Friday, November 21, 2014

Books I Didn't Blog About: The Really Good Stuff

The other day, I started off my reading catch-up with a round-up of my 5-star reads. Today I have the books I really enjoyed, but didn't quite make "favorite" status. Apparently 4-stars is a pretty common rating for me -- I have a dozen for you today!

Really liked it - 4 star reads


Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History +
Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began
by Art Spiegelman
Borrowed from Library / Paperback

Classic, must-read graphic novels. Not an easy subject matter by any means, but an important part of history. There are many Holocaust memoirs, but these have a very unique perspective and format.

* * * * *

If I Stay
by Gayle Forman
Won from Giveaway / Paperback / For Book Club

A quick, emotional read. The little brother and the grandpa in this book pretty much slayed my heart. I saw the movie with book club shortly after I found out I was pregnant and the waterworks were definitely running. I'm not so sure I can really use the hormones excuse though, I think I would have been a total sap either way.

* * * * *

The Maze Runner
by James Dashner
Purchased / Paperback / For Book Club

A super-fast read I really enjoyed. There was some (made-up) slang language that was a little jarring, especially at first, but I really loved the characters and am looking forward to the rest of the series. (Now if only we could pick a few less first-in-a-series for book club, I might not be so far behind on sequels!)

* * * * *

The Paintings of Hogwarts: Masterpieces from the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry Sets
by Jody Revenson & Moira Squier
Purchased / Hardcover

This is the first book I read from our fancy-dancy collector set which reminds me I really must read the others! I will always favor the books over the movies, but it was really cool to get a close-up look at the paintings used on set.

* * * * *

Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
by Gabrielle Hamilton
Borrowed from Library / Audiobook

As both a reader and a food/cookbook-lover, I was long overdue to check out this acclaimed memoir. Hamilton has certainly led an interesting life and I loved hearing about her unique perspective in her own voice. For anyone into cookbooks, her first Prune with recipes from her NY restaurant has just recently been published.

* * * * *

The Commitment: Love Sex, Marriage, and My Family
by Dan Savage
Borrowed from Library / Audiobook

I couple of things rubbed me the wrong way (like a comment about the stay-at-home parent being "off" all the time), but overall this was a really excellent memoir and an interesting look into the life of the author and his family as they navigate the decision about whether or not to get married.

* * * * *

by Neil Gaiman
Borrowed from Library / Audiobook

I've been meaning to try Gaiman for the longest time and decided to finally give his younger stuff a go. I absolutely LOVED his narration of this story and actually listened to it twice -- first on my own and then again in the car with my husband. Now I want to watch the movie!

* * * * *

The Neil Gaiman Audio Collection
Borrowed from Library / Audiobook

Once again, stellar narration by the author. These four short stories were just lovely and I also listened to this collection twice.

* * * * *

Where'd You Go Bernadette
by Maria Semple
Borrowed from Library / Audiobook

I debated between print and audio for this one and ended up with the audio. It was a fun, light read and I can see why it has gotten so popular. Note for Gilmore Girls fans: the narrator is the actress who plays Luke's sister Liz. I recognized her voice right away and thought it was interesting to discover how many audiobooks are recorded by actors and actresses.

* * * * *

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
by Michael Pollan
Borrowed from Library / Audiobook
A fascinating look at where our food comes from and the different food systems in this country. I missed out on this one when it was first super-popular and have been meaning to read it ever since. I'm glad I finally got around to it and really enjoyed it as an audiobook.

* * * * *

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
by Michael Pollan
Borrowed from Library / Audiobook

If I had to choose, I would say I liked this one even a little bit better than The Omnivore's Dilemma. Practical, down-to-earth advice and information about food choices and eating. Food has gotten far too complicated and I really loved Pollan's approach in this book. Also great as an audio.

Reading Challenges:
New to Me
Banned Books
Book to Movie
Prequel & Sequel
Foodies Read
My Kind of Mystery

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Books I Didn't Blog About: The Really, Really Good Stuff

It's probably become a bit obvious by now, but the very last thing I want to do is write reviews lately. I tried with two mini reviews in September, but I keep looking at the list of all the other books I've read and not reviewed this year and I Just. Don't. Want. To. Do. It. So guess, what? I'm not going to! I do still want to share these books though, so I'm trying something new for me and doing a series of round-ups with just a few thoughts on each title. Since there are so many neglected books on my list, I'm planning on one post per star rating. I'm still on the fence about whether or not to share my 1- and 2-star reads, but let's start with the really, really good stuff, shall we?

Loved it! - 5 star reads

by Kristin Cashore 
Purchased / Paperback / For Book Club

I probably wouldn't have picked this one up if it wasn't scheduled for book club, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I haven't read the companion books yet, but really want to. It's quite chunky, but I didn't want to put it down!

* * * * *

One Man Guy
by Michael Barakiva
Borrowed from Library / Audiobook

Fantastic narration! This was SO excellent as an audiobook and broke a string of 3-star reads. Contemporary YA is not usually my thing, but this was just a really, really great book. Funny and sweet -- I absolutely loved it.

* * * * *

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
by JK Rowling
Purchased / Hardcover / Re-Read

Before the entire series was published, this was my least favorite Harry Potter book. (Though let's be honest, least favorite is a relative thing when it comes to a favorite series -- it was always a good book for me, I just liked other installments better). After I knew the whole story, I had a much greater appreciation for the events of this second book and thoroughly enjoyed my re-read. This was at least the third time I read this one, if not the fourth -- I've lost track!

* * * * *

by Diana Gabaldon
Purchased / Paperback / Re-Read

An all-time favorite adult book series of mine. After the mid-season finale of the Starz show, I just couldn't leave the story hanging, so I started a re-read. I'm on the 2nd book now and am hoping (wishing? dreaming?) I will finish all 8 before baby arrives in April. We shall see.

* * * * *

With the volume of books I've been reading/listening to, I think this format will work better for me going forward without totally closing up shop around here. After I play catch-up, I'd like to do monthly round-ups. Hopefully I will continue to read more than one book in a month to make that possible though! Not a problem at the moment, but once the spring rolls around it may be a different story. But like I said before, I'm going with the flow :)

Reading Challenges:
New to Me
Banned Books
Book to Movie
Prequel & Sequel
Lucky No. 14
Diversity on the Shelf
Historical Fiction

Saturday, November 8, 2014

What I've Been Up to Lately + Some News!

Anyone who has been gracious enough to read this blog regularly has probably noticed I've been a bit MIA lately. I was never one to stick to a schedule or post every day, but one post each for the months of September and October is pretty light, even for me. I've missed blogging, but I also must admit I've really liked the freedom not blogging has given my reading (re-reading! chunksters! no review books!) And as much as I like writing, I don't particularly like how much time it takes me to write posts I am proud of and willing to share. Being on a bit of an unplanned, unofficial hiatus has helped me read more books this year than ever before in my life (unless you count my middle school years when I could inhale several Nancy Drew mysteries in a weekend, but I wasn't keeping track then!)

I know that most of the pressures associated with blogging are self-imposed and I can let go of those pressures and still blog if I want to, but I'm honestly not sure if I do want to. That is something I am still thinking about, so this isn't actually a goodbye post -- not yet anyway! There have a been a lot of things happening in my personal life that have bumped blogging to the bottom of my priority list and I am happy to say these have all been good things, they've just given me a different perspective and changed my focus -- #1 on the list being:

Yep, we're having a baby! I'm due in April and have so far been one of those lucky b*tches who hasn't been nauseous or throwing up for the first trimester. We've been telling people in stages and I must say, it's been the best part of this whole experience so far. For both sides of the family, this will be the first grandchild and also the third great-grandchild for each of our grandmothers so there has been a lot of excitement and distraction these past few weeks (months actually!)

If I really look at my life lately, trying to maintain the healthier habits I started before getting pregnant, sleeping more because I've been so damn tired, and also carving out more reading time have been taking up the time I used to spend blogging -- I can't say I regret any of that even one tiny bit though. I have to enjoy the sleep while I still can, right?

I know many moms continue blogging as their creative outlet, I'm just not sure yet if that will be the right thing for me. I love the community and I've still been reading many of my favorite blogs, but quite a few of the bookish gals who started around the same time as me have also cut back or gone on breaks, so it's been easier to let go than I ever imagined it would. I plan to keep this space open and post if and when the mood strikes, but I'm not going to make any grand promises. Inspiration hasn't been striking lately, but can't say for sure that it's gone for good. I'd love to do a round-up post of the bazillion books I've been reading over the past few months, but the list keeps growing so it does feel a bit daunting. I will most definitely still be around on GoodReads though no matter what happens here!

I am grateful for all the lovely people who've visited this space over the past few years and the bookish internet friends I've made -- it was hard to keep this news a secret for so long (especially when a few people were wondering where the heck I disappeared to!), but I'm glad I am now able to share it. I hope you have all been well in my absence and thanks for listening to my rambling today :)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Judging a Book By Its Cover: Classic Holiday Editions

I admit it, I'm a total sucker for cover design. I've come to realize I have a particular soft spot for special editions of classics. I am occasionally disappointed to remember I already own an earlier edition of a particular book when I see some dazzling new version is being released. The rate at which I have accumulated classics far outpaces my reading of said classics, but I think I can live with that. They are just so darn pretty on my shelves! And they remind me of the infinite possibility still awaiting me in the form of books yet to be discovered for the first time. (How's that for a glass-half-full explanation of my bulging TBR shelves?!?)

Anyway, this morning I found out about the beautiful new Penguin Christmas Classics thanks to an announcement on their Facebook page and it was love at first sight -- I want all of them!

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

The Nutcracker, by E.T.A. Hoffmann

A Merry Christmas & Other Stories, by Louisa May Alcott

The Night Before Christmas, by Nickolai Gogol

by Anthony Trollope

I am not the kind of person who likes to rush the holidays. I don't like to skip over Halloween and Thanksgiving in a hurry to get to Christmas, but I have to say I'm glad I found out about these now. Now I have some time before December rolls around and I am ready for all things Christmas to decide if I want to add them to my collection. Wouldn't these make a fabulous bookish Christmas gift?!

* * * * *

But to get a little more in line with the current date on the calendar, I thought I would also mention some other Penguin Classics I've been pining over: the Penguin Horror Collection -- perfect for Halloween!

American Supernatural Tales, edited by S.J. Toji 
& Guillermo del Toro

The Raven: Tales & Poems, by Edgar Allan Poe
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

by H.P. Lovecraft

I currently have American Supernatural Tales borrowed from the library, but am sorely tempted to pick up a copy of Frankenstein which I don't have and would like to re-read. And maybe a few of the others too, though I'm not as much of a fan of the last two listed here, from a strictly visual perspective.

So, I'm curious -- does anyone else have a particular line of classics they love? I am partial to Penguin in general (Threads and Clothbound and Drop Cap, oh my!) but there are so many other fabulous ones out there -- which ones are your favorites?

NOTE: This is not a sponsored post, I just really like these editions! Clearly inspiration has been lacking around here lately, but I couldn't resist talking about these books after I found out about them :)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Mini Reviews: Bittersweet + The Heiresses

Well, it looks like it's been pretty quiet around here in terms of book reviews. It seems this summer I mostly blogged about various bookish events and challenges, so I'm long overdue to share some thoughts on the books I've been reading these past few months. Here's the first of (hopefully) several catch-up posts.

Bittersweet, by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
Series? No
Publisher: Crown
Date: May 2014
How did I get this book? Advanced Reader's Copy from the publisher for review
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Goodreads | Author | Publisher

I really loved this book! It is dark, twisty, and full of family secrets -- which is pretty close to my ideal novel. There is a summer estate where the members of a rich and prominent family vacation each year and there is no shortage of intrigue and drama amongst the various relatives. The addition of a newcomer (who is our narrator) promises the unearthing of the family's long-buried history. I would say it's a bit more on the literary side for a suspense novel. I was compelled to keep reading and there was no shortage of shocking twists and turns as this one came to a close. I went ahead and ordered used copies of both of this author's previous (now out-of-print) novels and would definitely pick up anything new she writes in the future.

* * * * *

The Heiresses, by Sara Shepard
Series? yes (The Heiresses #1)
Publisher: Harper
Date: May 2014
How did I get this book? won an Advanced Reader's Copy from a Goodreads First Reads giveaway
My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Goodreads | Author | Publisher

Truthfully, it was not the best idea to read this one right after Bittersweet. There are a lot of similarities in the storylines -- rich family, dark secrets, buried history -- but with the added element of murder (and the threat that the first will not be the last). The fact that I still enjoyed both of them very much despite their proximity to one another definitely says something. The style and tone of this one is definitely less literary and more soap opera-y, for lack of a better word. It was a real page-turner, guilty-pleasure-type book so it made for a great beach read while on vacation.

Reading Challenges:
New to Me
Review Pile
My Kind of Mystery

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bout of Books 11: Update #2 / Wrap-Up

As I mentioned in my first update, the beginning days of Bout of Books were very busy and that did not change as the week went on. All things considered, I'm still happy with how the week went, but if I had known in advance how hectic life would be, I honestly would not have joined up this time -- oh well! I still got some reading in and participated in two fun challenges:

Thursday-Sunday Progress
Finished The Omnivore's Dilemma audiobook (last 40%)
Started Cooked audiobook (5% or so)
Started The Painted Girls for book club
75 print pages read

Book Chain Challenge completed:

Recreate a Book Cover Challenge completed:

I feel like I cheated a bit by choosing such an easy cover with books on it, but it was still fun! And for the record, the books I chose are not my personal "ideal bookshelf," just ones I thought were visually similar to the original -- and even though the color is all wrong, I had to use one of my own clothbound classics for the yellow clothbound in the original illustration :) 

Cumulative progress for the week:
Finished 1 print book + 1 audiobook
Started 2 print books + 1 audiobook
Read 232 print pages
Listened to audiobooks for approx. 8 hrs. 45 minutes 

Looking at the number of hours instead of just my percentage of progress on the audiobooks makes me realize I fit in a lot more reading time than I thought I did! It definitely helped that the weather was cooler so I wasn't swimming as much for exercise and going for walks instead (in addition to my usual listening while cooking and doing chores.) My goals for the week may have been a bit too ambitious (3 books? really, Christine?!), but the read-a-thon was still a success. Hope everyone had a great week, Bout-of-Books or not :)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bout of Books 11: Update #1

This week has been much busier than I anticipated when I signed up for Bout of Books, so I'm off to a bit of a slow start. As much as I love reading, life happens and I'm totally OK with that. I'm still enjoying my Harry Potter re-read very much and I'm plugging away at my audiobook mostly while going for walks since the weather has been so nice. 

Monday-Wednesday Progress
Finished Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Started Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
157 print pages read
10% further along on my audiobook
Scavenger Hunt challenge completed

Also, I LOVE creating spine poetry, but just didn't have time to enter Alysia's challenge yesterday. I'm sharing my spine poem anyway even though it's too late to enter officially :)

I am forbidden 
to enter
the City of Lost Dreams
under shadow of night

There are
back roads
dark places
the unseen

Don't breathe a word

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bout of Books 11: Sign-Up & Goals

It's Bout of Books time again! This is only my second time participating, but I had so much fun my first round that I have been looking forward to giving it a second go. If you're not familiar with this read-a-thon, here's the info:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

* * * * *

Regular readers of this blog might remember that my first Bout of Books helped me start some better habits to fit more reading into my day. Overall, I'd say a lot of it stuck in the weeks and months after, but definitely not all! I'm hoping this week will be a nice little reboot and my goals are pretty simple:

  1. Read every day, even if it's only a little bit.
  2. Whenever possible, read in the mornings before work, on my lunch breaks, and before bed. (These are my usual reading times, but far too often I get distracted by unimportant nonsense, so I want to work on breaking those time-wasting habits!)
  3. Finish current audiobook & start a new one
  4. Finish/read 3 print books -- most weeks I only read one book, so I'm going for two bonus books (plus I don't have a whole lot left in my current book that I will be starting off the week by finishing!)
  5. Participate in at least one mini challenge

Some reading options:

I'm currently re-reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and don't think I will quite finish it before the read-a-thon begins at midnight. I should be able to cross that off my list pretty early on. Then there is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to continue with my re-read of the series. I also have The Maze Runner and The Painted Girls which are upcoming book club selections I'd like to get started on. (I'm also toying with the idea of listening to that last one on audio instead, but I'll see how things go.)

So far I've also only read one of the books from our fancy-schmancy new Harry Potter Page-to-Screen collector set and may throw a couple of those in there as well (they are heavy on the pictures & definitely fast reads, not that I want to rush through them!) I'm thinking this week might be a good week to explore a few more if I need a break or want to mix things up.

Lastly, the audiobook I want to finish is Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma which I am already halfway through. I think I will then move onto his most recent book Cooked. I've been on a foodie-audiobook kick lately because I find them informative and interesting without confusing whatever other fiction print book I have going. I've listened to a lot of audiobook fiction this summer, but I do get distracted if I am reading more than one fiction book at a time.

If you're participating in Bout of Books, good luck! And if not, happy reading anyway :)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Re-Reading Harry Potter: The Sorcerer's Stone

I'm so glad I decided to re-read this series! This is at least the fourth time I have read the first book -- there was the first time, the time I re-read it for a college class, and the time I re-read it right before my wedding (comfort reading to escape the wedding-planning-craziness? Yes, I do think so.) There may have been an extra time or two I don't specifically recall though, it's gotten hard to keep track!

I've read a lot more widely since I first discovered these books, so I'm always a bit afraid they won't live up to my memory of them. But I'm happy to report those fears were completely unfounded. The first book was just as magical and wonderful as I remember even as more years have passed and I've gotten older. For me, when a story stands up to so many re-reads, that is the mark of a great book and a true favorite. There's not too much else I can say that hasn't been said before, so I thought I would share a few of my favorite quotes.

* * * * *

The line that started it all...
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” 

The wisdom of Albus Dumbledore...
“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
“To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”
“The truth." Dumbledore sighed. "It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”
“As much money and life as you could want! The two things most human beings would choose above all - the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them.” 
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” 

And a couple of bookish quotes from my girl Hermione...
“Oh, HONESTLY, don't you two read?”
She was dashing back, an enormous old book in her arms. “I never thought to look in here!” she whispered excitedly. “I got this out of the library weeks ago for a bit of light reading.” “Light?” said Ron.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (#26): To Read or Not to Read?

I recently did a mini-purge and collected up one (really heavy) bag of books to trade-in at the used bookstore. As I was doing this, there were three series I was really on the fence about keeping, so I'm loving today's Top Ten Tuesday topic! I'm either way under ten or way over ten depending on how you look at this, but I would really appreciate input so I can figure out if it's time to let these go or give them a shot:

Series #1
The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater
Bought these before I knew a whole lot about YA and the wide range of books available in the genre. Not sure if these would be a good fit anymore.

* * * * * * * * * *

Series #2
The Immortals by Alyson Noel
Same issue as above. Also, I've tried another series by this author and a few chapters into book #2, it was a DNF, so I am no longer confident these will work for me.

* * * * * * * * * *

Series #3
Rizzoli & Isles mysteries by Tess Gerritsen
Binge bought these from after discovering the Rizzoli & Isles TV show (which I love!) is based on them. But heard from another fan of the show that she couldn't get into the books, so I haven't tried them yet.

* * * * * * * * * *

So, if you've read any of these and can help me decide, please let me know what you think!