Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book List Archive 2013

Time for out with the old and in with the new posts recapping the major accomplishments of the past year (and cleaning off the side bar to make room for tracking this year’s list). I thought 2013 was going to see far more books under my belt since last year was truly an overachiever one when it came to reading. However, I’ve had far more energy to be off my couch in recent months and you can’t listen to audible while doing yoga like you can while running.

  • The Winter of Our Disconnect, Susan Maushart (book club) – this book changed my children’s lives and is well worth reading
  • A Memory of Light, Wheel of Time #14, Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson – so much better than I ever hoped for and well worth the 15 years it took to wait for the end of this series.
  • Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, Rachel Maddow – disturbing and eye-opening
  • Firefly Lane, Kristin Hannah
  • Still Alice, Lisa Genova (book club) – frightening look at Alzheimer’s
  • The Reservoir, John Miliken Thompson
  • Mistborn: The Final Empire, Brandon Sanderson 
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo
  • Dark Places, Gillian Flynn
  • 14, Peter Clines – best scifi read this year
  • And I Don’t Want to Live this Life, Deborah Spungen (book club)
  • The Dog Stars, Peter Heller
  • Mistorn #2: The Well of Ascension, Brandon Sanderson
  • Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn (book club) – this time I read it instead of listened and loved it even more
  • The Kitchen House, Kathleen Grissom (book club)
  • Mistborn #3: The Hero of Ages, Brandon Sanderson – the ending of this series cemented Sanderson’s place as my new favorite fantasy author
  • Old Man’s War, John Scalzi
  • A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness – this was a haunting read that stuck with me a long while
  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol S. Dweck (work book club)
  • Horns, Joe Hill – one of my very favorite reads this year
  • The Rent Collector, Camron Wright (book club)
  • Joyland, Stephen King
  • Hounded, Kevin Hearne
  • The Dog Stars, Peter Heller (my pick for book club so I re-read it in print instead of listening). This is a far different book in print than in audible and I liked the audible far better.
  • Hexed, Kevin Hearne
  • The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman (book club)
  • Rainbows End, Vernor Vinge – not my favorite scifi and proof that if you put something down twice it probably doesn’t deserve getting finished
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman – also one of my favorite reads this year – such a great one!
  • Mistborn #4: The Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson
  • Happy Money, Elizabeth Dunn (work book club)
  • Slim for Life, Jillian Michaels
  • Immortal Instruments: City of Bones, Cassandra Clare – I hope the movies are better than the books
  • The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (book club) – I’m now officially a huge Gaiman fan, too
  • Mothers & Other Liars, Amy Bourret (book club)
  • No Plot? No Problem!, Chris Baty – oh how I wish I’d read this years ago to make NaNoWriMo easier!
  • Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson – read aloud with hubby on our road trip
  • The Name of the Wind: The King Killer Chronicles Day One, Patrick Rothfuss – also read aloud for hubby on our road trip after I filled him in on the first half; and yet another epic fantasy series I want to grab the next one immediately.

That’s thirty seven books this year. A far cry from the goal I set of fifty but still impressive since the theme this year was apparently fantasy. I read some major tomes that in terms of sheer number of pages alone could count as several books. I set the goal of forty books in 2014. Whether I hit that goal or not, you can be certain I’ll be reading every chance I get!


Book List Archive 2012

It’s that time again!  Time for me to recap my year reflecting on how crazy my goals are for myself while comparing them from year to year to show what progress I’m making on being the best overachiever I know how to be.  Last year I was bragging about how brilliant I was at combining running with audio books so I could *double* my reading.  The total for 2011 was a whopping eighteen books.  Hold onto your hats, people.  2012 saw over double the number of the previous year. 

  • Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides (the prose of this book still haunts me with its beauty)
  • The History of Love, Nicole Krauss (book club)
  • Letters for Emily, Camron Wright (book club)
  • Bullet, Laurell K. Hamilton
  • Uglies, Scott Westerfeld (book club)
  • The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern (my pick for book club)
  • The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (re-read for hubby on a road trip because of the movie)
  • Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins (re-read because hubby insisted – I made him read the third himself because I hated it so much the first time)
  • Towers of Midnight – Wheel of Time #13, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (20 years later the series still isn’t finished)
  • Following Atticus, Tom Ryan
  • Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen (book club)
  • Defending Jacob, William Landay (book club)
  • Dies the Fire, S. M. Stirling
  • One For The Money, Janet Evanovich
  • Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand (book club)
  • The Ice Limit, Lincoln Child & Douglas Preston
  • Are you there Vodka? It’s me, Chelsea, Chelsea Handler
  • Hit List, Laurell K. Hamilton
  • Variant, Robison Wells
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs
  • On the Island, Tracy Garvis-Greaves
  • A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs (another road trip read to hubby)
  • The Gods of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs (had to find out what else happened!)
  • Calico Joe, John Grisham (book club)
  • 11/22/63, Stephen King
  • The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker
  • The Hollow City, Dan wells
  • Divine Misdemeanors, Laurell K. Hamilton
  • The Chaperone, Laura Moriarty
  • The Wind Through the Keyhole – Dark Tower 4.5, Stephen King
  • Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver
  • Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
  • 50 Shades of Gray, E. L. James (so wish this one wasn’t on the list!)
  • Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (book club)
  • 50 Shades Darker, E. L. James (another waste of reading time I fully regret!)
  • The Maze Runner, James Dashner (book club)
  • Stranger In A Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
  • Legion, Brandon Sanderson
  • Hate List, Jennifer Brown (book club)
  • Lucifer’s Hammer, Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
  • The New New Rules: How Everyone But Me Has Their Head Up Their Ass, Bill Maher
  • Radical Frugality, Nic Adams (work book club)
  • Area 51, Bob Mayer
  • Orchids For Lila, September Roberts (my friend from my “other” book club’s first published work!)
  • One Second After, William Forstchen

Yes, you counted them right… (wait, you didn’t count them?  Well I did of course!) That’s forty five books in a year.  When two years ago all I could muster was a book club book a month and that was stretching it.  I read a grip of science fiction and remembered exactly why I love that genre so much.  I wasted far too much time on the oh-so-popular drivel otherwise known as 50-Shades.  I discovered I really like character/situation stories like Before I Fall, On the Island, Hate List and Defending Jacob that make you think about what you would do if you found yourself in an unusual situation.  I got to visit Mid World with my favorite Stephen King characters of all time even though I thought he was done writing their stories.  I found I am definitely NOT a Jane Austen fan.  My two favorites for the year were Middlesex and Gone Girl for far different reasons.  And, I’m looking forward to the conclusion of The Wheel of Time just as much now that it’s here as I was twelve years ago when I first started reading the series.

How the hell did I read more than double the amount of books this year than I did last?  I have no idea except we took two long road trips that accounted for four of them and a couple of them were short and frivolous audio books that only took a couple of hours.  I don’t know how I’ll top this year but we’ll see what next year brings when it is all said and done.  Here’s to another year of happy reading ahead regardless!


50 Shades of Grey

I haven’t done a book review for a while.  But this one has to be done – if only to warn people.

I just finished 50 Shades of Grey, by E.L. James.  I read it under duress and only so people I know would stop asking me if I’d read them.  Okay, and so I could see what all the fuss was about.  You can’t turn around without hearing a reference to these books – at least where I live.


I got a copy for my Kindle and, at 27% done, I was so annoyed I found it necessary to update my status on Goodreads (something I have never done before) with the following:  ‘I’m forcing myself to read this so I know what all the fuss is about. But it is frankly torture. If I have to read the phrase “oh my” one more time I’m going to scream.’

Sorry all of you fans out there, but this book sucked. Take every cliche you can find and wrap it up into a couple of characters, then throw in some porn/sex scenes written like it’s for a man. Seriously.  Don’t believe me? Try a virgin who meets a hot guy, has sex with him once, and all of a sudden knows exactly how to deep throat – and swallows! Yeah, if you believe that I’ve got a hot friend who delivers pizza, scantily clad,  who really wants to get laid by the entire sorority house.  No, really!


I’m not above smutty reading nor am I claiming never to have purveyed my share of porn.  But I was under the impression that this was filled with super hot sex.  Like the entire book.  Like women were getting so turned on that their men were noticing because they were getting more play than ever before.  Was there sex, sure.  Was it hot?  Not particularly.  Nor was it always believable.  Tell me a virginal, naive girl who gets her vajay jay pounded repeatedly and tied up and beaten who is only a little sore afterward.  Then there’s the bondage factor.  I just don’t get it and most of that was a turn off to me entirely. 


The main character, Anna, just graduated college, refers to her vagina as “down there” multiple times, says “oh my” so often that I wanted to scream after the first three chapters, and apparently could only bite her lip as a reaction to every situation.  The author had such a shallow arsenal of description that she merely repeated the same phrases over and over.  And apparently in her world every person in someone’s life would find it normal to tuck a stray lock of hair behind someone’s ear since every one of her male characters did that at one point.  I spent so much time rolling my eyes and muttering under my breath that I’m wondering how I forced myself to finish it at all.

I had no idea this crap (unworthy of even self-publishing credit let alone a real publishing house) began life as Twilight fan fiction but now it makes sense – right down to the weird and thrown in love triangle that never was properly developed except as another reason to enrage the jealous boyfriend even when he crossed a line of friendship.  What girl has a close friend try and take advantage of her the first time she gets drunk and then days later acts like it was no big deal and proceeds like nothing happened? Probably the same unreal girl who is clumsy and doesn’t think she’s very pretty but attracts the attention of the cutest boy at school – or in the city. 

I guess the same crazies who dress up and go to midnight premieres to swoon over seventeen year old kids are the same people this book might appeal to.  As for me, I’ll take my smut and my characters a little more realistic.  I’m skipping books two and three because, frankly my dear, I just don’t give a damn to even know what happens to these idiotic characters.


The Help

July’s pick for book club was “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett.  It was full of rich characters – three of whom we see the story unfold through and around which in the beginning was hard to follow until I could figure out who was who.  This book was, for me, a fresh perspective on civil rights painted by those who lived in Mississippi in the 1960’s without being tragic or preachy. I simply loved this book. Once in a while a book comes along and actually lives up to the hype it is given – this is one of those times! Highly recommended…


Five Quarters of the Orange, by Joanne Harris

This was a book club pick about a girl growing up in occupied France during WWII.  She returns to her childhood home as a widow hoping no one will recognize her as the young girl who’s name she no longer uses because of the scandal that occurred with her Mother.  It’s been a week since I finished reading AND participated in the book club discussion and I still don’t know exactly how I feel about this book…  I really liked the story but there was so much anticipation and suspense built up around this big secret the main character had kept hidden forever that when I finally learned the truth it was almost a let-down.  I read this book (vs. listening to it) and I found all the french in it distracting.  I feel like I missed whole pieces of the book between not knowing all the food references and then not being able to interpret the sections in french or even know what some of the names of the characters should sound like in my head.  That alone was enough to knock this book from four stars down to three.  However, if you’re looking for a book that keeps you guessing until the end with interesting characters this is still a book I would recommend for a quick and light read.

One thing I really liked was how the author showed us things that done by an adult would be appalling but when done by a nine year old child seemed almost harmless.  And the added layer of character development getting to see the same child grow to adulthood and look back on the role she may have played in her own Mother’s actions was fabulous.  I loved the book club discussion and took away may other insights I hadn’t come up with on my own – as always!


I Don’t Want To Kill You

I looked forward to this, the newest book from Dan Wells, with great anticipation.  And while it was an enjoyable read, sadly it wasn’t as good as the first two.  I felt that the main character was too different in this third and final book and I wanted him to be the same dark and terrifying teen we had glimpsed and gotten intimate with in the first two.  The story and the twists and turns it took were very interesting and exciting enough to keep me reading but the character of John and the inconsistencies left me wanting.  What happened to the guy who obsessed so much about killing that he had to resort to starting fires in Mr. Monster with all his rules to keep him from behaving like the sociopath he really is?  He’s completely gone and if you hadn’t read the first two books you could almost miss the fact that he IS a killer, not just some good guy who has to do bad things occasionally to save the people in his community.  Most of the time he comes across as just an awkward teen, barely noticing that he’s gotten himself a girlfriend, rather than the chillingly creepy sociopath walking a thin line and fighting his inner demons constantly.  It was clumsy character development at best.  While the story came to an exciting conclusion with more action and more demons, I just didn’t feel emotionally attached anymore to the main character so it left me feeling flat.  I wanted to love this book and while I still will highly recommend the series, this was not my favorite installment. 

I’m really so sad… but can’t wait to discuss it with all my reading and writing buddies who have been waiting somewhat impatiently for me to “get done with it already!”  Kudos to all of them who kept their opinions to themselves and let me read with unbiased eyes – I don’t know if I could have done the same for them! 


The Whistling Season, by Ivan Doig

I’m not usually a fan of the western but this was like no western I’ve ever read.  The story of a homesteader widow and his three young sons in Montana in the early 1900’s who take a chance and hire a housekeeper from back east hoping she was lying in her ad and really can cook, too.  It was an enjoyable glimpse of early American life in a one-room school house that culminated in a mystery that I didn’t see coming.  The writing was heavy in the language of the period with a sing-song quality at times that, at first, was hard to get immersed in.  I listened to most of it on audiobook by a good narrator which I believe was a better experience than trudging through the language and trying to find the voice of the book on my own.  A book club pick that I would recommend to anyone if you’re looking for a quick read you won’t have to think much about.

The book club discussion was surprisingly focused on JUST THE BOOK which was a welcome change for our crazy group lately.  We decided it isn’t really a western but more like a period drama which makes sense when I think about it.  After some of the very heavy and very political books we’ve read (and fought about) lately it was nice to have nothing but early American life and our ages to discuss.  I’m hoping to be one of the few of us who was alive in ’85 when Halley’s Comet came and still alive in my 90’s when it comes again.  Some in the room were too old to live that long while others were too young to see it in ’85.  I kind of had mixed feelings about that – I have old friends and ones that make ME feel old…


The Aquariums of Pyongyang

This was a book club selection I never would have picked up on my own but am so glad I read it.  What a horrifying account of atrocities that are happening in MY lifetime and continue to happen today.  A glimpse into the life behind the curtain of North Korea that left me disturbed and morally outraged.  This fascinating memoir by Kang Chol-Hwan tells the story of a nine year old boy who is sent to a labor camp for ten years with his family for political crimes against the state committed by his grandfather.  In the telling of his personal story – which rivals on many levels the picture we have as Westerner’s of the concentration camps of WWII Germany – he also shows the true life struggle of the everyday world under the dictatorship of North Koreans and the propaganda of their form of Communism.  I was appalled that I was not aware of the real story of North Korea and urge everyone and anyone to read this book.  Because the details of the camp are stark and horrific, it isn’t a book for young children but it is not graphic in the telling; merely sad and compelling.  I love history lessons in the form of a story I can sink into like a good novel and this is one of those rare kind of gems. 

The book club discussion last night was heated with politics that most of the time had not much to do with what was actually in the book.  Thanks to one of the outspoken ones among us, we were steered back about mid-way through the evening to the real person we had read about who had gone through these horrid things and risked much to tell the world about his ordeal.  Surprisingly, no one went away angry after the, at times, very heated discussion which is a testament of just what a great book club I have!


Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson

This was the book club pick for January… picked and announced in November (since we don’t read in December so we can get together for a holiday party instead)… and totally hyped by my dear friend Melissa, the newest addition to my beloved book club, who picked it.  Before I tell you what I thought, let me tell you why the deck was stacked against me from the beginning.  First, I had two months to read this – procrastinators and crazy do-it-all’s take note.  So while I bought it right away, I didn’t pick it up right away.  Second, I’d been hearing about how AMAZING this book was from Melissa since she’d read it over a year ago – so I ASSUMED it would also be a quick and fascinating read.  These two facts actually combined to create a perfect storm for me.  A storm who’s consequence was not having it finished before the discussion.

The full title of this book is “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Time” and is a non-fiction account of an American climber who gets lost in Pakistan after a failed attempt at climbing K2.  He is taken in by a local village and in order to pay them back promises to return to build them a school.  The village becomes his second family in the decade to follow and he goes on to build many more schools and do extremely amazing things for the remote villages of Pakistan and, eventually, Afghanistan.  The story itself is amazing with all the things this man who basically lives out of his car in order to scrape enough money together to fulfill his promise goes through.  And it is very eye opening about the Muslim religion and how very different it is from the picture of fear and extremism we are fed by the media.  The whole “theme” of the story is how education is the key to peace and how we all should be promoting the education of our children no matter what or how.  We had an amazing book club discussion – although because of the subject matter it was very easy to get sidetracked off of the book and onto current events with all the fervor a political discussion can get with 20 women in the room.

While this book IS amazing, it is hard to get into in the beginning which most people who voiced an opinion at the discussion agreed with.  For me, the writing style was way too dry – it read more like a newspaper story than a novel – and jumped around with little sense of why which made it hard to get lost in the story and easy to put down.  Which, since I had two months to read before the deadline, I did too often.  As a result, I had just gotten to the good part – halfway through the book – when it becomes harder to put down when it was time for book club.  I subsequently finished the book and am glad I read it.  If it weren’t for my expectations and assumptions of it being a quick read I would have had it finished in time…


Book List Archive 2010

Time once again to placate my OCD tendencies and convert my side-panel list of books I’ve read into a posting for safekeeping.  This list is as dismally short as it was last year but I was also doing a lot more running than reading this past year so who is really complaining?  Instead, I’m thanking my book club for keeping me committed to reading at least a book a month!  And here’s to more time for reading in 2011!

  • The Unit, Ninni Holmqvist  (book club)
  • The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Katherine Howe  (book club)
  • Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
  • Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
  • The House at Riverton, Kate Morton  (book club)
  • Mr Monster, Dan Wells
  • Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett  (book club)
  • I Am Not A Serial Killer, Dan Wells  (book club)
  • Life of Pi, Yann Martel  (book club)
  • Oceans Apart, Karen Kingsbury  (book club)
  • Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen  (book club)
  • Pavilion of Women, Pearl S. Buck  (book club)
  • Change of Heart, Jodi Picoult  (book club)

The Unit

This month’s book club selection was The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist.  It was a translation so parts of the language were a little flat but what a great read if you’re looking for something to fire you up!  A fictional novel about a futuristic society where 50-year old childless women and 60-year old childless men with “unnecessary” jobs are deemed dispensable and required to check themselves into a Biological Reserve Unit where they are forced to donate blood and organs while participating in “humane” experiments until time for their final donation (aka euthanized) – all while living expense free and wanting for nothing.  While it is based on a futuristic society it mirrors our own in many ways, vaguely telling how the leaders of the society made small changes that spanned almost the lifetime of the main character – a woman raised by a forward-thinking mother who warned her against ever being trapped into being dependent on anyone besides herself. Next thing she knows, she’s a writer who’s always just gotten by, never found herself pregnant and now 50 and dispensable heading into the Unit for her final days.  The final days that ended with a twist and makes you think about what you would do in her shoes.

I can’t lie – the feminist in me as well as the writer HATED this world and all it stood for and I found myself marking pages for quotes and scribbling three pages of notes as I read so I wouldn’t forget a single topic for the book club discussion.  (The discussion was one of the most heated on record.)  This book is not about character development but is instead about very deep ethical and moral topics delivered in a thought provoking story.  I recommend it for anyone and everyone!  Regardless of your views you are bound to feel an emotional response to this fabulous little read! 

One word of caution to those more “sensitive” readers.  This book was originally published in Europe where sex is viewed and discussed in a much more plaintive way.  Many in my book club found that aspect to be superlative and at times even distasteful.  I’ve read smuttier so this in no way was trashy but may be a bit stark to those who have never experienced a more European outlook on the relations between men and women.


The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Katherine Howe

Great book club pick for October and anyone looking for an alternative take on the Salem Witch Trials.  Imagine if it wasn’t moldy bread at work with those girls and their fits but actual witchcraft?  And then imagine if that witchcraft were written down in a book…  Oh, the possibilities!

A fun and light read refreshingly filled with sophisticated words – a nice change after so many YA novels of late.  Although the characters were a bit predictable at times with little depth, the story is one that holds your interest until the end.


Mockingjay

Two words…. HATED IT!  And because I did, I don’t care if I spoil it for anyone else.  So, here’s your fair warning that if you don’t want it spoiled you should quit reading.

Like right now…

Seriously, I warned you…

I don’t want any hate mail because you kept reading and will curse me when you hear how it all ended before you read it…

If you’re still with me you’ve either already read it or have no interest in reading it, right?

Okay, let me start by saying that I hated this final installment of an otherwise fabulous trilogy on two levels – both as a reader and as a writer.  We’ll begin with the writer factor.  The whole thing was written in first person which means you only get to know what happens because Katniss (the main character) sees it herself or thinks it in her head.  When she’s in the Hunger Games arena and under major action sequences, this is simply brilliant and the author, Suzanne Collins, did it so well that I forever sing her praises…  Well, until now.  So what happened with the last book?  Katniss is practically a secondary character – a pawn in a larger game – for most of the book.  So you don’t actually get to know anything substantial.  Sure, she does stuff and sees stuff but none of it actually matters.  Then, at the end, when the game actually gets revealed and you find out that what she (and thus, you as the reader) thought were true about the other characters are not as they seemed, she shoots the wrong president.  And I had to read the ONE SENTENCE that tells about it twice to actually catch that something significant happened.  Then she gets locked into a cell under solitary confinement for months while she is on trial – which you never get to hear about or learn about at all.  Seriously, if that’s the story then why didn’t Katniss play a role where we could actually see the story?  Or, I get that you want a twist at the end but if we never hear anything about what happened while she was locked away waiting to die for her crime, why when that doesn’t happen doesn’t she get told what DID happen so we know!?!?  UGH, I could scream!

Which then brings us to the story itself that I hated from the reader level.  I never thought her and Peeta should be together.  I really liked Gail and wanted them to end up together.  And when Peeta came back brainwashed thinking she was the bad guy after he gets rescued from his captors and tries repeatedly to kill her, I was convinced she would end up with Gail.  So what the FUCK?  It was completely anti-climactic how Peeta gets “cured” of the brainwashing and then Gail may or may not have been responsible for the bomb that killed Katniss’ sister which also never gets resolved.  AND, we never get to find out for sure what happens to Gail – if he didn’t get to be with Katniss who he loved, at least tell us that he is happy elsewhere.  Is that too much to ask?  And after everything is said and done, this amazing girl who was partly responsible for a revolution and bringing down an oppressive government…. votes to keep perpetuating the violence she fought against?  Really?  And becomes, in the end, an emotional vegetable who lets life happen around her?  WITH PEETA?  UGH…

Seriously I hated the way it ended and wish I had never read past the initial book which stood alone quite well, thank you very much.  Without the second book we wouldn’t have seen her and Gail’s relationship and really there was no need to take it past the first Hunger Games that she survived.  Who needs a revolution… just go home and tell the tale you lived to tell.  It probably was initially written as a single book and some agent somewhere told her “hey, this would be great if we expanded the story line and did a trilogy”…   Wouldn’t that be a bite in the ass if somehow it was the author revolting herself against such a suggestion?  If you haven’t read any of them, just read the first and call it quits.  Nothing works out in the end and you’ll just be mad…