Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Club Picks

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, this week's topic: Top Ten Books That Would Make Great Book Club Picks.

1.  We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver - my book club is reading this now and I can't wait for our discussion this weekend (nature vs. nurture debate will definitely occur)!

2.  The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman - great discussion possibilities: Western medicine vs. holistic, culture clashes, importance of traditions, etc.

3.  Zeitoun by Dave Eggers - another Btown Booksters pick...we had a really great discussion about Katrina, racism, profiling, Islam, and more!

4.  When She Woke by Hillary Jordan - a dystopian retelling of The Scarlet Letter (also one of my fave books of 2011).  There are great debate possibilities such as: gender roles, religion, government, sexual mores, etc.

5.  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green - wonderful writing with all sorts of little tidbits people can mull over together!

6.  The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield - another Btown Booksters pick, our club had such a fun and bookish time at this meeting.

7.  Room by Emma Donoghue - engrossing, thought-provoking, and disturbing...a recipe for a great book club pick!

8.  Still Alice by Lisa Genova - plenty of emotional scenes and themes that warrant discussion.

9.  Peace Like a River by Leif Enger - Oh!  The writing in this book!  The big questions in life will be up for debate: life, love, family, and faith.

10.  The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery - a really unique novel with extremely realistic characters.  I can already picture a fantastic discussion of people's true selves and the part of themselves they hide from the world.

Latest Review: Midnight in Austenland

Even better than Austenland!  This fun novel comes out today!

Goodreads Summary:
When Charlotte Kinder treats herself to a two-week vacation at Austenland, she happily leaves behind her ex-husband and his delightful new wife, her ever-grateful children, and all the rest of her real life in America. She dons a bonnet and stays at a country manor house that provides an immersive Austen experience, complete with gentleman actors who cater to the guests' Austen fantasies. 

Everyone at Pembrook Park is playing a role, but increasingly, Charlotte isn't sure where roles end and reality begins. And as the parlor games turn a little bit menacing, she finds she needs more than a good corset to keep herself safe. Is the brooding Mr. Mallery as sinister as he seems? What is Miss Gardenside's mysterious ailment? Was that an actual dead body in the secret attic room? And-perhaps of the most lasting importance-could the stirrings in Charlotte's heart be a sign of real-life love?  

The follow-up to reader favorite Austenland provides the same perfectly plotted pleasures, with a feisty new heroine, plenty of fresh and frightening twists, and the possibility of a romance that might just go beyond the proper bounds of Austen's world. How could it not turn out right in the end? 

My Thoughts:
Shannon Hale takes on both Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park in this fun romp!  If you've read Austenland you'll know that Hale does a great job at creating light-hearted modern takes on classic Austen novels.  She accomplishes this and more with Midnight in Austenland!  Hale had me biting my nails on the edge of my couch with all of the fun plot twists and turns.  I enjoy modern spins on either Northanger or Mansfield, as they are often overlooked for their more popular counterparts (shout out to P&P and S&S!).  Mansfield Park happens to be one of my favorite Austen novels so I really enjoyed Hale's updated version.

I highly recommend this not only to Austen lovers but to anyone in the mood for a fun and lighthearted mystery/romance!

4/5 stars.

*Disclosure: received a free ARC for review from the publisher

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Middle-Aged Man Books :)

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, this week's topic: Your Choice! My Uncle requested that I make a list of top books for middle-aged men.  So, here's my attempt!

1.  In the Woods by Tana French - an Irish crime thriller that's extremely well-written!

2.  Good Omens by Terri Pratchett and Neil Gaiman - hilarious tale of the apocalypse.

3.  Any book by Oliver Sachs - nonfiction for those intrigued by how the brain works.

4.  The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell - a priest and his friends in space...sounds strange but it's a terrific book!

5.  Back Roads by Tawni O'Dell - extremely disturbing novel about a really messed-up family, but very good (soon to be a movie starring Andrew Garfield and Jennifer Garner).

6.  Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - a fun science fiction book that heavily references 80's pop-culture (my husband really liked this one).

7.  Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond - nonfiction for history-lovers.

8.  What is the What by Dave Eggers - the true story of an actual lost boy of Sudan.

9.  Peace Like a River by Leif Enger - a modern Western that is beautifully written with a spiritual message.

10.  Anything by David Sedaris for a good laugh.
    There's my list!  Admittedly, I'm not well versed in books of the crime/mystery genres.  Does anyone else have some good suggestions for my Uncle?  If so, leave them in the comments!

      Sunday, January 22, 2012

      It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

      Hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.  We share books that we've read over the past week and those we hope to read this week.  

      Last Week:
      I've finally gotten back into my reading groove after being in such a long funk!  Last week I finished:

      This Week:
      I want to get the following books read by the end of the month...I'm not sure what order, but I can't wait to get reading!

      • Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear (for the Sci-Fi Challenge)
      • We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (for the Bloomington Booksters Club)
      • Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness (need to finish this amazing trilogy - finally!)
      Up Next:
      I recently acquired some awesome library books:

      • The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus
      • The Fallback Plan by Leigh Stein

      Friday, January 20, 2012

      Latest Review: The Fault in Our Stars

      Goodreads Summary:
      Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumors in her lungs... for now.

      Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumors tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

      Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.


      My thoughts:
      I read this book in one sitting, yup, that's right...one sitting.  I seriously plopped down on the bed - cried and laughed a bunch and hours later looked up with a finished book in my hand.  That being said, I don't really think this is a novel that should be devoured in one go.  I will most assuredly be rereading this sometime later in the year at a more leisurely pace because it deserves time for thoughtful pauses.

      I can't touch on the plot without fearing that I'll venture into spoilery territory - so I just won't go there.  I will say that both Hazel and Augustus are fantastically witty and loveable characters.  Also, I got a big kick out of the fact that the book is set in Indianapolis.  Since I only live about an hour away, I've visited many of the places mentioned (including Funky Bones)!

      So I know that this book could be mistakenly lumped into the sappy "Cancer Book" category but really, it's not.  As Hazel points out, "Cancer Books" have certain annoying epic tropes inherent in them (such as angelic cancer patients accomplishing fantastical feats).  The Fault in Our Stars is simply about the relationship of two intelligent teenagers who are dealing with cancer (well, and about hopes, fears, life, love, art, poetry, etc).  John Green's amazing writing combined with his ability to realistically portray teenagers make this an extremely poignant read.  This book will resonate with pretty much everyone because it deals with universal questions of mortality and purpose.

      Originally I thought to give this book 4.5 stars but after further consideration have upped the rating to 5.  The reason for my original assessment was due to the Dawson's Creek-ification* of the main characters wherein teenagers have a vocabulary that far surpasses many adults.  In the end, I decided I don't care about this because a) I wish more people in general exhibited a superior grasp of the English language and b) this book is just so darn good it deserves a 5 star rating.

      “You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice.”- The Fault in Our Stars

      I highly recommend this book to all readers!

      5/5 stars

      *Wow, I really dated myself there - yes, I'm of the Dawson's Creek generation :)

       This fulfills my Young Adult entry for the Eclectic Reader 2012 Challenge!

      Thursday, January 19, 2012

      Latest Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

      Goodreads Summary:
      Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother's death and her family's bloody history.
      With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate - and gods and mortals - are bound inseparably together.

      My thoughts:
      This is not your average epic fantasy novel!  Political intrigue mixed with deities and humans - sign me up!  I've read some reviews where people have disliked the whole Gods/mortals aspect of the novel...I guess if that's the case then don't read this book.  I'm not sure what these individuals were expecting, but the entire storyline is about the Enefedah (Gods) and mortals.  Otherwise, I've seen nothing but well-deserved praise for this series!

      I found The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms a bit difficult to get into at first.  I'm not sure if this was just my own reading frame of mind or if the first-person narration threw me off a bit.  Either way, the reader is floundering around along with Yeine in the beginning of the book.  While there is much foreshadowing, I was a bit lost (like Yeine) until I got further into the novel.  Once I got to the meat of the story I was hooked!  I definitely did some late-night reading with this chunkster. 

      I really loved Yeine as a main character.  She was very easy to relate to and (thankfully!) was not a whiner - despite having some very tough circumstances thrust upon her.  I thought all of the characters were extremely well-drawn and my two favorites had to be T'vril (Yeine's only human friend in Sky) and Sieh (the child-like Enefedah).  I love that most of the characters in this book are neither entirely good nor bad (with the exception of the horrible Scimina).

      Bottom line: I highly recommend to fantasy readers looking for something a bit different and to open-minded readers intrigued by a Gods/mortals storyline!

      4/5 stars

      This fulfills my Fantasy entry for the Eclectic Reader 2012 Challenge as well as my Mount TBR Challenge!

      Tuesday, January 17, 2012

      Top Ten Tuesday

      Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, this week's topic: Top Ten Books I'd Recommend To Someone Who Doesn't Read Literary Fiction (some of these are technically historical fiction)
      1. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery - character driven and really unique!
      2. Room by Emma Donoghue - haunting.
      3. Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See - great story of friendship.
      4. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger - sooo beautifully written!
      5. Still Alice by Lisa Genova - made me cry buckets!
      6. The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister - cozy and delightful read!
      7. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh - just lovely :)
      8. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton - romance, intrigue, whimsy...this book has it all.
      9. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro - heartbreaking.
      10. The Thirteenth Tale by Dianne Setterfield - great bookish mystery.

      Monday, January 16, 2012

      Mailbox Monday

      Mailbox Monday is a touring meme where book bloggers share their bookish acquisitions from the week prior.  It is hosted this month by At Home With Books.

      This past week I purchased some fantastic reads!

      Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

      Life of Pi by Yann Martel

      Shadowmarch by Tad Williams

      And lastly, Eve Green by Susan Fletcher

      Wednesday, January 11, 2012

      Latest Review: Flip

      Goodreads Summary:
      One December night, 14-year-old Alex goes to  bed. He wakes up to  find himself in the wrong bedroom, in an unfamiliar house, in a different part of the country, and it's the middle of June. Six months have disappeared overnight. The family at the breakfast table are total strangers.
      And when he looks in the mirror, another boy's face stares back at him.  A boy named Flip. Unless Alex finds out what's happened and how to get back to his own life,  he may be trapped forever inside a body that belongs to someone else.  

      Questions of identity, the will to survive, and what you're willing to sacrifice to be alive make this extraordinary book impossible to put down.

      My Thoughts:
      This was a fantastic and fast-paced YA thrillerThe book is written from Alex's perspective, so one easily feels for his character.  Poor nerdy Alex is stuck in quite the conundrum and you wonder how/if he will ever get back to his own life.  The suspenseful plot kept me turning the pages, I swear I finished it in a blink!  Yet the book also causes many thought-provoking questions to arise.  How much of who you are is your memories vs. what others expect of you?  Especially pertinent to young adults is: which is better, being popular or being yourself?  

      Flip is Martyn Bedford's first foray into the young adult genre and I think he should definitely write more YA lit!  This is a story of friendship, life and identity with many plot twists and turns - I absolutely recommend this tightly paced book!

      4/5 stars 

      Waiting on Wednesday: The Drowned Cities

      "Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that showcases upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

      This week I can't wait to get my grubby hands on The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi.  Firstly, I'll have to read the previous novel in the series, the highly-regarded Ship Breaker, and then in May I can follow it up with this lovely book!

      Goodreads Summary:
      In this exhilarating companion to Printz Award winner and National Book Award finalist Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi brilliantly captures a dark future America that has devolved into unending civil wars, driven by demagogues who recruit children to become soulless killing machines. Two refugees of these wars, Mahlia and Mouse, are known as "war maggots": survivors who have barely managed to escape the unspeakable violence plaguing the war-torn lands of the Drowned Cities. But their fragile safety is threatened when they discover a wounded half-man--a bioengineered war beast named Tool, who is hunted by a vengeful band of soldiers. When tragedy strikes, Mahlia is faced with an impossible decision: risk everything to save the boy who once saved her, or flee to her own safety.

      Drawing upon the brutal truths of current events, The Drowned Cities is a powerful story of loyalty, survival, and heart-pounding adventure.

      Tuesday, January 10, 2012

      Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Authors I Wish Would Write Another Book

      Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, this week's topic: Top Ten Authors I Wish Would Write Another Book
      1. J. D. Salinger all the way!  I'm a Salinger freak and would love it if he had written another book in his lifetime.
      2. Christi Phillips - she writes such fun historical fiction with a twinge of mystery!  I know she is supposedly writing a new book set in France but I haven't heard much about its progress.
      3. Stieg Larsson - I'm not usually much of a thriller fan but his Millenium Trilogy was unputdownable!  Unfortunately, his untimely death means no more Larsson books in the future.
      4. Hermann Hesse - his philosophical novels are so thought-provoking!  I would love it if he had written another before his passing.
      5. Sarah Addison Allen - she just published The Peach Keeper but I already want more!  She's fantastic with Southern magical realism novels and I just eat them up.
      6. F. Scott Fitzgerald - another one of my favorite authors!  Who wouldn't love to read another book about 1930s decadence from this master?
      7. Patrick Rothfuss - this is a bit of a cheat because I know he's in the process of writing the last novel of his Kingkiller Chronicles.  However, I also predict that it will be several years before I can get my greedy hands on this book!
      8. Jane Austen - can you imagine if she had written another??  She died much too young, if it had been otherwise we would doubtless have many more masterpieces from Austen.
      9. Suzanne Collins - The Hunger Games Trilogy was such a great addition to current YA - I'd love to see what she comes up with next!
      10. Kate Morton - I really loved The Forgotten Garden and I eagerly look forward to her next endeavor!

      Monday, January 9, 2012

      Mailbox Monday

      Mailbox Monday is a touring meme where book bloggers share their bookish acquisitions from the week prior.  It is hosted this month by At Home With Books.

      This past week I purchased some fantastic reads!

      The Heart is a Lonely Hunger by Carson McCullers...it's about time I read this masterpiece!

      Case Histories by Kate Atkinson - I've wanted to read this for a loooong time and I finally snatched it up!

      The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe...I've never read this one and thought that should be corrected immediately!

      Friday, January 6, 2012

      Recommended Bookish Podcasts

      I feel like I know my readers well enough to say, that y'all have a serious thing for books.  Now, what's a person to do when they've got chores or exercise or commutes and no audiobook to get them through it?  How about a podcast?  I'm kinda lovin' podcasts as of late - I mean, getting informed while cleaning the kitchen is a pretty good deal!  So I thought I'd share my most favorite bookish podcasts with my most favorite bookish peeps!  In no particular order:

      Books on the Nightstand - this podcast is all about books and reading!  It's chock-full of recommendations and interesting literary discussions.

      Bookrageous - this hip little podcast hosted by Josh from Brews and Books, Jenn from JennIRL, and Rebecca from Booklady's Blog.  It's quite eclectic and bursting with recommendations!

      NYT Book Review - authors, editors and critics talk about new releases, the bookish scene and current best sellers.

       NPR Books - this podcast includes book reviews, literary news, and author interviews!

      PRI Selected Shorts - wish you read more short stories?  Listen to this podcast and get exposed to some great shorts - extremely entertaining!

      Follow Friday

      Happy Follow Friday!  Click on the pic to be taken to a whole slew of new book blogs.  The question of the day:

      Q: Go count the number of unread books sitting on your shelf. How many?

      Drum-roll please....142!

      This ridiculous number is exactly why I joined the Mount TBR challenge - time to read those suckers!  This number does not include my collection of vintage cloth-bound books....eek, I don't even want to go there!  So, there's my disgraceful number - what about you folks?  Am I the norm, did you beat me, or are you shaking your head in disgust?