Friday, December 31, 2010

Best of 2010

This is the time of year that everyone from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly are doing their "Best of " features. The thing is, I have read one book on both lists, and it was the same book. I look at the rest of the books on those lists and think really? I am not smart enough for some of those books. I tried to read Matterhorn, couldn't get past the first page. I made it about 100 pages into The Lonely Polygamist before putting it down. So I can't say I didn't try.

When it comes to choosing "Best of" lists, I believe it is totally subjective. As subjective as choosing your favorite foods. Not everyone's tastes are the same, I may hate mushrooms and you may hate chili, therefore our "Best of " lists are bound to be different.

This year I read 175 books. Seems like a lot, eh? Well of course it was a lot, I was unemployed until the end of April, so of course I was able to read 58 books in the first four months of the year. As I go throughout the year, I like to give the title of "Best of" to books that really WOW me. I give it to books that captivate me, shock me, and leave me still thinking about the story several days later.

This year my "Best of" list consists of The Millennium Trilogy. Just like the rest of the world, I was captivated by that Scandinavian lass and her hacking antics. I was also intrigued by a hybrid named Lucy and a group of Angelologists. Of course I can't forget about that black German Shepherd, Joe. I have read a lot of good books this year. Books that made me laugh, books that made me cry, books that scared me to death, and books that kept me up all night. Mostly I read books that entertained me and stretched my mind just a little. In the end, that is all I really want in a book I read. To learn a little something that I didn't know and give me the opportunity to escape my life for a few moments.

What books made your "Best of" list this year?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

(174) The Radleys by Matt Haig

We all know that vampires are the "in" thing. If it is not the Cullens, it is Sookie Stackhouse. Matt Haig decided to go a different way to tell his tale of Vampires.

Meet The Radleys. Peter and Helen moved to the burbs seventeen years ago when their son was born. They have lived a "normal" life ever since. Living by the code of The Abstainers Handbook. The younger Radley's don't even know they are vampires. They just know that they are outcasts at school and animals hate them. Clara is doing your typical teen stuff and is at a party when something goes terribly wrong and her true heritage crashes through, leaving Peter and Helen to clean up the mess.

The Radley's was a well written novel. The chapters were a bit choppy, but it works for Matt Haig and makes the book fast to read. The Radley's could be a family in your neighborhood. Dad is a doctor and Mom attends book club. As readers we have recently been conditioned to believe that Vampires are like Bill Compton or Edward Cullen, sexy and dangerous. The Radley's are nothing like them, but like any other family you might find on your block, when things get tough, they stick together.

The Radley's have been getting a lot of positive buzz in the literary world. While I will say that the book is enjoyable and worth the read, I wouldn't say it is the best book of the year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

(173)Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult

I have never mothered a newborn, but from what I hear, it is not all THAT uncommon for a new mother to have the urge to run away from home. Especially if her husband is an ass. Most mothers resist the urge and stick it out until the kid turns eighteen or they find out that the assy husband is screwing his nurse, then they give into the urge to leave -- but they take the kid with them.

Harvesting the Heart is one of Jodi Picoult's earlier novels. Paige O'Toole was just a young, naive woman when she ran away from Chicago and landed in Cambridge. She had this misfortune to fall in love with a med student born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Paige was so sure that their love could overcome anything, but when she gives birth to their son, Max, her fears of being a mother take over her life. After little sleep and no help from Nicholas, Paige does it. She runs away and finds her own mother.

After three months away, Paige has found some answers, both about her mother and herself. She misses her little family more than she ever thought and she returns to Boston. Only to discover that her husband has grown to hate her with the same passion he once loved her. Paige finds allies in an unexpected place and sets about working her way back into the hearts of the men in her life.

After having read so many Jodi Picoult novels, I knew what to expect. Having recently read her newest book, it is very easy to see how far she has come in her storytelling skills. The formula is the same, but oh dear, was she excessively wordy back in the day. I found myself thinking more than once, "JUST GET ON WITH IT!" Overall, the story was just mediocre. I am sure many mothers could relate to Paige in many ways, but I think she needed to grow a backbone about 200 pages earlier than she did. If your only reading options are a cereal box or Harvesting the Heart, by all means read Harvesting the Heart, but I would not recommend it over a more recent Picoult novel.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Guest Review by my lil brother, Matt -- Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

My younger brother, Matt has been an avid reader for as long as he has been alive. A fact that I feel like I can take *some* of the credit for. I have had the ARC of Moonlight Mile for a while, with the intention of bringing it home (Wyoming to Iowa) for the last three trips so that I could read it, then pass it on to Matt. After the third trip, I decided to go ahead & give him the ARC with the caveat that he write a review for my blog. I figured it would take him a while, at least a week or so. Wrong. He read it in one day, yesterday. Let me introduce you to Matt.....

hello fellow "bookaphiles". its an honor and a privilege to write this review for my sister because Dennis Lehane is somewhat of a idol to me and reading his latest yarn in the lives of Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro was just as fun as coming home. It was like being reunited with your favorite friends and relatives over the holidays. Moonlight Mile finds us being reunited with Patrick and Angie at least 5 years after Prayers For Rain. Patrick and Angie are now married with a 4 year old daughter named Gabby. Unfortunately Patrick and Angie are facing the same financial problems the rest of us have been facing for the last few years. Angie's staying home with Gabby and taking classes to earn a college degree while Patrick is still being the coolest gumshoe in modern literature. Unfortunately this is as good as it gets for the remainder of the story because Amanda McCready the 4 year old girl that was the center of "Gone Baby, Gone" is once again...gone. The same girl that tore patrick and angie apart is threatening to do the same again. Now Amanda is 16 though, and instead of letting everything that's happened to her destroy her, shes used it to make her one of the most self-reliable individuals in Boston and possibly Patrick's intellectual match. She's that smart. And in his second search for her, Patrick will learn more about himself than he has in any of the other books.

If you've ever read a Kenzie/Gennaro book before, all the familiar elements are here fellow readers. Lehane loves his city and his characters and it seeps through into every page here. I've never been to Boston, but Lehane is so descriptive in his settings that you cant help but feel like you grew up right around the corner from him. The thing that struck me the most is how well Lehane has matured as a writer and how he's been able to bring that maturation to his characters. Patrick is not the youngster he was when he started out. He's been Boston's favorite P.I. for almost two decades now and it's taken it's toll on his soul. His career has had him see and do things that are flat out unimaginable to most of us but he's had to make it his daily life. It all comes full circle to what is, I feel, Lehanes most satisfying ending. Bittersweet with a hint of melancholy....but then again that is Lehanes Boston.

Friday, December 24, 2010

(172)The Frugalista Files by Natalie McNeal

There are two New Year's Resolutions that millions of Americans make each year. To lose weight and to get out of debt. In January of 2008 Miami Herald journalist Natalie McNeal decided it was time to control her spending and in the process created the alter ego of "The Frugalista".

The Frugalista created a blog through her job at the Miami Herald to share with readers her journey of controlling her spending and get out of $20,000 in debt. The Frugalista Files is Natalie's journey in 2008. It was a fun journey to take with her as she explored cheaper ways to be fashionable & trendy in South Florida.

I am a devoted Dave Ramsey listener, even if I don't always follow his "teachings" I enjoy hearing his advice and listen daily while at work, so I didn't necessarily love this book for the financial tips, I loved it for watching the budding blogger turn her blog into a famous brand. As a blogger myself, it was inspiring for me to read how Natalie went from being a writer with a simple blog at the newspaper to a successful Blogger that gets a book deal and is regularly interviewed by CNN and other mainstream news organizations. Blogging has launched many a woman to fame & notoriety (The Pioneer Woman, Julie Powell, Jen Lancaster to name a few) and it was great to see a little more "behind the scenes" of how that happens.

I really enjoyed The Frugalista Files. Natalie McNeal took a risk in exposing her financial transgressions to the whole world, but it in the end it really paid off. (Pardon the silly pun). She learned a lot about herself in the process and I think there are a lot of women out there that can relate to her tales of financial woe. Natalie's fun and friendly personality shine through with every word she writes, making her blog (and book) seem more like a girlfriend sending you an email than a lecture about overspending.

If you are one of the millions of Americans who is going to try to get out of debt in 2011, I encourage you to check out The Frugalista Files. Natalie will give you the inspiration necessary to stay the course.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

(171)We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

I know I am about the last person on the planet to read We Need to Talk About Kevin, but WOW. There isn't much I can say about my reactions and thoughts without giving so spoilers, so....


This book kept me up last night. I mean, what would YOU do if you were raising a sociopath? I know a mother's love is supposed to be unconditional, but what if your child maliciously harmed another one of your children. Or even murdered your other child. Could you still unconditionally love your child if they murdered your husband?

It is two years after her sixteen year old son, Kevin went on a murderous rampage, and Eva is still struggling to come to grips with Kevin's actions. In letters to her husband, she reflects on Kevin's life. She examines his actions over the years and her reactions. Eva had her suspicions about Kevin for a very long time. And now, after her world has been rocked, all she wants to know is why.

Lionel Shriver had written a phenomenal book. We all read Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes, but it comes nowhere near the caliber of work that Lionel Shriver has presented us with. As a reader, we only know what Eva writes to her husband, but as the letters continue, you can start to put it all together. Call me naive, but the end just shocked me, I did not see it coming. I mean we knew that Kevin was guilty of his school rampage, but the rest... It kept me awake last night.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is a deeply disturbing novel. It is not graphic, per se, but the images that Kevin's story conjure up can be worse than any Stephen King novel. The writing is skilled and the story is a masterpiece. It is a phenomenal read, but be prepared for the gut wrenching topic matter, it will keep you up at night.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

(170)The Christmas Clock by Kat Martin

Be prepared to cry. Not just a few tears, I am talking the "ugly cry". It could be PMS, but The Christmas Clock is one of those books that just hit my heart right where it aches the most.

Eight year old Teddy has been "working" around Joe's body shop. Sweeping, cleaning and such. He is trying to save money to buy his Grandmother the clock that she wants for Christmas. But all his Grandmother REALLY wants is to find a home for Teddy before her Alzheimer's gets too bad. Unfortunately she starts to deteriorate faster than she thought and Teddy has to go into foster care.

Joe has decided that he wants to take care of Teddy, but the tragic mistake from his past may keep Joe and Teddy from being a family.

Ugly Cry. I am not even kidding. The Christmas Clock is not going to win any awards, but the characters are simple and good hearted. They all want one thing, to take care of eight year old Teddy. That kind of unity is what set me over the edge. The Christmas Clock is a very fast read and one you won't regret. I promise.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tis the season....

My first year not working retail at Christmas & I still am not getting any real reading done this Holiday season. Between Christmas cards, Christmas baking, Christmas wrapping, Christmas shopping, well you know how it goes, so I thought I would entertain you with this.

Mannheim Steamroller has always been a favorite of mine. Being based in Omaha they were always considered "local" to me while growing up, sitting here in Wyoming on this cold, snowy night, I decided to hit up YouTube. I just wanted to share! Enjoy!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Monday, December 6, 2010

(169)Left Neglect by Lisa Genova

When an author has such a phenomenal debut as Lisa Genova did with Still Alice, she has to live up to some pretty high expectations. Her new book, LEFT Neglected , is a pretty strong follow up.

Left Neglected introduces us to Sarah Nickerson. Sarah is a graduate of Harvard Business School and a VP of Human Resources at a large company. She is married to a wonderful man and they have three great kids that spend more time with their Nanny, then they do with their parents. The Nickerson's live to work and have a highly over-scheduled life. It all comes to a screeching halt one day when Sarah is in a serious car accident. After being in a coma for eight days, she wakes up to discover that the left side of her world has disappeared. She has what is called Left Neglect. She can not see anything to her left. It just does not exist. She can not see her wedding ring or the hand it to which it is attached. She can not see her husband when he stands on her left side or the left side of the Junie B Jones book she is reading to her daughter.

Sarah Nickerson has had her whole world rocked. She went from being a corporate powerhouse to being totally dependent on those around her for her basic needs. As a reader we get to watch Sarah struggle, not only physically, but emotionally with her her "new normal". Still Alice was a profoundly emotional book for me to read, that story touched me more than any story has touched me in a very long time. Left Neglected did not move me AS much, but it was still a wonderful book to read. Sarah & her husband are strong, successful characters, but the way they deal with a crisis is nothing but human.

Lisa Genova has written another intelligent novel about how it takes more than a drive to succeed to survive a tragedy. It takes a whole team of people to cheer us on, lift us up, and show us what are the really important things in life. Still Neglected can be purchased in January from anywhere books are sold.

Friday, December 3, 2010

(168)The Christmas Box

Okay, Okay, I know you must be getting sick of my Richard Paul Evans binge. I think I only have two left after this one and I promise to spread them out.

The Christmas Box was a fast read. Maybe 45 minutes tops. I am sure I am the last person in the world to read this book or know of this story, so I will keep it brief. A young couple move into a mansion to help take care of an elderly lady. Instead it is the elderly lady who takes care of the family and shows them, especially the father, what the first gift of Christmas is.

From what I understand, The Christmas Box is the book that started the Christmas Story franchise for Richard Paul Evans. It was the book that he built an empire on. The story was incredibly touching, but very brief. A fast read to put you in the true Holiday spirit.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

(167)The Neighbors Are Watching by Debra Ginsberg

Eh, the premise was a decent one, but the story fell short.

The Neighbors Are Watching is a book about a neighborhood straight out of daytime television. The neighborhood is in San Diego. The time is 2007 and the wild fires are threatening this neighborhood. The drama that runs rampant are a bit, over the top. There is Joe Montana who never told his wife that he had a child from a previous relationship until she shows up on their doorstep, seventeen and pregnant. There is the beautiful Jessalyn who has men coming and going at all hours of the day, and I can't forget Dorothy the Housewife has the biggest secret of all.

The fires are raging when the seventeen year old new mother disappears, leaving her newborn baby all alone. What happened to her? Did she leaving willingly or is foul play at work here?

I read the whole book just to find out what really happened, but the big reveal at the end of the book was unpredictable because it was so completely random. It was almost disappointing. I suspect that some would enjoy this book, maybe it was the Sudafed that kept me from enjoying this book, but I did not.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

(166)Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

I have somewhat of a love/hate relationship with Jodi Picoult. Her books are so formulaic. They are basically the same type of story, the same story layout, the same part of the country, the only thing that changes is the "cause of the day" and the characters names.

Well, In Sing You Home, (releasing March 1, 2011) the "Cause of the Day" happens to be Gay & Lesbian rights. See if you can stay with me here, Zoe was at one time married to Max. They had fertility problems and sought the help of IVF. Unfortunately, not even IVF could give them a baby and they divorced, leaving three embryos behind. Flash forward and Zoe finds herself in love. With Vanessa. They have decided that Vanessa will carry their baby, but all they need is for Max to sign off on their use of the embryos. Neither one of them expected to run into this type of roadblock. Max has found Jesus and has joined forces with an Evangelical minister who will stop at nothing to prevent Vanessa and Zoe from using those embryos. And as you expect with Jodi Picoult, a nasty legal battle ensues.

I really enjoyed this story because I really enjoyed Vanessa and Zoe. They were two characters that I genuinely LIKED. They were flawed and deeply insecure in their own ways, but they were confident in their love. That is admirable no matter who you love.

I truly believe that at the route of *most* ignorance is fear. Fear of the unknown and it's perceived impact on their own lives. Fear that is fed by media outlets looking to serve their own agenda. Jodi Picoult did an amazing job of painting a very realistic picture that will help dispel those stereotypes. Vanessa & Zoe are just like me & my husband. They love, they laugh, they share housekeeping duties, they share their worries, and they plan on being together forever.

Sing You Home is a well written novel about a very sensitive subject in our country right now. But once you get right down to it, the book is about love. The love two people share and want to share with their child, and those who want to put a stop to it, all in the name of God's love. Who is right? Who is wrong? Jodi Picoult has a bad habit of ruining a book by her endings, not this one. The ending was far from predictable and it was very satisfying. Now if we could just get her to write outside the "formula"....

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

(165) The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans

Well, I am having trouble uploading pictures. Not sure if it is a blogger issue or my POS laptop. So I am moving on without my obligatory picture. I guess you will just have to use your imagination. *grin*

The Christmas List is another wonderful Christmas book set in Utah. This one is about a Scrooge-esque type of character, Jimmy Kier. After it is reported that he was killed in a car accident on a snowy winter night, Jimmy gets somewhat of a rude awakening about his attitude towards those he deem to be less important than himself. In other words, everyone. Jimmy asks his assistant to put together a list of those he has wronged the most. With list in hand, he sets off on a journey to make amends. It turns out to be the hardest thing he has ever done!

The more I read works by Richard Paul Evans, the more I see that he is a bit like Nicholas Spark, but oh so much better. Infinitely better. As I have said before, there is an element of predictability with all Christmas Stories, but it is how the author gets us to the end that makes all the difference. Yet another great tale for you and I even found it for $5.38 at B&N.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

(164)Finding Noel by Richard Paul Evans

Okay, so I lied. I got my hands on several of Richard Paul Evan's books from the library, so I just had to read them. I am glad that they are quick reads!

I do not think that Finding Noel was as good as Promise Me, but it was still very good. Heartwarming and inspirational.

Mark has moved to Utah to attend college and when his scholarship falls through he resorts to working as a janitor. It is a snowy evening when his beat up car breaks down and he wanders into a diner where he meets Macy. They become close and together Mark and Macy try to find Noel, Macy's sister who was given up for adoption. In the process they learn a lot about each other and the true meaning of family.

Richard Paul Evans is a master of words. His stories consistently touch the heart unlike any author I have read in a while. Next up is the Christmas List.

Why I Read...

I remember the carefree summer days when I used to ride my bike to the public library to pick out new books. I would go almost daily to find books to read. I read to learn. I read to explore the world. I read to escape. I read because not reading is not an option.

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