships, and relationships -- all because Sara exposed them to books.

What will the town of Broken Wheel do without Sara? She's not a citizen and her tourist visa will run out eventually. Of course in a town like this, people are quick to rally around Sara. Jen and the rest of the town come up with a rather wacky and illegal plan. But they do what they have to to save Sara. Overall, this was a cute story. I saw a lot of myself in Sara. My room is drowning in books! Many times this story was a bit predictable, especially the happy ending, which kept this from being a total home run for me. I'm not against happy endings, but I knew how it was going to end before I got there. But it was a fun journey, and a book worth reading.

Rating: Give it a try

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My take on: Unlocking Worlds

"....what matters is the experience of a book, whether that book blossoms in our imaginations, whether we connect with the characters, whether the events in the story resonate, inspiring us to think and feel." --Pg. xix

This quote from Unlocking Worlds by Sally Allen, got me thinking about why I read.

I work in book publishing, so I read everyday as part of my job. But even if it wasn't part of job, I would still be reading. I read for enjoyment. I read for an escape from the daily grind. I read because it's often better than watching television. I read because I love it.

Unlocking Worlds: A Reading Companion for Book Lovers is made for people who love books. For people who love the journey books can take them.

"Being a reader is about taking the time to have a conversation with a book, to give it my devoted time and attention, to value the efforts of its creator, to seek connection with others who have engaged in this same conversation" --Pg. 193.

Yes, to this a thousand times. As a reader, I know a lot of thought and work is put into every book that I read. Subconsciously, that's probably why it's always so hard for me to walk away from a book. I go into every book believing I will love it, but obviously that's not always the case.

In the case of Unlocking Worlds, I did enjoy the book. The book is broken into several sections, including Novels that Play with Time and Space, Novels About Connection, Community and Family, and of course Books for Book Lovers. Reading about the author's own experiences reading certain books made me a bit nostalgic. I feel like I need to read Charlotte's Web by E.B. White again. I'm quite certain I read it in second grade, and there's no way I was having deep thoughts about it back then. All I remember is that it's about a pig and a spider. Obviously, it's about more than that but I feel like I would appreciate a book about friendship much more as an adult than as a child. I loved Kindred by Octavia Butler for it's storyline. In that book, a woman in an interracial marriage time travels back to slavery. I read Kindred over the course of a 10-hour car trip. I wasn't reading it from a sci-fi perspective, but I'm thinking maybe I should re-read it. There are so many things one can miss the first time around, sometimes it's worth it to read books a second time.

Definitely read this book if you're looking for your next read. Definitely read this book if you love books about books. Definitely read this book if you just love reading. It's short and sweet.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the boom from Smith Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 28, 2016

My take on: Certain Dark Things

Nine times out of ten I like my books based in reality. The few times I've stepped outside of the box, I've been disappointed. But I wasn't disappointed this time. I loved Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Vampires have infiltrated the normally safe confines of Mexico City. The cops want them out. The gangs want them out. And it's not going to be easy.

Street kid Domingo knows his way around the city. The resourceful teenager knows how to survive with next to nothing. He spends his days on the streets collecting garbage and his night in the bowels of the subway. Soon he finds himself befriending a mysterious woman, Atl. She gives him an offer he can't refuse. Let her drink some of his blood and Atl will make it worth his while financially.

Atl is a vampire, descending from a long run of Aztec blood suckers. She comes from a prominent line of vampires. But now, all of her family is gone and Atl is on the run from their killers, a rival line of vampires. Atl needs help. She's afraid and reluctant to rely on Domingo. Drinking his blood satisfies her hunger and gives her strength, but it doesn't solve her larger problem. Nick Godoy, a ruthless and bloodthirsty vampire, is after Atl. He wants to torture her and kill her for starting a war with his family. So far, Atl has been one step ahead but she needs Domingo's help if she's going to get out of Mexico City safely.

Conflicted police officer Ana is after both Atl and Nick. Being a cop is often a fruitless endeavor for Ana. Her bosses don't listen to her. Solving crimes is a priority to Ana but not to others. A lucrative offer to pursue Atl and Nick is too hard to resist. The money could lead to a better life for Ana and her daughter, but at what costs? What about her integrity? What about her safety?

With so many people after Atl and Domingo, how will they survive? How that plays out makes for a very suspenseful and compulsive read. At first, Atl is an enigma. She can friendly. But she can also be a ruthless badass. What are her motives? Does she want to kill Domingo? Or does she really want his help? There are really sweet moments between them. Domingo is very naive, but Atl is able to overlook that. To Atl, Domingo is more than a companion, he's a friend. To Domingo, Atl is a friend who happens to be a vampire.

Too often I can be a bit of a book snob. If a book wasn't based in reality, it wasn't worth my time. But this book was worth my time and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received an e-galley from the publisher (Thomas Dunne Books) in exchange for an honest review.
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