Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Great Gatsby Read-a-long

I'm participating in The Great Gatsby Read-a-long on Unputdownables (it's not too late to sign up to read with us! Click here!). This isn't the first time that I've read The Great Gatsby. In fact, this classic is one of my very favorites so I'm excited to have an excuse to read it again!

Week #/ dates :: Place in which to STOP
Week One/ December 29- January 5 :: page 45
Week Two/ January 6- 12 :: page 90
Week Three/ January 13- 19 :: page 135
Week Four/ January 20- 27 :: page 180 (The End)

Post #/ date post should be up on blog:
Start up Post/ Today!
Week One/ January 6th
Week Two/ January 13th
Week Three/ January 20th
Week Four/ January 27th (Final Review)

Have you ever read The Great Gatsby?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Very Bookish Christmas

This Christmas was a very bookish Christmas for me. I have a lot of fabulous new books to read now! (I just need more time to read them)!

Did you get any books for the holidays?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review: 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

Title: 22 Britannia Road
Author: Amanda Hodgkinson
Publisher: Penguin Group
Publish Date: April 28th 2011
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a historical fiction lover.
  • You like books that show human struggle.
What's the Story?:

From "In her powerful debut, Hodgkinson takes on the tale of a family desperately trying to put itself back together after WWII. Silvana and Janusz have only been married a few months when the war forces them apart. Silvana and their infant son, Aurek, leave Poland and disappear into the forests of Eastern Europe, where they bear witness to German atrocities. Meanwhile Janusz, the sole survivor of his slaughtered military unit, flees to France. There, he takes up with a local girl and, though he loves her, awaits the war's end so that he can go in search of his wife and son. He eventually finds them in a refugee camp and they travel to England together, where they attempt to put the past behind them. But the secrets they carry pull at the threads of their fragile peace. Hodgkinson alternates viewpoints to relay the story of three desperate characters, skillfully toggling between the war and its aftermath with wonderfully descriptive prose that pulls the reader into a sweeping tale of survival and redemption."

My Two Cents:

This is a story of a family coming back together after spending many years apart during World War II. During the war, Jan was a part of the Polish regiment of English forces. He spends part of his time in France where he falls in love with Helene, a young French woman. Meanwhile, Jan's wife, Silvana, is trying to escape the converging forces in Poland. She's also hiding a secret of her own. Neither of the main characters actions are really excusable but you can definitely see their methods for doing what they do. 

I liked this book because a lot of books do not cover the time after World War II. There is a plethora of books that cover life during World War II but there are very few that cover everything that Europeans had to go through after the war. 

This is a story about trying to find your way after going through a great trauma, a difficult thing for anyone to do. I'm not sure that anyone in the book handles things as well as they could have but 'tis human nature, I suppose. 

Bottom line: Great historical fiction with a lot of sadness mixed in.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Review: Code Blood by Kurt Kamm

Title: Code Blood
Author: Kurt Kamm
Publisher: MCM Publishing
Publish Date: October 31, 2011
Source: I received a copy from the Cadence Group; however, this did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You like a fast paced thriller.
What's the Story?: 

From "Colt Lewis, a rookie fire paramedic, is obsessed with finding the severed foot of his first victim after she dies in his arms. His search takes him into the connected lives of a graduate research student, with the rarest blood in the world and the vampire fetishist who is stalking her. Within the corridors of high-stakes medical research laboratories, the shadow world of body parts dealers, and the underground Goth clubs of Los Angeles, Lewis uncovers a tangled maze of needles, drugs and maniacal ritual, all of which lead to death. But whose death? An unusual and fast-paced LA Noir thriller."

My Two Cents:

Thrillers are not my usual fare but this one looked very intriguing so I was happy to get a chance to read the book! Colt is a pretty good guy. He's serious about his job and really seems to care about the people he is saving. He gets tangled in a mystery after a vehicle crash where a foot is missing and a vampire lover might have it.

Which brings me to Markus, the vampire fetishist, who totally freaked me out. This guy is not a good guy and furthermore, he's more than a little bit of a whack job. He really, really creeped me out a lot. And this is why I typically don't read thrillers, because of really astoundingly creepy characters like Markus! Some of the things that he does throughout the book may not be for those who don't have strong stomachs. Kamm definitely got me with this one.

The writing itself is great and definitely helps to draw you into the story. I thought that it would have helped to flesh out a couple of the sections such as why Colt is so drawn to the young woman that he tries to save whose foot is missing. 

All in all, this is a pretty solid book.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

More Challenges Accepted: HPRC, Mount TBR, European Reading, Historical Fiction

Where: Reading Fever
What: Read all 7 books in the Harry Potter series!
My Goal: I will read all 7 books!

Where: My Reader's Block
What: Get some of those books you've been meaning to read off your TBR.
My Goal: Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 50 books off your TBR

Where: Rose City Reader
What: Read books about Europe during 2012. See full rules at Rose City Reader.
My Goal: Five Star (Deluxe Entourage): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries. I may also attempt the Agritourisimo: For foodie readers – read a selected number (your choice) of food-related books written by European authors or about European food, cooking, restaurants, culinary traditions, farming, winemaking, etc. Again, each book must be by a different author and set in a different country.

Where: Historical Tapestry
What:  Read historical fiction books
My goal: Severe Bookaholism level: Read 20 historical fiction books

What challenges have you joined this year?

Bookish Jewelry and a Big Surprise!

Last night, I stopped by DC's Holiday Market. It's an outdoor market that had probably almost 40 different vendors (all local which equals an extra bonus). I was simply trying to waste a little bit of time before book club and since DC has had unseasonably mild temperatures over the past couple days, I decided to walk the market instead of getting coffee and sitting in Starbucks like I usually do before book club.

Anyhow, I couldn't help myself when I came across one vendor in particular that blew me away (Rebound Designs). I bought a necklace and earrings.

Those beauties are made out of discarded books (mostly the old Reader's Digest books that have pretty covers but most used bookstores won't even take them anymore as there is an overabundance and not much of a demand. I'm wearing the necklace today!

Also, I wrote yesterday about wanting to read The Orphan Master's Son and when I got home last night, I opened a couple packages that had come to me and lo and behold, I got The Orphan Master's Son from Random's Early Reads program. Merry Christmas to me! I think that book gets to come with me on all of my holiday travels! So excited to read it!

Review: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Title: The Language of Flowers
Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publish Date: August 23rd 2011
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You like good writing.
  • You like realistic characters.
  • You like coming of age stories.
What's the Story?:

From "The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.

Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness."

My Two Cents:

AHHH! I loved this book. Just to give you a taste of how much I loved it, it actually made me cry. I'm a crier by nature but books typically don't make me cry unless they are really something special and this book is definitely special. I was really sad when I got to the last page. It was one of those books where I'd love to know how the characters ended up after the story ended. Diffenbaugh did such a good job with pulling me in and really making me care about what happened to the characters.

I fell in love with all of the characters. The main character Victoria has been hurt so much. She's been bounced from foster home to foster home throughout her young life. It's easy to see why she's a little mistrustful of other people and why she has so much trouble once she was emancipated and out on her own at 18. My heart truly broke for her. Her character was so well written and so real. The other characters were also really well written. I love when an author is able to take a character and make them almost seem to jump out of the book at you.

I was really fascinated with the idea of all flowers having some sort of meaning behind them. Victoria learns the language of the flowers from Elizabeth, the only person that Victoria ever had in her life that truly cared about her. I'd definitely love to learn more about the subject after reading about it in this book.

At its core, this book is about forgiveness and redemption; two things that are sometimes incredibly hard to come by sometimes depending on the situation. 


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: The Orphan Master's Son

With the big shake-up in North Korea this week, I've seen a couple of book lists floating around the interwebz about fiction and non-fiction about North Korea. There just isn't too much out there about that secretive place.

One book that I've seen listed is The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson which is supposed to come out January 10, 2012.

Synopsis from Goodreads: "
An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master’s Son follows a young man’s journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea.

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work camp for orphans. There the boy is given his first taste of power, picking which orphans eat first and which will be lent out for manual labor. Recognized for his loyalty and keen instincts, Jun Do comes to the attention of superiors in the state, rises in the ranks, and starts on a road from which there will be no return.

Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like.”

Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master’s Son is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love. A towering literary achievement, The Orphan Master’s Son ushers Adam Johnson into the small group of today’s greatest writers."

What are you waiting on?

Review: The Taker by Alma Katsu

Title: The Taker
Author: Alma Katsu
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publish Date: September 6th 2011
Source: Library

 Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You like great writing.
  • You're a paranormal fan.
What's the Story?:

From "On the midnight shift at a hospital in rural Maine, Dr. Luke Findley is expecting another quiet evening of frostbite and the occasional domestic dispute. But the minute Lanore McIlvrae—Lanny—walks into his ER, she changes his life forever. A mysterious woman with a past and plenty of dark secrets, Lanny is unlike anyone Luke has ever met. He is inexplicably drawn to her . . . despite the fact that she is a murder suspect with a police escort. And as she begins to tell her story, a story of enduring love and consummate betrayal that transcends time and mortality, Luke finds himself utterly captivated.
Her impassioned account begins at the turn of the nineteenth century in the same small town of St. Andrew, Maine, back when it was a Puritan settlement. Consumed as a child by her love for the son of the town’s founder, Lanny will do anything to be with him forever. But the price she pays is steep—an immortal bond that chains her to a terrible fate for all eternity. And now, two centuries later, the key to her healing and her salvation lies with Dr. Luke Findley.

Part historical novel, part supernatural page-turner, The Taker is an unforgettable tale about the power of unrequited love not only to elevate and sustain, but also to blind and ultimately destroy, and how each of us is responsible for finding our own path to redemption."

My Two Cents: 

This book is a mix of paranormal and historical fiction. You all know that I love historical fiction with a passion but paranormal is not someplace that I venture all too often. I was very mixed on this book so it may be better for me to make a list of the pros and cons of this book.

- The writing is pretty stand out. Katsu does a really great job of pulling you in with her writing.
- I really liked the historical setting of the book (parts take place in present day, which I was less keen on). I've read very little fiction that takes place in early 1800s in the United States so that was very cool and most definitely a breath of fresh air.

- I didn't get a lot of the relationships in the book. It seems like they could have been fleshed out more. The relationship between Jonathan and Lanny seems very one sided. I can understand unrequited love for a little bit but after awhile, I stopped seeing why Lanny was so interested in Jonathan when he didn't seem to care all that much about her.
- Another relationship that I didn't get was that between Luke and Lanny. I didn't understand why Luke gave up so much to run away with Lanny, a strange girl and potential criminal, that he meets when she ends up in his emergency room after she's accused of murdering someone. I would have a lot of questions personally but he just seems to give into her right away. I would have liked to know more about that decision.
- I didn't get the Adair storyline. I understand that he had to be a part of the story in order to introduce the paranormal-ness (if you will) of the story. I wasn't sure how I felt about that. Some of the scenes with him were just plain creepy and I didn't see what they added to the story really.

So like I said, very mixed feelings on this one. I'm giving the book 3 stars because the writing is great and Katsu will definitely be on my radar in the future for that reason.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday: The Language of Flowers

I just started this book this morning:

"For eight years I dreamed of fire. Trees ignited as I passed them; oceans burned. The sugary smoke settled in my hair as I slept, the scent like a cloud left on my pillow as I rose. Even so, the moment my mattress started to burn, I bolted awake. The sharp, chemical smell was nothing like the hazy syrup of my dreams; the two were as different as Carolina and Indian jasmine, separation and attachment. They could not be confused."

I'm only about 30 pages into this book but already I'm really loving it!

Review: Pledged by Alexandra Robbins

Title: Pledged
Author: Alexandra Robbins
Publisher: Hyperion
Publish Date: April 2004
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're looking for an engaging non-fiction read.
What's the Story?:

From "Alexandra Robbins wanted to find out if the stereotypes about sorority girls were actually true, so she spent a year with a group of girls in a typical sorority. The sordid behavior of sorority girls exceeded her worst expectations-drugs, psychological abuse, extreme promiscuity, racism, violence, and rampant eating disorders are just a few of the problems. But even more surprising was the fact that these abuses were inflicted and endured by intelligent, successful, and attractive women. Why is the desire to belong to a sorority so powerful that women are willing to engage in this type of behavior-especially when the women involved are supposed to be considered 'sisters'? What definition of sisterhood do many women embrace? Pledged combines a sharp-eyed narrative with extensive reporting and the fly-on-the-wall voyeurism of reality shows to provide the answer."

My Two Cents:

I had heard a lot about this book but I hadn't ever gotten around to reading it so when I came across it in the library, I finally picked it up. Robbins follows four girls in a couple different sororities in order to better understand first, what goes on in sororities and two, why women join sororities. I was not in a sorority in college. It wasn't something that I was really interested in nor was Greek Life really a big part of my college campus. I knew a lot of people that were part of a sorority or a fraternity. Some said the experience was great, some said that the experience wasn't so great.

This book gives a little insight into sororities. Robbins is right there as the girls she follows rush and then are accepted into the sorority. This book is not really all that surprising. Robbins doesn't cover anything that no one could figure out about the sororities. This book almost reads like a novel. Robbins does a great job of showing all of the motives of the different players in the sorority. For a sorority outsider like me, it was very interesting (although I'd love to know what someone who was in a sorority thought about the book).

Bottom line: This is a great non-ficition pick!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cover Reveal: Sleepers by Megg Jensen

Introducing the new artwork for Megg Jensen’s bestselling novel SLEEPERS
To celebrate the re-launch of SLEEPERS in January of 2012, Megg is giving it a new cover with artwork from the incredible PhatPuppy.

Gorgeous, no?

Synopsis: An adoptee raised in a foreign land, sixteen-year-old Lianne was content with her life as handmaiden to the queen, until a spell cast on her at birth activated. Now she's filled with uncontrollable rage and access to magic she thought had been bled from her people years ago. Even her years of secret training in elite hand-to-hand combat and meditation can’t calm the fires raging inside her.

Her heart is torn between two boys, the one she’s always loved and the one who always ignored her. But when the kingdom threatens to tear itself apart due to rumors surrounding the queen’s alleged affair, who will Lianne protect and who will she destroy?

On sale now for only 99 cents!


Sales outlets for SLEEPERS:

Megg on the web:

What do you think of this cover?

Review: Laughing at Wall Street by Chris Camillo

Title: Laughing at Wall Street
Author: Chris Camillo
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: November 8th 2011
Source: I received a copy from the PR. This did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're looking for easy to follow financial tips.
What's the Story?:

From "Chris Camillo is not a stockbroker, financial analyst, or hedge fund manager. He is an ordinary person with a knack for identifying trends and discovering great investments hidden in everyday life. In early 2007, he invested $20,000 in the stock market, and in three years it grew to just over $2 million.

With Laughing at Wall Street, you’ll see:
•How Facebook friends helped a young parent invest in the wildly successful children’s show, Chuggington—and saw her stock values climb 50%
•How an everyday trip to 7-Eleven alerted a teenager to short Snapple stock—and tripled his money in seven days
•How $1000 invested consecutively in Uggs, True Religion jeans, and Crocs over five years grew to $750,000
•How Michelle Obama caused J. Crew’s stock to soar 186%, and Wall Street only caught up four months later!

Engaging, narratively-driven, and without complicated financial analysis, Camillo’s stock picking methodology proves that you do not need large sums of money or fancy market data to become a successful investor."

My Two Cents:

The main point of this book is just to notice the things going on around you in order to make stock picking decisions. It was an idea that I'm familiar with. I think it's a good way to determine whether or not a particular stock has market power. That's typically how my husband and I have picked stocks in the past. We've gone with stocks based on our own observations about what's going on in the world and we've done okay. It doesn't do a lot of good to listen to talking heads in my own opinion.

This book is really geared towards people who are afraid to jump into the market for the first time (and who wouldn't be a little nervous with the roller coaster that's been the stock market recently) or are relatively new to the stock market or just needs a little reassurance that you don't have to know a whole lot about Wall Street in order to get your feet wet. If you're not new to the stock market, this book is probably not going to have a whole lot of new information for you.

Camillo relies a lot on anecdotal stories to make the idea of investing in the stock market a little more friendly. It's definitely a good leaping off point for newbie investors. One part I was really confused about was the chapter that covers online forums in all their gory detail. His point was that you can learn a lot about stocks from online forums. True but do people reading this book really need to learn about what trolls are? I'm not too sure about that. The whole chapter didn't seem to fit well with the rest of the book.

Bottom line: This is a good book for those seeking to get the quick and dirty on an easy way to enter the market.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review: That Used to be Us by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum

Title: That Used to be Us
Author: Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publish Date: September 5, 2011
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a non-fiction fan.
  • You enjoy reading about foreign relations.
  • You enjoy reading about the economy.
What's the Story?:

From "America is in trouble. We face four major challenges on which our future depends, and we are failing to meet them—and if we delay any longer, soon it will be too late for us to pass along the American dream to future generations.        

In That Used to Be Us, Thomas L. Friedman, one of our most influential columnists, and Michael Mandelbaum, one of our leading foreign policy thinkers, offer both a wake-up call and a call to collective action. They analyze the four challenges we face—globalization, the revolution in information technology, the nation’s chronic deficits, and our pattern of excessive energy consumption—and spell out what we need to do now to sustain the American dream and preserve American power in the world. They explain how the end of the Cold War blinded the nation to the need to address these issues seriously, and how China’s educational successes, industrial might, and technological prowess remind us of the ways in which “that used to be us.” They explain how the paralysis of our political system and the erosion of key American values have made it impossible for us to carry out the policies the country urgently needs.        

And yet Friedman and Mandelbaum believe that the recovery of American greatness is within reach. They show how America’s history, when properly understood, offers a five-part formula for prosperity that will enable us to cope successfully with the challenges we face. They offer vivid profiles of individuals who have not lost sight of the American habits of bold thought and dramatic action. They propose a clear way out of the trap into which the country has fallen, a way that includes the rediscovery of some of our most vital traditions and the creation of a new thirdparty movement to galvanize the country.         

That Used to Be Us is both a searching exploration of the American condition today and a rousing manifesto for American renewal."

My Two Cents: 

Full disclosure: I'm a big Thomas Friedman fan. I think he has a lot of interesting things to say and a lot of good ideas. I'm less familiar with Michael Mandelbaum although some of his books are now on my TBR based on what he discussed in this book. 

Anyhow, I really liked this book. The authors start out with talking about how we've kind of lost our way as a country. We've had a lot of things (such as the recession) thrust upon us but we've sort of gotten lazy too. The book opens with a story about the Washington, DC Metro (something I know a little bit about having ridden it every weekday for the past couple years) and how it's sort of a metaphor for all of the ills that we're feeling and how we've sort of gotten used to it and are at a loss to change things. Friedman and Mandelbaum start out by talking about several challenges that the United States is currently facing.  They use lots of examples to illustrate what they're talking about and they brought up a lot of things that I've never thought about before.

One thing that I like about Friedman's books is that I think they're accessible to those that don't have a lot of background in things like economics and foreign relations. On the other hand, I think even those like myself who are sort of economics and poli sci nerds (guilty!), can get something new to think about out of these books. Even though I don't agree with every single thing in this book, it definitely made me think a little bit, something good in any book like this!

Review: Seven Seasons in Siena by Robert Rodi

Title: Seven Seasons in Siena: My Quixotic Quest for Acceptance Among Tuscany's Proudest People
Author:  Robert Rodi
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publish Date: June 21, 2011
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're an armchair traveler. 
  • You love the dolce vita of Italy.
  • You're a culture lover.
What's the Story?:

From "Siena seems at first glance a typical Italian city: within its venerable medieval walls the citizens sport designer clothes, wield digital phones, and prize their dazzling local cuisine. But unlike neighboring Florence, Siena is still deeply rooted in ancient traditions—chiefly the spectacular Palio, in which seventeen independent societies known as contrade vie for bragging rights in an annual bareback horse race around the central piazza.

Into this strange, closed world steps Robert Rodi. A Chicago writer with few friends in town and a shaky command of conversational Italian, he couldn’t be more out of place. Yet something about the sense of belonging radiating from the ritual-obsessed Sienese excites him, and draws him back to witness firsthand how their passionate brand of community extends beyond the Palio into the entire calendar year. Smitten, Rodi undertakes a plan to insinuate himself into this body politic, learn their ways, and win their acceptance.

Seven Seasons in Siena is the story of Rodi’s love affair with the people of Siena—and of his awkward, heartfelt, intermittently successful, occasionally disastrous attempts to become a naturalized member of the Noble Contrada of the Caterpillar. It won’t be easy. As one of the locals points out, someone who’s American, gay, and a writer is the equivalent of a triple unicorn in this corner of Tuscany. But like a jockey in the Palio outlasting the competition in the home stretch, Rodi is determined to wear down all resistance. By immersing himself in the life of the contrada over seven visits at different times of the year—working in their kitchens, competing in their athletic events, and mastering the tangled politics of their various feuds and alliances—the ultimate outsider slowly begins to find his way into the hearts of this proud and remarkable people."

My Two Cents:

Guys, I have an obsession with Italy. My husband and I traveled to Rome, Assisi and Venice (plus London) for our honeymoon in 2010. I fell in love and I am anxious to go back. After reading this book, I think I need to add Siena to my list. Robert falls in love with the Tuscan city and its people. He becomes quickly obsessed with the Palio, a bareback horse race that takes place every year between all of the vastly different neighborhoods in Siena. It's an event that no one in the town misses and I can see why. In a typically Italian fashion, there are celebrations and negotiations that take place before the race. 

You really get a good sense of the town and how important the tradition of both the neighborhoods and the Palio mean to the people of Siena. I loved it! One thing I will say is that Rodi goes to Siena several times and even though the times are divided up by chapters, it's a little hard to keep track of what was happening when throughout the book. I had to keep backtracking in order to figure out where I was.

This is a great book for those who are looking for a slice of Italian life!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Crazy Book Tours: A Summer in Europe by Marilyn Brant

Title: A Summer in Europe
Author: Marilyn Brant
Publisher: Kensington
Publish Date: December 1, 2011
Source: Crazy Book Tours

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're an armchair traveler.
  • You like a spot of romance.
  • You're a Europe lover!
What's the Story?:

From "On her 30th birthday, Gwendolyn Reese is given an unusual gift by her eccentric aunt: a summer grand European tour arranged through her aunt's Sudoku and Mahjongg Club. Gwen reluctantly leaves her "almost fiancé" and heads to Europe with her aunt and a collection of offbeat club members.

Abroad, Gwen is slowly but surely transformed. She has conversations she'd never expected, is spellbound by London theater, touches a glacier, races through the Louvre, and shares a passionate kiss with a wild young physics professor. And when her old life comes calling again, she must choose between the practical choices she's always made, and a world open to infinite possibilities."

My Two Cents:

Oh this book is like sitting in the sun in the middle of a Roman piazza while eating a big scoop of gelato. It's lovely and something to be savored. Just about the only thing I didn't like about this book is that Gwen got to go to Europe for a month and I didn't. Yeah, I'm pretty jealous of this fictional character!

This book had so many of the elements that I love. There's travel. There's a character who is transformed. Gwen's transformation is so well written. At first, she's not really exploring all of her options. She's happy with the status quo or so she thinks. Eventually she realizes that if she's willing to put herself out there and try new things that life can seem a little more full.

The characters are fantastic. Gwen's Aunt Bea is a hoot. I loved all of the members of the S&M (which stands for Sudoku and Mah-jong in this case; thank you very much). I wasn't sure about Gwen at first. I wanted to urge her to not be afraid to live a little in the beginning but she really grew on me once she started changing a little bit.

Sigh, this was so good; like a vacation in a book!

Guys, read this book. It'll keep your winter blues away!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Booking Through Thursday: Character vs. Plot

This week, Booking Through Thursday asks:  What’s more important to you? Real, three-dimensional, fleshed-out fascinating characters? Or an amazing, page-turning plot?

Oh boy, I'm not sure that I've had enough coffee yet this morning to deal with this question. This is definitely tough. I'm for balance in everything but if I had to choose, I guess I would rather read a plot driven book with characters you don't get to know very well than a character driven book with a super dry plot. I've read books where the characters are very real and fleshed out but if the plot isn't there, I'm not going to enjoy the book generally. All I can say is that luckily there is a plethora of books out there that have both great characters and great action!

What say you?

Review: The Moon Coin by Richard Due

Title: The Moon Coin
Author: Richard Due
Publisher: Gibbering Gnome Press
Publish Date: August 25, 2011
Source: I received a copy from the author. This did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You like a good fantasy!
  • You like a vivid story!
What's the Story?:

From "For Lily and Jasper Winter, the Moon Realm began with a single secret bedtime tale. As the children grew older, Uncle Ebb enthralled them with thrilling tales of the Dragondain riding horse-sized, catlike Rinn; mysterious tales of peerin-wielding lunamancers manipulating the magic that lies just beneath the surface of reality; exciting tales of flying dragons, swimming merfolk, stomping giants, and troublesome faeries. But as the magic of their childhood faded, so too did the tales. Eventually, they were just . . . good stories.

Or were they?

Now, nine years after it all began, Uncle Ebb is missing.

Lily and Jasper search for clues, but their uncle's mansion is full of distractions. A Tesla generator thrums in the basement. Prismatic electrimals flit around walls resembling underwater reefs. Then a most unexpected friend comes to their aid, leading them to a hidden room where they find a mysterious coin—the moon coin. Before the night is out, Lily is transported to the real Moon Realm. But the moons are in trouble. The Rinn of Barreth are under siege, and the lunamancers of Dain are beset by the very dragons they once loved. Most horrifying of all, the moon Darwyth has fallen to a villain named Wrengfoul, whose creeping evil now threatens to overshadow all the Realm.

Are Lily and Jasper too late to save the Moon Realm, or will they have enough time to write an ending of their own?"

My Two Cents:

This book sucked me in from the beginning. This book is another beginning to a series and this is definitely another series that I could get into. In fact, I NEED to get the other books once they come out. The world of the Moon Realm is so wonderfully detailed and vivid that you have no trouble imagining everything that Lily is going through. The book also includes really fantastic illustrations. The world building is really awesome and is most definitely a stand out feature of this book. You all know how much I love world building!

The characters are really fantastic. Lily and Jasper's Uncle Ebb tells the kinds of tales that I think every little kid dreams about. They're full of strange worlds and wondrous creatures. They will soon enough find out that the stories are real. Lily is a fantastic heroine as well. For someone so young, she's incredibly brave and adventurous. I was a huge fan of the noble Rinn, a sort of big cat looking creature (that's a Rinn on the cover). There's dragons and all sorts of other fantastic creatures in the book that will definitely stay on your mind for a long time!

This book is geared for young adult readers but I could see precocious middle grade readers enjoying the book as well as adults. Fantasy lovers will love escaping into this new world!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: Flirting In Spanish by Susan McKinney de Ortega

Title: Flirting In Spanish: What Mexico taught me about love, living and forgiveness 
Author:  Susan McKinney de Ortega
Publisher: Antaeus Books, Inc.
Publish Date: July 1, 2011
Source: I received a copy from the author. This did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a memoir lover.
  • You're a armchair traveler.
What's the Story?:

From Publishers Weekly: "Running from paralyzing memories of an attempted rape and the decade of silence and shame that followed, Ortega lands in Mexico at 33, trying not to fall for a much younger local. In 1992 the author, the daughter of champion NBA coach Jack McKinney, was teaching English to Mexican teenagers when she met 19-year-old Carlos, who ardently pursues her despite the age and huge cultural differences. She resists at first, due to their divergent backgrounds--Ortega's childhood was one of summer vacation rentals and white gloves at Mass, while Carlos was a high school dropout who didn't have running water until age 10. But when she realizes that she is surprised a man could be kind to her like her father, "I didn't feel like a nervous wreck of a person anymore." It's not an instant happy ending as Ortega contends with the extreme poverty Carlos and his family live in, the machismo culture, and her own lingering doubts, with one foot in Mexico and the other wavering. When she finally achieves hard-won contentment, it's a joyous moment."

My Two Cents:

I've had the opportunity to travel to Mexico quite bit so I was excited to read this book from the travel aspect. I most definitely was not disappointed in that aspect. Ortega writes about the small, poor Mexican town that she lived in so vividly that I could imagine it all.

The story is in a way about Ortega running away from something difficult in her life but it's more about the strange paths that life takes us, something I think most of us can identify with. Ortega never expects Mexico to become a long term home. She doesn't expect to fall in love with one of the students that she was teaching. She certainly doesn't expect to eventually live with her young boyfriend in a small house with his whole family. Life takes us a lot of places but sometimes we still have to be willing to make peace with the past in order to continue moving forward, which is exactly what Ortega finds.

This is a great memoir that armchair travelers and those that enjoy journey type stories will eat up!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Goddess Fish Book Tour Stop: True Surrender by Tracey Cramer-Kelly

Title: True Surrender
Author: Tracey Cramer-Kelly
Publisher: Self-Published
Publish Date: October 9, 2011
Source: Goddess Fish

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a romance fan!
What's the Story?:

Blurb: "When Major Aaron Bricewick is rescued from Afghanistan terrorists, he thinks the worst is over. But his personal journey is just beginning... The first surprise is the amputation of one of his legs. The second is the woman he left behind, now a widow with a 4-year-old son - and his new prosthetist (artificial limb maker). He vows that losing his leg won't derail his career. But maintaining his outward appearance as a got-it-together officer becomes increasingly difficult as he faces one personal demon after another - and sees his career aspirations slipping away. And though he has no intention of expanding his life to include a woman, his heart has other ideas - and he finds himself questioning the very foundation of his personal beliefs. When violence - and unexpected redemption - touch his life again, Aaron must make a stand. Which will he choose: duty or love?"

My Two Cents:

Overall, I liked this book. It was different than a lot of other romance books that I've read in that it deals with some pretty heavy topics, mostly surrounding some of the issues that military personnel face when they come home from war. Aaron is one of the soldiers who unfortunately comes home with the effects of fighting a war showing. He loses his leg!

I really liked the characters of Holly and Aaron. Holly has a good heart but I do wish that we got to know a little more about her personality; I didn't feel like we got to know her as well as we get to know Aaron throughout the book. Aaron is incredibly strong. When he comes home from war, he's not willing to admit that he may need help. He tries to be brave and he's even trying to help some of his friends from the military.

There were a couple things that irked me a little bit. First, I'm wondering if there is going to be another edit of the book. There were a few mistakes that took away from the story. Also, Scott got way too religious for me. I wasn't really sure where that was going. Last, I wish there had been more of a conclusion about some of the bad things that Aaron finds out about the military. It would have been nice to have some closure. Even with these few things, this is still an ok read.

Follow the Rest of the Tour:

November 25: REVIEW: Bea's Book Nook
November 29: REVIEW: Long and Short Reviews
November 30: REVIEW: It's Raining Books
December 1: INTERVIEW: Authors by Authors
December 2: REVIEW: Jersey Girl Book Reviews
December 5: INTERVIEW: Among the Muses
December 6: BLOG: Wake Up Your Wild Side
December 7: INTERVIEW: A Writer's Life
December 8: REVIEW: Wicked Readings By Tawania
December 12: REVIEW: A Bookish Affair
December 13: REVIEW: Words of Wisdom from The Scarf Princess
December 14: REVIEW: Reviews by Molly
December 15: BLOG: AsianCocoa's Secret Garden
December 15 (2nd stop): INTERVIEW: Lisa Haselton's Reviews and Interviews
December 16: REVIEW: Cocktails and Books

More About the Author:

Tracey’s work fuses writing, music and visual imagery whenever possible, and includes
novels, short stories, essays and music videos. True Surrender is her second novel. Her
first, Last Chance Rescue, is an Indie Award finalist. Her first full-length music video,
The Rose (Surrender Version), includes scenes from True Surrender. Her writing draws
from her experience as an Army Reserve paramedic and helicopter pilot. When not
managing the family business, Leader Motorcycle Accessories, she enjoys motorcycling
and outdoor activities with her husband and two young children.

Web site/blog:
Book Trailer:

Review: The Jinx by D.F. Lamont

Title: The Jinx
Author: D.F. Lamont
Publisher: Jetpack Media
Publish Date: September 21, 2011
Source: I received a copy from the author. This did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You like adventure stories.
  • You're a middle grade/young adult fan.
  • You like a little fantasy thrown in for good measure.
What's the Story?:

From "The Jinx is the story of Stephen Grayson, a 13-year old whose run of bad luck gets so bad he worries he is endangering his family. Fearing he is cursed, he flees home to protect his family, only to find that he is in the middle of a tug-of war between a cult obsessed with order and misshapen monsters known as “Chaons” who seem bent on hunting him down."

My Two Cents:

This book is geared for young adult and middle grade readers with wide appeal. There's a little bit of fantasy and a little bit of mystery. I feel really bad for Stephen. Bad things just keep happening to him. He had a great summer but now he's facing things like almost getting run over by a car! He gets in trouble at school when before, he's always done just fine before! Then he, his brother, and his mom are in a horrible car accident. Stephen doesn't understand what's going on but he has a feeling that he might be the cause of his own trouble and he's not sure if there is anything to be done. 

I definitely think that younger readers will be sucked into Stephen's plight. The second part of the book when Stephen finally is able to put the pieces together and figure out what is going on will really pull readers in. He finds out that he has chaos power, a sort of idea coming out of old mythology. Some of the in's and out's of what this actually means may go a little bit over the younger reader's head but I think overall, middle grade and young adult readers will get a kick out of this new mythological story! This is a good fantasy!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Review: Triangles by Ellen Hopkins

Title: Triangles
Author: Ellen Hopkins
Publisher: Atria
Publish Date: October 18, 2011
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're not afraid of trying new forms of writing.
  • You like literary fiction.
  • You're not afraid of not liking book characters.
What's the Story?:

From " In this emotionally powerful novel, three women face the age-old midlife question: If I’m halfway to death, is this all I’ve got to show for it? Holly, filled with regret for being a stay-at-home mom, sheds sixty pounds and loses herself in the world of extramarital sex. Andrea, a single mom and avowed celibate, watches her friend Holly’s meltdown with a mixture of concern and contempt. Holly is throwing away what Andrea has spent her whole life searching for—a committed relationship with a decent guy. So what if Andrea picks up Holly’s castaway husband? Then there’s Marissa. She has more than her fair share of challenges—a gay teenage son, a terminally ill daughter, and a husband who buries himself in his work rather than face the facts. As one woman’s marriage unravels, another one’s rekindles. As one woman’s family comes apart at the seams, another’s is reconfigured into something bigger and better. In this story of connections and disconnections, one woman’s up is another one’s down, and all three of them will learn the meaning of friendship, betrayal, and forgiveness before it is through."

My Two Cents:

I had heard a lot about Ellen Hopkins' young adult books but I haven't gotten around to reading any of them. I happened across Triangles on the "New Books" shelf at my library and decided to pick it up.

It wasn't what I was expecting (not in a bad way, mind you). First, I didn't realize that it would be written in sort of a poetry format. It took me awhile to get used to reading that way and it really forced me to slow down a little bit and take in what was going on in the story more.

Holly, Andrea, and Marissa are three very different women. Holly has a good life but wants something more so she loses a bunch of weight, starts writing erotica and cheats on her husband while things are falling apart with her kids at home. Andrea isn't really into the dating thing until Holly's perfect husband, Jace, becomes available once Holly starts cheating on him. Marissa has a son who has just come out, an alcoholic husband and a sick little girl who heavily relies on Marissa on a minute to minute basis. I didn't really sympathize with any of the women except for Marissa.

Even though I didn't sympathize with any of the women, I still really enjoyed the book and ended up really enjoying the poetic format. I took the metaphor of the poetry to resemble the innermost thoughts of each of the women. Somehow it seemed more personal than first person narration in a way.

Bottom line: If you can get with the format, this is a good read! 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Review: The Possessed by Elif Batuman

Title: The Possessed
Author: Elif Batuman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publish Date: February 16th 2010
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You like funny memoirs.
  • You're an armchair traveler.
What's the Story?:

From "No one who read Elif Batuman’s first article (in the journal n+1) will ever forget it. “Babel in California” told the true story of various human destinies intersecting at Stanford University during a conference about the enigmatic writer Isaac Babel. Over the course of several pages, Batuman managed to misplace Babel’s last living relatives at the San Francisco airport, uncover Babel’s secret influence on the making of King Kong, and introduce her readers to a new voice that was unpredictable, comic, humane, ironic, charming, poignant, and completely, unpretentiously full of love for literature.

Batuman’s subsequent pieces—for The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and the London Review of Books— have made her one of the most sought-after and admired writers of her generation, and its best traveling companion. In The Possessed we watch her investigate a possible murder at Tolstoy’s ancestral estate. We go with her to Stanford, Switzerland, and St. Petersburg; retrace Pushkin’s wanderings in the Caucasus; learn why Old Uzbek has one hundred different words for crying; and see an eighteenth-century ice palace reconstructed on the Neva.

Love and the novel, the individual in history, the existential plight of the graduate student: all find their place in The Possessed. Literally and metaphorically following the footsteps of her favorite authors, Batuman searches for the answers to the big questions in the details of lived experience, combining fresh readings of the great Russians, from Pushkin to Platonov, with the sad and funny stories of the lives they continue to influence—including her own."

My Two Cents:

This book was a little bit different than what I expected (in a good way). The subtitle of the book is "Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them." I guess I was expecting something about people who read Russian novels... not really sure what I was expecting actually. My book club chose the book so I just went along with the flow.

This book is really more of a travel book. Elif Batuman always seems to be in the right place at the right time and gets to go to all of these fabulous places in Russia and the former Soviet Union. Some parts of it were definitely familiar as I was just in Ukraine back in August. It definitely made me laugh. Batuman also finds herself in some pretty funny situations (scary toilets in Uzbekistan or losing a famous writer's last living relatives in a huge airport or judging a boy's leg contest) that made me laugh even more.

It's only when Batuman started talking about some of the Russian novels she has studied that I sort of lost interest. I haven't read very many Russian novels at all so many of those sections simply read as summaries to me and I didn't really get much out of them.

Bottom line: Armchair travelers will love this one.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Review: The Magi by Kevin Turner

Title: The Magi
Author: Kevin Turner
Publisher: Smashwords
Publish date: October 2011
Source: I received a copy from my author. This did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a young adult fan.
  • You like magic.
  • You like adventure.
What's the Story?: 

From "Thirteen-year-old Elijah Hawk has never heard of the Magi. He doesn't know about the secret power they have. He has never been to Savenridge, the Magi city hidden deep inside the northern forests. Most of all, Elijah is unaware of the dangers hunting him, in search for something he has. After one terrifying night, however, all of that changes!

On a quest to solve the murder of his parents, Elijah stumbles upon the land of the Magi. Learning their secrets and training with their power is the least of his problems. In order to find out why his parents were killed, Elijah learns that he must confront the dangers that are hunting him. What's more terrifying is learning that stumbling upon this new world of the Magi may not have been an accident afterall."

My Two Cents:

Let me just start out by saying that you all need to read this book. If you're a fan of books like the Harry Potter books or just a fan of a good story, you need to read this book. I really, really enjoyed this book. The Magi is the first book in a planned 5 book series. This book is a young adult book and would probably be enjoyed by readers as young as 12 or 13. The book is wonderfully accessible for so many levels of readers.

The world building in this work is great. The world is very familiar with an element of magic interwoven throughout the story in a way that makes it believable. The people in this book have amazing powers but Turner does a really wonderful job of sort of "normalizing" the magic and making it really believable. 

Elijah is a character that I really found myself drawn to. You have to feel bad for him. His parents and his sisters are mysteriously killed even though Elijah is allowed to escape. Then the uncle that takes him in is mysteriously arrested. Elijah is then sent to a boarding school in Canada, where everything isn't what it seems. Elijah has a lot to learn about this new world that he is forced to live in. He dives right in and doesn't seem to be scared at all. That's a lot to say for a 13 year old!

I think that anyone who is looking for a book that will really pull you in, this is a great pick! I can't wait for the other books in the series!

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