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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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Piper and Lucky Snuggling

IMG_1715, originally uploaded by jochibi.

Lucky has been a grumpy old man cat of late. We're not really sure if it is just him - we adopted him as an adult cat, and the vet said he could be as old as 13 years old now. Or, maybe it is just the comparison to having a teenage cat running around like a crazy girl. Once he is in a good spot now, he doesn't want to leave - even if it means having the three year old curl up next to him and pulling a blanket over him.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Book Review: Undone by Shannon Richard

Undone (Country Roads #1)Undone by Shannon Richard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

I have to say up front that I am giving this book 3/5 stars more because I would love to travel to Mirabelle, FL, than to give the rating because of the writing. I requested this book to read because I like fish out of water stories, and the fact that Paige was from Philly (where I am now) piqued my interest. Paige is a young artist who has experienced a series of setbacks - her best friend and roommate moved away for a new job, she lost her own job, her boyfriend broke up with her - and all of this has cumulated in Paige moving in with her parents, who have retired to a small town in Florida. Paige is miserable there; simply put, she does not fit in. She wears bright colors, goes running in short shorts, and spends so much time in her parents' shed-now-art studio that the neighbors think she is having illicit parties in there. It has come to the point that people in town are inviting her to job interviews just so they can laugh at her. She meets Brendan, a local man who has had own problems fitting in despite being from Mirabelle, and the two fall in love.

One of my issues with this book is that Ms. Richard has a grand vision for this series, and as a result the storytelling is not very tight. As this is the opening book, she has to introduce you to so many characters and places and events, that somehow the main characters get lost in the shuffle. So many times in the course of the story I found myself wishing there was a cast of characters listed so I could follow along with who was related to whom. There are many hints as to who will be paired up in future additions to this series, and I think maybe I would like those stories better, partly due to the characters up for pairing, and partly because the world and character building will have been established.

Another issue for me was the lack of closure with certain events, and I hope that these issues get resolved in future books. One of these issues was the local gossip blog - I don't understand how that character could get away with such flaming defamation and the local police say there is nothing they can do about it. Some characters were so downright nasty (Verna and Missy, I'm looking at you!), a reader really has to hope they get what is coming to them. My personal wish is that we find out that the two of them have been embezzling from the funeral home and they end up going to jail.

When I finished reading the book last night, I found myself feeling rather meh about Paige and Brendan. They were sweet together and good for one another, but I had a hard time getting excited about them. As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, the location was another matter altogether. I think Ms. Richard did a fabulous job of imagining Mirabelle - the beaches, the boardwalk, the cafes, the festivals - even the funeral home!

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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Pretty Hermione

DSCN1257, originally uploaded by jochibi.

Hermione is fitting in well with our family. She is having none of Lucky trying to assert dominance, and he has the scars to prove it. She loves snuggling in bed, and doesn't make a peep all night until the alarm goes off. She reminds me a bit of a dog my parents used to have - she likes nibbling on your fingers when you pet her.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Book Review: Heart of Stone by Christine Warren

Heart of Stone (Gargoyles, #1)Heart of Stone by Christine Warren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

I requested this book because I don't think I had ever read a gargoyle paranormal romance before, and the idea intrigued me (and as you can see by the lovely man on the cover, he isn't always in gargoyle form). A few pages into the story, I was doubly intrigued because the story takes place in Vancouver, and I always love reading about places I know. I think Christine Warren really knows the area, because she mentions places like the Peace Arch, the Sunshine Coast, and Sechelt that a casual reader may not know.

As you can see, I gave the story 4 stars - I enjoyed the story, even if there were a few nitpicky things had me questioning things and pulling me away from the story. Warren has done a good job of building a conflict between the Guardians (the gargoyles)and the Seven Demons of the Dark, and I am looking forward to reading future books in this series - especially since it looks like she is keeping the story in Canada for the time being.

I had issues with Ella, the heroine of the story - to me, her personality was all over the place. I understand there is a certain amount of growth when she receives long-neglected training and she finds out her role in the conflict - but the evolution seemed jumpy. I wanted to like her - and when I liked her best was when she would get angry and snarky - but overall it fell short. Kees Livingston (Ha! I did like that pun!) seemed emotionally stunted - and I had to keep reminding myself it was because he didn't have emotions!

What distracted me the most from the story were unrealistic situations with Kees. At the beginning of the story, he saves Ella, and takes her to her home when she gives him her apartment address. Does he have GPS? He admits himself that he has been in his stone form for 65 years. Vancouver has changed a great deal in 65 years! He explains that his slumber is light and he hears things while asleep, but I can't accept that the snippets of conversation he hears while people walk by his statue who fill in all of these blanks. This is even confirmed later in the story when Kees and Ella are looking for the Guild in Paris - Ella considers just getting the street address but then admits to herself that "Cities, especially major ones, had changed over centuries."

I would recommend this story to people who like paranormal romances and perhaps are tiring of vampires and shifters. The gargoyles are a different path, and I am interested to learn more about where the Guardians come from, and how that connects to where the demons come from.

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Book Review: Picture Perfect by Alessandra Thomas

Picture Perfect (Picturing Perfect, #1)Picture Perfect by Alessandra Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cat, a college student and former model, suffered a horseback riding accident, and was laid up for 10 months with surgeries, PT, steroids, and in that time, managed to gain 60 pounds. She is no longer comfortable in her skin anymore, and is suffering from some very emotional body dysmorphia. I started out with the book a little jaded - oh, boohoo - you are a gorgeous college student who is tall and a size 12. What drew me in was Cat's pain in her recovery - physical pain, not emotional. It wasn't just that she was now a heavier version of herself, but that her wounds, surgeries, and scars even prevented her from even trying to get back to her former self, so she needed to learn to love the body she has now. She starts seeing a therapist, who sets her on a couple of tasks of body acceptance, the first of which was to pose nude for an art class. She meets a young man with previous body issues of his own, and the two of them fall into a whirlwind relationship. I am not entirely happy with how the book ended - I felt the therapist's role in the story was sort of cut at the end, and it seemed to me the book ended abruptly. This book was a little difficult for me to read. As a plus size woman myself, some of the things that Cat went through in the book - especially that issue of someone only being interested in you when he is drunk, really struck home and I found myself crying at points while reading the book. I wished more of Cat's friends had been accepting of her new form - her friend, Joey, was a goldmine - but seems that many of her other sorority sisters stepped back and didn't seem to care what she was going through.

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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Book Review: Ophelia And The Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

Ophelia and the Marvelous BoyOphelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

I was entranced with this book from the start. As soon as I started at the chapter title, Vanity Fair-esque with the hint of what is to come: "In Which Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard discovers a boy in a locked room and is consequently asked to save the world," I knew that I was going to devour this book. Ophelia is an eleven year old girl whose mother has recently died of a lingering illness, and she is grasping for connections. Her father is absorbed in his curator work, and has brought Ophelia and her sister, Alice to a foreign city so he could open an exhibition on swords. With her father busy and her sister emotionally distant, Ophelia spends her time wandering the immense museum, inspecting galleries, and it is during this time that she meets a boy in a locked room who needs her to release him, find a sword, and save the world. Ophelia is a very practical sort of girl - she belongs to the Children's Science Society of Greater London - and she needs proof, and has a hard time accepting the Marvelous Boy's stories and accounts of magic. She must go on a series of quests through the museum to find the items she needs to save the Marvelous Boy, each time testing her resolve and belief in science versus magic. Karen Foxlee completely drew me in with this story, and reading this story over Christmas was the best timing ever with the impending winter and incessant cold of the museum. My only complaint, and it is a small one, is that the story ends very quickly. I wanted to know more about the Snow Queen and what happened after the final conflict. I think Foxlee's writing compares very favorably to Lemony Snicket's, and I would recommend this book to readers 8 - 12 years old.

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