State of Wonder is another of my final reads from 2011 that I absolutely loved. I think I devoured it in a day or maybe two which is really fast for mState of Wonder is another of my final reads from 2011 that I absolutely loved. I think I devoured it in a day or maybe two which is really fast for me considering that I had other books last year that I was reading for weeks.
Marina Singh, a pharmaceutical research scientist, is sent to the Amazon to determine if any progress is being made by her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson. Another purpose for her trip is to determine how exactly her colleague, Anders Eckman, died when he was sent on the same journey to find Dr. Swenson. Dr. Singh finds the research scientists working with Dr. Swenson to be very secretive about their exact findings and must spend more time in the jungle than she had hoped earning their trust.
The language used in State of Wonder is fantastic. The descriptive passages really drew me into the story while the story is kept moving with uncertain action. The characters are interesting with their depth and hidden secrets. The circumstances of life in the jungle force past relationships to surface and forgotten skills to be put once again to the test. The contrast between the comforts of Singh's life in Minnesota and the harsh beauty she finds in Brazil highlight the complacency most of us have in our own lives. Rarely do we travel so far outside of our comfort zone and challenge ourselves in a new environment. Patchett holds a mirror up to each reader as if to say see what you could become if you expanded your reality and moved beyond the routine.
Without giving anything away, I will say there was one aspect of the ending I was not thrilled with but I loved the twist to the story that I honestly didn't see coming. Even with the one tiny aspect that I didn't think fit well, I highly recommend State of Wonder . It was a great book that thoroughly captured my attention....more
When I requested Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble from the library, I had no idea it was self-published. I had just won the third book in the series, WitWhen I requested Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble from the library, I had no idea it was self-published. I had just won the third book in the series, Witchful Thinking, from the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing and it is being published by Bantam in February. So I was quite surprised that Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble absolutely screamed self-publishing from the instant I saw it. The first thing I noticed when I picked it up off the shelf is that it is not the standard mass paperback size. The second thing I noticed were the fonts used and the blocky layout of the cover. The interior formatting is much the same with a very plain font, odd section breaks, and layout that makes me think of the original manuscript not a finished version of a book.
While I've read several self-published books, some very good and others not so great, I still start a self-published book with a bit of hesitation. I always wonder if the author chose self-publishing as their first route to publication or if it was the final way to get the book out there after traditional publishing avenues had been exhausted. I know H.P. Mallory has quite a following and since she has been picked up by a traditional publisher for the third book in this series, I figured there must be something to her writing.
The first book in the series introduces the reader to Jolie Wilkins, a young woman who can see auras and sometimes receives visions but doesn't realize that she is actually a witch with an unusual power. Rand Balfour, an extremely hot warlock, comes into Jolie's shop one day and hires her to help solve a mystery. When word of Jolie's success on the case spreads, she is drawn into a community she didn't know existed and into a war she knows nothing about. Jolie moves from Los Angeles to England to be under Rand's protection and the close proximity makes it hard for both of them to fight the growing mutual attraction.
I had a hard time getting started with this book. The paragraphs and even sentences seemed short and choppy while the characters were fairly flat in the beginning. I warmed up to the book once the story line really got interesting but every once in a while something would break my concentration and have me rolling my eyes. Now I admit that I read very few books that are considered romance of any sort but some of the descriptions and dialogue in the book just seemed over the top cheesy to me. My overall assessment is that I wanted to like this book more than I actually did but I enjoyed it enough to read the next two books in the series. I'm really curious to see how the writing progresses from this first book through the second and if it changes the feel of the series at all once I reach the third book which has the backing of a large publishing house and all that entails....more
Witchful Thinking is actually the third book in the Jolie Wilkins series, although it is the first to be published by a major publisher. The first twoWitchful Thinking is actually the third book in the Jolie Wilkins series, although it is the first to be published by a major publisher. The first two books, Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble and Toil and Trouble, are both self-published and most widely available in digital format. I did not realize this when I requested Witchful Thinking from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program or I would not have selected this book. I was able to borrow a paperback copy of Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble from my library to review but had no luck obtaining a physical copy of Toil and Trouble even though both the author's website and Amazon show that a paperback version should exist.
I'm actually not sure if one would be better off reading both of the previous books in the series or just starting straight in with Witchful Thinking. Because this is the first book from a traditional publisher, many people seeing it in a bookstore would have no idea that there were two books already in the series. The story takes this into account heavily with the prologue to this book being the first chapter from Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble. Having read that book, I could identify major sections of information dumping to catch the reader up on all that had happened when Jolie first met Rand. I had a little more trouble identifying pure information dumps from the second book only because I have not read it. Having missed out on that action, it was very clear that I was being brought up to date but I was not as clear on how much of that portion of the story was repetition and how much was simply being examined through a new lens based on current events. It felt like it took over half the book to really get into the current action. While this might be good for a first time reader, it was frustrating to know how much repetition was happening.
My biggest issue with this series, especially this book, is that I simply don't like the characters all that much. I must be used to much stronger female characters from reading a lot of urban fantasy. Jolie drove me absolutely crazy because she was such a doormat. Every time she made a decision, she would question herself and fill her own head with self-doubt. She changed her mind every time a hot guy entered the room and it didn't always seem to matter which one. She is told it is her destiny to be Queen of the Underworld and takes on the role even though she is constantly whining that it is one she doesn't want. She decides to rule in her own way only to have those around her change her ideas and block her at every turn. The constant whining about Rand and her inability to hold her own where he was concerned truly made me want to throw the book across the room at times. Rand had a lot of the same issues as Jolie as far as making decisions and changing his mind and not acting on his feelings and so on. I realize it is a paranormal romance, which is not a genre I read much, but does that mean the characters must be spineless?
I didn't particularly like the format of this book either with the use of diary entries. Some of them felt like just ways to dump information while others were more of Jolie's whining and uncertainty.
Without being too spoilery, I will say that the ending seemed an awfully convenient way to keep the series going but I'm afraid it will lend itself to even more repetition and information dumping in future books. I won't be sticking around to find out though as this is not a series that I plan to continue....more
How to Be an American Housewife was one of the final books that I read in 2011 and also one of my favorites. It is the story of Shoko, a Japanese womaHow to Be an American Housewife was one of the final books that I read in 2011 and also one of my favorites. It is the story of Shoko, a Japanese woman who marries an American soldier after World War II, and her daughter, Sue, who is raising her daughter as a single mom. The book explores their memories, their relationship, and the bonds of family as Shoko's heart condition prevents her from traveling to Japan to reconcile with her brother.
Books involving memories, traveling between the present and the past, are delicate things to write. If not done well, they can be very confusing or jarring for the reader as the transition takes place. Dilloway handled this potential pitfall wonderfully in How to Be an American Housewife, capturing just how something from the present can catapult one into memories of the past or another instance can bring one out of those memories. Shoko's memories of Japan are powerful as she experienced so much during World War II and in the aftermath. Her experiences are those of an individual but also of a proud nation trying to find its way in a new world order. The traditional roles that define men and women and the rigid structure of society are examined in the way that they provide a solid framework for expectation and action but also prevent individuals and society from moving forward and transitioning into a more global society. Shoko brings these expectations with her to America, although she attempts to convert them from the Japanese expectations to the American ones. Her life remains ordered and structured even though she has entered a new society with different rules.
Sue grows up learning little about her Japanese heritage but fully understanding that her mother is very different than American mothers. The house runs on routines and rules even if they are American rules in her mother's eyes. With parents who have high expectations and strict rules, Sue naturally rebels and relationships are strained further as she marries young, has a daughter, and gets a divorce. Without a solid family foundation to ground her, Sue floats through life barely making ends meet and giving up on the dreams she once had.
Shoko's illness brings together her memories of Japan with her desire to reconnect with her brother. She is not strong enough to travel to Japan herself so she asks Sue to go in her place. While she fears her brother's reaction to the unexpected visit by relatives he has never met, she desires that Sue see where she comes from and learn about her family heritage. Sue and her daughter undertake the journey and come home with a larger sense of self and family. Shoko's brother, Taro, does not tell the story that Shoko fears he will but instead leaves that for her to share if she wishes. While the reunion is rocky, Taro does eventually come to terms with his rejection of Shoko when she married an American and develops a relationship with his American family.
How to Be an American Housewife captured me from the very first sentence and I just wanted to keep reading. The language used by Dilloway in Shoko's memories and to describe Japan is beautiful. She has a keen understanding of the culture through her mother and this shines through in the essential elements of the story. All of the characters have depth and each memory is constructed for a specific purpose in the story. There is no extra padding here but only words to fill the soul with an understanding of the importance of family.
It is very rare that I give a book a 5 star rating but How to Be an American Housewife definitely deserves one....more
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is the odd, but enthralling, story of two sisters living with their uncle after the rest of theiWe Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is the odd, but enthralling, story of two sisters living with their uncle after the rest of their family is poisoned at dinner. The story is narrated by Mary Katherine Blackwood, the younger of the sisters. She is the only one of the family to venture into the village where she must endure the taunts of the townspeople. Things change drastically for Mary Katherine when cousin Charles comes for a visit and exerts his influence over Constance, the older sister.
I don't always read the introductions to books but in this case I'm very glad that I did. Knowing that Shirley Jackson is the author of the short story "The Lottery" gave me a little better idea of what to expect from this story. I really knew nothing about it when it was chosen as the December selection by the Reading with Tequila Book Club on Goodreads. While the author's name clearly didn't stick with me, I do remember reading "The Lottery" in high school and the impact the story had on me. If you haven't read this short story, I highly recommend it!
I'm honestly not quite sure what to say about We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The story, as Mary Katherine tells it, drew me in completely even though it seems that very little actually happens. I do not think the story would have been nearly as interesting if another of the characters had told it. Being in Mary Katherine's head and seeing how she thinks about her situation is exactly what makes the story so compelling. The other characters seem a bit flat but I think that is because we only see them as Mary Katherine sees them and she is quite wrapped up in her own vision of the world.
As far as what actually happens in the book, it isn't much. While there are a few key events, the girls' situation at the end of the story is very similar to the beginning. Their dependence on each other has only increased along with their self-imposed isolation. The strength of We Have Always Lived in the Castle is in the characters and the writing rather than the plot. Had it been written in another style or by another author, I do not think it would be nearly as successful in capturing the reader....more
In Peter is Just a Baby, the older sister relates all the things that she can do that Peter can't like using big words, learning French, and dancing.In Peter is Just a Baby, the older sister relates all the things that she can do that Peter can't like using big words, learning French, and dancing. The story is cute as it leads up to Peter's first birthday and the sister hoping that Peter will now be able to do some of the things that she can do.
I love the way this book is illustrated. The characters are bears and the illustrations are soft. The pictures match the text very well and flow easily on the pages. Some of the pages have several smaller pictures illustrating different activities while other pages have one large picture. This makes the book more visually interesting than having one large picture on each page and it also allows for more activities to be shown. The book has really nice use of white space for the text as well. Some picture books are difficult to read if the text is placed directly over the illustration but this book avoids that issue completely. The text also flows well around the pictures which keeps the narrative moving visually.
Although there is a glossary in the front of the book with the French terms including pronunciation and definition, I didn't care for the use of French throughout the text. I took French in high school and am somewhat comfortable with the pronunciations but I can see the foreign words being a turn off to parents who are not familiar with the language. I know I don't like reading a story to my daughter if I am uncertain of how to pronounce some of the words. This is really the only thing that I didn't enjoy about this book though....more
52 Small Changes One Year to a Happier, Healthier You is the perfect book to start off a new year. So many of us make New Year's resolutions only to h52 Small Changes One Year to a Happier, Healthier You is the perfect book to start off a new year. So many of us make New Year's resolutions only to have them fall by the wayside after a few weeks or even just days. We have lofty goals and try to accomplish them all at once rather than attacking them one at a time and breaking them down into manageable portions. We try to turn our lives at 90 or 180 degree angles instead of working on more realistic 2 degree changes. We forget that many little changes add up to some big lifestyle changes over time.
Brett Blumenthal helps to avoid these typical New Year scenarios by providing a concrete road map of 52 changes, one per week, that you can implement over the course of a year. He focuses on the areas of Diet and Nutrition, Fitness and Prevention, Mental Well-Being, and Green Living. Making small changes in each of these areas can have a big impact on the quality of a person's life overall. Blumenthal gives background on why each of these changes are important, examples of how to make each change a part of your routine, and gives you the tools necessary to do so.
One change a week both sounds like a reasonable goal and like too much, too quickly as one of the first things the author admits is how long it can take a change, even a small one, to truly become a habit. One way the author avoids overwhelming the reader is by changing the area of focus from week to week. Another is by letting the changes build upon each other so you have one change established before adding another component. A weekly checklist is included at the end of each week to remind the reader of each change that has already been worked on so past changes continue to be a focus as one moves through the program.
The book is laid out in a very easy to read fashion. It is divided into three parts - an Introduction, the 52 Week Program, and Tools and Resources. The book makes great use of white space by breaking up the text with text boxes, lists (both numbered and bullet points), and charts. Headers of different types are distinguished by bold text and the text size. Icons are used throughout the book for a quick, visual identification of which area a specific change addresses.
I think 52 Small Changes is a program that can be tailored to each individual's specific focus. If you have already implemented the assigned change for the week, Blumenthal provides extra ideas to take that change a step or two further. If a change is something you are truly not interested in pursuing or you don't agree with it, just skip that week and continue focusing on the changes you have already made up to that point. The overall program seems to be fairly well-rounded with changes that will work in harmony to improve one's health and well-being over the long term....more
Crocodile on the Sandbank is the first book in a series of historical mysteries centered around Amelia Peabody. When Amelia's father dies leaving herCrocodile on the Sandbank is the first book in a series of historical mysteries centered around Amelia Peabody. When Amelia's father dies leaving her a sufficient inheritance, she travels to Egypt to indulge in the passion for archeology that she and her father shared. Along the way, she rescues Evelyn Barton-Forbes and they become companions on a journey down the Nile. Upon meeting up with some acquaintances on an archeological expedition, a mummy begins appearing in the night to threaten the group. Who is this mysterious mummy and does it post a threat to a specific individual or is it just trying to scare the archeologists away from their finds?
Crocodile on the Sandbank is a good book that took me too long to read due to various personal circumstances. It is full of very descriptive passages of Amelia's journey through Egypt. I loved the language that Peters used as it was so fitting for the Victorian age Amelia inhabits. However, there were times that the descriptions got a bit lengthy and I found I could only read so many pages before needing to take a break. I do think part of this inability to concentrate was due to exhaustion though so it is hard to know how much was due to the book and how much was just my state of mind while reading it.
I loved the characters in this book. Amelia is so full of fire and personality. She is an independent woman full of ideas and ideals. She is not afraid to go against convention when it suits her and she certainly doesn't mind getting her hands dirty. Evelyn seemed strong at times when interacting with Amelia but other times she was too aware of the conventions of society and concerned about how she would be perceived. Emerson and Walter were both a little harder to read even though they were so integral to the storyline.
The story itself is entertaining, although it did get a bit repetitive at times. I think this is another reason that I was only able to focus on the book in small pieces. Each time the mummy appeared, the group seemed to have the same conversations but came no closer to solving the mystery or catching the mummy. Although the book is not long at 262 pages, I think a few of the descriptive passages and repetitive scenes probably could have been trimmed to tighten it up even more.
Overall I did enjoy reading Crocodile on the Sandbank as the November selection for the Reading with Tequila Book Club. If I have an opening in my reading schedule, I would consider picking up another Amelia Peabody mystery but at this point the TBR pile and my book wishlists are too out of control for that to happen in the foreseeable future....more
Grammar Girl's 101 Words to Sound Smart is filled with interesting words. Each one is clearly defined but not with the clinical precision of a dictionGrammar Girl's 101 Words to Sound Smart is filled with interesting words. Each one is clearly defined but not with the clinical precision of a dictionary. Instead, Mignon Fogarty provides interesting background on the origins of most of the words and gives concrete examples of how the usage may have changed over time. Each word is also accompanied by a quotation or two showing it being used correctly. These quotations were very fun to read and their sources ranged from journalists to politicians to popular authors and television shows.
Some of the words contained in this book were familiar to me but Fogarty pointed out subtle nuances of usage that I was unfamiliar with. Other words were completely new. While I do not see myself regularly interjecting these words into my reviews or other writings, I will be keeping this book on hand as a reference guide for those occasions when an extra special word is needed.
The one thing that I found to be missing from this book is a pronunciation guide for each word. While Fogarty is discussing the usage of these words in writing, I still like to know how the word should sound in my head as I am reading it. ...more
The cover for Hollyweird makes the book look like a fun story and that is exactly what you get. Terri Clark writes believable teen characters who inteThe cover for Hollyweird makes the book look like a fun story and that is exactly what you get. Terri Clark writes believable teen characters who interact with snappy dialogue. Aly and Des may appear to be complete opposites - preppy and rule-following, goth and rule-breaking - but they work together. I love Aly's description of their friendship on the second page of the book, "She is yin, I am yang. Together we are taijitu, the balance of yin and yang." It is this balance of personalities that allows Aly and Des to face evil in Hollywood with both the logic and passion needed to overcome it.
Chapters in the book alternate between Aly and Jameson telling the story. I enjoyed this technique because it allows the reader to see more than either Aly or Jameson can see in the moment. It also gives the reader a chance to know each character on a deeper level and understand more of why they react to each other they way they do based on their individual backgrounds. This gives the romantic aspect of the book a realistic feeling as the characters must sort through a variety of emotions.
Hollyweird is a fast read both because it isn't a long book and because of the quick pacing of the story. The dialogue is peppered with references to contemporary Hollywood shows and stars. Des also invents new words by combining others. It is pretty easy to figure most of these out in context, although Aly also explains some of them to Jameson along the way. Terri Clark offers us the classic battle of good versus evil but she presents it with a personal brand of humor and contemporary style....more
Although I read a lot of urban and paranormal fantasy, both YA and adult, the realm of angels was new territory for me. I'm not entirely sure if it isAlthough I read a lot of urban and paranormal fantasy, both YA and adult, the realm of angels was new territory for me. I'm not entirely sure if it is my lack of experience in this sub genre or just this particular book but I found Archon, the first book of The Books of Raziel series, to be completely confusing.
I never felt like I understood the world that Angela and the other characters inhabited. I didn't understand the rules, the prophecy, and even what was actually taking place at times. While it seemed that Benulis often provided details about the physical setting, the best mental picture that I could get was that everything was gloomy and falling apart.
I never connected to the characters either. I had trouble distinguishing the good guys from the bad guys even when characters were labeled angel or demon. It seemed that everyone was simply out to destroy the earth and rule over everything or merely wanted to indulge their own selfish desires. The true motivations behind the characters' actions were often hidden in the midst of the chaotic events and manipulation of others seemed to be the main goal. While Angela was the central character of the story I never felt that I understood her any better than any of the other characters. I simply didn't care what really happened to any of them.
It is also difficult to say what actually happens in this book. While the action and killing seemed to be non-stop, I didn't really see the point in most of it. At the end it felt like very little had actually changed for the characters who survived. The ending definitely has the feel of the first book in the series, as there are so many unanswered questions, but I'm not going to struggle through another book in the series to try to actually understand what is going on. If I had not received this book through the Amazon Vine program, I would not have read all the way to the end....more
The story of William Goldman's The Princess Bride is a classic for anyone who has seen the movie. It has everything one could want in an adventure stoThe story of William Goldman's The Princess Bride is a classic for anyone who has seen the movie. It has everything one could want in an adventure story -- sword fights, a giant, strategic thinking, deadly creatures, a princess, a pirate, and true love. Add in some incredibly humorous descriptions and dialogue and the book should be a best seller. Unfortunately this is one case where I think the movie vastly outshines the book.
Oh all the good parts are in the book. Some of the best lines in the movie are taken straight out of the book. The action, the adventure, and the emotion are all there. It isn't what is missing from the book that is the problem - it is the extras that are included. William Goldman constantly interrupts the main story to interject what is supposed to be the tale of his first having heard this story read by his father when he was sick as a child. These interruptions really bothered me while reading this book. Perhaps the feelings of irritation with the author came from the introductory section when his description of himself was not very likeable. After hearing how he considered cheating on his wife and his feelings about his son, I didn't really care to hear his thoughts on the actual story. As I was reading the book, I found myself wondering if these asides were even a true story or if everything in the introduction and interruptions was made up as well. Although it has been a while since I have seen the movie, I do remember the grandfather reading the book to the boy and the occasional flash back to these scenes which took the viewer away from the main action. I do not remember these asides bothering me nearly as much as the italic sections in the book!
One advantage that the book does have over the movie is that we learn a lot more about the pasts of the individual characters. Buttercup, Fezzik, and Inigo all have their stories told. This allows for deeper character development than is shown in the movie but does not substantially change the over all story.
If Goldman had stuck with the story of Westley, Buttercup, Prince Humperdinck, and the rest, leaving out the bits about his childhood, I would have enjoyed it much more. As it is, I'll stick with the movie....more
Mom Energy is packed full of information. Some of it is quite scientific to gain a deeper understanding of how the body uses energy and the impact thaMom Energy is packed full of information. Some of it is quite scientific to gain a deeper understanding of how the body uses energy and the impact that the lack of energy has on health. The rest is strategies for making lifestyle changes that will increase your energy level. Nothing in this book is a quick fix for energy. The only way you are going to see results is if you are willing to put in the effort to make taking care of yourself and your energy levels one of your priorities.
The quiz to determine how what your energy level is was an eye opener for me. I knew I was tired most of the time but didn't realize that I was quite as bad off as I am. I wish there had been more questions on the second quiz for determining Energy Profile as I felt I fit into several categories based on the limited questions. These profiles are helpful throughout the book as they are used to identify key strategies that will be most helpful. The Energy Matrix profile in Chapter 3 was also a huge eye opener for me. I found that section to be extremely helpful in determining the best place to start getting my energy back on track.
The authors address the usual suspects when dealing with energy: diet, exercise, and sleep but they also include organization and scheduling. I had never thought of this as being something that affected my energy before but now I am seeing how much time I waste by not having a schedule (or basic routine) and knowing what is ahead each day. Taking time for yourself is another big area that moms often give up to take care of their families.
There are no recipes in the book but what to eat and what not to eat is thoroughly addressed. The authors do seem to advocate vegetarian protein sources but I believe that is a decision each woman must make for herself. Supplements are addressed but I was happy to see that specific brands were not pushed at all.
The authors provide some basic exercises in an appendix but the chapter on exercise is more of a general overview on why it is important to fit it in, how to schedule it into your day, and the best types of exercise to get your metabolism moving.
Overall this book is truly packed with information even if some of it is a repeat of what you have already heard (as most diet, exercise, and self-help books tend to be). There is a lot to get through and it is not a quick read because you need to take time to digest the information and figure out how to implement the suggestions in your life. If you are looking for a quick fix or aren't interested in the science behind your body's use of energy, this book probably isn't for you. But if you have an interest in knowing how and why things work and are willing to put in effort to make lasting changes, this book could help you get your energy back up. ...more