Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Favorites & A Blog Update

Hi everyone! I just wanted to check in to do a 2013 favorites post as well as do a quick update on this blog. Although I love blogging, I've been on a bit of a break and haven't posted until late August sometime. I'm still reading and posting what I'll call mini-reviews over at Goodreads. Life has just been busy and something had to be cut back. I'm going to continue to not post as much here for awhile until I get things in my real life a bit more organized but I will be back! In the meantime, you can follow me at Goodreads if you want to see what I've been reading.

I read 97 books in 2013 and overall it was a really great reading year. In addition to all of my reading, I attended Book Expo America with my mom in May which was fantastic!

In the meantime, here is what I loved reading in 2013 -

I could not decide on which of the following novels are my favorite fiction of 2013. And so, we have a tie - there were two books that truly blew me away this year and I highly recommend both of them:


They are both amazing novels that just blew me away! I highly recommend that you read the physical book copy of Night Film rather than the ebook, if possible, since I believe the reading experience is much better with the physical book. Also, there is an app for the novel which really adds some interesting things to the reading experience.

My favorite non-fiction of 2013 is also a tie! I just couldn't decide which I loved more so I'm going with two for this category as well!


These are both amazing books that I highly recommend. They could not be more different but they are both such compelling reads!

Beyond those four books, the rest of my favorites are shown below! I think that 2013 was a fantastic reading year and I can't wait to see what 2014 has in store for us!

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Dr. Sleep by Stephen King
The Bells by Richard Harvell
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
The Rosie Project by

Happy reading in 2014! What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments ...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Review: The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

The PanopticonThe Panopticon by Jenni Fagan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is another book that the premise sounds RIGHT up my alley - foster care, social work, coming of age, etc. All of those are things that I tend to gravitate to for so many reasons.

Although I was never bored while reading this one, I also never really found myself to be truly engaged in the novel. I was certainly disturbed by the content (it's definitely dark) and felt an overwhelming sense of sadness at the injustice so prevalent in this novel. But, I didn't find myself compelled by it. I just never connected with it for some reason.

The characters were definitely well written and striking. I found the characterization to be the most outstanding aspect of the novel and that is likely what kept me reading. I didn't love the plot - and found a number of holes in it that I had a hard time overlooking. There were aspects of the plot that were alluded to but never really given any substance which I think was a bit of a letdown.

Jenni Fagan is obviously a good writer. There were several scenes that came so alive to me that they made me a bit sick to my stomach due to the intensity of the events being described. She certainly has a way with language and in describing events. Although I was initially taken aback by the dialect of the novel, I got used to that over time.

All in all, this novel didn't wow me as I'd hoped but it has outstanding characterization and says something pretty important about social injustice and child welfare. But, be warned ... this is a very dark novel. One that has quite a bit of dark and twisty content which might not work if you're weary of such things.

** NOTE: This book was provided to me by the publisher for review.

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Review: The Returned by Jason Mott

The ReturnedThe Returned by Jason Mott
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really, really wanted to love this but it just fell flat for me. This was one of the books I brought back from BEA that I could not wait to read ... the concept/premise was outstanding but the execution was less than great. I was hoping for something more in the speculative fiction vein but it was much more of a story of contemplation. I had a hard time buying that there wasn't much concern around what was happening but rather they focused on the WHY behind their returning. I just didn't find that to be realistic. The lack of any exploration of what might be occurring just didn't satisfy me as a reader.

I found the characters to be particularly cardboard and one dimensional in this novel. I just never felt that they came alive in any way, shape or form. And, it makes it difficult to care what happens to any of them if they never feel 'real.'

This was one of those books that I had to push myself to finish. I could have easily walked away in the middle but hoped it would improve. Unfortunately, it never came together for me. What a shame! It's always sad when a book doesn't meet its potential!

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Monday, August 5, 2013

Review: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains EchoedAnd the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am actually quite sad to be writing this review because I had such high expectations of this book ... I LOVED his first two novels. LOVED. Like Holy Grail LOVED. But, this one just fell flat for me. It certainly didn't meet my expectations and it was a disappointment in comparison to his first two novels. It appears that most readers seem to love it so take my review with that in mind. Most readers seem to have felt differently from me about this one.

My primary issue with this novel is how disjointed it felt to me. I never really connected with the characters or the story because I felt off kilter the entire time that I was reading. Although Hosseini is a great writer - and the writing here is very good, the story here just never came together for me. It felt very much like a series of interweaving stories but they never really came together as one story which appears to be what Hosseini intended. As a result of the disjointed feeling that I got from the story, I truly never connected with the story or the characters. The emotional intensity that I love in both of his earlier novels was missing here for me.

Despite my disappointment, I do think its a good novel and worth the read. Perhaps if you go in with lower expectations than me, you'll enjoy it more. It's never fun to not love a novel written by someone who has always produced fiction that you love but I'm still glad that I read this one ... I just wish it had come together a bit better for me!

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Review: Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #1)Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had no idea what this one was about when I went into it. Beyond the fact that so many of my bookish friends loved it, I didn't have any context for the story or anything else. I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It's a very well written novel that creates a world and characters that blew me away! It took me a bit of time to really get engaged in the story and the world that Laini Taylor builds here but once I did ... wow! It was fantastic!

The first half of the novel was particularly strong. There comes a point where the narration changes and that interrupted some of the momentum for me but I was able to overlook that fact since the story itself was so compelling. I loved how unique and original the story is in this novel especially given the fact that the genre has been flooded with similar(ish) novels. I think this may be one of the best of these types of novels that I've read in a long time!

The beautiful, lyrical writing combined with compelling characters really made this one stand out for me. There really was magic in this novel. It's by no means a perfect novel but it's strengths outweigh its weaknesses for me. The world building was so well done that I really felt like I was dropped into another world while reading this one.

I highly recommend this to those who enjoy YA and those who just enjoy good storytelling and world building! This is a great read and I can't wait to sink my teeth into the second in the series!

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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Giveaway Winner Notified

Just a quick note to let you all know that I've notified the winner of the book giveaway that I held here on the blog for a copy of The Never List by Koethi Zan! Thanks to all of you who entered!

Review: Tampa by Alissa Nutting

TampaTampa by Alissa Nutting
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I knew going into reading this book that it would be an uncomfortable read - one that certainly wouldn't be enjoyable in any way. I was fairly sure that I knew exactly what I'd be walking into with this book. But, I have to say that I was still completely and utterly shocked by what I read. Which I think is partly the genius of this novel - how it gets in your head, making you think about things in new ways. I really liked the way that Nutting uses this novel as an exploration of female predatory behavior. It certainly made me think about it in a new way. This novel helped me begin to think through how we view male predators in our culture versus how we view female predators.

This is a really well written novel. Alissa Nutting is obviously a talented writer. She has created one of the most horrifying and captivating narrators that I can recall in all of my years as a reader. Being in her head for the duration of the book is one of the most difficult reading experiences that I've had. The descriptions of sex are jarring and unsettling. The narrative is engaging when it should make the reader want to run screaming. And that is the genius of Alissa Nutting's writing! To make me want to keep reading despite the disturbing content. I cannot say enough how effectively Nutting puts the reader inside the head of this woman, this sexual predator. There is no holding back of anything - the reader gets all entwined in her every thought, fantasy, and compulsion. You are taken deep into her darkest thoughts and its as disturbing as anything I've ever read.

This book is definitely not for everyone. If you're offended by sexual content, then this is not going to be a book that you should read. It's raw and dark and extremely disturbing. I tend to be very open minded and not particularly disturbed by much content and I found myself taken aback while reading this novel. But, in the end, I'm glad that I read it. It has definitely given me a new framework from which to think about sexual predators and how our society tends to view them. I found this novel to be absorbing, disturbing and thought provoking. I suspect this novel will disgust many readers and get quite a bit of criticism from some corners. But, those who are able to get beyond the difficult content may find themselves surprised at how effectively Alissa Nutting brings the reader to think about the intersection of sexual predators, the media and gender roles.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review: The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton

The Edge of NormalThe Edge of Normal by Carla Norton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found this book to be a good, solid read. There seem to be a slew of books about kidnapped girls coming out recently (and in the near future), probably due to recent cases in the news. And since I'm personally fascinated with the psychological experience of abduction and abuse, I'm naturally interested in reading these sorts of books. And this one is a good one.

My primary disappointment with this book is that I wish there had been more about the psychological aspects of the kidnapped girls. Although it's there, the focus is much more on the mystery and what I'd call the thriller aspects of the story. The psychological aspects felt almost brushed over given how key they seem to be in the descriptions of the book. Don't get me wrong - it's there but I was hoping for more.

Overall, I found the story itself to be a good one. Although many of the typical/predictable mystery/thriller tropes are present, the author did find a few areas to explore that were new and different. I love the idea of a woman who has been victimized in the past coming to the aid of the victim of a similar crime. To work on getting past her residual issues in an effort to help someone else get through the pain and suffering. And, I think that was effective in this novel primarily due to how well drawn the main character (Reeve LeClaire) is in this novel. She really came alive for me which helped me to overlook a few of the things that I didn't necessarily add up. I love that Reeve is so smart and interesting! (Note to the author - a series built around Reeve would be fantastic!)

I thought that this book was definitely worth reading. I'm glad that I took the time to read it. I think its a well paced and well written novel that definitely made my heart race at times! I think for fans of this type of fiction, this will be a big win! There were a few things that I didn't love and others that just didn't feel realistic but they didn't kill the book's overall experience for me. I recommend this one to fans of the genre and to those interested in books built around the kidnapping experience. I definitely think it's worth a read!

NOTE: This book will be published in September 2013. Thanks to the publisher, St. Martin's Press, for sending me the Advanced Readers copy to read!

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review: The Never List by Koethi Zan

The Never ListThe Never List by Koethi Zan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Never List is a fantastic psychological thriller that had me on the edge of my seat for the entire novel! What a page turner this one turned out to be! I stayed up late into the night, not wanting to put it down!

I loved how Koethi Zan really examines the psychological impact of the very harrowing experiences of the women in this novel. I felt that the story delves into each of their individual reactions in a very realistic and honest way. This helped to really give the novel a sense of realism. It is the realism that really helped me to care about the story and the characters! Each of these women felt real to me, in part because of the fact that they are flawed and experiencing things in very unique and believable ways!

I was surprised to learn that this is Koethi Zan's first novel. She definitely writes like a seasoned writer in every way! This is a very well written novel with excellent (and effective) pacing. Pacing can be such a difficult balance in this sort of novel. But, Zan effectively plays with tension in a way that keeps the plot moving forward while keeping the reader interested and inquisitive. The twists and turns that this story take are fantastic! There are several revelations along the way, but the final revelation was fantastic for me! I really enjoyed that final twist and how the novel ended which is often not the case for me with these sorts of books. I found this ending to be quite satisfying.

Although this is certainly a dark novel, I think that the author handled the violence very well - making it's existence real but not gratuitous! I think this is a novel that would actually be enjoyable to readers of a variety of genres, not just the thriller genre! I really enjoyed this book and cannot wait to see what Koethi Zan brings to us next!

NOTE: Thank you to Viking/Penguin for providing the ARC for me to read and review.

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Guest Post: Koethi Zan (Author of The Never List)

I am very excited to present our first guest post by Koethi Zan who is the author of The Never List which is available TODAY in the US and Canada!

How a Cult Tried to Get Me by Koethi Zan

When I was eighteen years old, my college roommate and I were lured into a cult.  It isn’t what you might imagine.  We didn’t move to a commune somewhere in Texas with some charismatic leader who had a cache of weapons and multiple wives.  They were much too sophisticated for that.  They drew us in slowly with very innocent “study sessions” that were part self-help, part group therapy, and part meditation class.

It started with my college boyfriend’s parents who had been involved with this “philosophy study group” for many years.  They urged my boyfriend to go so my roommate Ann and I decided we’d tag along.  We were up for anything and curious about what we’d heard. 

There were five of us at the first session, one of whom was a stunningly beautiful girl about my age.  She had an ethereal quality about her and was very close to reaching the next “level” in the study group.  I was convinced my boyfriend would end up in her group too—without me.  I had to get to the higher level too, and fast.

Like many cults, this one had a mystical text, a dynamic long-dead leader, and an almost corporate organizational structure.  They were practiced at the slow seduction.  Their main scripture contained a bizarre and complex cosmology that made no sense whatsoever.  We studied only a page or two each week, carefully dissecting its strange logic and arcane symbolism.  I was getting nowhere with it.

Study sessions began with a long meditation, in which the teacher would ask us to focus on each individual body part until we felt it tingle.  I had a hard time sitting still that long.  Then we would work on our main objective: learning to be “present in the moment.”  Each week we would leave with specific tasks to practice:  upon entering a room, look at the ceiling, or eat meals using the non-dominant hand.  Eventually, our sessions involved learning the art of bookbinding, which seemed a bit odd, but I mildly enjoyed that part at least.  It reminded me of being in the Girl Scouts.  All in all, it seemed harmless enough.

Then, just as Ann and I were getting bored with the whole thing, we were informed that we had reached a high enough level to go to a special weekend “retreat.”  An important leader from New York City would be presiding.  The group had bought a house that needed work, so naturally there would be “work sessions.”  We were flattered.  We went.

The first thing they did was set us to work scraping the floors of the house—for hours.  That was a mistake.  Not my cup of tea.  Next we had an extensive presentation about the cosmology.  I was bored out of my mind.  Then after lunch, we were instructed in special “movements” at a school gym they’d rented out.  We would hold out our arms and spread our legs, and then, in time with ominous chords of piano music, we would have to jump suddenly into the next position.  I was starting to freak out a little.

Up until that point, no one had mentioned money to us.  They were clever enough to know we’d see that as a warning sign.  But back at the house that afternoon, I overheard the fancy leader from New York City pressuring a young member to make his contribution.  That was just about the final straw.  So when, in our next session, we were seated in rows for an hour-long meditation session, I feigned illness and was excused to the other room.  I realized I had to get out of there.  I tried to signal to Ann through the doorway, but she was in a deep state of meditation.

Without telling anyone, I slipped out the front door, hoping Ann would figure it out and follow me when she finally opened her eyes.  She did, and we reunited back at the dorm that day to celebrate.  Needless to say, we never got to the next level.

You can find out more about Koethi Zan and her novel, The Never List, at her website, on Twitter and on Facebook!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Review: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a charming and engaging novel! I wasn't sure what to expect from this but I love books with a unique voice and this one definitely delivers characters with very unique voices! I found this to be a very clever and amusing take on relationships!

Although on the surface this novel may appear to be a light, funny read, I was pleased to find that it was quite a bit more. It's an exploration of differences and how people can grow into themselves and other people. This novel takes a touching look at finding love and friendship, how we open ourselves to people and how we can often get in our own way.

The characters are so fascinating and interesting to read about from the moment that the novel opens. The characters and how Simsion develops them throughout the novel is really the best thing about this entire novel. They take what could have been an OK book and made it come alive! Don Tillman, the main character, is such an interesting man! I kept thinking of him as a cross between Forrest Gump and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. His quirky yet loveable nature is so well done in this novel. Simsion finds such a great balance with this character which I found made him simply come alive. He wasn't a cardboard cut out in any way. He was well rounded, interesting and ultimately endearing. And Rosie! Well, Rosie just crept into my heart with her tough, independent nature. She is such a complex, multifaceted character. And putting Don and Rosie together is just golden!

Quirky, enjoyable, engaging, humorous and thoughtful are all words that I could easily use to describe this book. It's definitely a well written and extremely readable novel that will resonate with a lot of different readers.

Note: This novel will be published in the US in October of 2013. Thank you to the publisher, Simon and Schuster, who offered me an Advanced Readers copy to read.

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Giveaway Reminder - The Never List by Koethi Zan

REMINDER - there are a just a few more days to enter in the giveaway for The Never List by Koethi Zan! You can find the details on the original post here! Thanks for entering!

Review: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

NOS4A2NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I suspect that Joe Hill is going to soon be joining that list of authors that I consider 'go-to' authors, the writers that time and time again exceed my expectations. Because I have to tell you that he is really fantastic ... his stories are unique and compelling, his writing is fantastic and his characters are so real that they practically walk off of the page.

I want to say upfront that the primary reason that I'm not giving this novel 5 stars is that I think it could have used some editing. There were some sections that I felt could have been condensed in order to make this novel even better! The only other flaw that I found in the novel is that I'd like to have gotten a bit more information about the history of a few of the characters/items and how they came to be how they came to be (specifically, Charlie and the car). With that said, however, this is a fantastic read and is truly unlike ANYTHING that I've ever read.

Joe Hill appears to see the world in a very unique aqnd interesting way, coming up with some ideas and concepts for this novel that I thought were frankly just outstanding. He could have gone predictable in a number of places in the novel but instead came up with some really interesting and even 'out of the box' things. The story itself is unique and not predictable in any way. The basic horror tropes are here but he takes them to new and unusual places. Great places. Places that made me squirm. Places that made me feel a little sick to my stomach yet unable to stop reading because I had to know more!

This is a book that I find difficult to explain in a way that really makes sense - it's almost like reading it is the only way to truly understand what's happening. Every description that I've read is fine but none really capture the essence of this novel for me. All I can say is READ IT. If you can handle horror and darkness, pick this one up. It's immensely readable and will keep you fascinated for six hundred pages.

It's a vampire book that is like no other vampire book out there because it's really not a vampire book ... it's something more than a vampire book, something better. Don't expect the usual vampire stuff you can read anywhere - expect Hill to take the vampire thing and re-make it into something unrecognizable and yet completely familiar. It's got the stuff you expect from horror - some gore, lots of action, great pacing, complex characters ... and yet, it's so much more than horror. It's even got some humor and some irony rolled into it.

Anyway, I highly recommend this novel, particularly to fans of horror, good writing and good storytelling. I suspect that Joe Hill is going to just get better and better over time! I can't wait to see what he brings to us next!

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Review: Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

Sworn to Silence (Kate Burkholder, #1)Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this first book in the Kate Burkholder series and will plan to continue on with the series. The juxtaposition of the Amish and the 'outside world' is a unique way to look at things and I think this angle adds something new to the books that are typical of this genre! I really liked the characters and the storyline, overall. There were some things that struck me as odd but nothing that I couldn't overlook. I really liked the Kate Burkholder character. I found her to be really charismatic and multifaceted.

I figured out who had done it pretty early on but I don't think that ultimately took away from the novel as a whole. The story and the character development were done well enough that who did it was less important than where the story arc itself was going! Really strong start to the series!

I definitely recommend this book. Very good first in a series. I look forward to reading more of this one in the future!

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Review: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver

The Execution of Noa P. SingletonThe Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am really struggling with reviewing this novel because I just didn't love it as much as most of the others I've talked to who've read it have. I didn't find myself connecting with this book at all. I usually LOVE an unreliable narrator but I never cared enough about Noa to care what happened or why. Which is a pretty big deal since the entire novel is about her and what happened.

I also didn't love the writing style of the author which I think was part of the reason I wasn't loving this book. Something about her style just never worked for me. I'm still having a hard time pinpointing WHAT it was ... but I can't seem to identify what exactly it was beyond the ambiguous 'it's not working for me'. The story itself was fine, nothing earth shattering or particularly compelling but it was OK. Maybe I've been spoiled by other novels that gave me more - novels like Gone Girl, for example? I'm not sure. I just know that this one didn't work for me.

Unfortunately, this isn't a novel that I can recommend. However, I will point out that plenty of others have really enjoyed it so if it's appealing to you, it's worth a shot since so many have liked it quite a bit. Sadly, I didn't love this particular novel as much as some others have.

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Monday, July 8, 2013

Review: the Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-EatThe Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fun little novel that I really liked quite a bit! I was really surprised to find that this book was written by a man given how well he writes female characters!

This book focuses on three friends, the men in their lives and the journey's they've taken throughout the years of their friendships. The characters were all pretty well developed, the dialogue was strong and the story itself was compelling. Very funny at times - even laugh out loud funny. This is a very readable book with interesting characters and stories!

I will say that it took a bit of time for me to get into the flow of the novel and the core stories, once I did, the story moved effortlessly. I think it was challenging to fully tell each of the main characters apart for about 50 pages but once I did, I was very immersed in their stories & lives. This novel was at times heart-warming and at others heart-wrenching.

I really enjoyed this book and had fun reading it! It's definitely one I'd recommend, particularly if you enjoy fiction about women and friendship!

(This was probably more of a 3 and a half star novel for me but I'm rounding up to 4 since it did make me laugh a number of times!)

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Giveaway: The Never List by Koethi Zan

Hi everyone! I recently read a fantastic book that I cannot wait to tell you about (my review is coming soon ... ) - it will be available on July 16th and the publisher has generously offered for me to giveaway a copy of this book to my readers! YAY! I have included some details about the book as well as details about the giveaway below. Good luck! This is a book that you don't want to miss out on!

About The Never List -

For years, best friends Sarah and Jennifer kept what they called the “Never List”: a list of actions to be avoided, for safety’s sake, at all costs. But one night, against their best instincts, they accept a cab ride with grave, everlasting consequences. For the next three years, they are held captive with two other girls in a dungeon-like cellar by a connoisseur of sadism.
Ten years later, at thirty-one, Sarah is still struggling to resume a normal life, living as a virtual recluse under a new name, unable to come to grips with the fact that Jennifer didn’t make it out of that cellar. Now, her abductor is up for parole and Sarah can no longer ignore the twisted letters he sends from jail.

Finally, Sarah decides to confront her phobias and the other survivors—who hold their own deep grudges against her. When she goes on a cross-country chase that takes her into the perverse world of BDSM, secret cults, and the arcane study of torture, she begins unraveling a mystery more horrifying than even she could have imagined.

A shocking, blazingly fast read, Koethi Zan’s debut is a must for fans of Karin Slaughter, Laura Lippman, and S.J. Watson.

Giveaway Details -
  • Giveaway is open to US addresses only (no PO boxes, please)
  • You must be 18 or older to enter
  • You must enter via the form below by 12 p.m. EST on 7/15/2013
  • This giveaway is courtesy of Penguin and they will will be sending out the book to the winner!
  • I will contact the winner via the email address you leave in the form so be sure that it's correct before you submit!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Review: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More FunThe Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm not sure what to even say about this one. It was ok, it was fine. But, I didn't find anything remotely earth shattering here. Just a lot of common sense, honestly. Since I've been doing some work in the area of my own happiness, I was hoping this book might offer me some insight into areas to explore. And I guess it did that but I just felt like the areas explored in this book were pretty obvious and not remotely new to me. Anyway, it was certainly an easy read that I was able to dip in and out of as I could since I read it on my phone when I was waiting for things or found myself without a book. But, all in all, I think there are other books I'd prefer to have read than this one. Not a bad read just not a very memorable read!

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Review: The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

The EngagementsThe Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really loved this novel ... the newest by J. Courtney Sullivan. I met her briefly at BEA this year when she signed my copy of this novel. She was very sweet and kind during our brief meeting. I'd already really enjoyed her second novel, Maine and am eager to read her first which is on my bedside table waiting for me to pick it up. All in all, after this book and Maine, I think it's safe to say that I am a J. Courtney Sullivan fan!

This novel is one of those that has a series of stories that appear unconnected but ultimately come together into a cohesive story. And I believe this one is particularly well done! I was very taken with the characters and their stories, I couldn't wait to hear what was coming next. I love the way that Sullivan integrates the "A Diamond Is Forever" history and the story of Frances Gerety and her role in making diamonds a tradition for engagements.

All in all, Sullivan has written a beautiful exploration of love and marriage. The relationships explored int he novel are very realistic and honestly showcase the struggles and uniqueness of individual relationships and marriages.

I highly recommend this novel. It's well written, easy to read and one of those novels that I just didn't want to end!

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Review: Mandatory Release by Jess Riley

Mandatory ReleaseMandatory Release by Jess Riley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first Jess Riley book that I've read but the description sounded like something right up my alley! I am so glad that I took the time to read this one and I think I may have found a new author to seek out! I love books with an underlying darkness, a sense of snarkiness and good writing. This book has all three in abundance!

The storytelling in this novel is excellent and I really loved getting to know the characters that Jess Riley created here. The characters all felt real ... alive, flawed and wonderful! They just came alive on the page, making me care about them and their journey in the novel! There are two primary characters in this novel - Graham and Drew. I came to love them, identify with them and I admit that I was a bit sad to say goodbye to them at the conclusion of the book.

The novel has elements of a love story but it's so much more than that. In fact, calling it a love story makes me a bit uncomfortable because its so much more than a simple romance. This novel is really about love, friendship, growing, and healing. The characters in this book are broken but fighting back ... and not letting themselves get pulled down into the vulnerability of their situations. I love that there is such hope and raw emotion packed into this book. I was so taken with these characters and how they grew through the course of the book. The rawness of these characters and their experiences is what really makes this book special!

I see that Jess Riley has been compared to Jonathan Tropper (who I adore) and I would agree that they have a very similar sensibility and that they both write complex characters who feel real. If you're a Tropper fan, I suspect you'd enjoy this book!

Bottom line - I recommend this book! Especially if you like great story telling, well developed characters and enjoy fantastic dialogue! And if you like to laugh, I suspect this will also be one you'll enjoy because I literally laughed out loud numerous times while reading this one! Anyway, I will definitely be seeking out more of Jess Riley's writing in the future! This one comes out on July 16th so I definitely recommend you pick it up then!

NOTE: I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher for purposes of reading and reviewing the book.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Review: Wolrld War Z by Max Brooks

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am really struggling with rating this book ... I waffled between a 2 or 3 star rating. This is one of those books that started off GREAT for me but then just lost steam somewhere along the way. By the end, I was just wishing it would hurry up and end. I no longer cared about the Zombie War or the aftermath. I just wanted to move on to the next book.

In the beginning, I loved how the book was set up - as if it were a series of non-fiction telling of experiences from a wide variety of people in a wide variety of places. Very cool and smart concept. But, over time, that concept plays itself out and I began to not care any more. The set up became boring, lengthy and inane for me. I ended up speed reading through the last section of the book because I just couldn't care enough to read it more carefully.

I'm not really sure what it was that I didn't connect with in this novel but it just doesn't seem like a good fit for me. This is another that I wanted to love but didn't. However, I will say that I can understand why so many DO love it ... It has a strong non-fiction vibe so perhaps a fan of non-fiction might enjoy it more than I did?

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Review: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Reconstructing AmeliaReconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book despite some flaws. It's not a perfect book but it is definitely very readable and interesting. The premise was compelling and the book was structured rather well. I the writing to be quite good. The pacing and plotting is excellent. It was a book that I didn't want to put down, that I wanted to stay up late reading! That is always a good sign!

There were some things that I didn't love but they were easy to overlook since reading it was so effortless. Some of the story itself was pretty predictable but I still enjoyed the story overall. I found it to be a pretty interesting story with some nice twists and turns. The primary thing that bothered me was how involved the local police allowed the mother to be in the investigation - that didn't feel realistic to me. But, otherwise, I really enjoyed this one.

It's certainly a YA novel but I think it's a book that adults will enjoy as much as young adults. Rumor has it that this is being made into a movie and Nicole Kidman is in talks to play the mother. I'll be interested in seeing if that is the case. I think this could make a really compelling movie! This is one that I definitely recommend!

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Review: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of BeliefGoing Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Given my fascination with religion, faith and belief, this book was on my TBR from the moment that I heard it was coming. And Lawrence Wright certainly delivers ... this is one of the best nonfiction books I've read this year.

I knew next to nothing about Scientology going into the reading of this book but was fascinated with the little that I did know. The religion felt rather cult-ish to me but I really didn't know enough to truly understand if that was the case or not. This book really educated me so much on Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard and the current leadership of Scientology. And, all I can say is WOW! This is one of the most comprehensive, well researched and well written books that I've read in the history of my reading life. That Lawrence Wright took on this subject despite the harrowing experiences of others who have done the same is commendable.

I cannot even put into words just how astounded I was as I read this book - the tenets of this belief system, the way Hubbard set this religion up, the way the average member is treated, and the numerous abuses and violations by the Church that have been documented over the years. It's all just so horrendous. I find it so sad that so many people searching for something to believe are finding it in Scientology since I now believe the entire religion was made up in the mind of a man that I'm convinced suffered from severe mental health issues. I have a hard time understanding how intelligent individuals can buy into much of what I read in this book. I guess that it's a testament to the power of belief.

More than anything, however, this book confirmed my discomfort with the role celebrity plays in Scientology. The 'celebrity' appears to be one of the only members of this group that isn't faced with abuse and terror. They ultimately seem to feed off of the efforts of the 'common' Scientology member without accepting any responsibility or asking any questions about the treatment of others despite quite a bit of evidence that there are abuses going on. I will no longer support projects connected to these Scientology celebrities (Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley, Anne Archer, John Travolta, Kelly Preston, etc). I just cannot support these people who seem to be so clearly benefiting from the abuses within this organization. I find their lack of awareness to be self-serving.

If you're a Scientologist, you will certainly hate this book and find offense throughout this entire review (if you're even allowed to read it which is unlikely based upon the information in the book). I would say that if you're curious about this particular religion, it's relationship to science, and it's relationship to celebrity - this is definitely a great piece of investigative journalism and will answer most questions you could have about Scientology. I found this book fascinating and it has changed my own thinking about Scientology in many ways. I strongly recommend this book!

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Review: Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

GirlchildGirlchild by Tupelo Hassman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have had Girlchild on my TBR for awhile - it sounded like something right up my alley and that cover just drew me in! Add in the Girl Scout mentions in the description and I'm hooked! If only the reading of this novel lived up to my expectations!

I did not love this one and almost put it down halfway through the novel but forced myself to finish it in case there would be something at the end that would pull it all together for me and redeem all the time I spent reading it! Unfortunately, that didn't happen.

For a book about poverty, abuse and the dark side of life, I found myself not caring one bit about any of the characters or their experiences. I didn't find their stories compelling or their experiences interesting. I really wanted to like Rory (the main character) but I just never 'got her.' She seemed so far removed from the story that I just didn't connect with her or her experiences.

The style of the book is definitely unusual - a series of vignettes that are almost stream of consciousness at times. Ultimately, I found the vignette style to be a bit choppy. Not at all cohesive, which was disorienting to me. Perhaps that is exactly what the author wanted given the subject matter, etc. Either way, I didn't love that aspect of the book.

All in all, the book was ok but I didn't find it to be as interesting or compelling as I expected! But, many others have loved this book so perhaps it just wasn't the book for me!

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Review: Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

Dead Ever After (Sookie Stackhouse, #13)Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was a bit hesitant going into this novel given how the series has not been wow'ing me for some time. Which is a shame since I love Sookie and the world that Charlaine Harris created with this series! But, since this is the final novel in the series, I felt like I wanted to see this series through.

And, all in all, I was pleased with how Charlaine Harris ended this one. I've heard a lot of negative reviews about this one but I thought it was pretty good. Not great, not perfect ... but a solid read. I happen to like how the author ended things in this novel but I can understand the disappointment if you'd hoped for a different resolution.

I went in expecting to hate this one so I was pleased to find that I actually enjoyed this final book in the series!

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Review: Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Someday, Someday, MaybeSomeday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Lauren Graham's work so I was really excited to find out she'd written a novel and couldn't wait to read it! And I am so glad that I did! What a nice little book!

I found the story to be very engaging and I enjoyed the characters. The relationships in the book, particularly the friendships, were really well done! I thought the story was well paced and was ultimately more than a romance. It had elements of romance, of course, but it was more than that which was something that I appreciated.

I enjoyed getting to see some of what aspiring actors go through ... wow, so glad acting is not my passion! It can be a brutal business! I really liked the main character in this book - flaws and all! She was certainly a well rounded character which isn't always the case in these sorts of novels.

I was so happy to see that Lauren Graham can write! Although there were some flaws (many of which are common first novel flaws), I really enjoyed the time I spent reading this book. I already knew that Lauren Graham is witty, clever and charming ... but it is nice to see how well that translated into a really good novel! I found it charming and sweet! This is one that I definitely recommend!

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

2 Mini Reviews & BEA Announcement

I have been struggling recently with being in a reading funk. Nothing is grabbing my attention, nothing is really WOW'ing me. I keep reading a few pages, putting it down, starting a new one - and the cycle goes on and on. So, to try and break the rut, I picked up a few books in some of the series that I enjoy, hoping they will grab me and keep me interested. These two helped me get through the funk so I wanted to write up a couple of small reviews ... Also, I am going to be attending Book Expo America later this month in NYC as a Power Reader. I have the best mom ever ... she's taking me for my birthday & we'll be spending a few days in NYC before BEA! Very exciting! So, much of my time lately has been spent planning for my trip and being nervous about attending BEA for the first time! I'll definitely post here about the trip for those interested in how it goes! Okay, on to the reviews ...

Lover At Last (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #11)Lover At Last by J.R. Ward
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

OK, I struggled with rating this one for a few reasons ... although I loved the fact that we FINALLY get the Quinn & Blay book and I think she handled their relationship very well, I am tired of having there be a series of other story lines going on which have no connection to the story being told. The books used to be primarily about the unfolding of a couple's story and the brotherhood. But, now there are all of these other extra things going on which I think ultimately muddy up the overall impact of each book. Although I understand that she needs to start creating additional story lines to keep the series moving, I felt that the other stories dominated a bit too much in this novel. I like the Xcor and Assail characters and I am interested in seeing more at some point but I felt the amount of content on them in this Quinn/Blay novel was overkill. And then there was this whole other Trez story line that started up in this one. I like where she's taking all of those pieces but I think she spent way more time on them in this novel than was effective for the overall novel. I get that she's setting up future books but it felt a little heavy handed to me. Anyway, that is my big beef with this novel. The only other thing that came to mind was that I may be getting tired of some of the language that Ward uses in the book ... the made up words (especially the verbs) in particular. But, that won't keep me from continuing with the series. All in all, I enjoy the escape from reality and can overlook the small things that annoy me. If you enjoy the series, you'll probably enjoy this one.

A Perfect Blood (The Hollows, #10)A Perfect Blood by Kim Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Enjoyed this one ... solid continuation of this series. I continue to enjoy the world and characters that Harrison has created here! I've been in a bit of a book funk and this was a great book to keep me interested! Can't wait to read the 11th book in the series! (I enjoyed #9 a bit more than this one but this one was still really good).

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Review: Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As someone who works full time in corporate America while also juggling my responsibilities as a wife and mom, I found this book really interesting. There was a lot in this one that made me think about things in a new way. There are things that didn't resonate with me but much of the book did. There is quite a bit of food for thought here, things that I've never thought of as well as things that I've never thought of within a larger context. This book is very readable and interesting. I was never bored or felt it was moving too slowly which can happen with these sorts of books.

I will acknowledge that there isn't a lot here for single parents or for those without economic resources - much of the content makes assumptions about socioeconomics that just aren't an option for some women. I understand many of the criticisms that I've read about this book. However, I didn't experience it in the way many of the critics did. I found quite a bit in the book that has helped me begin to re-think how I behave at work and how I might not be helping myself in the workplace. That alone makes this book work for me.

I think this is a book that might resonate if you're a woman navigating the corporate ladder and would like to successfully move into leadership positions at some point in your career. And perhaps that is why I enjoyed it more than some - I saw this book as Sandberg educating the reader on her own successful career while providing helpful advice around how to do the same. If nothing else, I think this book begins a conversation that needs to happen about women and work.

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Me Before YouMe Before You by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! What a fantastic little book! This one packs quite a large emotional punch! I was so taken with the story that I found myself sobbing at several points in the book - and not bad sobbing but GOOD sobbing! The kind of sobbing you do when something really touches you, when an author makes you FEEL something genuine!

Although this book could be characterized as a romance, I think it's so much more than that. It definitely does romance well but it also tackles a number of subjects that you wouldn't ordinarily find in a romance. It has a level of depth that I don't typically associate with the romance genre. I was taken by the characters and the world that Moyes builds in this novel. I loved getting to know them and coming to care about them.

Jojo Moyes does a phenomenal job at keeping the reading experience light and easy without making it into a fluffy romance. This isn't in any way a difficult read but it is so much more than fluff! I think what resonated with me most was how emotionally attached I became to this story and the characters that Moyes creates in this novel. I was honestly sad to finish the book!

I highly recommend this one! Please don't be off put by the fact that it appears to be a romance because I promise that its so much more than that! This is a moving and thought provoking novel that I think most readers would really enjoy!

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for AlaskaLooking for Alaska by John Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a fantastic book! I think this seals the deal for me ... I am an avid John Green fan! What a fantastic and thoughtful story! This is YA at its best! If you are a YA genre fan, this is one you definitely want to pick up. But, it's so much more than what one might assume a YA novel would be. Well written with excellent characters! I am so glad that I stumbled upon The Fault in Our Stars which ultimately led me to this one. I intend to read all of the John Green that I can get my hands on! I highly recommend this one!

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review: The Bells by Richard Harvell

The BellsThe Bells by Richard Harvell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fantastic book that I wholeheartedly recommend! In fact, I'm asking myself why I waited so long to actually read it! It's beautifully written and well executed. I'm not sure what I was expecting but it was such a wonderful story about love - all kinds of love. Harvell writes about music and sound in a way that is unbelievable - some of the passages just took my breath away! There is something here for everyone - beautiful writing, an adventure tale, a love story, historical fiction at it's best ... and so much more. I can't adequately describe this book in any meaningful way but I can definitely recommend it. It's worth picking up and enjoying! If you enjoy books with a gothic feel and characters that leap off the page, this is one you should definitely pick up!

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review: The Dinner by Herman Koch

The DinnerThe Dinner by Herman Koch
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This one just didn't do it for me. Perhaps it was the comparisons to Gone Girl that did it, perhaps its just that the novel never truly grabbed my attention. I'm not sure. It was just OK. I can't say I liked it at all - the characters were not in any way engaging but that is kind of the point of the novel, honestly. I think the premise had a lot of potential but it just never lived up to that potential. The writing was choppy for me, I just didn't find the pacing to be well done. I almost put it down as a 'do not finish' book at least 3 times but stuck with it because I kept hearing these Gone Girl comparisons and was worried I'd miss the thing that made it great if I put it down. Um, no need to worry. It never got better. It never came close to Gone Girl's punch.

If you get nothing else from this review, here is my message: DO NOT BUY INTO THE COMPARISONS TO GONE GIRL!!! This novel has none of the inventiveness or fun that Gone Girl brought to the table. Although we have some of the same ingredients (unreliable narrator, secretive plot points, sociopath behavior, etc.), the resulting novel is completely different. I'm frankly BAFFLED by all of the positive reviews. I just cannot understand it. It didn't work out for me and, unfortunately, I cannot recommend it. If you want to read something dark & twisty, with dark characters, etc., just grab Gone Girl which does all of that so much better.

I'm really bummed about my experience of this book because I was hoping this one would resonated with me and wow me in the way that Gone Girl did! I rarely say truly negative things about a book that I've read but this one was certainly a disappointment and has me honestly baffled. I just don't get the hype around this one. If you decide to read it, I hope your experience is better. For me, this one was as dud.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Review: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest TrailWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me start by saying that I strongly recommend that you read Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar BEFORE you read this one ... a friends suggested that to me and she was spot on! If you enjoy Cheryl's voice in Tiny Beautiful Things, then Wild is likely to really resonate with you.

So, a book that centers around hiking really didn't seem like a memoir that I'd have any interest in reading. I read it primarily because I loved Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar and thought even Cheryl Strayed could probably make hiking interesting to me. And was I right! This is a beautifully written memoir that is about so much more than hiking. It's worth every moment to experience this book!

Cheryl's voice isn't for everyone - she's a very complicated, flawed woman but I just love her voice. It speaks to me, resonates with me. I wish that I had an in real life friend like her. She has insight and a view of life that I really find compelling. I know that others have complained of the use of the f-word but that doesn't bother me a bit. In fact, it's a word that I believe is the best word for certain situations so I was fine with that aspect of the book. Is she self-indulgent? Perhaps but, honestly, most of us are. And I appreciate her honesty about even the ugliest aspects of her life and experiences. She doesn't shirk from the truth regardless of how it might make her 'look' to others. I respect that and think the world might be a better place if more of us lived authentically and didn't lie to ourselves about what we've done or what we want.

There is so much here that goes beyond hiking - the mother/daughter relationship, family dynamics, love, friendship, divorce, finding yourself, and owning your mistakes. I found all of it to be inspiring and honest and at times difficult to read. But, in the end, I feel like I'm a better person for having read this memoir ... and I am so glad that she was willing to show the world her true self - her mistakes, her monumentally flawed thinking (at times), her growth, and her journey to find herself and the life she wants. I found that inspiring, particularly since I'm in a place in my life where I'm doing some personal growth work.

Anyway, this is definitely a memoir that I recommend but know that it's not going to resonate with everyone. And, again, I recommend that you read Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar before you read this one. If her voice speaks to you in that one, then this just might be a book you'll appreciate as much as I did!

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Two Mini Reviews

Bank 3.0: Why Banking Is No Longer Somewhere You Go But Something You DoBank 3.0: Why Banking Is No Longer Somewhere You Go But Something You Do by Brett King
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this with my team at work. Given that we work in the banking industry, it was interesting to think through the future of banking and how we, in our day to day work, can help shape the future of the bank we support. But, it's not a very enjoyable read although it's not difficult. A lot of the stats are used over and over which became a bit monotonous. But, all in all, it was OK. Worth a read if you're passionate about banking or if you are particularly interested in how banks are changing.

Lover Reborn (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #10)Lover Reborn by J.R. Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These books are my favorite guilty pleasure books! And this one was fantastic! Although not my favorite of the series, I enjoyed this one better than the book prior. I do think JR Ward did good by Tohr which I was worried about. Looking forward to #11 ...

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