Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best Books of 2014

Hmm... Long time, no blog. I need to get better with this! Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my ten top picks for books I read in 2014:

 1. Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas


This book had me so panicked while I was reading it - I was up to about the 75% mark, still thinking that this book was the last book in a trilogy!  I am so glad there will be more.

 2. The Professional by Kresley Cole


(Jo waves self) - I had no idea Russian mobsters with Daddy issues were so much my type...

3. The Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan

This book blew me away with how the author wove Hawaiian history and mythology together.  It also made me think that Hawaii is not where I want to be when something bad happens!

 4. Foreplay (The Ivy Chronicles #1) by Sophie Jordan

For a steamy New Adult romance, this book was also very sweet, and the heroine reminded me a lot of me when I was younger.

 5. Wallbanger (Cocktail Series #1) by Alice Clayton


This book was not what I had expected!  I remember seeing it on so many people's blogs and wondering why they were so excited about it.  Well, I have read it, and gifted the book to a handul of friends - trust me, it's worth it.  If you like laughter and snark with your romance, you will love this book.

 6. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

This is a book that Willow and I read together, and I think it was good for us.  She is years away from going away to college, but I think it was good for her to see how different people react when at college.

 7. Opposition (Lux Series #5) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Daemon, Daemon... sigh.  I was really sad to see this series come to an end, but it did so in such a spectacular smash bang fashion.  My only regret is that I had pre-ordered the book thinking I would be able to get it while on vacation in Canada - but it wouldn't download from there! I had to wait until we were in the Seattle airport before I could start to read it - almost a week after it came out.

8. The Moonstone and Miss Jones (Phaeton Black, Paranormal Investigator #2) by Jillian Stone

Phaeton Black is another book boyfriend I always look forward to.  I loved the twist in this book that had Phaeton sort of seeing what modern-day London was like.  For a womanizing cad, he was in for a bit of a surprise!

 9. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green


I got sucked into this one!  Willow wanted to see this in the movie theater - but my deal with her that for any movie based on on a book, she has to read the book first.  Which meant I had to read the book.  I loved Hazel's narrative - and the movie was a rare instance where the movie didn't ruin things for me.  I haven't read anything else by John Green yet, but I definitely plan to.

 And I am going to cheat on this last one, since I read this entire series in 2014:

 10. Vampire Academy Series by Richelle Mead

I read this book for two reasons - first, it fell in the same bucket as The Fault In Our Stars - Willow wanted to watch the movie (which, having read the book - I don't think the movie deserved a lot of the criticism it received - if the reviewers had read the book (and clearly many of them hadn't) they would have understood a lot of the jokes).  Secondly, I had independently started reading the sequel series to this series, Bloodlines.  I was getting far enough in the Bloodlines series where I figured out there was some important information I had missed by not reading the entire Vampire Academy series.  So, I put Bloodlines aside (and 2 more books have come out since then!), and started working my way through the Vampire Academy series.  I love Rose - she is so kickass and heartfelt.

There you go!  My Goodreads reading goal for 2014 was 130 books, and I didn't quite make it that far.  I finished #120 this morning, and I don't think I will be able to finish another one by midnight!  For 2015, I plan to do something a little different - not only am I going to track the books I read (for myself), but I also want to start tracking how many books I read to Piper.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Book Review: The Angry Little Puffin by Timothy Young

The Angry Little PuffinThe Angry Little Puffin by Timothy Young
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This was the first time I had ever received a children's picture book to review, so I read it with my resident expert - my 3.5 year old daughter, Piper. Puffin lives in a zoo, and he is not having a good day. He is housed with the penguins, and everyone thinks he is a penguin - they don't even bother to read his plaque explaining what kind of puffin he is and where he come from. He grits his teeth at first, but when the 'strange penguin' and 'cute penguin' and 'kooky penguin' comments keep coming, he loses his temper - in a spectacular fashion. I wanted to read this book with Piper, because as with many kids her age, she has anger issues. I know where they stem from; she's a smart kid, has a great vocabulary - but even with that - she is three, and most three year olds can't explain their emotions when they are in the throes of them.

I liked this book because the illustrations were simple - Piper was quick to point out the physical differences between the penguins and puffins. When Puffin was ranting on all the geographic differences between penguins and puffins, it was easy for a small child to understand the distance and difference. Puffin's emotions, from annoyance to anger to pleasure and acceptance, are all very evident on his face, so Piper was easily able to tell me how Puffin was feeling on different pages in the book. And I love that children are learning facts about puffins (and most importantly how they differ from penguins!) all throughout Puffin's rant. My one gripe with the book is all the different fonts the characters use - I found it distracting and young readers might get mixed up by it.

I asked Piper afterward what she thought of Puffin, and this was her response: "I like his colors. He's a puffin-bird and he comes from the top of the planet and penguins come from the bottom." For a three year old to pick three solid facts about puffins and penguins in a 10 minute read through a picture book? I'm happy.

#AngryLittlePuffin #KidLit

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Book Review: The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

The Geography of You and MeThe Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Geography of You and Me is a quiet and sweet story of two teens who meet in a stalled elevator in the middle of a city-wide blackout. Despite the fact that they are in a fancy high-rise apartment building, they come from very different backgrounds. Lucy is a life-long New Yorker and the child of an international banker, and she is frequently left alone as her parents travel for business and pleasure. Owen is a recent New York transplant, and the son of the building's super - a man so deep in grief at his wife's recent death that he is at risk of losing everything around him. Lucy and Owen are caught in travels out of their control - Lucy across Europe following her father's promotions through different positions, and Owen supporting his dad as they move gradually westward looking for a job a stability. After their brief sojourn during the blackout, the two communicate with postcards and emails as the travel, and a romance blossoms - but a romance hard to sustain when faced with obstacles and other attractions in their respective geographies. This is the first book I have read by Jennifer E. Smith, and I was impressed by the flow of her prose, especially when she was writing in Owen's voice. The mirroring of the chapters was a bit cloying sometimes, but I accepted the style as showing that despite how different Lucy and Owen's lives were, their paths and lives were not all that different after all. As I mentioned in the beginning, this is a quiet tale - there is no big drama - but sometimes quiet tales are exactly what we need.

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Book Review: Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z. Martin

Deadly Curiosities (Deadly Curiosities, #1)Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z. Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I'm giving this story 3.5 stars (sorry - Goodreads and NetGalley don't show half stars). For me, the story fared much better than the writing. Cassidy owns an antiques store in Charleston, SC, with a cute name - Trifles and Folly; however most people don't realize that she and her store also serve to neutralize haunted and possessed objects. Cassidy is a psychometric, so she can read the history of objects by touching them, and she works along side a vampire/benefactor named Sorren and a young man named Teag, who has magical talents as a Weaver. To be honest, I read through the book and I am still not sure what that means. Teag seems to be good at research and hacking online, and somehow this also translates to tying knots, needlework, and actual weaving. I feel like Martin missed out on some exposition (or perhaps I just missed out on where the origin and usefulness of his abilities were explained). Dead bodies start piling up, and previously calm or non-haunted objects all of a sudden start turning malevolent, so Cassidy and team are called in to find out what was going on. The story drags down from there. Cassidy and Teag are not romantically involved, but they go out for meals or coffee 3-4 times, and every coffee shop and restaurant they go to has people working there with complete backstories of their own. I found myself reading and thinking, "Is this person relevant? Is there a reason why Martin is going into such detail?" But they weren't - and afterward it just seemed like a lot of unnecessary niceties. To me, this book was urban fantasy lite. Given the cover (and I know you are not to judge books by the cover), I expected something grittier. Deadly Curiosities was a fun book - the action scenes were quite good, and I was very amused that Cassidy's weapons included a wooden spoon and a dog collar. This book seems to be setting itself up to be the first book in a series; I am interested in reading what comes next - but I also hope that the writing tightens up a bit and perhaps a little romance is thrown in.

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Book Review: Hot and Bothered by Kate Meader

Hot and Bothered (Hot in the Kitchen, #3)Hot and Bothered by Kate Meader
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

It took me a long time to read this book - a little over 3 weeks, when I normally read a book within a few days. Many things in this story grated on me, and I found myself reading a few pages, then having to put the book down and walk away.

That being said, I liked the story. Friends who become lovers is almost always a story I like to read. Jules is a new single mom and a British ex-pat, and she has a serious crush on one of her friends (and friend of her extended family), Tad. Tad, for all his charm, is an inveterate womanizer - and actually has groupies who follow him around! Tad is trying to open up a new wine bar in Chicago, and needs Jules' help in making appetizers and other small plates for people to eat with the wine. That alone would have been a cute story, but the details get piled on from there. Jules is still fighting her baby weight, she is avoiding her baby's daddy, she wants to date again, and she has dyslexia. Tad has demons of his own - opening this wine bar is laying bare memories of his parents, who had a famous restaurant of their own, and his guilt at their deaths. To me, the story quickly became over-burdened with these details, and made the book frustrating to read at times. There were some details I also felt weren't thought through - there were times where Tad was using very British slang in his internal monologue, which seemed unlikely for an Italian-American man from Chicago. The other was Jules' date - early dinner Dan; I swear I read through that section a few times and I think she stood him up at the bar...

I don't want to be overly negative - as I mentioned above, I liked the story. Some of the other things I liked were the descriptions of the food and wine. Meader made me seriously hungry while reading this book. I wish that she had included some of the recipes that Jules comes up with throughout the course of the story. The sex scenes between Jules and Tad were very hot - and I wish there had been more of them! I also liked how Meader approached Jules' dyslexia, and how she described Jules' coping mechanisms at hiding the dyslexia. As this is a series, I hope in future books they show Jules seeking help for the dyslexia, because it seems that she had never received any therapy for it in the past.

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Saturday, April 05, 2014

The Tale of Two Orchids and Two Cats

My in-laws went to Longwood Gardens earlier this week, and they brought home some gorgeous orchids, and I was the lucky recipient of this gorgeous yellow orchid:


 And this absolutely beautiful magenta orchid:


 My friends laughed at me when I asked whether orchids were poisonous to cats (they aren't) - but you see, we have an intrepid hunter in this house. Nothing is safe - Piper's little stuffies, hair scrunchies, yarn...


 "Mama, they look so pretty! And they move in the wind!"


 "I will smell them a little bit. They smell so pretty!"


 "Why am I licking my lips? No reason..."


 "Hey big brother, come here! Check out these things! Mama calls them 'ORKIDS.'"


 "Come on! You have to smell these things!"


 "Chomp! Mine!"


 Hermione is going to even lessen the survival rate of any plant brought into this house. My Christmas cactus has teeth marks in it. I don't even get why these are things she would want to bite!

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Book Review: The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

The Here and NowThe Here and Now by Ann Brashares
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I don't think I have ever read a book before that has made me more afraid of mosquitoes. Prenna is a 17 year old immigrant, who belongs to a community of fellow immigrants, all of whom live quietly and do their best to not interact with outsiders. Like other immigrants, Prenna watched TV to learn American ways of speech and pop culture - but unlike other immigrants, Prenna didn't come from a different land, but rather a different time. She and her community are refugees, really, from a time of Blood Plagues, ecological disasters, and food shortages - sent back in time because they were immune to the diseases of her time, and in hopes that the immigrants would be able to somehow fix what went wrong before it happened.

But in truth, that wasn't what was happening. Five years into her new life, Prenna sees that nothing is getting fixed. The immigrants have strict rules hanging over their heads - no outside medical care, no telling people where (when!) they are from, stay out of the public eye, no unnecessary fraternizing with outsiders - and people are being bullied and disappearing. Prenna is doing her best to keep her distance from Ethan, a school mate, but Ethan has no intention of staying away - and he knows much more than Prenna can imagine.

I really enjoyed this book. Once Prenna opened up and started describing what life was like in her natural time, and what had lead up to all the diseases and disasters, I was transfixed. It really wasn't too far into the future, and you can easily draw lines from where we are now to how Prenna's reality came to be. I found myself trying to tie the rules that subjugate the immigrants to what happened in their natural time, and not always making the connection (Why no organized religion? To take the temptation of confession away?). Prenna and Ethan's romance was both innocent and enticing, and the moments that they were together had me holding my breath and wishing the scenes was in slow motion. Their plans to fix the timelines and stop horrible things from happening seemed a bit incongruous and convenient at times, but I let that slide because I was too interested in finding out what was going to happen next.

I would recommend this book to young people age 15 and up. Now, off to buy myself some mosquito netting and DEET.

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