Saturday, January 30, 2010

Love and Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson

For some reason I can perfectly remember when I bought Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson: I was at Borders in 2006, and I was browsing for new reading material. This was back when I felt I needed to purchase every book I read (oh how I have since mended these ways!), and unfortunately for every three books I bought and loved, there was one that I didn't care for. Thus is the reason I love the library and now.

Anyway, I remember that I wasn't looking for anything specific other than wanting new reading material. This wasn't uncommon for me back then, and I often spent a good hour browsing Borders with no concrete plans on what to buy. All I knew was that I would inevitably walk out with something. This day as I browsed the paperback tables, my eyes alighted on an orange sherbet-colored book with peaches on the front and a cute font. It grabbed my attention, and the back of the book sounded interesting. I purchased it happily, and I read it with a lot of enthusiasm. It was a cute story about three girls living in Georgia: Leeda, Birdie, and Murphy. All three were as different as can be, and they became close friends while working on Birdie's father's peach orchard during the harvesting season. Of course there were boys, parental problems, and a little bit of teenage angst thrown in, but I really loved this book.

A year or two later the sequel, Secrets of Peaches, showed up on a shelf at Borders. I had known it was coming and had waited with growing anticipation. This book continued the story of these three friends, and while I didn't care for it as much as I did Peaches, nevertheless it was still a fun enough read.

Fast forward to now: I don't remember when or even how I heard about a third Peaches book, but somehow it came to my attention. Unfortunately, I didn't quite get around to reading it until just a few days ago. This third one, Love and Peaches, is the end of the short series. I say that with bittersweet feelings because while not the best I've ever read, they're certainly enjoyable and entertaining for a Young Adult fan such as myself. This third installment begins with the three girls just as they have finished up Year One of college. Things have changed for each of them, and this summer proves to mold them even more.

I think my favorite part of this series is the way Jodi Lynn Anderson has managed to let these characters evolve and grow up in a way that doesn't feel forced or unrealistic. At the end of the series all three girls are different people than they were at the start of the first book, but it's a wonderfully natural progression to me. These books have a very similar feel to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, but for some reason they just speak to me a bit more than the pants do.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

Recently on a book-related message board I frequent there was a book exchange. We do these occasionally, and usually the givers decide to go a safe route and purchase books that they know the person they drew want to own. I admit to doing this to because I'd hate to gift some of my favorite books and then discover the person hated them with a fiery passion.

Lucky for me, my gifter decided to take a chance. She's someone whose opinion on books I competely respect and trust, which made me very excited to read what she picked out for me:

The first of these three books I picked up was A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb. The premise intrigued me: A love story between a ghost and a human, and the struggles they face as they embark upon this unlikely romance.

The story caught me off guard because it actually turned out to be completely unlike what I had expected. Upon rereading the back cover I realized that it gave away more than I initially thought it did, but regardless I admit I was pleasantly surprised that a lot of the events were completely unexpected. It made the twists and turns fairly exciting. But with that said, there were a few minor events that were extremely easy to see coming. As with anything when you know something long before a character knows (or, in some cases, the character knows but refuses to act in a way you would normally act), it got a little bit frustrating. Obviously this isn't necessarily the book's fault or even the character's fault though. I have to admit I'd probably be bored stiff if every character were exactly like me.

At any rate, I really liked this book. It started off a little slow, but once I got into everything I found it to be a very fascinating read. It also kept me thinking long after I had closed the cover, which is always a fun thing to experience.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

ARC giveaway on another blog

I'm going to try and do this periodically because I know how much people love giveaways (like me!). And until I can someday start doing my own giveaways, well, for now this will have to suffice.

Anyway, Steph Su is giving away some ARCs on her blog. There are some fantastic ones that I'd love to get my greedy little paws on! So click here and enter for your chance to win!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

My apologies for being away for a few days. I finished Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater early Saturday morning (and by early I mean approximately 1:30 AM), but I've been a bit preoccupied this weekend with other things such as the hubbie's birthday celebrations. Oh, and when we checked into a hotel he made fun of me for bringing a book. So I felt obligated to not read said book.

Anyway, let me preface this review by saying WOW. Wow, wow, wow. This is probably the best-written Young Adult book I've read since The Book Thief. The writing complemented the story so well, and it was just so beautiful in a way that also made it still easy to read. I can't stand book with such flourished writing that you lose a total sense of what is going on because you're lost in the adjectives. This wasn't like that at all, and that was so wonderfully refreshing!

Shiver tells the story of Grace and Sam, two teenagers who have been staring at each other every winter for six years. The catch? Sam is a wolf. He gets to be human for a few short months each summer until the winter cold changes him again and again. But when Grace one day meets a boy whose eyes are strikingly familiar to her, a love story blooms as these two try to stay together despite the cold creeping in.

The first thing that I noticed about this book was the cover. I can't tell you how long I stared at it, soaking in every detail. It's breathtakingly beautiful, which I know isn't a description many use often for book covers. But this one was. I loved it, and I knew that a book with such a gorgeous front had to be great on the inside too, right?

I am so pleased that I wasn't disappointed despite my unnaturally-high expectations! The characters in Shiver are so well-defined, each one possessing both strengths and faults that are realistic and undeniably human. The writing is delightful as I already mentioned, and the story is fascinating. I can't imagine where it will lead from here. This book is naturally going to get some comparisons to Twilight as it's a supernatural romance, and obviously there is also the werewolf thing (and if I spoiled New Moon for anyone, umm, sorry). Even I couldn't help but compare as I read it. However, I really think Shiver is able to stand on its own because it's THAT fun. Sure it will get a lot of readers because someone told them "It's just like Twilight but without vampires!" But I think plenty of other readers will enjoy it just as it is as well because it's NOT just like Twilight but without vampires. And I'm going to end this here because I'm starting to confuse myself.

The sequel, Linger, is being released this summer. I am definitely highly anticipating it, along with the as-of-yet-known series finale.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Ever since I saw the movie based on this book a year and a half ago, I have really been interested in reading it. The movie was a lot of fun and reminded me of some of those throwback live-action Disney movies of the 80s and 90s. And if the movie is good, well let's be honest: there's a good chance the book is even better (there are very few exceptions to this rule.. The Devil Wears Prada I'm lookin' at you!).

Anyway, even though I have had this book on my to-read list for a while I just have not gotten around to reading it. Part of it was that this is definitely a children's book (reading level 5.3!), so it would have to be one of those "in the mood" type books. Plus, on the message board I frequent there are just so many recommendations that books like this tend to end up somewhere in the middle of my 150-book to-read list, forgotten. However, they are definitely remembered when they're discovered on a shelf at a local Waldenbooks that is closing its doors and has everything 60% off! And with a $5.99 price tag (I can't believe children's books are still so cheap! Argh!), 60% off of that is pretty much nothin'. So I bought it.

The book takes place in a dystopian society where an underground city called Ember is built to protect a small population of people in case things on the Earth's surface don't go too well. Ember has no natural light and is luminated by giant lights from above, and there's a huge generator that powers the city. However, approximately 250 years after being settled, the generator isn't doing too well and the citizens are getting more and more concerned. Supplies are also running low, and everything from lightbulbs to canned foods is in scarce. They aren't aware that anything exists outside of Ember though, for a reason you discover later in the book.

Two 12-year-olds who live in Ember, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, stumble across some instructions that they think might be a way to save Ember, whether through a way out or a way to fix the generator. Their adventure begins as they start deciphering the instructions from a piece of paper that is torn and missing in many places.

What I noticed about this book was how closely the movie followed it. There were some changes and a few added cinematic elements that made the film a bit more exciting, but all in all the bones of the book stayed the same. The premise of this book is also so unique and also has what I felt was a veiled social commentary of the times we live in. Overall, I loved it, and would highly recommend. The City of Ember is actually the first book in a short series, so I will eventually be reading the rest of it. I'm hoping the rest are just as good as this one was.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Not a book, but now a movie rave..

When I was a kid, I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation religiously. I thought Captain Jean-Luc Picard was the shiznit, and I was an absolute huge fan. I occasionally watched an episode or two of Star Trek (the original series), and while it didn't thrill me the way TNG did (I mean, c'mon, I was a kid in the 90's. 60's special effects bored me), I still loved it.

I had really wanted to see Star Trek this past summer in theatres, but unfortunately it never happened. However, the hubs and I finally got to see it last night when we got it from On Demand. Frankly... HOLY CRAP! I LOVED it! I had heard great things about it, but I didn't expect to like it nearly as much as I did.

Being a female nerd, I loved Chris Pine back when he played Anne Hathaway's romantic interest in The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. Okay, who am I kidding. I still love that movie and him in it. So I had been really excited ever since I first heard ages ago that he had been cast as Captain Kirk. And Heroes dude as Spock? Totally. Awesome.

If you haven't seen the movie, umm, yeah. WATCH IT!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Miss you Boppa

I'm about two hours early with this post (even though I'm in Oklahoma, I'm going by current Arizona time here), but I wanted to get it out now. I've been trying to put on a brave face today, but needless to say it has been tough. There have been a few breakdowns, mostly small with one big one, and it would be foolish to think that tomorrow will pass without any more.

I posted a status on my Facebook page today about how two years ago (January 16, 2008) I climbed Pinnacle Peak in Scottsdale, AZ. I was on my own, and I was sad. For several days I had been in Scottsdale, the majority of my time being spent at a hospice center as I watched my grandfather (who will for the remainder of this post lovingly be referred to as "Boppa" as that was what I called him) lose his battle with Sarcoma. I take that back actually: lose his battle with sarcoma. I hardly feel the word deserves capitalization because I hate to give it that much power. For those who are unaware, sarcoma is a particularly brutal form of cancer that attacks either the bones or soft tissue. In Boppa's case, he had a very rare form that attacked both soft tissue and bone. It was also unique in that it appeared to be slow-growing, so the doctors said we had time. I wish they had more experience in sarcoma because they would have known that his type was in fact the opposite: It spread like wildfire despite having all the properties of something that takes its time.

Anyway, on January 16th I climbed Pinnacle Peak by myself. I only climbed to the highest point before turning around, but it was a way for me to clear my head at least a little bit. I had hit an emotional breaking point earlier in the day, and for that reason I was sent away to recharge my batteries for a bit before coming back to the hospice. It's funny thinking back on it now. I could have done anything, but I chose to hike up the mountain. Below was a view of Troon North (for you non-golfers, it's a fairly famous golf course), and I even snapped a few pictures of the view with my crappy cell phone camera. I'd seen it before, but this day everything felt different. It felt like something was preparing me for what was next.

That evening at the hospice after everyone left, Grandma and I ordered a pizza and began our evening vigil. She was so wonderful in making sure that someone was with Boppa 24 hours a day, and I have to think that he appreciated that gesture. Our sleeping arrangements weren't ideal, but we lived: She slept in a chair that leaned back, and I was in an insanely uncomfortable mattress on the floor at the foot of Boppa's bed (and to this day I pray that mattress wasn't used for patients, because if so those poor poor people. I was 24-years-old and it made my hips feel like they needed some replacing).

At about 12:30 AM on January 17th, I awoke to Boppa's breathing, which had become very loud and erratic. I remember sitting up in that sleepy haze to make sure it was him I heard and not Grandma. Seeing it was him, I laid back down and wondered how on earth I'd get back to sleep with that awful sound. But I was still in that haze, and I suddenly began to drift off. It was because those breaths had stopped.

Half asleep, my mind didn't register that the loudness had stopped, but I was coherent enough to acknowledge that a nurse had walked into the room to check on him. It was at that moment that the pieces began to fall into place in my brain: The nurse looking at him, her then waking up my grandma. My grandma saying to me, "Katie, it's over."

It was just after 12:35 AM.

I didn't cry at first. Instead, I started shaking like a leaf and continued to do so as I got up, got dressed, and began making necessary phone calls. In fact, looking back I'm surprised how few tears I shed that morning. There were some, absolutely, but not what I would have expected (though after getting about two hours of sleep and waking up to begin planning a memorial service, wake, and funeral, the tears became increasingly hard to keep at bay). And a million tears have been shed since.

Today, two years later, I can still feel the pain just as strongly as it was then. People say that time heals grief, and quite frankly I beg to differ. Sure, you move on and don't think about it as much. You're on occasion able to think about it without the threat of tears. But the heartache is still there. I still miss Boppa with every fiber of my being, and not a day goes by that he's not on my mind. For those who don't know me, you have to understand that I didn't have a father figure growing up (I didn't even get a real dad until I was 20, so having a dad is a rather new thing to me). Boppa WAS my dad, for all intents and purposes. I truly did lose a parent.

There are so many things I wish he was here for. He was alive to see me get engaged, but he missed my wedding. He and my dad were both supposed to walk me down the aisle, and his absense was very much felt for Dad and me. He missed my cousin's wedding too, and everyday since the day we moved into our new house last month I can't help but wish he were here to see the hubs and I as homeowners. I would have loved his help doing "fix it" projects (no one was better), and I would have loved to hear his thoughts. And yes, I do believe he was there for all of this in some way, shape, or form, visiting from a better place or at least looking in. And while the thought is a small comfort, I can't help but feel selfish and wish he were here in the flesh. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one understands this, I know.

I just pulled up an old blog of mine that I had two years ago. In September, 2007, we were in the middle of Boppa's sarcoma fight. I wrote a post that ended up being a "battle cry" of sorts: During a hospital stay it was posted on his door for everyone to read. My mom and my grandma sent it to everyone they knew, and frankly I never had so many blog readers as I did for that post. I want to share the final few sentences of it here:

Boppa has always been a rock in my life, a brave man who provided well for his family. My family is one full of love, and Boppa is its heart. I can remember being a small child and being asked to draw my daddy in preschool and elementary school. Not having a daddy at that time (in fact, I didn’t get an “official” daddy until I was of the legal age), I always drew my Boppa instead. I remember drawing a picture of him in his workshop in his basement, where he always seemed at home. I also remember drawing him on a big green blob that was supposed to be a golf course (I’ve never been the most artistic person in the world, so sue me). Again, he always seemed more at home than ever on big green blobs.
Boppa, get back to that big green blob. It’s where you belong.

My hero is a good man, and when I graduated from college he gave me the best advice anyone has ever offered: “If you think you’re having a bad day today, just remember that one year from now you’ll be even more stressed out, and you won’t remember what you were stressing about today.” So true. My hero is Boppa.
I love you, Boppa. I miss you so much, and I pray wherever you are that you know how much love is radiating out to you from down here (there are lots of people besides me who love you).
Kate and Boppa, Halloween 1994 (or the two of us just before my 21st birthday on my profile photo):

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Rounding out my short stint with very high school female-oriented Young Adult is Lock and Key, one of Sarah Dessen's more recent books (her most recent, Along for the Ride, I read in 2009 so I'm sorry to say you won't be getting my opinions here. However, I suggest you look at my Goodreads page (sidebar) to get my opinions on it if you're just dying to know). I still think my favorite Dessen book is The Truth About Forever, but this one really was excellent too. It started off a bit slow, admittedly, but the characters were really just so fantastic that it became hard to put down. The main character Ruby is a senior in high school when her somewhat deadbeat mother takes off with no warning, leaving Ruby on her own. When her landlord discovers what has happened, they turn Ruby in to social services, and from there she moves in with her sister, Cora (who she has not seen in ten years), and her brother-in-law, Jamie. Of course, there's a cute boy named Nate living directly behind them, and it turns out this cute boy has a few secrets of his own.

Jamie and Cora were wonderful characters. I loved them both, and I was completely jealous of Cora's closet! But they were such wonderful, caring people who had a surprising amount of depth to them. Nate is similar: A great character with more than a few layers. I would have enjoyed seeing more about Nate and the problems he was facing, but either way it was still a great story. I felt Ruby's transition throughout the book was very well-written. It didn't feel too rushed, but at the same time it wasn't completely dull.

The supporting characters were also a lot of fun. I enjoyed reading about Harriet and Reggie, and I had a lot of fun remembering when I worked at a mall kiosk in college. It reminded me very much of some of the interaction that various kiosk workers had with each other. I just wish my bosses had been as fun as Harriet was!

So what's next on my list? I think I'm going to take a break from the girls and crack open I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. As I detailed in my Best of 2009 blog, his book The Book Thief was astounding. So I have high hopes for this one. I just pray my hopes aren't too high. I don't want to be disappointed in an excellent book solely because I'm expecting it to be too excellent.

Other news for today: The hubs and I are heading to the local Home and Garden Show. I'm not sure why we are going other than the fact that we're new homeowners. Our house is brand new so there really isn't any necessary renovations needing to be done. I suppose we're just going to look for inspiration. Personally, I'm hoping someone will have some kind of stellar backsplash that I'll fall in love with (and that it's within my budget!). I may post some "inspiring" photos on here at some point if I find anything there that catches my eye.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Giveaway on another blog

Sorry for the lack of updates the past few days, but I've been SO ridiculously busy after work! I have been trying to sneak a page or two in here and there, but it looks like I won't be finishing the book I'm currently on (Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen) until this weekend. I need to hurry it up because I have a few other books waiting in the wings!

Anyway, until I do get around to updating, here's a blog from a girl who frequents the same book-related message board that I do. She's giving away a $10 gift card to the place of your choice (Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, or Babies R Us). I highly suggest checking it out here!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

I went old-school Sarah Dessen with my last book in the tune of This Lullaby. This book is the story of Remy (I LOVE that name, even though it has more recently been the name of a rat in a certain totally-delightful Disney-Pixar film...), a girl whose mother is on her fifth marriage and whose father died, but not after penning "This Lullaby," a classic rock staple that was written about Remy when she was born. Remy is a survivor who goes through life without any crutches and never allows herself to feel hurt from any man. But when she meets Dexter, everything turns upside-down as she tries to protect her heart.

I really enjoyed this book. Was it perfect? Absolutely not. There were a few characters in there that I didn't quite understand or that I felt weren't written particularly well. However, what female doesn't recall that time in between high school and college when everything is changing and getting confusing? This is another great young adult book, and it really supports my belief that Sarah Dessen is one of the forefront YA writers. She "gets" girls in that teenage stage, and I only wish that I had been able to read some of her books while I was in high school. I think I would have positively adored those books back then.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

With all my list-making, I realized I hadn't yet mentioned my first (and so far only, sigh) book of 2010: Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway.
The book centers (obviously) around Audrey, a normal 16-year-old girl who recently dumped her slacker musician boyfriend who never seemed to pay much attention to her until the day they break up, and he then writes a song called, you guessed it, "Audrey, Wait!". If him playing it in front of many of her classmates at a show one night wasn't bad enough, how about this song making the band and becoming the fastest-rising single ever on the Billboard charts?

Being the subject of the hottest song on the radio, Audrey's normal existence suddenly vanished as she started being hunted by paparazzi, reporters, and teeny-bop girls hoping for her picture and an autograph. So how did Audrey manage to survive? And what about that now-famous ex of hers who unintentionally made her life crazy?

This book was pure Young Adult, and to get into it I had to put my YA Cap on and get into that teenage girl mentality. Once I did that, I found it to be very, very enjoyable! The story was cute, albeit unrealistic, but it was a great source of escapism. It's always fun to imagine yourself in those "what if" moments, and this is Audrey pretty much living that. The characters were well-fleshed out and interesting, and I had a great time floating along as I waited to see how all this would end.

Anyway, I've been on a bit of a reading hiatus since Audrey, Wait! was finished and returned to my local library. This is for two reasons: First, I was waiting on the library to get a few Sarah Dessen books in (hey, might as well keep up with some YA). Second, I ordered Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater from, and I was waiting for that to be shipped to me via FedEx. The good news: The Dessen books are in, so I'm currently about fifteen pages into This Lullaby (yes, it's old school Sarah Dessen, but I haven't read it!). Next will be Lock and Key, which I actually have to go pick up at the library later today. Shiver has not yet arrived, but hopefully tomorrow maybe I'll find it waiting on my doorstep? Seriously, I so prefer UPS. FedEx can be slow as dirt, especially when I'm expecting something awesome!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Best of 2009

Yesterday was giving love to the raspberries of '09. Today it's celebrating the best of the best of the best. Honestly, I admit that the worst list was a lot easier than the best list. Some of these are very highly-acclaimed, while others are more in the line of entertaining smut than anything. So what do I include on my list? The true "literature" or the fun stuff? Secondly, I read many excellent series in 2009, and were I to single books out in the series I would have a list about five miles long. Which direction should I take all this?

After some consideration, I chose to do the following: Even if it was just plain entertaining, it's on the list because I enjoyed every second of it. And I will treat series as a single entity on the list. Voila. And so now, here goes. Again, this is no particular order.

1. The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran - There isn't a whole lot of ancient Egyptian historical fiction out there, so when I heard of Michelle Moran I decided to snap up one of her books and give it a shot. To be honest, I could not put this book down! It was the story of Nefertari, Ramesses the Great's most well-known queen. As predicted, there is scandal and intrigue around every corner. I really, really loved this book. It was written in a wonderful, down-to-earth way that some historical fiction writers truly fail at achieving. Instead of feeling like history book, it felt like I was immersed in a novel, which is how it should be. A beautiful book that I highly recommend! For the record, the author also has two other published books: Nefertiti (I think you can guess the subject of that one) and Cleopatra's Daughter (again, guess who?). I think Nefertiti is the weakest of the three, but nevertheless they were all enjoyable and fun. Kudos to Michelle Moran for also being a very accessable author: She can be found on Facebook and actually (gasp) replies to messages from her readers!

2. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield - This book wins for best cover art in 2009. However, I was thrilled to also find that beneath that gorgeous cover was a great story! I can see where this book might not be everyone's cup of tea. It's a large pill to swallow if you have a problem reading about people commiting ultimate acts of taboo. However, the story was brilliant, and the writing was superb. I was compelled to keep reading to find out the "mystery" of the story, which, in retrospect, made perfect sense. Love.

3. The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon - In one year and seven books (Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, and An Echo in the Bone), Diana Gabaldon has managed to worm her way into my heart as one of my favorite authors of all time right next to J.K. Rowling and Lynn Austin. Outlander was the first book I read in 2009, and it took my breath away at every turn, whether the description of the Scottish Highlands in 1743 to the descriptions of James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser (basically sex in a kilt. Rawr). As you know, I love me some good historical fiction, and Gabaldon delivers splendidly with her time travel/historical fiction/romance. She's one of the most gifted writers of our time, and these books are filled to the brim with delicousness that you can just sink your teeth into every single time.

4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - The Book Thief wins as most memorable book of 2009. Another historical fiction (I swear, not everything on my list is historical fiction! Promise!), and this one takes place during World War II. However, this book shows the "other" side of the war as it centers arould Liesel, a little German girl dealing with that war in her own way. The narrator of this book is one of the best storytellers I've ever had, guiding me through the story in such an intriguing and wonderful way. Markus Zusak = Genius. I cannot wait to read his other books, and hopefully this is something I will accomplish in 2010.

5. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher - This Young Adult book I think should be required reading for both high school students and educators. This fresh, eye-opening story is about a girl named Hannah Baker who recorded a list of thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life and the people who were the guilty parties. This book speaks directly to teens about a very tough subject, and it was definitely a thought-provoker. However, I loved it and would love if everyone read this at least once.

6. The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - First, I will be honest: I had a hard time putting this on the list, mainly because while I liked The Hunger Games, I didn't LOVE it. However, I absolutely did love Catching Fire, and you can't read/understand Catching Fire without first reading The Hunger Games! This book is set in a dystopic society in the nation of Panem that exists on the same land that the United States of America once covered. To keep the people in line, the Capitol each year hosts the Hunger Games, where teenaged tributes from each of the twelve districts compete to the death for the chance to become a champion. The main character, a girl named Katniss, ends up becoming a tribute and is forced to fight for her life. Like I said, this first book was good but I had a hard time loving it because it was one giant mindf*ck for Katniss. My stomach was in knots thinking about what an awful situation she had been thrust in, and it was completely cringe-worthy. However, the story continues in Catching Fire, and while I still had a knotted stomach and a pinched expression through parts, the story just plain got GOOD. And so now I'm a Hunger Games series devotee eagerly awaiting the third book to be released in August, 2010.

7. The Luxe series by Anna Godbersen - The four books in this series, The Luxe, Rumors, Envy, and Splendor, all center around New York's high society at the turn of the 20th century. As it is very Young Adult, I can best describe these books as Gossip Girl-meets-historical fiction. They're not particularly challenging or thought-provoking, but I found them to be excellently entertaining. I eagerly looked forward to reading each book, and it was like watching an episode of Glee: You didn't get much out of it, but you had a great time during!

8. The Southern Vampire series, a.k.a. the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris - These are kind of like Twilight for adults: A little more risque, equally craptastic writing, lots of sexy vampires, a few werewolves thrown in for good measure, and a little human girl in the middle of it all. And these too were absolutely fun to read! I could never in a million years give Charlaine Harris the Author-of-the-Year award, but I admit she weaves a fun tale that is pure escapism for the several hours it takes you to read one of the books. I am absolutely anticipating the rest of the series and can't wait to see how it all ends.

Honorable mentions go to the following: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (soooo much better than the movie! Read it for a fun fairytale!), Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (another wonderful historical fiction book about circus life during the Great Depression), and the Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty (Sloppy Firsts, Second Helpings, Charmed Thirds, Fourth Comings, and Perfect Fifths - Girl power and just general total awesomeness and a great hottie love interest by the name of Marcus Flutie).

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Worst of 2009

2009 was a great year for books in my life. I admit that I have not yet checked to see just how many pages I greedily consumed over '09, but I promise that it was a lot. With that said, there were some books that I enjoyed far more than others. I'll 'fess up that there were even a couple that I started but couldn't finish. However, I will not be adding those to this list because let's face it: I probably gave up the page before the story got amazing. There's no sense in saying something sucked when I never gave it a 100% chance.
So without further ado, here were the bottom dwellers of 2009. These are the books I finished, but in the end they just didn't do it for me. They are in no particular order.

1. Chasing Harry Winston by Lauren Weisberger - The cover art was intriguging: a sky-high heel that appears to be of the Christian Louboutin persuasion because of the red sole, highlighted with three rings with diamonds the size of my fist on the heel. Good chick lit, right? What self-appreciating girl doesn't love a good pair of Louboutins and some giant bling? Unfortunately, this book was awful. And boy do I mean awful. The writing was sub-par, though to be honest it's not something totally unexpected from the author who brought us The Devil Wears Prada (which, frankly, ended up being a far more fabulous movie than book). The story of Chasing Harry Winston centers on three very different friends who decide to change their lives, and thus go on a year of man-catching, soul-searching, etc. Naturally, because it's SO original in chick lit, the book mainly takes place in New York City. Who would have ever thought?

2. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler - I really, really wanted to like this book. I mean, how could a book with a title like that not be absolutely stellar? I had heard wonderful things about it from multiple sources, and so when I picked it up early in 2009 I did it with a sense of glee. Unfortunately, it fell rather flat. Part of me wonders if my expectations were too high, but regardless this angst-ridden story of a slightly overweight teenager in the otherwise picture-perfect family (that ended up not being so perfect at all..) whose best friend moved away just didn't do it for me. The best thing about this book was the title, and obviously that just doesn't bode well for any book you can say that about, does it?

3. Love the One You're With by Emily Giffin - I really, really hate that I have to put Emily Giffin on this list. She's a very gifted writer, and the fact that she and I graduated from the same high school (albeit a few years apart) makes me automatically love her. Something Borrowed and Something Blue turned out to be two of my favorite chick lit books ever. I loved how despite not really caring for the main characters, I still was really into the books and enjoyed finding out where things went. But her latest? Not only did I despise the main character, but I despised the situation she put herself in and what she did to everyone around her. I thought the story was forced, and I was not sad to finish this book and whisk it back off to the library.

4. Life of Pi by Yann Martel - Okay, okay, I know this one is critically acclaimed. And I know that despite the tediously slow start that resulted in several weeks of force-feeding myself several pages at a time that it did improve to a point where I could breeze along rather easily. But all in all, I can see where you either love this book or hate it. And boy did I hate it. The ending made me want to throw something (and I probably would have thrown the book had it not been a borrowed copy from a co-worker.. and yes, the co-worker was in the "love it" category!). I found the book to be rather ridiculous in many aspects, and I really could not stand that "act one" was so unbelievably boring. I understand there was a lot of background information, but for Heaven's sake it should have been condensed! Needless to say, I do not plan on reading any other Yann Martel titles for fear my eyes will be rotting in their sockets by the time I get to the meat of the story.

5. Baby Proof by Emily Giffin - Ugh, I know, I know! How can I like an author, and yet two of her four books end up on my list of bottom-dwellers? I wish I knew the answer to this as well, but I have faith that she will someday make a comeback back into chick-lit greatness. Regardless, this plot just really had no substance. "This guy is perfect, but he decides he does want a kiddo afterall and I'm still anti-kiddo, so without any reason other than that I immediately divorce him buit still continue to pine because I know I'll never get a better man that what I had!" C'mon, a whole book about this? Gag. I bet you can guess how it ends.

6. The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening and The Struggle by L.J. Smith - Okay everyone, go thank Stephenie Meyer for making vampires a popular literary theme again. The Vampire Diaries series was originally written in the early nineties (Sweet Valley High, anyone?), and with the sudden popularity surge in undead Young Adult literature, these books were rereleased. The only difference is they were released into two volumes instead of the original four by combining two books into one (oh, and another installment was written to add to the series just to generate that something "extra," i.e. cash). Now, first let me preface this by saying I love a good series. It is a rare occasion where I start a series but don't finish it. This was one of those. After reading parts one and two, I just could not stomach picking up the next book. I just didn't care about these characters, their situations, or what would happen to them. All in all I vote LAME. Stephenie Meyer is no literary genius, but at least her vamps were a bit more intriguing. And to think they turned The Vampire Diaries into a TV series... sigh.

7. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers - As you will later see from my "Best of 2009" list, I am a complete sucker for historical fiction. It is my favorite genre, and when done well it can be amazing. In addition, my favorite author ever (Lynn Austin) writes Christian historical fiction, which is exactly what this book is. So based on everything I should LOVE it, right? This book is also very highly-rated on Goodreads. However, partway through I actually closed the book and tossed it on the kitchen table as I told my husband that I could NOT finish that book under any circumstances. About 20 minutes later I changed my mind and decided I needed to give it a shot. And while I'm glad I finished, I was even more glad that it was over. I did not care one bit for the story (an 1800's version of the book of Hosea in the Bible), and it was just a bit overly preachy and overly boring. Which was really a shame.
Well, those are the bottom seven finishers, again in no particular order (though you can probably put them into some sort of order based on my descriptions). Sometime soon I'll throw my Best of 2009 up here, so stay tuned.

Kicking of 2010... with a new blog!

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not particularly adept at this whole blog thing. I'm awful at updating, and sometimes I just plain don't know what to write about because I'm afraid that I'll come off as being utterly boring and otherwise blah to any readers I might pick up along the way. And of course, that whole lack of updating thing makes me lose those readers, and it is a vicious cycle of blog suckiness.

So here's attempt number 3,541. Or something along those lines. I may have some blog vomit here in the next day or so because a lot has been going on! In addition to a move and all that comes with a new home, I want to talk about the best and worst of 2009. I read 89 books, so I have a few opinions about these as you can well imagine. I look forward to sharing this with you, as I also look forward to chronicling my quest for 75 books in 2010.

Now, the rules for 2010 have changed from last year. I decided that in 2009 I only wanted to read books I've never read before. I wanted to really broaden my horizons and get out of my comfort zone a bit. I was so glad I did this because I found some gems! However, the excellent reading material of 2009 left me with a strong urge to do some rereading. Therefore in 2010 I will again try for 75 books, but I will allow myself to do some rereads. I'm hoping to keep them to a minimum, but they are allowed.

Wish me luck!