Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday (#28): Last in a Series Edition

With so many unread books on my shelves, I've been trying to hold off starting new series until all the books are published. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part I've been deciding to wait. So here are a few series-enders I'm eagerly anticipating so that I can dust off the earlier books and binge-read from the beginning:

Expected Publication: July 15, 2014
All Souls Trilogy #3

Expected Publication: Nov. 4, 2014
His Fair Assassin #3

Expected Publication:
winter 2014-15 (UK) / US??
Advent Trilogy #3

Friday, June 20, 2014

Goodnight June

Goodnight June, by Sarah Jio
Series? No
Publisher: Plume
Date: May 27, 2014
How did I get this book? free from the publisher for my honest review
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

I absolutely love books-about-books, so when I first heard about Goodnight June I knew it would be right up my alley. When June Anderson inherits her great-aunt Ruby's children's bookstore, she travels to Seattle to settle the estate quickly and return to her high-power, high-stress banking career in New York. But when June finds a letter from Ruby with a cryptic reference to all the secrets the bookstore holds, her plans begin to change. As she tracks down a string of correspondence between Ruby and Margaret Wise Brown, the author of Goodnight Moon, June finds herself on a path to discover the inspiration behind the classic children's book.

I absolutely adored all the bookishness in this novel -- the love for the written word and brick-and-mortar bookstores gave me a major case of the warm and fuzzies. This part of the story was so well done and really shines as its strongest element. However, you should be aware that this book falls pretty firmly in the "chick-lit" category -- as much as I hate that term, it really does apply. While the mysterious origin of Goodnight Moon is at the core of this novel, the rest of the story is about an unhappy, stressed out woman making big changes in her life -- there's family drama, work drama, and a love interest -- you get the idea.

I am totally fine with a degree of predictability in these types of stories, but I must admit I saw a pretty big twist coming from a mile away. I am usually completely awful at figuring anything out ahead of time, so I was definitely disappointed to not have that element of surprise. Despite some weaknesses, I still loved reading this book. From the first page to the last, the bookish love pulled me in and wouldn't let me go. It was a pretty fast read and if I had more free time, I could have easily read it in a weekend. I think it is perfect for summer or beach reading, particularly if you like books-about-books. And if you  fondly remember reading Goodnight Moon as a kid, I think you will enjoy it even more.

My own memories of Goodnight Moon were fuzzy, so I borrowed it from the library to re-read and am so glad I did. Having the original story fresh in my mind and beside me for reference as I read Goodnight June really made the descriptions in the novel come to life.

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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday (#27): The Cookbook Edition

I've never chosen a cookbook for Waiting on Wednesday before, but I'm so excited for this one that I had to make it my first:

Expected Publication: Sept. 2, 2014

It is written by Jessica Merchant, the woman behind one of my favorite food blogs How Sweet It Is. I tend to love cookbooks from bloggers I'm familiar with because I already know their style, have tried some of their recipes, and know they create the kinds of dishes I like to eat. This will definitely be one of the ten new cookbooks I'm *allowed* to buy for the year :)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (#25): Summer TBR List

This is my very first time participating in a seasonal TBR Top Ten Tuesday, and I must admit writing up this list has got me totally psyched for summer! Last year I was lucky if I read 10 books in a season, period. But I'm flying through books lately -- audio books, short books, kids' books, review books -- pretty much a little bit of everything, so I feel I actually can come up with a TOP TEN instead of just THE TEN I hope to read. A good chunk of this list is review catch-up, but with so many great titles, I seriously don't know where to start! (For more info on any of these books, click on the title to view on GoodReads.)

From my Dusty Shelves:

1. Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
2. Gameboard of the Gods, by Richelle Mead

From the Review Pile:

May Releases
3. Bittersweet, by Miranda Beverly-Whittmore
4. The Heiresses, by Sarah Shepherd
5. The Secret Life of Violet Grant, by Beatriz Williams
6. The Immortal Crown, by Richelle Mead

June/July Releases
7. That Summer, by Lauren Willig
8. The Home Place, by Carrie La Seur
9. The Fortune Hunter, by Daisy Goodwin
10. The Major's Daughter, by J.P. Francis


From My Library Wishlist (Audio):
One Man Guy, by Michael Barakiva
Where'd You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple
The Hidden Child, by Camilla Läckburg
The Weight of Blood, by Laura McHugh
Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn
Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn

For Book Club:
If I Stay, by Gayle Forman

Looks like it's going to be an awesome summer! And if I get burnt out on review books or need a change of pace, we all know I have plenty of other books to choose from. I will be very interested to see at the end of the season how closely (or not!) I stuck to this list.

What are you planning to read this summer?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
Series? Not really, but there is a companion Rose Under Fire
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date: 2012
How did I get this book? purchased
My Rating: 3 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

The "problem" with finally having the time to read more books is that I have such a backlog of reviews to write! I read Code Name Verity back in April for my library's book club and have been totally dragging my feet. Backlog or not, I think I have been actively avoiding this review because I'm a little afraid people might throw things at me. I know this book has won a ton of awards and is beloved by so many readers, but ultimately, I couldn't really grasp what all the fuss was about. *Ducks and shields head*

As many have said before me, it's difficult to write about this book without ruining it or giving things away, but I'm going to try my best. Since the back jacket description is only four sentences long, I might technically be spoiling a few minor things, but I promise there will be no major spoilers.

OK, so you know from the very beginning that the book is set during World War II, Verity is a British pilot who has been captured, and Part I of the book is her written confession to the Gestapo. Right off the bat, I have two problems:
1. A very good chunk of the confession is tediously boring and it's half the darn book.
2. Given the circumstances, I found it incredibly improbable that she would be given the time to write a 200 page confession. Yes, 200 pages! There is a "convenient" reason given for why the commanding officer allows this, but I just wasn't buying it. It was allowed because it facilitated the story, not because it's a plausible thing that likely would have happened.
As Part I continues, I have more issues:
3. There is a lot of bouncing around between first person and third person.
4. Some of the things she writes (like cursing out the Nazis) seem pretty stupid to put into writing when your life is in your captors' hands and they are reading what you write. I wholeheartedly understood her sentiments, but I felt like some of it made no sense as part of a written confession. But since her half of the book is the confession, there was no other way to convey those feelings and it ended up feeling *off* to me in parts.
5. Verity has like a million different names. Seriously, it was starting to get ridiculous. And sometimes the various names are used on the same page, in the same paragraph (same sentence? I'd have to go back and check). UGH! It was really starting to drive me mad as I was reading.
By now you must think I completely hated this book, but that's not really true. Unfortunately, it can be far too easy to point out faults when you find a fair number of them. There were good things too, like the friendship at the foundation of this story. But honestly, this is the kind of book where I couldn't fully appreciate it until after I had finished the whole thing. When taken as a whole, I was able to give it a 3-star rating, but most of time I was reading I thought it was going to be a total bust.

So many reviews I've read said this book was a tearjerker, but with all of the various problems I was having with the story, I was much less emotionally invested than I might normally be. I also think this is the kind of book that I needed more patience and time with, but unfortunately I started reading it the day before the book club meeting and didn't have that luxury. Maybe if I had taken more breaks or read it more slowly, my experience would have been different, but I can't know that for sure.

I so rarely have time for re-reads (especially for 3-star books), but the audiobook is available for free this week through the summer SYNC program (also the impetus for finally writing this review!), so maybe I will be able to find the time after all. This definitely deserves a second chance now that I know how everything turns out, and I'm curious how the audio experience will be compared to reading the print book. It's only available until June 18th though, so if you'd like to try listening to this one, go download it!

Reading Challenges:
New to Me
Lucky No. 14: First Letter's Rule
Historical Fiction

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday (#26): The Major's Daughter

I'm cheating a little bit here because I recently received an ARC of this book, but it sounds so incredibly good I just had to share my excitement for this upcoming title:

Expected publication: July 29, 2014

Publisher's Overview:
"April, 1944. The quiet rural village of Stark, New Hampshire is irrevocably changed by the arrival of 150 German prisoners of war. And one family, unexpectedly divided, must choose between love and country.
Camp Stark is under the command of Major John Brennan, whose beautiful daughter, Collie, will serve as translator. Educated at Smith and devoted to her widowed father, Collie is immediately drawn to Private August Wahrlich, a peaceful poet jaded by war. As international conflict looms on the home front, their passion blinds them to the inevitable dangers ahead.
Inspired by the little-known existence of a real World War II POW camp, The Major’s Daughter is a fresh take on the timeless theme of forbidden love."

Seriously, how good does that sound?! And bonus points for being a debut novel. As much as I enjoy exploring new-to-me authors' backlists (when I have the time), I really love finding a brand new author and following them from the beginning. This is especially true when the debut is a stand-alone, rather than a first-in-a-series where the wait for the next installment can be torturous. Here's hoping this one lives up to expectations!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Children's Books: Five Mini Reviews

Every Thing On It, by Shel Silverstein
Series? No
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's
Date: 2011
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

Not the most well-known of Silverstein's poetry collections, but this might be my favorite! Though it would be a close call between this one and A Light in the Attic. While still mostly silly and funny, quite a few of the poems (like A Light in the Attic) tackled more serious subjects. This was still done in a light-hearted way, but I felt it gave the collection more depth and the reader more to think about.

* * * * *

Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown; illustrated by Clement Hurd
Series? No
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's
Date: 1947
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

I'm sure this was read to me as a kid, but I don't remember it very clearly. I decided to read it as an adult in preparation for reading Sarah Jio's Goodnight June (review coming soon!). Goodnight June is a fictionalized account of the inspiration for and literary mystery behind this classic children's story, so reading the original beforehand gave me a better foundation than just my vague memory. A lovely kid's book.

* * * * *

Under Shifting Glass, by Nicky Singer
Series? No
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Date: February 19, 2013 (first published Feb. 2012 in the UK as The Flask)
How did I get this book? won a free Advanced Reader's Copy from the publisher via a Facebook contest
My Rating: 3 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

The information printed in the ARC states this is a YA book, but it didn't really feel like YA to me. The age specified is 12 and Up and to me, that's on the line between middle grade and YA. Maybe most YA books seem to be getting "older" because so many non-young-adults read them now, but despite the heavy themes, this book felt very young to me. The main character Jess is coping with the death of her beloved aunt and the impending birth of her critically ill twin brothers while also navigating friendships, school, family relationships, and all the other things kids her age go through. It's a very quiet kind of book. That might sound odd, but it's honestly the best way I can describe it. I enjoyed it, but I can't say I loved it. I think it could be a very powerful read for the right kid though, particularly if he or she can relate to any of the issues or situations Jess is dealing with.

* * * * *

The Best School Year Ever, by Barbara Robinson
Series? Yes, The Herdmans #2
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's (audio)
Date: 1994
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Publisher

I listened to this one as an audio book what feels like ages ago. It is not quite as excellent as The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, but still a great children's story. In this second installment, the students have a whole school year to come up with compliments for their classmates and Beth struggles to find nice things to say about trouble-maker Imogene Herdman. As with the first book, there is always a lesson to be learned. This one might not be quite as universally appealing as the Christmas book, but it would definitely be a winner with younger kids.

* * * * *

The Best Halloween Ever, by Barbara Robinson
Series? Yes, The Herdmans #3
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's (audio)
Date: 2004
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Publisher

The Herdmans may always be getting themselves into trouble, but that just may prove more of an asset than a liability when it comes to the most mischievous holiday of the year. Again, not as good as the first Christmas book, but a very worthwhile read (especially at the appropriate time of year!) All three stories had the same audiobook narrator, Elaine Stritch, and her delivery was absolutely perfect throughout the series.

Reading Challenges:
Dive into Poetry
New to Me: Nicky Singer
Review Pile
Clean Sweep ARC
Lucky No. 14: It's Been There Forever
My Kind of Mystery

Monday, June 2, 2014

Almost Half-Way: (Mostly) Bookish Goals for 2014 Update

Yesterday I posted an update on my reading challenge progress, so I thought I'd also see how I'm doing on my other goals for the year. I've copied below an abbreviated version of my (Mostly) Bookish Goals for 2014 with my progress written in bold. I'm not usually very good about these kinds of updates, but I seem to be a roll lately, so I'm going with it!

Ehhh...I was doing pretty good for a while, but seem to have fallen off the wagon a bit. I've cut way, way back on the online book-buying, but have been visiting my local indie and used books stores quite frequently lately. I'm mostly buying inexpensive used books with trade-credit, my monthly book club selections, books I *think* I will be reading right away, and replacement copies of books I've already read that I wish I never got rid of and/or for my Required Re-Reading Project. I'm not doing too terribly, but I've definitely found some loopholes to get my book-buying fix!

2. Get no more than 10 new cookbooks.
So far so good! I've *only* added 4 to my collection:
The Forest Feast, by Erin Gleeson
Sally's Baking Addiction, by Sally McKenney
Homemade with Love, by Jennifer Perillo

3. Diversify my reading selections with the guidance of the (many) challenges I've joined.
So far so good! I've already read 50 books this year mainly due to the fact that I've been mixing things up a lot more than usual.

4. Read more books for the Classics Club.
I've read four so far this year -- not a bad start.

The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
Great Classic Humor, edited by Mark Twain
Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney
Oedipus the King, by Sophocles

5. Start reading some of the anthologies and collections on my Classics Club list.
The idea behind this goal was that I could dip in and out of these types of books while also reading other things, but I haven't tried it yet. I think part of the problem is that I often have an audio book and a print going at the same time lately. As a former one-book-at-a-time kind of gal, I'm amazed to find I can actually keep track of two at once if I make my selections carefully. Throwing in a third just seems like I'd be pushing my luck...

6. Work on my time management and make time for reading every day.
I've been doing much better with this recently, especially since Bout of Books helped me start some new habits.

7. Go to bed earlier and get more sleep.
Also doing good on this one! I still don't go to bed truly *early,* but I'm on a much better schedule and have stopped staying up until 2 or 3AM doing work.

8. Try at least 50 new recipes.
I'm ahead of schedule with 28 new recipes tried. I thought I'd share my list since most of them are available online. Recipes without a cookbook or magazine title listed are from blogs.
from Food & Wine Quick From Scratch Italian
5. Herbed Chanterelle Risotto with Thyme Browned Butter
from Better Homes and Gardens Fresh
6. Caramelized Onion and Bayley Hazen Blue Galette
from The Vermont Farm Table Cookbook, by Tracey Madeiros
7. Pizza with Squash, Gorgonzola, and Pancetta +
8. Maple-Glazed Pork Chops with Sweet Potato-Bacon Hash
from America's Test Kitchen The Best Simple Recipes magazine
9. Orange-Glazed Chicken Stir-Fry over Brown Rice
from Pretty Delicious, by Candice Kumai

from Seriously Simple Holidays by Diane Rossen Worthington
13. Buttermilk Chocolate Chip Crumb Cupcakes
16. Lemon Cranberry Shortbread (variation based on above recipe)
22. Nutellos (Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies)
from Simply Sensational Cookies by Nancy Baggett
26. Fudgy Peanut Brownies
from The Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook
28. The Buckeye State Ice Cream
from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Bauer

9. Choose one cookbook from my collection at a time and make several recipes from it.
Even though I've made a lot of new recipes, I haven't committed to one particular cookbook yet. I have a list of books I'd really like to try this with though.

10. No purchasing packaged sweets.
Doing fabulously on this one! As you can see for #8, I've made a lot more new sweet recipes than savory ones. The quality of desserts/treats in our house has improved SO much since I stopped buying packaged junk. I've always loved baking and am so glad I've started doing it more since homemade tastes so much better -- definitely worth savoring! In the last five months, I think I bought one package of cookies from Trader Joe's and a couple of treats from a real, old-fashioned bakery while out of town. It's probably a good thing we don't have one near our house!
* * * * *
How are your bookish goals/resolutions going?
(If you made any, that is!)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Almost Half-Way: 2014 Reading Challenges Update

Back in January, I set my GoodReads goal to read 50 books this year. In the past, this is a number I have sometimes struggled to achieve. But this year, diversifying my reading by choosing more graphic novels, children's books, poetry, short stories/novellas, and audiobooks made it possible for me to complete my goal on the last day of May. I realized I was reading a lot more books than usual, but I never thought it would happen so quickly!

I'm not going to call it quits only five months into the year, so I'm bumping up my goal to 75 for now. I'm tempted to bump it to 100, but it's all in good fun and I never want to feel (self-imposed) pressure from that number. I also have some pretty chunky books on my radar to read next, so I'd like to keep my goal realistic and re-evaluate again later on if necessary.

I've also completed my original goals for eight of my other 20 year-long challenges, but have bumped up my participation levels for most of them since it's so early in the year. I still have some reviews to post, but I'm officially calling two challenges complete for 2014:

I've maxed out the levels on this challenge, so I'll call it a success!

Hosted by: Savvy Verse & Wit
Goal: Dive In level, 7+ books of poetry
GoodReads Shelf: Poetry
7/7 books

BookSpeak!, by Laurie Purdie Salas & illustrated by Josée Bisaillon
Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson, edited by Frances Schoonmaker Bolin & illustrated by Chi Chung
Wicked Poems, edited by Roger McGough & illustrated by Neal Layton
A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein
Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein
Falling Up, by Shel Silverstein
Every Thing On It, by Shel Silverstein

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

I'm sure I will read more audio books before the end of the year, but the host site has been down for several months, so I'm going to call this challenge complete.

Goal: Going Steady level, 12 audio books
GoodReads Shelf: Audiobook Candidates
12/12 audiobooks

Great Classic Humor, edited by Mark Twain
If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't), by Betty White
Books, by Larry McMurtry
I Am America (and So Can You), by Stephen Colbert
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, by Mindy Kaling
I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I've Ever Had, by Tony Danza
Commitment, by Dan Savage
Blood, Bones, and Butter, by Gabrielle Hamilton
Not Becoming My Mother, by Ruth Reichl
Team Human, by Justine Larbalestier & Sarah Rees Brennan
Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney
Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles