Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Book List

Let's be honest, this blog has just become a way for me to keep track of what I'm reading.  And I'm okay with that.  I love having lists of what books I've read.  I refer to them relatively often, when I'm thinking of what to recommend to other people, or if I'm considering a reread.  Or just to remember a certain time.  Many of these books bring back not just memories of the books, but also what was going on in my life when I read them.

So here's my 2013 list of books.  Highlighted books I would recommend (some to anyone, some to just fans of the genre).
  • Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. I read the first 2/3 of this book when I was overtired and over-caffeinated and though it was ridiculously funny. I was laughing so hard I was crying. I read the last 1/3 of this book when I was tired and had a migraine coming on. It was okay. I don't know if the book really got less funny, of if my mood affected my reading. One chapter that stood out as terrible: some random interlude about a retreat with a bunch of bloggers. Other than that, though, I'd recommend this book for anyone looking for a good laugh.
  • The Last Dragonslayer (The Chronicles of Kazam #1) by Jasper Fforde. I like Jasper Fforde. I find his books smart, in a silly way. Interesting but not too heavy. Fun. This was no exception.
  • Takedown Twenty (Stephanie Plum #20): An adequate entry in a repetitive series. But it repeats a boilerplate I seem to enjoy, so no foul.
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Strong writing, strong story. Would recommend widely.
  • How To Talk to Girls at Parties by Neil Gaiman. A very short story given away as a freebie ebook to promote his new novel. Always enjoy Gaiman.
  • Dead Ever After (Sookie Stackhouse #13). Well, it was a limp across the finish line, but this series is done and I appreciate Ms. Harris for not just milking it endlessly.
  • The Indigo Spell (Bloodlines #3) by Richelle Mead. I'm not going to say it's fine literature, but I really do enjoy Richelle Mead's writing and the world she has created. Finally gave up on waiting to find this in the library and actually spent money on this one.
  • Ember (Death Collectors #1) by Jessica Sorensen. Didn't love it, but it was surprisingly readable. Not sure I'd seek out book 2, but if someone left it on my doorstep, I'd probably give it a try.
  • Down a Lost Road by J. Leigh Bralick. Forgettable.
  • Allegiant (Divergent #3) by Veronica Roth. A lot of people are unhappy with this book because of the huge plot twist at the end of the novel. I actually liked that. I'm unhappy with this book because of not-great writing and plotting. The series really veered away from the story of the first book, which I really enjoyed. Oh well.
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Oh sad and wonderful YA novel about two high school aged kids with cancer. Lovely.
  • Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica. Very engaging memoir of life as a waiter.
  • Affliction (Anita Blake #22) by Laurell K. Hamilton. Used to love this series, then just when I was about to give up on it, it got marginally better. That's where this book hit. Just a little bit better than terrible.
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King. A time travel book about going back in time to try to save JFK. SLOW start, but well-worth it. I ended up really enjoying this one.
  • Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale. Slightly disappointing. I was expecting a little more from Shepherd Book's backstory.
  • Serenity: Better Days. Enjoyed this. Like graphic novels, love Firefly.
  • The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King. A novel in the Dark Tower universe. Always nice to revisit a favorite series. This book was better than some of the later books in the series, even though it was just a stand-alone.
  • Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction by David Sheff. A memoir by a father about his son's addiction to meth. So difficult to read at times because it was sad and scary. Would like to read Tweak by the son about his own addiction.
  • A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan. Found this slightly dull and slow moving. Not bad, just didn't capture my attention.
  • Skin and Other Stories by Roald Dahl. Glad I came across these short story collections. Enjoyed them more than I ever liked Dahl's children's stories!
  • The Umbrella Man and Other Stories by Roald Dahl. Really enjoyed this!
  • A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel adapted by Hope Larson. I generally enjoy graphic novels. And I love A Wrinkle in Time--one of my favorite books as a child. And I'm enough of a geek that I appreciate remakes rather than think they can't live up to the original. So by all accounts this should have been a win for me. But it left me disappointed. For some reason having it in graphic form, for me, detracted from the emotional resonance of the novel.
  • Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain. Don't know why it took me so long to read this...I've had it on my "to read" list since it came out. Good, made me not want to work in a restaurant.
  • Straight Man by Richard Russo. As always, and enjoyable read in a genre I don't generally enjoy, saved by Russo's writing that just clicks for me.
  • Warriors Series (Books 1 - 6) by Erin Hunter. Boy, did my kids get into this series! Far better than I would have guessed a series about a group of warrior cats would be. Really enjoyed them!
  • Valiant by Holly Black. I really enjoyed Tithe, so I was excited to pick this up. But it just didn't resonate for me. I found the characters unrelatable and the drug theme stretched. Still readable, though, and I'd definitely pick up other books by Holly Black to see if they were a better fit for my tastes.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: On Your Own (Season 9 Book 2): Good, though not quite as good as Season 8.
  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Freefall (Season 9 Book 1): Good, though not quite as exciting as Season 8.
  • I Am America by Stephen Cobert. About what you would expect if you watch the Colbert Report. Some good, some not so good. Overall okay. Picked it up at a used book fair. Donated it back when I was done.
  • MaddAddam (MaddAddam Trilogy #3) by Margaret Atwood. I love Margaret Atwood. Any year with new Atwood is a good year. This didn't disappoint. Reread the whole trilogy. Amazing. Book 2 (The Year of the Flood) is my favorite book ever.
  • Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness. Not good. At all. Terrible romance, even worse fantasy. Yikes.
  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. Interesting read. Worth a try, even though it's outside my normal genre.
  • Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead. She's got a very addicting writing style...maybe not the finest of fine literature, but enjoyable. However, this book was a huge letdown, and the first book of hers I've read that was just blah. Oh well, I can't love every book I read, right?
  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey. "It's the next Hunger Games!" "Oh, it's as good as Ender's Game!" "Like dystopian fiction? You'll love this!" Um, no. Sorry, this just didn't do it for me. Kind of Twilight-y, though I guess to be fair it's not quite Stephanie-Meyer-bad. Anyway, can't understand even a little what the hullabaloo is all about. Missed the mark for me.
  • Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles #1) by Suzanne Collins. Liked this. I mean, it's no Hunger Games, but very readable. Aimed at a younger audience than Hunger Games. Haven't been able to find the sequels at the library, yet, though.
  • The Silver Dream (Interworld #2) by Michael Reaves and Mallory Reaves. Not bad. This series is really "not bad" to me--nothing wrong with it, but it just doesn't excite me. Ah well.
  • Shards & Ashes edited by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong. Short stories? Check. YA? Check. Dystopians? Check. Was this book written specifically for me? Loved it!
  • Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie. Another YA dystopian series. Enjoyable, but not "shout it from the rooftops" great. I felt like there could have been more world building and explanations of the setting, plus slightly more robust characters. But not bad.
  • Prodigy (Legend #2) by Marie Lu. Really didn't enjoy this. Characters were one-dimensional and unbelievable. Worse, I found the story boring. Blech.
  • Legend by Marie Lu. I kept seeing this pop up on "if you liked Hunger Games" lists, so when I saw it at the library, I decided to give it a try. It's a YA dystopian. Day and June are similar character on "opposite sides" of the ruling class. One outlaw, one military, both "legends". I don't know, I'm having trouble giving this a fair review because of how much I disliked book 2. To be fair, while this was formulaic and not groundbreaking, I liked this enough that I actually paid to buy book 2 in the series. Though while this book was not bad, I'd still steer people away from the series. Don't think I'll try book 3 when it comes out.
  • Variant by Robinson Wells. This isn't a book, it's half a book. I have no problem with a series. I don't even have a huge problem with a cliffhanger ending, as long as the majority of the plot is somehow wrapped up. This book just ends right in the middle of the action. Unforgivable! Besides the ending, it was adequate YA sci fi about a school where the students can't leave and there are no adults. The only thing that slightly redeems this is that when I went to rate it on goodreads, the author rated it 5 stars and the review said something like "that's an unbiased rating". So I added a star to my rating for cracking me up.
  • In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White. A memoir of a white collar criminal who was incarcerated on shared grounds with a leper colony in the southern US. Pretty interesting, worth a read, author sometimes seemed a little untrustworthy as a memoirist, but for the most part I really enjoyed it.
  • Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves. Okay. YA (or maybe even juvenile...seemed young to me) sci fi. Not bad, just kind of forgettable. Not really what I'd hope for from a Gaiman novel, but not bad.
  • Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky. A relatively interesting memoir. Main tip for getting good service at hotels: TIP, TIP, and TIP. Worth a read.
  • Ruins (Pathfinder #2) by Orson Scott Card. Pathfinder wasn't too bad, so I took this out from the library. Well, this was HORRIBLE. Horrible, I say! The book was boring, it was all "tell the reader exactly what they should be feeling and thinking" style of writing. At one point, a character has an internal monologue that goes something like "why am I acting this way? Why am I jealous of my friend and mad at him? Oh, am I in love? I must be! This must be what love is." Seriously, that bad. Ugh. I used to love OSC. This was a painful, sad, sad, unpleasant waste of time. Worst book I've read in at least a year. Yikes. Nothing redeeming here.
  • Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. They can't all be YA guilty pleasures--once in a while, I read something of some substance. This is about the experience of a family where the husband was falsely accused and detained after Katrina in New Orleans. Well done, and shines a light on a part of America that I'd sooner believe doesn't exist.
  • Alienation (C.H.A.O.S. #2) by Jon Lewis. Quite readable.
  • Invasion (C.H.A.O.S. #1) by Jon Lewis. A fun consiracy theory kind of book about a teenaged boy pulled into a secret world. I keep bopping between giving it 3 and 4 stars. Perfectly good for what it is, will certaily recommend to my boys when they're a few years older.
  • The Golden Lily (Bloodlines #2) by Richelle Mead. Enjoying these series, in a guilty pleasure kind of way.
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Enjoyed this book, wanted to keep reading, was fairly disappointed about the end, and now found it forgettable. I guess it was a mixed bag for me.  Liked it enough that I wouldn't steer anyone away from it if it sounded interesting.
  • The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell. Just love her, love her books! This wasn't my favorite, but she's still a really interesting writer.
  • Bloodlines by Richelle Mead. Making my way through the M's on the library YA bookshelf...
  • Last Sacrifice (Vampire Academy #6) by Richelle Mead. Picking these up at the library, not sure I'd spend money on them but sure are quick reads.
  • Spirit Bound (Vampire Academy #5) by Richelle Mead. Definitely readable, not great art. Know what you're getting into and it fits the bill just fine.
  • Blood Promise (Vampire Academy #4) by Richelle Mead. Think I might have missed one of these, but still picked up the storyline. It's good for what it is...
  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. Writing was exquisite. Storyline was exceptional. Started strong, but dragged a little at the end for me. Oh well, still love Murakami, and this was still an above-average book!
  • The Search for the Red Dragon (The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica #2) by James A. Owen. Pretty good. Will continue to search out future books in the series at the library. And will keep these in mind for my kids when they're a few years older.
  • The Calligrapher's Daughter by Eugenia Kim. Enjoyed this, but the constant barage of troubles the characters face made for a long read.
  • The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson. Nonfiction about the cholera outbreak in 1854 on Broad Street in London. End of the book is an interesting section on modern epidemiology and looking to the future.
  • Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach. Just love her writing style, and how she picks the oddest things to research. Fun book!
  • Here, There Be Dragons (The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica #1) by James Owen. Pretty good quest fantasy that pulls in tons of history of the genre. Beautiful illustrations. Main character is a little annoying to me, though. Will probably look for sequels...
  • Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde. Great! May even be better than the Thursday Next series. Loved it!
  • Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore. Not my favorite Moore novel, but not bad.
  • Leviathan (Leviathan #1) by Scott Westerfeld. I'm not a fan of steampunk, so I'd passed by this book with a steampunk-y cover many a time, even though Westerfeld is one of my favorite YA authors. Finally decided to give it a try. Westerfeld is a true master of world building. Really enjoyed this; can't wait to pick up the next book in the series!
  • Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli. Another weird YA dreamy surreal story. Not my favorite Spinelli, though he does have a way to pull you through a story. However, this one kind of felt like one long prologue that ended just when the story was about to start.
  • The World of Karov by Elyse Salpeter. The author is a friend of my SIL, and this is a fantasy novel, so of course I gave this a try! As a mom of twins, I have a particular distaste for good/evil twin stories, but I was able to put that aside for this book.
  • Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places by Bill Streever. I caught the author promoting his new book, Heat, on NPR. It sounded great, but was too expensive on Amazon for me to try out. But, as I added it to my "look for at the library" list, I saw he had an older book about Cold that was less expensive. So I picked this one up. It was good. I tend to like non-fiction/memoir-ish natural history combos. This was no exception. A relatively quick read, with many interesting spots, though like many pop non-fiction works, has a big "I'm repeating myself, again and again" problem.
  • The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee by Sarah Silverman. I find Sarah Silverman to be absolutely hilarious in very small doses. Ten, fifteen minutes of Sarah Silverman makes me crack up. More than that makes me feel like her humor is overly forced, and that she's kind of annoying. But for those first 10 mintues, LOVE her! That's what this book was like for me. Awesome, as long as I read it in small chunks. She is very, very funny...
  • Dishwasher: One Man's Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States by Pete Jordan. An interesting premise for an autobiography. However, I don't know why I was surprised--the author spends the whole memior saying how he never finishes anything and just walks out of jobs--why was I surprised when the book just kind of pooped out and ended? Well, overall, not bad if a little repetitive.
  • Wool (#1) by Hugh Howey. Dystopian? You're speaking my language! Heard this was a must-read for dystopian fans, but honestly, this was a mixed bag for me. It's a short story, or part of a longer story, or a series of short stories? I don't know. It was too confusing to figure out on Amazon, and I haven't bothered to seek out a source to explain what to read next. Maybe some day I will, because I did like this, even if I didn't love it.
  • Home to Oblivion by Roger Whittlesey. Picked this up as it's by a local author. Love to see people achieving their dreams! This book had a surreal, dream-like quality. Kind of LOST island meets people stranded from various wars.
  • Nightingale by David Farland. I picked this up during a "book bomb" to support the author's injured son. So I didn't really buy it because it interested me, just to help somoene out. Well, I was immediately paid back by karma--this book was AMAZING. A real joy to read, tore right through it. Can't wait for a sequel. Handed it immediately off to my husband.
  • The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. Unlikable characters are always a turnoff to me, so that was a big strike against this book from the get go. And the cutesy, aren't I smart ending was unbearable.
  • Shadow Kiss (Vampire Academy #3) by Richelle Mead. I'll probably try to take all of this series out of the library. A diversion.
  • Frostbite (Vampire Academy #2) by Richelle Mead. Took this out from the library. Not a bad read, somewhat a guilty-pleasure-ish kind of read, but I glad I didn't spend money on it!
  • Cabal of the Westford Knight by David Brody. Written by a local author, so I picked it up. Not particularly a genre I enjoy, but I liked this enough that I passed it on to my dad who likes mystery/thrillers.
  • In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. Tells the story of the US ambassador to Germany right before the start of WWII. Interesting!
  • The Infernals by John Connolly. Picked this up at a used book sale--didn't realize until I had already started that it was a second book in a series. Enjoyed it anyway--need to look for book 1!
  • Just After Sunset by Stephen King. I like short stories, I tend to enjoy King's short stories. This was kind of a mixed bag for me, though.
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. A story of a dysfunctional family. Didn't love it, didn't hate it.
  • Reamde by Neal Stephenson. A sci-fi thriller. Better than some of his other recent books, but still BLOATED. Suffers from pacing issues, in that it's a 1000+ page thriller that never takes a breath.
  • Gulp by Mary Roach. Could Mary Roach please be my new best friend? Seriously. Loved it!
  • The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett. Interesting book about a rare book thief. Part biography (that's where I found it in the library), but also part memoir of the author finding/chasing the story.
By the numbers:

Number of books read this year:  87, plus a couple rereads I didn't list here (Hunger Games series, again, Divergent, a few other favorites)

Number I'd recommend:  45.  I tend to run right about at a 50% recommend rate.  I'm pretty easy to please.  And I'm getting better about not reading books that don't appeal to me.

Favorite books of the yearMaddAddam by Margaret Atwood.  Boy, do I ever love this trilogy.  It's kind of unfair--could anything else really compete with new Atwood?  I also really loved Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde with two caveats:  1) it's book one in the series, and the next book won't be out for ages, and 2) IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH 50 SHADES OF GREY!  Ugh.  Too bad that crap series casts a pall on this otherwise amazing but unfortunately titled book.  Nightingale by David Farland was also outstanding, though again it's a first book in a series with no announced release date for book two.

Least favorite books of the year:  Oh, I got a little wound up this year.  First, let's talk about the end of the Divergent series.  Oh no.  That first book showed such promise.  The twist at the end of book 3--I know a lot of people hated it, but I actually liked it and thought it was one of the bright and true parts of the second two books.  What didn't I like?  The writing.  Weak characterization.  Burning through characters with no emotional kick.  The story.  Wasted potential, after such an interesting book one in the series.  Wish that instead of the story declining to the level of the writing in book 1, the writing had improved to match the level of the plot/ideas of book 1.

Another book that didn't live up to the hype for me was The Fifth Wave.  Kept hearing how good this was, and I really looked forward to it.  But I felt like the author missed the mark capturing the voice of the main character, and I just didn't like the story. 

And I don't know whether to laugh (because I've grown to hate everything about OSC's personal politics) or cry (because I absolutely loved so many of his old books), but Ruins was one of the worst books I've ever read, bar none.  I can't even believe that the same person who brought Ender's Game into the world wrote something so horrid.

Nonfiction:  I read a ton of non-fiction again this year, with a decided preference for memoirs and biographies.  Read a quartet of service related memoirs (Waiter Rant, by a waiter; Kitchen Confidential, by a chef/restauranteur, Heads in Beds, by a hotel employee; and Dishwasher, by an itinerant dishwasher).  Read Gulp and Bonk by Mary Roach (LOVE HER!), where she hilariously researches a specific topic (digestion and sex, in these two books).  Bedwetter and Let's Pretend This Never Happened were two funny memoirs.  Plus a number of other nonfiction books.  Really enjoying non-fiction, and am especially on the lookout for recommendations of outstanding nonfiction.

YA Fiction:  I read a ton of YA fiction.  I wanted to give a shout out to Richelle Mead and the Vampire Academy/Bloodlines series.  Great literature?  Nah.  Super fun and readable?  Definitely.  I'm not sure who I'd recommend these to, but if they sound at all interesting to you and you're just looking for a fun supernatural series that isn't terribly written (ahem, ahem Twilight) or that doesn't markedly decline in quality (ahem, ahem, the Anita Blake series and the Sookie Stackhouse series), this is the series for you.

As always, I'm on the lookout for new suggestions.  Leave me a comment and let me know what I should read!

Monday, March 11, 2013

But I like it to be EASY!

Darn it, I remembered how to change things.  I just have to start doing things differently, and not stop even if it's annoying or more difficult.


Alternately, I could decide I like to be 15 lbs overweight.  And I like never to find the time to write as much as I'd like.  And I'd really prefer to live in a messy house.

Friday, January 11, 2013

2012 Book List

Well, I'm certainly not straining myself with my twice annual blog posting schedule.  But, for some reason I'm reluctant to let it die altogether.  I think because I love my year-in-review book lists.  I refer to them often, to remember a little about this or that book, or to consider recommending something to a friend, or to decide on a reread of my own.

So without further ado, here's my 2012 book list.  I'm sure I've missed quite a few...I've been less than stellar about updating it during the year.  But for better or worse, this is what I've got.

Highlighted books are ones I would recommend.  Sometimes with some reservation, or only to some types of readers, but highlighted means I personally thought it was not too bad.

  • Insurgent by Veronica Roth. Not bad, but as mentioned below, it really falls victim to comparison to Hunger Games.
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth. This is what folks bill as the "if you loved Hunger Games you need to read" series. I don't know about that. It's not bad. It's not horrible. But it had none of the emotional resonance that Hunger Games had for me. I'll still seek out the next book, though, when it's published.
  • Deadlocked (Sookie Stackhouse #12) by Charlaine Harris. Once again, another slight improvement in a series that has recently been disappointing. I still have hope for this series, so this was a welcome entry!
  • Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. You know I have a soft spot for post-apocolyptic YA fiction. Big smooches to the genre! This was pretty good, though not my favorite ever. I read this a few months back and still haven't gotten book 2 in the series, though I'm certainly not opposed to reading it. So I guess it was good enough to hold my interest, but not good enough that I had to go out and buy book 2.
  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson. Hmm, I really loved Feed by M.T. Anderson, and this book was recommended to me by none other than my husband who heard a review on NPR and said this sounded like a book I would enjoy. And it does. But I didn't.
  • Kiss the Dead (Anita Blake #21) by Laurell K. Hamilton. What can I say? I'm a glutton for punishment, and just can't leave these alone. This was a slight improvement over other books in the series, but really, that's not saying much.
  • Amped by Douglad E. Richards. Book two, following Wired. Now these super-smart, super-talented folks are out to change the world for better, of course with forces out to stop them. I don't know, I get a little tired out with thrillers, though I certainly prefer sci-fi thrillers over, say, legal thrillers, but ultimately it's the same type of book with a break-neck pace.
  • Wired by Douglas E. Richards. A sci-fi thriller. Not bad. Good enough I sprung for the 2nd book in the series, but not something I'd scream from the rooftops that friends need to read...
  • Smoking Ears and Screaming Teeth by Trevor Norton. This non-fiction book is subtited "A witty celebration of the great eccentrics who have performed dangerous acts of self-experimentation". A find description of what you'll find inside. It's not super-light (i.e., you're not getting a bathroom-reading, People magazine glimpse. It's definitely meatier, and at time more boring, than that. Good read overall.
  • Lilith's Brood (Xenogenesis books 1 -3) by Octavia E. Butler. I wanted to like this. I feel like maybe I was supposed to like this. It's about mankind destroying the Earth, and humans being rescued/coopted by an alien species. The writing isn't bad...I made it through all three books. But I just didn't like the story. I never connected with it. Ultimately, I guess it just wasn't for me.
  • Notorious Nineteen (Stephanie Plum #19) by Janet Evanovich. Certainly a move in the right direction for this series, compared with some of the more lackluster recent entries.
  • The Great Influenza by John M. Barry. A nonfiction book about the outbreak of Spanish Flu in 1918. Really interesting. Historical medical non-fiction is a particular favorite of mine, though!
  • Chasing Shakespeares by Sarah Smith. A researchers love story. Readable, but not really my particular favorite genre.
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I believe I was fooled into reading a romance novel? I don't know, it wasn't unreadable, but I'm not sure I would seek out further books in the series. Awfully slow in the middle, and annoying "surprise, I'm an all powerful super girl" main character...
  • What The Dickens by Gregory Maguire. Poor Gregory Maguire. I think he's doomed to keep writing "it's okay, but not nearly as good as Wicked" novels. You know what I thought of this book? It was good, but not nearly as good as Wicked.
  • Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card. I've been incredibly disappointed by recent works by Card, to the point where I've stopped reading his new work and struck him off my "favorite author" list. Oh, the horror! Anyway, I hadn't read this book when it came out, but when I saw a copy on the sci fi table at the book sale, I couldn't pass it up. And you know what? It was pretty good. One annoying character that seemed to exist solely to be a mouthpiece for the author, but otherwise, acceptable. Card still hasn't clawed his way back onto my "favorite author" list, but perhaps I'll give another one of his more recent novels a try...
  • The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly. Legal thrillers aren't a particular favorite of mine, but picked this up at a used book sale and it certainly held my interest.
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Okay, quick read, certainly held my attention, but I certainly was disappointed given the hype.
  • Super Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Not quite as good as Freakonomics, but still quite interesting! Good read.
  • The Hand of the Devil by Dean Vincent Carter. A young journalist for a sensational rag. An eccentric entomologist. A gigantic mind-controlling mosquito. This book was just as bad as you'd expect. I so wish it'd be made into a B-movie horror show.
  • Wild Child and Other Stories by T.C. Boyle. I don't know what happened. I used to LOVE anything by Boyle. Now I'm finding his work more lackluster, but I wonder if it's me as a reader who has changed. I didn't love this, but I suspect it's a "it's not you, it's me"problem.
  • The Traitor King by Todd Mitchell. YA book where a brother and sister enter a magical world. Premise is certainly not a new one, though there were interesting aspects. Ultimately, though, kind of forgettable.
  • Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley. Tells the story of a reviled tobacco lobbyist. Just okay.
  • At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson. Totally random bits of history told through the lens of different rooms of a house. Pretty interesting, though random history and Bill Bryson's writing style just work for me.
  • Books 2, 4, 5, 6 of the Aurora Teagarden Mysteries by Charlaine Harris. Found these at a library book sale, which is why I missed books 1 and 3. I'm not much for mysteries, though I really enjoy her Sookie Stackhouse books. These were quick reads, beach read-y. Nothing deep, nothing great, nothing moving, but also nothing boring or terrible.
  • Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. I know I'm late to the game reading this. It was, as many have said before, quite good. It's not really my prefered genre, but I did find it a quick, entertaining read.
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. You know I'm a sucker for a "postapocalyptic romance" as this book is bill on its cover. But, found this to be uneven. Setups with the possibility for great emotional impact were squandered. Characters too one-demensional. But, it wasn't all bad...I do so enjoy my end-of-the-world stories...
  • The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron. Picked this up at a library booksale because it had a "Newberry Medal" badge on it. I'm always up for trying new kids' books to see if I should pass them along to N & B. This one was good, but didn't particularly speak to me. Still trying to decide if I should pass along to the boys or just donate back to the library.
  • Good Bones and Simple Murders by Margaret Atwood. Love Margaret Atwood, and especially love her short fiction. So double love this book!
  • Monster by Walter Dean Myers. The story of a teenaged boy in jail awaiting trial. Told as if the main character were writing a screenplay. Okay for a young YA book, not something I'd particularly recommend, though.
  • Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami. I always enjoy Murakamni. His writing is so vivid and interesting and weird. This wasn't my favorite of his novels, but still enjoyable.
  • The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. I must admit, when I heard about the premise of this novel (troubled, young adult from the foster care system communicates via the meaning of flowers), I wasn't that intrigued. I hate books that are overwhelmed by their "big idea". But, this was very well done. Quite readable, this "big idea" of the language of flowers didn't overwhelm the story or act in lieu of true character development. Really ended up enjoying this one--I can see what the buzz is about!
  • Bossypants by Tina Fey. Love her, enjoyed this book. Some very funny parts, some just okay parts. Everyone has read this book, right, so I hardly have to tell you about it...
  • The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, book 1 - 4 by Ann Brashares. Very readable YA girl books. Would have LOVED these books when I was in middle school, though as an adult, I found them a touch trite and tiring.
  • Model: A Memoir by Cheryl Diamond. A memoir about a girl's experience modeling in her teens, written when the author was 20, so not much time for reflection. An interesting book...made me glad I was never a model and committed that my children would never model!
  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. I picked up a bunch of books by Ms. Anderson on the strength of Speak. None quite lived up to that great book. This one is about an anorexic girl who lost a friend to bulemia. Sad, hard to read sometimes because of the subject matter, and a somewhat unlikeable main character, but still heart-wrenching and worth a read.
  • Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson. The story of a high school senior, "normal" girl, who gets strong-armed into helping plan the prom. Some interesting characters and an okay story.
  • Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson. Tells the story of a high school senior waiting to hear if she's been accepted to MIT--the only school where she applied. Pretty good, and I'll make my kids read this if they ever dare to pin all their hopes on a single college!
  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I love the idea of this book, but in practice, the endless ennui of the main characters was a killer. Wanted to really like it, but actually, I really didn't like it. It's a shame, it was so close to being great.
  • Hollowmen (The Hallows #2) by Amanda Hocking. Picked up the next book in this series. Wow, I guess she wasn't a fan of the characters from book one, as they were pretty much all missing from book 2. However, this loss of friends/family rang pretty true to me...I just wish there was more emotion behind it instead of feeling like those opportunities were squandered. I'll keep an eye out for any further books in the series even though I didn't love this quite as much as the first book in the series. Interested to see where things will go.
  • Hollowland (The Hallows #1) by Amanda Hocking. I read this about a year ago, and it was by far my favorite book by Hocking. End of the world zombie apocolypse--now *there's* my genre! Anyway, held up to a reread.
  • Riversong by Tess Hardwick. Picked this up for free on Amazon for my kindle. It was a shockingly quick read. A fairly unbelievable "woman in peril" scenario--not a plot you'd want to think too hard about to start poking holes. I'm not sure what genre this is--is this romance? Chick lit? Anyway, it's reminiscent of The Sugar Queen, which I read a few weeks ago--this book was far superior. So, not exactly my cup of tea, but I couldn't put it down anyway.
  • Born of Blood by SB Knight. I picked this up on the recommendation of one of my favorite bloggers, Small Footprints. Anyone who looks at my reading lists knows I'm no shrinking violet when it comes to books with sex. Or violence. However, I'm not a big fan of violent sex in the books I read. Yikes. But, that's just my preference. The story was otherwise good, and I certainly appreciate when new authors put themselves out there. You can't please everyone, and it would be a mess of a novel if you tried! I'm on the fence if I will pick up the next book in the series. I won't give it away, but I REALLY liked how this book ended--took me by surprise, and I appreciate that!
  • Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach. Absolutely love the humor in her writing. This book was far more interesting to me than Spook, though not quite up to the standard set by Stiff. Still want to have dinner with her! Ms. Roach, if you read this, you're formally invited over!
  • That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo. In directly contrast to Irving, there's something about Russo's writing that I find very compelling. Didn't love this book, but still flew through it because of the writing. Still, I wish Russo wrote books that were more topically interesting to me. Ah well.
  • The Cider House Rules by John Irving. I don't know why I feel the need to subject myself to John Irving's books. I think I've read enough now to state with assurity that while I can admire his books, and even enjoy the stories, his writing style is NOT FOR ME. I love to read, but find his books feel like work. How can I read a 500+ page book in 2 days normally, yet this one took me weeks to slog though? I only kept at it because the story did capture my interest...should have just watched the movie and been done with it.
  • Monkey Brain Sushi: New Tastes in Japanese Fiction. I've got a soft spot for short fiction. I have a soft spot for weird stories. And I have soft spot for Haruki Murakami. So, when I saw this collection of short stories by Japanese authors (including Murakami) in translation, I had to pick it up. The stories were a little uneven, but a few were good enough that it was certainly worth the price of admission. Which since I got this at a used book sale, was only a dollar :) And extra points for the book title!
  • Sellevision by Augusten Burroughs. And now I'm going to complain about novels that rely on overly quirky characters. And overly quirky situations. This is about a cast of characters who work at a home shopping network. Didn't love it. It read like a Chuck Palahniuk novel on valium.
  • The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen. I picked up an ARC of this novel at a used book sale, so I'm going to overlook the obvious errors. However, I must say that this read like a first novel to me. I was shocked to see on the front that she's a NYT bestselling author of a previous novel. That said, it wasn't a *bad* book. It was pretty interesting, and kept my interest. I guess my biggest problem was with the completely passive main character. I think there's a reason why I love sci fi and fantasy and other genres that tend to have strong main characters. I just can't take the failure to make changes. But yes, the main character in this novel does eventually grow, so it's not irredeemable, it's just not my preference to read a book with a main character who is a woman that starts out with ridiculously low self-esteem. Oh, and I thought the sugar stuff (like chapters that were named after types of candy) was a little heavy-handed. I'm picking because I liked this book. I just wasn't the right audience for it.
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. I picked this up at a used book sale. This was one of my very favorite books in elementary school. Must have read it a thousand times. But, I don't think I'd read it since. So, I was excited for a reread. And you know what? There was so much more that I remembered about this novel that wasn't in the book. I had clearly internalized this story, and come up with my own back story around it. I still loved the book, and I think it's a sign of a really great novel that it so captured my imagination that I had all kinds of memories about this world that weren't even from the book.
  • Bound by Donna Jo Napoli. Here's a case of misguided expectations. I read the back cover of this, and thought it would be a story similar to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. And it was, in that it was set in rural China. But, this is a pretty straightforward Cinderella variation. I read a million of these in college when I took a lit class that focused on children's fables and fairy tales from around the world. So, this was good for what it was, but I would have liked a twist somewhere, something that made it a non-standard retelling. Ah well, as I said, expectations, expectations. If you haven't read a lot of fairy tale variations, you might like this (though please, start with Anne Sexton's Transformations for really lovely, interesting fairy tale variations)
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. Everyone was reading this a few years back, but it didn't sound all that interesting to me. But, found it at a used book sale so picked it up for a buck. It wasn't bad, though I just couldn't get into the storyline about a group of different people taken hostage at a large party while listening to a famous opera singer. I don't know what to say. Liked it, didn't love it. I guess there's a reason I'm not a professional book reviewer :)
  • Searching for Saffron by Kathryn LoConte. I picked this up at a used book sale. The author appears to be a local. This is a collection of interconnected short stories about a young woman's travels. It's a novel but reads more like a memoir.
  • Under the Dome by Stephen King. Really enjoyable King. A sprawling epic along the lines of The Stand. While not quite up to the mastery of The Stand (by far my favorite King novel), this was the best King I've read in the past few years.
  • The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell. Really interesting book about how ideas spread.
  • A Perfect Blood (The Hallows book 10) by Kim Harrison. Of all the paranormal mystery/romance series I'm reading (and yes, there are too many!), this is the one that's holding up best. It's consistently good, even 10 books into the series when things usually start to peter out. I'm still interested in Rachel, the main character, and in the supporting cast. Probably because the main character still seems to be growing and changing. I think the problem in these long-running series is that the authors tend to get lazy and let their main character languish and never have any character growth. It gets...boring. But Harrison doesn't seem to be falling victim here.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This is a non-fiction book about the woman whose cells gave rise to the HeLa line of cells that are so often used in research. You can tell this book was a true labor of love for the author, and her enthusiasm for the subject helped bring it to life. An interesting portrait of some of medical ethical dilemmas and an interesting portrait of a family.
  • The Golden City (Fourth Realm, Book 3) by John Twelve Hawks. A satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.
  • The Dark River (Fourth Realm, Book 2) by John Twelve Hawks. I enjoyed Book 1 so much that I went online as soon as I finished it and bought this one for my kindle. Should have checked my book sale bag first, because I'd actually picked this one up as well as the first at the book sale. Oh well, now I have a hard copy and an e-copy. Liked this one as well.
  • The Traveler (Fourth Realm, Book 1)by John Twelve Hawks. Wow, I really loved this. So lovely. It tells the story of a woman who has been raised in a life of fighting against the "vast machine". Sure, it was derivative, but derivative of a genre I love, so I was game. Handed this one right over to TK when I was done!
  • Centrifugal Motion by Julee Morrison. This was written by a friend of a friend. It's a memoir. It's really only half a story so I'll reserve judgment until the next book comes out.
  • Don't Shoot! I'm Just the Avon Lady! by Birdie Jaworski. You know I have a special place in my heart for any book that gets not one, but two exclamation points in the title. I picked this up for free on the kindle...it's the memoir of a blogger who blogged about being an avon lady. I had never read her blog, so this was all new to me. There were some really funny parts of the book, and some parts that dragged a little. I think it probably would have worked better if I was reading it on a blog, with time between each entry, rather than all together in a book. I don't know--at $0.00, the price was right. One of the better kindle freebies I've read!
  • The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin. I met Grace Lin when she came in and spoke to my children's lit class in grad school, so I tend to pick up her books when I see them. Glad I got this one...a fun children's novel that I'm excited to share with my kids!
  • Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E. Coli Outbreak That Changed the Way Americans Eat by Jeff Benedict. This is about the Jack In The Box outbreak of e. coli in the 90's. I hate to ding a book because it wasn't what I expected, but this was far more of a legal drama than a story of our broken food system. Interesting, and I haven't had any hamburger since reading it...
  • Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. I've had this on my to-read list for a while, so I'm glad I finally read this. It's a non-fiction book about how salt has shaped world history. Interesting at times, a little dull at other times. Worth a read if it sounds at all interesting to you.
  • Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko. I really loved Night Watch--such an interesting book. This is book 2 in the series, and while still enjoyable, wasn't quite as amazing as book 1.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, volumes 1 through 8, by Joss Whedon, et al. I had read the first three volumes of this graphic novel series a few years ago and really enjoyed them. Finally bought all the rest, and once again really enjoyed this. Really would have liked an 8th season of Buffy on TV, but this was a good second best.
Final count:

80 books read this year (not counting the many, many kids books I read with N-man and B-man, like the Captain Underpants books or the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  I also reread the entire Harry Potter series as B-man read them this year and we listened to many of CD)

43 books I'd recommend.

Overall, an eh year for my reading list.  My favorite of the year was probably the Buffy the Vampire Slayer graphic novels, which I read way back in last January.  The John Twelve Hawks Fourth Realm series was an unexpected surprise, though I highly doubt it'll hold up to a reread.  Just hit me the right way at the right time.  Read some strong, enjoyable nonfiction:  Superfreakonomics, At Home, Packing for Mars, The Great Influenza.  And of course any year with Margaret Atwood and Haruki Murikami isn't a total loss.

But there was nothing I was "yell it from the rooftops" excited about.  And there were a lot of disappointments.  Books I really, really looked forward to reading that just weren't that good.  The Help, Discovery of Witches, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Magicians.  Not that these books were necessarily BAD, they just didn't live up to my expectations.

On the plus side, there are really no books on my list that I'd say definitely avoid at all costs.  Many of the books I didn't like were just personal preference.  Maybe the writing was a little weak, but could have been overlooked by someone who enjoyed the story more.  Or the story was just outside my interest.  No matter how good, I'm just not going to love, for example, a legal thriller.

As always, feel free to share any book recommendations.  Always looking for something new to read!  And if it's a post-apocalyptic or end-of-the-world-y sci fi book, you'll certainly have my attention.  Non-fiction, especially medical history, is also a favorite.

Okay, on to 2013, with high hopes it's a better year than 2012...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Upside to Disorganization

In the past 6 and a half years, and especially in the past 2 and a half years, I've become increasingly disorganized. That time frame is not a coincidence: N-man and B-man are 6.5 years old, and Z-man is 2.5 years old. Some days, I feel like I'm barely hanging in there. On a good day, I'll get done three-quarters of what I *need* to do, and about half of what I want to do. But whatever, I just roll with it.

So, a few weeks ago*, a friend and I went out to Friendly's with our kids. She has three kids as well, so we were two adults with six kids, ages 6, 6, 6, 4, 2, and 2. The kids weren't being bad, exactly. Just a little rowdy. About what you'd expect from 6 kids about to get ice cream.

I joked to my girlfriend that we needed to befriend someone with 4 kids, so we'd have someone whose life was even more crazy than ours. She told me she knew someone who had 4 kids, but this mom had it all together and was super-organized.

I've now decided that there's a big upside to my disorganization: I'm never going to make another mom feel judged! Have trouble cleaning your house? You know what? My house is a mess! Kids running wild? Mine too! Are you totally disorganized? Yep, I'm always a little discombobulated and harried. Need to know you're not alone in the insanity? Oh yeah, I'm right there with you!

I'm going to keep my eye out for those other moms with the stained shirt they probably haven't noticed yet. For half-applied make-up. Whose purse doesn't match their shoes. Whose kids' clothes don't match. These are my tribe. Of course, I'm so busy chasing my three kids in three different directions that I don't have time to notice these things...


*Case in point: I've been meaning to write this blog entry since we went out to dinner. It's been weeks. But I'm doing it now. I get there...eventually.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Good writing, good story

So, I've been editing one of my novels again, and reading a ton.

I've been thinking a lot as a result, about good writing, and good storytelling.

They're so personal, to a certain extent, of what I like, or you like. Especially good storytelling. Though I think an author with a strong sense of plotting can pull a reader through a story, even if it's not of particular interest.

It's amazing when you run across a book that has both strong writing and story. I'm primarily a reader for plot. With a good plot, I can forgive weak writing. But a terrible story isn't something enjoy wading through, even if the writing is strong.

Can you think of any examples of stories that have both strong writing and a great story? Here are a few examples that came to mind:

--Pretty much everything by Margaret Atwood. That's what makes her so amazing to me. Her writing is stunning and awe-inspiring, and her stories are always right up my alley. I'm her perfect audience.

--Pretty much everything by Kurt Vonnegut. His word choice is impeccable, and his humor is, well, what my humor would be if I was funnier.

--Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. A lot of his other work is okay writing with a strong story, or good writing with an okay story, or not-so-good writing with a not-so-good story. But Ender's Game is an amazing story with well-structured, well-plotted writing.

--The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Writing so amazing it almost made me cry. It did make me go out and read everything else he'd ever written, none of which quite lived up, though much of it was quite good.

--The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. Excellent writing (though gotta give props to the translator there, too!), amazing story.

That's all I can think of, though I'm sure there are plenty more I've read that just aren't jumping to mind. But it is just so rare, that it's wondrous when it happens.

It's much more frequent that I read books that I really enjoy, maybe even love, that aren't written all that well. These are the books that give me hope. I know I should be aiming to write a novel that is both well written and interesting. But let's be honest: sometimes, when I'm editing, I have to admit that "well-written" might be beyond my abilities. So instead of throwing in the towel, I just think of these books and realize that I don't have to be perfect.

--The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. A few of my more discerning friends, who perhaps are slightly more snobbish with their reading selections than me (who will read just about any darn thing), have complained that The Hunger Games isn't well written. DUH! Who cares? Yes, it's a bit cringe-inducing at times, but the story! The story! Love, love, love!

--The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowlings. I'm hardly the first person to point out there are flaws, but again, who cares?

--Early entries in the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. They've become so formulaic that I'd be hard-pressed to even say the more recent ones are redeemed by an engaging plot.

--A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. Okay, I'm stretching a little with this one. There are certainly weaknesses, but it wasn't until book 5 that I felt like I wasn't getting believable character voices. He's writing a true epic, capturing the voices of an amazingly large cast of characters, balancing myriad plot lines. Perhaps I should move this into the good writing/good story category!

As I said, I read for plot, so it's not that frequent I pick up a book where I suspect I won't find the story interesting. But I do occasionally make it through a novel that when I finish, I realize that while I can't say I really enjoyed the story, the writing made it all worthwhile. So here's my list of a few great writing/not-to-my-taste story:

--Everything I've read by Richard Russo. I mean, his stories are all boring slice-of-life old people in New England doing things I'm not that interested in. But I can't put his books down.

Hmm, Richard Russo books are the only ones I can think of. I really do tend to put down books if I'm not enjoying the plot.

And then, every once in a while, I come across a book that is so devoid of redeeming values that I'm hard pressed to understand why anyone buys it. And here I'm talking about popular novels...not those found-in-a-discount-bin-or-used-book-store that I've never heard of and really shouldn't be that surprised when it's not that good. I'm talking about those books that people actually like--and I just don't get why.

--The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer. Okay, I'll be honest. Twilight was a quick enough read, and not too annoying, soI read the second book. Which was also a quick read, though more annoying. By book three, I was pretty disgusted, but still hoping for redemption. So I read book 4. Oh geez, that was time, and money, I can never get back. For the love of all that's good in the world, I would like to publicly warn everyone to steer clear of these. Don't let the lure of book one pull you down the rabbit hole!

--My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. I think this holds the record for worst book I've ever read. Yes, even worse than the Twilight series. Even worse that any boiler-plate paranormal romance I'm too embarrassed to admit I've read. Who knows, maybe other books by her are better, but this was so bad, I'd never risk it.

--The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. What was all the hullabaloo over this book? Not very good, IMO.

What do you think? What would you add to the list? These clearly aren't exhaustive lists, just what popped in mind at the mo'.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 Book List

While I was a little better than last year, I wasn't super committed to keeping a list of the books I read. I'm sure I forgot a few, but then, hey, they must have been forgettable books!

I've listed the books I'd recommend in bold, though just jump to the end of the post if you want the abbreviated version.

  • High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (Wow, I only saw this movie once, but it really burned itself into my head, to the point where the British-isms seemed odd in the book.)

  • Spell Bound (Women of Otherworld #12) by Kelley Armstrong (See that, my complaints about #11 didn't stop me from immediately buying book 12 in the series. Just like I'm sure to buy book 13. Because this book did the most annoying thing EVER--ended on a cliffhanger. This wasn't a book. It was half a book. And that's unforgivable. This series is made up of interconnected stand alone novels. That's the draw for me...the change in first person POV characters, the stories from different viewpoints. Getting half a book here was a real letdown.)

  • Waking the Witch (Women of Otherworld #11) by Kelley Armstrong (Another case of a long standing series--you know what you're in for. I like that Armstrong switch the protaganist in the series. This was the first from Savannah's POV. It wasn't bad, but I just haven't paid enough attention to earlier books in the series and felt a little lost about some of this. In fact, the big reveal at the end didn't make any sense to me as I'd totally forgotten that story line from an earlier book. Ah well...chalk it up to a quick read and a guilty pleasure.)

  • Hire Me, Hollywood! by Mark Scherzer and Keith Fenimore (A collection of interviews with people with different jobs in the movie/TV business. A nice variety of people interviewed/jobs represented, though to be honest, I have little knowledge or interest in the inner workings of hollywood. Readable, I expect more so if it's a subject you're interested in.)

  • Explosive Eighteen (Stephanie Plum #18) by Janet Evanovich (You don't read to book 18 in a series without knowing what you're going to get. And this is a lukewarm example, of well, the other 17 books in the series. I think it's time to end the whole Ranger/Joe triangle. It's making me really dislike Stephanie Plum, and that's one way to kick me right out of a book.)

  • 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake (William Gibson lent his name to this collection of tweets, blog posts, and short entries from the week or so following the earthquake in Japan. It was an interesting collection, apparently put together as a fundraiser though to be fair, I never heard of it until it showed up on the freebie list on my kindle. The entries were personal and the book ended up being a bit odd...it was kind of just like reading about an event on twitter or facebook. No depth, weird lack of context. But I really applaud the idea and efforts of all participants.)

  • Living Off the Grid by Dave Black (I downloaded this for free to my kindle, because hey, how could I not? A ebook about living off the grid? Ha! Of course I read it, though, and was surprised that a) it wasn't insane and preachy, and b) it didn't require you to have ten zillion dollars. I was a little amused at the author's obvious distaste for people who go off-grid for trendy reasons rather than true commitment.)

  • The Vampire's Warden (Undead in Brown County #1) by S. J. Wright (Again, a freebie or very inexpensive choice on my kindle. I read this two months ago, and I remember little more than the premise that a girl finds out she's a warden to vampires trapped on her family's land. I'm sure I'd remember more if I got the next book in the series, but I'm just not sure if I ever will.)

  • Reflections on Doctors: True-Life Stories from Nurses Who Know edited by Terry Ratner (Proof I'll try just about anything that is on the free kindle list. I don't know what to even say about this. Not bad, though I certainly wasn't the target audience so I'll cut it some slack on being a bit dull.)

  • Smokin' Seventeen (Stephanie Plum #17) by Janet Evanovich (Well, I'm nothing if not committed to a series. This was nothing special, but not terrible, either.)

  • Hit List (Anita Blake #20) by Laurell K. Hamilton (this is so much better than other recent books in the series. But I still wouldn't say it was good. This is *exactly* why I bought a kindle--so no one else has to know I read garbage like this.)

  • A Stingray Bit My Nipple!: True Stories from Real Travelers by Erik Torkells (Got this for free on amazon for my kindle. I got what I paid for. Okay, it wasn't bad, just not really funny. A few were, most were just...huh. Bathroom reading, if I've ever seen it.)

  • Rat Girl: A Memoir by Kristin Hersh (When I was in high school, I saw Throwing Muses open for REM. They were practically unlisten-to-able. So why, when I saw a memoir by the lead singer, was a drawn to buy it? Who knows! But it was good. Really enjoyable. In fact, because I enjoyed it so much, I'm going to nitpick and point out that Hersh had a super annoying habit of contracting verbs willy-nilly. The practice'll drive you crazy (and yes, that's exactly how she did it!)

  • A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire book 5) by George R. R. Martin (his most recent release. It was exciting to get back into the series and some was really awesome. The end was a little heartbreaking, and I hate to think it'll be another five years until the next installment.)

  • A Song of Ice and Fire books 1 - 4 by George R. R. Martin (I reread the first 4 books in the series before the most recent one came out. I love this series, but I'm starting to question if there will ever be a sucessful conclusion to the series. Four books might not sound that impressive to reread, unless you realize it's a total of 3,744 pages. This should count as 7 or 8 books!)

  • Inheritance (Inheritance #4) by Christopher Paolini. (I appreciate that he ended the series. It wasn't the best series I've ever read, but it wasn't the worst, either.)

  • On Writing by Stephen King (Now here is really great King. Part memoir, part writing manual. Both parts are great. And helpful. I read this and knew that a section of my novel that I love but keeps landing funny in my brain with each reread has to go. And I know why, too. So glad I read this one!)

  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (Narrator is a boy with autism who lost his father in the Sept 11 attacks. Sad and interesting.)

  • The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling (Picked this up at a used book sale. Enjoyed it, but it mostly just made me miss the Harry Potter series and wish there would be more books in the series.)

  • Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer (It was okay YA fantasy, but I probably won't go looking for book 2)

  • Vampire Academy by Richelle Mean (Picked this up at a used book sale on a whim. Thought it would be far worse than it was--it was very readable! I guess this is a series...I just added the next book to my Amazon wish list. Not sure when/if it'll make it to the top of the list, but I did enjoy this book.)

  • Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver (Loved the ethical dilemma between a well-meaning and truly devoted adoptive mom and the Cherokee Nation. I though the end was a cop-out, though, with too many amazing coincidences)

  • The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book 1) by Rick Riordan (Fun YA with a greek mythology twist. Not sure I'll run out and buy the next book in the series, but if I saw it at a used book sale, I'd certainly pick it up!)

  • Expecting Adam by Martha Beck (I thought this would be a book about raising a child with special needs. It went in a much different direction than I expected. And while I agreed whole-heartedly with some of the ideas, I just couldn't buy all the angel magic stuff. My loss, I'm sure.)

  • Spook by Mary Roach (I think Mary Roach must have an awesome time researching her books. And I'd like to have dinner with her. There are parts of this book--throwaway jokes and lines, that cracked me up. But this didn't live up to the awesomeness of Stiff. Still worth a read, though, for the good parts!)

  • Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin (One note, not much character development. Readable YA fantasy, but nothing I'd particularly recommend)

  • The Regulators by Richard Bachman (The companion piece to Desperation, which I read last year, I think. Pretty standard King--enjoyable but not amazing)

  • The Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo (His books seem to be a mix of kind of boring yet obsessively compelling to read. I guess in his case strong writing and storytelling make up for a lack of subject matter that I find really interesting. So I'd certainly recommend this, especially to anyone who thinks it sounds interesting)

  • My Blood Approves (My Blood Approves #1) by Amanda Hocking (I think I'm just plain ol' worn out of vampire novels. Not sure if I'll read the rest of this series or not...)

  • Hollowland (The Hollows #1) by Amanda Hocking (I'm a sucker for a good postapocalytic book. Again, editing was an issue, and writing wasn't quite as strong as I would hope. But, this was definitely my favorite of Hocking's books, and I look forward to the next in the series!)

  • Dead Reckoning (Sookie Stackhouse #11) by Charlaine Harris (I don't know, I'm not going to drop this series--I'm still enjoying it. But I didn't love the direction this book took. Hopefully the next book in the series will bounce back!)

  • Fat, Forty, Fired: One Man's Frank, Funny, and Inspiring Account of Losing His Job and Finding His Life by Nigel Marsh (Another free amazon kindle download. This was a mixed bag for me. Some parts were actually inspiring, and some parts were annoying. Worth reading, if you pick it up for free!)

  • Ascend (Trylle Trilogy #3) by Amanda Hocking (see comments below. I guess I'd give this series a firm 3, 3 and a half stars out of 5. Not too shabby!)

  • Torn (Trylle Trilogy #2) by Amanda Hocking (I don't know what else to say about this series. Enjoyable, and I'd certainly recommend to fans of the genre. But it was poorly edited and the writing could have used some tightening up. Take it for what you will...)

  • Switched (Trylle Trilogy #1) by Amanda Hocking (I downloaded this to my kindle on the advice of a friend. It was $0.99, so I figured why not? I enjoy YA fiction, I enjoy paranormal fiction, so this YA paranormal book was right up my alley. It was good enough that I picked up the rest of the series, plus a few others by Hocking.)

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (I've been attempting to read this book for over 10 years. I kept getting bored of it, or sick of it, and abandoning it. I finally finished it. And you know what? I thought it stunk. Obviously I'm in the minority, but I think I can trust my own tastes that if I put down a book more than 5 times, I really probably won't enjoy it.)

  • Admit One: My Life in Film by Emmett James (I nabbed this book for free from Amazon for my kindle. It was an okay memoir of a film obsessed wannabe actor. Some strengths, some weaknesses. Seeing as I paid nothin' for it, it was a good deal ;)

  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (This book is always going to hold a special place in my heart because it marks the first time I was hired to write a book review. I actually enjoyed the humor in this book, though I have no desire to parent my children like she did.)

  • Pale Demon (The Hollows #9) by Kim Harrison (Gotta love a road trip book! And I was ridiculously amused at the thought of a witch convention. Enjoyed this, and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series!)

  • Black Magic Sanction (The Hollows #8) by Kim Harrison (Again, a good showing in the series. Hooked me back in...I'd been a few books behind and caught back up just in time for the newest book to come out.)

  • White Witch, Black Curse (The Hollows #7) by Kim Harrison (This series lost me a little for a few books, but it's picking back up. Enjoyed this one!)

  • Before Roe v. Wade: Voices that Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court's Ruling by Linda Geenhouse and Reva Siegel (Being born after the Roe v. Wade decision, I never experience an America where abortion was illegal. This book was very interesting in getting historical perspective about the debate. It was impressively comprehensive, giving voice to both sides of the debate.)

  • Don't Die, Dragonfly (The Seer #1) by Linda Joy Singleton (I picked this up for my kindle for free, I think. It was okay, though I read it a few months ago and never picked up the next book in the series. Maybe one day...I didn't dislike this, it just didn't capture me.)

  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (Of course I'd heard plenty about this book, and even knew the plot. I wouldn't say it disappointed exactly, but it wasn't great, either.)

  • Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby (I'm not a huge Nick Hornby fan, and I've never really understood or been that interested in rabid sports fanatic. So I'm not sure why I picked up this memoir of Hornby's love of soccer. But, I ended up enjoying it, so I'm glad I did!)

  • Men of the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong (I really enjoyed these short stories set in her Women of the Otherworld universe. In fact, I liked this more than some of her more recent novels in the series!)

  • Keeper of Dreams by Orson Scott Card (While I haven't been enjoying Card's novels recently, his short fiction is always solid. I'd read about half of the stories in this collection previously. I enjoyed the majority of stories in this collection.)

  • The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank (I was surprised how much I enjoyed these interconnected short stories. Thought it was going to be just mindless chick lit, but instead I found it funny and engaging.)

  • Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore (Enjoyable! Moore is always a solid choice for me!)

  • Touching Darkness (Midnighters #3) by Scott Westerfeld (The end of the series, I think. Enjoyed the ending, but was only lukewarm about the series as a whole.)

  • Blue Noon (Midnighters #2) by Scott Westerfeld (Once again, okay, but not super duper. I wouldn't rave about this to friends, but I wouldn't steer them away, either.)

  • The Secret Hour (Midnighters #1) by Scott Westerfeld (Okay, but not great. The premise is there's a group of people born at exactly midnight who can "see" an extra hour each night and fight the evil that lives there. Certainly readable, but he's written better.)

  • The Stupidest Angel: A Hearthwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore (I always enjoy Moore's humor, and this was no exception. A quick, enjoyable read, even in the middle of a late May heat wave!)

  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy by Steig Larsson (Another reread for me. TK and I were watching the movie, and I fell asleep. Instead of finishing the movie, I just picked up the book.)

  • The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins (A friend was reading these for the first time, so of course I had to pick them up for a reread. So lovely!)

  • The Women by T.C. Boyle (A fictionalized telling of the life of Frank Lloyd Wright, told through the lives of his wives. I found the structure of the story distracting (told in reverse chronilogical order via the viewpoint of a minor character who wasn't present for the majority of events.)

  • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (As someone who really enjoys Bill Bryson book, and has periodically had visions of hiking the Appalacian Trail, I picked this up with relish. It was pretty good. Solid 4 star book.)

  • The Ear, The Eye and The Arm by Nancy Farmer (Eh. Okay, but characters weren't especially well-developed.)

  • The Inner Circle by T.C. Boyle (A fictionalized account of Dr. Kinsey (the sexologist). This book was smutty! But in a good way :) What I mean is it didn't seem like a romance novel (it isn't one), but there was far more sex in it than, well, pretty much any other non-romance book I've ever read. Certainly not a book for the prudish, but an interesting novel about a man and woman in a situation outside their comfort zone).

  • The Child Thief by Brom (A retelling of the Peter Pan story. Dark fantasy/horror. Pretty good if that genre interests you, though I'd hesitate to universally recommend it as I just didn't find it super engaging. Really outstanding artwork, though. The drawings at the beginning of each chapter and the color plates in the middle of the book were outstanding!)

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Interesting book about a German girl during WWII. It was narrated by Death, and came dangerously close to being ruined by the idea. Also, wasn't too keen on the overuse of nonsensical similes and descriptions. I mean, once in a while, it can be amazing (a "cardboard face" was one that I thought worked well), but it was distractingly overdone. But, I do have to say, overall it was a really terrific book. I wouldn't be nitpicking if I hadn't enjoyed it!)

  • Reaper by Rachel Vincent (This is a novella that was offered free on the kindle--apparently it's part of a series. This wasn't bad, but it also wasn't good enough to make me buy the other books in the series.)

  • Allies and Enemies: How the World Depends on Bacteria by Anne Maczulak (Interesting nonfiction. Covers a wide variety of bacteria-related topics. Sometimes the juxtaposition of topics is funny, like a section on bacteria and art discusses both the depiction of bacterial diseases in art, then moves right into how bacteria can degrade artwork. Learned a lot, written at a good level for an interested non-scientist.)

In summary:

Total books read in 2011: 70

Books I'd recommend: 32, so not quite hitting the 50% mark. And even of those, most I'd recommend only with reservations or qualifications for only folks who enjoy the genre.

Favorite books of the year: A total cheat since it also made my best-of last year, but The Hunger Games series stands up to a reread and was once again, just like last year, one of my absolute favorite reads of the year. Rat Girl by Kristin Hersh was also quite readable, and I'd recommend it widely. Stephen King's On Writing was fabulous, and just the advice I needed. I think it would be of interest to any writers or fans of King. And of course for fans of the genre, A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin is not to be missed. But if you're a fan, of course you haven't missed it...

Least favorite books of the year: Unlike previous years (ahem, ahem, I'm talking about you, Stephanie Meyer and Jodi Picoult!), there weren't any books that I was completely disgusted by. However, I was disappointed in most of the ongoing series I'm reading: Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, Hamilton's Anita Blake series, Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series, and Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series. All had weak showings this year, which was a let down.

Comments for the year: I'm reading too many series that just aren't living up to the hype. And for the most part, free books on the kindle are free for a reason. You get what you pay for, and perhaps I should stop wasting my time reading lack-luster books.

All this begs the eternal question: what should I read next???

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gift wrap

Oh, the things we come out of blog retirement for, right?

I just thought this was fun. I've been playing around with wrapping gifts with things from around the house. Found some fun ideas online, so I tried two with some gifts I needed to wrap. I'm sure I'll have plenty more practice time this December!

Here's a grocery bag for wrapping, with two different colors of yarn woven together. Easy peasy!

And this one I really loved! I used that old standby, newspaper, to wrap the gift. And then dressed it up with some bows made out of pages from magazines. I followed these directions, except I added a third 9" strip. They're a little time consuming...maybe 10 minutes to make each bow. But so pretty!

I guess I got a little carried away...the kids kept asking me to make more bows. They were picking pages for me to use!

Last year I experimented with using fabric to wrap gifts. I think it looks incredible, but ultimately decided that unless you're giving it to someone crafty who will reuse the fabric, it's too wasteful once you run out your scrap fabric pile. Not to mention too expensive to buy fabric to wrap every gift!

That's just fabric knotted around boxes. I just cut the fabric...didn't even finish any edges or anything!

Anyone have any eco-friendly, upcycled, or reusable gift wrapping ideas? 'Tis the season!