Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New Blog Design!

I was going to post another one of my oldie-but-goodie book reviews, but then I got distracted sprucing up my blog. (I hope you like it!) There were a bunch of things I thought were way over my head, but once I started playing around, I realized they weren't actually that difficult. So I thought I'd share a few of the links and tutorials that helped me learn all this behind-the-scenes bloggy stuff in case it might help someone else!

Yesterday's post from Bookshelvers Anonymous taught me there are lots of great (free!) blog backgrounds available out there. I chose one from Shabby Blogs, but Shelver also recommends The Cutest Blog on the Block and The Background Fairy. (She's also having an awesome giveaway for her one year blogoversary, so you should definitely go check it out!)

PhotobucketThis post from Projects Around the House taught me how to create my own blog button. Photobucket and PicMonkey are your friends.

This tutorial from The Book Vixen taught me how to create progress bars for my 2013 Reading Challenges page a couple weeks ago. I was also able to use this post to figure out the basic HTML for turning an image into a link and changing it's size (it's just the first portion of the code provided). Learning this one simple code proved very helpful for three different things: creating my review archive using book covers, creating subscribe/follow buttons for my sidebar, and also for cleaning up my Blogs I Read page. I love including blog buttons on that page, but it used to look like a jumbled mess with all the different sizes. Once I knew which part of the code changes the size, I was able to make them all the same height and neaten things up.

Trust me, I am no expert on this stuff, so if I can figure it out, you can too! And if you have any questions, I'm more than happy to try to help :)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Announcement: Banned Books Week 2013

Just a quick update for anyone participating in my Banned Books Challenge. The dates of this year's Banned Books Week have been announced! Last year this event took place in October, but this year it will be September 22-28. The challenge officially ends on the first day of Banned Books Week, but you can finish linking up your reviews and/or wrap-up posts throughout the week.

There are a couple of reviews linked up already, so I hope everyone is enjoying their reading selections. Thanks again to all the participants and to everyone who commented on the books I can't believe have been challenged -- this is such a fun topic and has generated such great discussion!

photo credit: Love Of Books by George Hodan

The Ruins of Lace

The Ruins of Lace, by Iris Anthony
Source: I received a free copy of this book from ARCycling for my honest review.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title of this book could not be more appropriate. Taking place at a time in France where lace was illegal and the smuggling of it was a severely punishable crime, we have the interweaving stories of multiple characters whose lives have been affected (in most cases, ruined) by it. It's incredible to think that something so flimsy and insubstantial could have any real influence on a person's life, but this story shows it can do even more than just that. At this point in history, lace also has the power to bring about a person's destruction.

Lace, or the lack thereof, is a great motivator in this book. Each person "needs" lace for a different reason and some of those reasons are certainly more noble than others. But this is not just a simple tale of greed or the dangers of the 17th century equivalent of consumerism. It is also a tale of loyalties, corruption, family, and even love. What does it take for a "good" person to do a terrible thing? And at what cost? How far must an "evil" person push you to get you to do what he asks? Are you willing to be manipulated that way, even if the stakes are high? Are there limits to the questionable things you'd be willing to do in order to save or protect someone you love? These are just a few of the complicated questions that arise throughout this novel and make for a very intriguing read.

The story is told from seven different characters' points of view, so it's fascinating to see each of them through their own eyes as well as from the perspective of others. This is especially interesting to read given another essential theme of the novel, that of worthiness. Many of the characters in this book have been made to feel unworthy for one reason or another. This deep-seated uneasiness has a different cause for each of them, but whether it's society, the person's family, or their own sense of guilt, it has a far-reaching effect on their lives. They are each searching for their place in the world and battling their own demons in the process.

This isn't a particular setting or subject I've read about before, but I'm quite glad I did. I found myself quickly turning the pages, eager to find out more of how the story would unfold. So why 3 stars? I don't usually give half stars, but this one really probably should be more like a 3.5. I really enjoyed it, but a 4 or 5 star book really has to be one I would want to read again. I probably would not do that in this case, but it still is a compelling and engaging story that I recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

This book counts toward my reading goals for:
2013 ARC Reading Challenge
Embarrassment of Riches TBR Reading Challenge 2013

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (#13): Inferno

No real cover for this one yet, but I can't tell you how excited I was to discover there will be a new Robert Langdon book by Dan Brown. And I only have to wait until May! It seems my no-book-buying resolution is slowly falling apart at the seams...

For more information, check it out on GoodReads.
Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Water for Elephants

As much as I love reviewing books I've just read, I don't like the fact that some of my favorite books from before I started this blog are not represented here. They might not be flashiest or the shiniest brand-spanking-new titles, but these are books that have helped define me as a reader. I'm going to try for one review a week of  my "oldies but goodies" and link them up for Book Review Wednesdays. Here's my first one:

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen
Source: Purchased
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm a little ashamed to admit that an odd title and the original cover which I didn't really care for stopped me from picking this book up sooner. It was making the rounds in book clubs, magazines, best-seller lists, the net, and anywhere else you might find book recommendations, but I just wasn't getting all the hype. It wasn't until I saw a trailer for the movie adaptation, that my interest was really piqued and I realized it actually was the kind of story I would enjoy.

Once I did pick it up, I was utterly mesmerized. I'm not a fast reader, but I literally inhaled this magical novel. If I had to tear myself away from it, I was still thinking about it and counting down the minutes until I could crack it back open and continue reading. And when I turned the last page, I immediately wanted start it again, I loved it that much. At it's core, this book is a romance, but there is so much more to it than just that. It's a Depression-era travelling circus come to life, complete with some amazing animals, men who just might be evil incarnate, and a cast of endearing characters who make the best of the tough hand life has dealt them.

It begins in the present day with Jacob Jankowski as an elderly nursing home resident. I might be a little biased here since I used to work at a nursing home, but this little old man charmed me from the first minute I met him. He's feisty despite his physical limitations and his enduring, lifelong love for his wife Marlena is touching to witness. There are some blurred lines between right and wrong, since his wife was married to someone else when they met, but once you meet the bastard (pardon my language, I really can't help it in this case!), I think you'll understand why sometimes breaking the rules can be overlooked.

All too often, when a book has a really well done romance, it's hard for other relationships in a story to shine, but that is not the case here. Besides Jacob and Marlena, the relationships between Jacob and Rosie the elephant and between Jacob and his friend Kinko were also amazingly well done. For me, this book is the very definition of a richly developed, plotted, and characterized novel, and I truly applaud Sara Gruen for that. This one will be on my re-read list for life.

I should also note, as such a huge fan of the book, I was a bit disappointed with the movie. I loved the actors they chose, the set was brilliant, and they did a really decent job of capturing the spirit of the book, but I just wanted so much more. But even if you loved the movie, that's all the more reason to read the book because the book is infinitely better!

If you want to join Book Review Wednesdays, there aren't actually any restrictions on which kind of book review you can link up, this is just the way I'm choosing to do it. (If you're still not sure, you should know that if you submit a review, you're entered to win a weekly prize from Amazon!) The linky usually opens Tuesday evenings, so my reviews will sometimes be a day early (if I've got my act together!)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Are you kidding me?!

Most of the time, it's fairly obvious why controversy surrounds a particular book. I don't like the idea of censorship, but many times I can at least understand where the concerns are coming from. But the more I delve into this subject, the more I am flabbergasted by the titles that pop up on the lists of banned books. It's not so much that I can't believe that a person or two lodged a complaint, but rather the fact that so many did that they now have the honored distinction of being classified as a banned or challenged book. So without further ado, I offer you a baker's dozen of titles that truly made me think, "Are you kidding me?!?!":

The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, #1)13. His Dark Materials, by Phillip Pullman -- A newer fantasy series that's been compared to other great series like Narnia & Earthsea. Hmmm, OK.

12. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B Cooney -- I may be one of the only people who never read this as a kid, but I'm failing to see what the big deal is.

11. James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl -- This one and the next one are both enduring children's classics that have been around for decades. So the problem is...?

10. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L'Engle 

9. The Harry Potter books, by JK Rowling -- Mentions of witchcraft aside, these books teach such good lessons. So we wouldn't want kids to read them because...?

8. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins -- OK there's a lot of killing, BUT if you actually read the books you'd quickly discover there is so much more to the story.

7. Twilight, by Stephanie Meyers -- Alright, I know this series is hated by many, but someone want to explain to me how the sparkly vampires are dangerous?

6. The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien -- This would be the epic fantasy classic, beloved the world over. We are talking about the same books right?

5. Goosebumps, by RL Stine -- Stories about things that go bump in the night and got a whole generation of boys to crack open a book? I'm failing to see the problem here.

4. The Giver, by Lois Lowry -- Um, this one was assigned summer reading for me between 7th & 8th grade. Assigned by my private, Catholic grade school. So tell me, really, how bad could it possibly be?
A Light in the Attic
3. A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein -- A book of clever and silly children's poems, seriously??

2. Where's Waldo?, by Martin Hanford -- um, WHY?

And my hands down pick for the #1 spot...
Fahrenheit 451
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury -- The classic novel that's all about why censorship is bad, yea let's ban that. WOW.

So many of the books that are challenged are very same books that have ignited a love of reading in so many people, young and old, so it really makes me sad to learn there have been attempts to wipe them from the shelves. Be a rebel and read a banned book! It just might give you a different perspective or even become a new favorite. If nothing else, it's a celebration of the right to read what YOU choose. And if you want to join my 2013 Banned Books Challenge, sign-up here!

photo credit: Love Of Books by George Hodan

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Midwinter Blood

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
Source: free Advance Reader's Copy from the publisher via Shelf Awareness for my honest review.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
View on GoodReads

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this slim little book when it arrived on my doorstep in the form of an ARC from Shelf Awareness. It is a novel written in seven stories -- there is a journalist, an archaeologist, an airman, a painter, a ghost, a vampire, and a Viking -- how's that for a cast of characters?! The first story takes place several decades in the future and the others go back in time from there. As a reader, you know they have to be connected, but you don't really know how. They all take place on the same mysterious island and each one has characters with some variation of the names "Eric" and "Merle," but they are so different in each story you are left wondering and guessing. It wasn't until the last two stories that I was really able to start connecting the dots and at that point, I was truly mesmerized.

The writing could be a bit simple and sparse in places, but in many others it was nothing short of poetic. The ending of this one was a bit of a punch in the gut, but it is a beautifully told story nonetheless. As I turned the last page, all I really wanted to do was flip back to the beginning and re-read it. It's the kind of book that doesn't all make sense until the very end, so re-reading it would be it's own unique experience. Despite it's short length, I can guarantee I missed things the first time through -- things I didn't realize would be relevant to the story as a whole, but would now be crystal-clear.

The expected publication date is February 5, 2013, but I believe it's already been published in the UK, where the author is from. So whether you can get a hold of this book now or in the near future, it's definitely one I highly recommend.

This book counts toward my reading goals for:
2013 ARC Reading Challenge
Embarrassment of Riches TBR Reading Challenge 2013

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (#12): The Retribution of Mara Dyer

I'm posting a little bit early because I just spotted an article about this book's cover reveal & couldn't wait another second to share it! Head on over to Entertainment Weekly to read more.

The Retribution of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin
Expected Publication: 10/22/2013

This is one of the few books that's an exception to my resolution to curb my out-of-control-book-buying habit this year. Since I'm in the middle of the series, I'm totally allowing myself to buy it as soon as it comes out, so I'm super excited! Want to know what I'm not super excited about? Having to wait 10 more months to get my hands on this book!

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine.

My Banned Book Picks for 2013

It has been brought to my attention that the only challenge for 2013 that I did not write a list of tentative choices for is the one I'm hosting! There are so many banned books I want to read, but for this year I'm only going to commit to the lowest level 'Making Waves' and read 5. I wanted to go for 10, but I'm not quite sure I'll be able to make it! I have several others to choose from, but these are the ones I'm planning on at the moment:

The Great Gatsby   Women in Love   The Canterbury Tales   
Their Eyes Were Watching God   The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

If you've joined my Banned Books Challenge, remember if you've read or heard about a book that's been banned or challenged and it's not on one of the ALA's lists, it can definitely still count! Their lists haven't been updated for 2012 and there are certainly other cases of censorship that won't have been widespread enough to make the main lists. While not my first choice, Fifty Shades of Grey is one that comes to mind that was banned in some places recently. Caught up in the hulabaloo, I purchased them, but after hearing how poorly written they are, I didn't bother actually reading them. So I guess that's a few more I have to choose from (if I can bring myself to give them a try!)

If you're still looking for ideas, here are some additional lists you can check out: The Banned Books Group bookshelf on Goodreads and the Books Banned By Governments list on Wikipedia. After all, this challenge is about broadening our horizons, so the ALA lists are really just meant as a starting point.

Stay tuned for a post about books I was most surprised to learn have been challenged later this week!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Review Archive

I was starting to think I was the only book blog out there that didn't have a comprehensive list of my reviews posted somewhere, so I decided to remedy that this weekend. I drew inspiration from some of my favorite food blogs that have visual archives and used the book covers as my links. I think the books I've reviewed are fairly recognizable, but if you have trouble reading a particular title, just hover your mouse over the image and the name will pop up. I also divided it up by genre, so it should be very easy to find reviews you might be interested in reading. You can check it out here or by clicking on the "Reviews" tab above. I hope you'll check it out and I promise to try my very hardest to keep it up to date!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Final Reading Challenges for 2013

You're going to find this hard to believe, but I really wasn't going to enter any more reading challenges this year. Pinky swear. As you've seen, I've entered five already (six if you count the overarching one on GoodReads) in the hopes of diversifying and guiding my reading this year. But since subscribing to updates from A Novel Challenge, it's been a daily temptation to sign up for more that I've been diligently resisting. Until now.

But these will be the last of them, I promise. (Well, the last of the year-long, 2013 challenges anyway. I can't be held responsible if I join a challenge without time limits or a more long term challenge like the Classics Club, which was another one of my goals anyway!) So without further ado:

Since my #1 goal for the year was to deal with my backlog of ARCs, I honestly could not pass this one up. You may be wondering where I get all these books, and trust me, I am no big-time blogger and I definitely don't have any publisher contacts. I've actually gotten these from FirstReads, Shelf Awareness, and ARCycling. I also have a few that have been passed along to me from my aunt who got them from a friend who's a bookseller. (I'm also counting all of these books for the Embarrassment of Riches TBR Reading Challenge since they were all in my possession prior to Jan 1 -- so yay for cross-overs!)

Current ARCs:
Mind Games (Mind Games, #1)   Midwinterblood   Dark Tide

Just Published:
The One I Left Behind
This is my first book completed for this challenge since I just read and reviewed it!

ARCs of books already published:

Falling Under (Falling Under, #1)   The Ruins of Lace   Sweet Tooth
The Bellwether Revivals   A Foreign Country   Red Rain: A Novel 
The Garden of Happy Endings   Beamish Boy: A Memoir   Obama Karma

At least one of these is actually a finished copy, but since I got it from one of the above programs that encourages reviewing, I'm going to count it. This means I am entering at level Bronze (b) in which I aim to read and review 12 ARCs. If I get any new ARCs I'll have more to choose from, but will still be aiming for a total of 12.

Then we have: 

I wasn't even considering this challenge until I realized how many of the books I want to read this year actually qualify by being 450 pages or more (adult books; no children's or YA). I decided to join in to discourage myself from changing my book selections in order to read shorter (translation = more) books this year. I'm going for the 'Plump Primer' level which requires reading 6 books that are 450 pages or more.

These are the books I've identified on my GoodReads shelves that qualify and cross-over with my other challenges. I will double check the actual books though to ensure they really are long enough!

The Secret Keeper   A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1)   Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2)
The Rainbow   Women in Love   Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner (Lord John Grey, #3)   
Pride and Prejudice   The Canterbury Tales

And since I clearly have a bit of a problem:

This one challenges me to complete my challenges - ha! The two challenges in this post, combined with the ones I've already joined, makes for a total of eight nine challenges this year which equates with level On the Roof (6-10 challenges entered & completed). I have a more detailed summary of all of them here where I keep track of my progress and link to my relevant posts/reviews and each challenge's host site, but here's the short version:

I may need to up my overall GoodReads challenge goal a bit to fit these all in, but I still think it's doable. If nothing else, this should help me stop buying too many new books once and for all! 

And now that I'm all organized for the year, I clearly need to stop writing about it and start reading!!

Friday, January 11, 2013

The One I Left Behind

The One I Left Behind, by Jennifer McMahon
Series? No
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Date: Jan 2, 2013
Source: free Advance Reader's Copy from the publisher via Shelf Awareness for my honest review.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

It's been years since I've read books in the mystery/suspense genre on a regular basis, but I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It took me a while to finish, but that has nothing to do with the book itself and everything to do with having too many other things going on in my life right now! It was truly killing me to not be able to read this one quicker, and I found myself thinking about the story quite a lot, even when I wasn't reading it.

Typical to the genre, this is a book where clues are revealed slowly and, as a reader, you will likely suspect many different people before discovering the true identity of "Neptune," the notorious serial killer whose been at large since the summer of 1985. The main character, Reggie, is the daughter of Neptune's final victim whose body was never found all those years ago. The plot flips back and forth between the summer Reggie's mom was taken and the present when her mom mysteriously reappears, alive. Needless to say, things get very interesting from there.

For anyone you enjoys YA fiction, I think you'll especially enjoy McMahon's portrayal of Reggie and her friends as teenagers. Their relationships are complicated, they each have their share of demons and problems, and on top of all that, there is an allusion to something awful they were collectively responsible for. I don't want to spoil the story for anyone who hasn't read it, but the combination of a murder mystery, a killer on the loose, and the tangled histories of the characters makes for a truly compelling read that I highly recommend.

This book counts toward my reading goals for:
2013 ARC Reading Challenge
Embarrassment of Riches TBR Reading Challenge 2013

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (#11): Delirium Stories

This year, I am going to be very picky about what new books I buy. I really want to focus on my TBR piles, but there are a handful of books from series I'm in the middle of I doubt I'll be able to resist. Like this one: 

Expected Publication: 3/5/13

Two of these three short stories about different minor characters in Lauren Oliver's Delirium series are actually already available on e-book. I read the first one (Hana), but since I don't actually have an e-reader, I read it on my computer instead. I spend more than enough time already looking at my computer screen, so needless to say, it was not my best reading experience. SO my plan is to wait for this pretty bound volume instead of wasting another $2.99 for the second story. And the third one won't be released until the same day this little gem gets published anyway!

For more information, check this book out on GoodReads.
Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday (#13): Bookish Goals for 2013

I thought about skipping this week's Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish), since I've been doing a lot of challenge/resolution type posts lately, but then I figured this would be a good way to summarize my start-of-the-year by putting them all in one place. Whatever your reading goals are this year, best of luck!

1. Read and review the remaining books I've gotten from FirstReadsShelf Awareness, and ARCycling in 2012.

2. Complete my Banned Books 2013 Challenge. (Making Waves level = 5 frequently challenged books)

3. Complete Sarah Reads Too Much's Back to the Classics 2013 Challenge.

4. Complete the Foodies Read 2013 Challenge. (Sous Chef level = 9-13 books)

5. Complete Emilie's Book World/Lost at Midnight's Series Catch-Up Challenge. (Series Newbie level = 1-5 series)

6. For the books I read this year, I want 90% of them to be ones I already own. I reserve the remaining 10% for a few new releases and any other review copies I may get my hands on. I'm OK with fudging this number a bit if I end up reading more borrowed books (library/friends/family), so long as they are not additional books I would keep.

7. In conjunction with all the previous goals (and particularly #6), I aim to complete Planet Pook's Embarrassment of Riches Challenge as I tackle my TBR pile (Gold level = 36 books already in my possession).

8. My overall goal for the GoodReads 2013 Reading Challenge is to read a minimum of 40 books. In 2012, I tried for 50 books, but only managed 41. I think 40 is realistic, but also high enough to cover all my other challenges!

9. Get together a list of 50 classics I want to read in the next 5 years and join The Classics Club. The books I read for #3 should be a good start!

10. This might sound counter-intuitive to what I've just written, but above all else, I aim to read for enjoyment and not out of obligation. I chose these particular challenges because they already align with what I want to be reading, not just what I feel I should be reading. Along the way, I may change my book choices because I do not want any of this to feel like "homework." I want to get my life/schedule organized a bit better so I have more time to read and I plan to enjoy every minute of it!

Once again, Happy New Year to everyone and best of luck with your own bookish goals this year!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Embarrassment of Riches TBR Reading Challenge 2013

Hosted by Planet Pooks

First off, how freakin' awesome is the name of this challenge? There are lots of different TBR pile challenges out there, but I just couldn't resist choosing this one over all others based solely on its name (and the fact that it couldn't fit my situation more perfectly!) You are probably thinking I'm in over my head with all the different challenges I've joined recently, but my goal is to complete all the others by mainly reading books I already own (and trust me, I have plenty to choose from!) My husband and I are also buying a house, so I should most definitely be curbing my book-buying. I'm not stupid enough to say that I won't read a single book this year that I don't currently own, but I'm really going to hold myself to working my way through the treasures already in my possession. I'm aiming for the Gold level which is 36 TBR books, which shouldn't be a problem (assuming I find enough time to read this year!)

If you want to join in, the deadline to enter is Jan. 8th, so head over to Planet Pooks to sign up!

UPDATE: I will be keeping track of my progress with this challenge here.

Series Catch-Up Challenge 2013

I was on the fence about joining a series/sequel catch-up type challenge since I have a lot of other goals and challenges for the year that revolve around stand-alone books and wasn't sure if I could fit it in. In the end, I decided that I won't commit to reading a whole lot of books for this challenge this year, but I want to make sure I don't forget about them completely! Maybe next year will be the year of the series and I'll go for broke, but this year I'm going to set a modest goal and aim for the level of Series Newbie and catch-up on 1-5 series. I'm not sure how everyone does this, but I'm going to include series that I haven't actually started yet, but that I own and have been meaning to read FOREVER (that's still catching-up right?). I have a lot of other books/series I could pick from, but here's my tentative choices based on what I'd most like to read now:

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1)   Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2)
The Taker (The Taker #1)   The Reckoning (The Taker, #2)
The Pledge (The Pledge, #1)   The Essence (The Pledge, #2) 
(shoot -- I didn't even realize The Essence was published already!)
Fallen in Love (Fallen, #3.5)   Rapture (Fallen, #4)
Divergent (Divergent, #1)   Insurgent (Divergent, #2)

There will be monthly link-ups for your reviews and giveaways, so if you want to join in, click on either of the links above to go to one of the host sites!

(Also a thank you to Kay from It's a Book Life -- I found out about this challenge from her sign-up post!)

UPDATE: I will be keeping track of my progress with this challenge here.