Sunday, December 29, 2013

Most memorable books I read in 2013



I have read some excellent books in 2013. Some I have reviewed here on my blog. Others I have just recommended to people in person. As I make my list of the best I've read in 2013, I have to point out that they were not necessarily released in 2013 but were read by me this past year. Some were bits of fluff and some were serious books. All had a way of touching either my heart, soul, or brain in some way. I hope that you all will take the time to read some or all of these books and then share, in the comments section, the books that made your Best of 2013 list.

I branched out and read genres that I don't normally read. I have never been a fan of non-fiction but this year I read several excellent non-fiction books. Here are the four that stand out: 

  • Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan - The author was working as a reporter when she started to show signs of psychosis. After waking up in a strange hospital bed having no memory of her month of madness. She pieces together what happened to her when her immune system attacked her brain and caused her to swing back and forth between violence and catatonia. A scary and fascinating story. 
  • The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida - This book gives great insights into the autistic mind. As a person with multiple family members "on the spectrum, this book was inspiring and extremely moving. If you ever wondered why an autistic person acts the way they do, this book, written by a 13-year-old autistic boy, will give you insight and useful tips for dealing better with those around you who are on the spectrum. 
  • Rediscovering Catholicism by Matthew Kelly - As a struggling Catholic in a world that revels in bashing Catholics, this book has been a great handbook for getting excited about my religion again. 
  • Karma Gone Bad: How I learned to love mangos, Bollywood, and water buffalos by Jenny Feldon - I am not a fan of self indulgent, whiny autobiographical books like Eat, Pray, Love (probably one of my least favorite books) and it's "poor me"-isms. Karma Gone Bad is not that kind of book. I have reviewed this book in a previous blog (read it here). I really enjoyed this book and have recommended it highly. 

I was all over the place with my fiction reading this year. From murder mysteries to juvenile fiction, there was nothing out of bounds. Here are the ones I found most memorable:

  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio - Yes, I am starting with a juvenile fiction book. I can't help it. I loved this book. Working in a library certainly does open me up to books that I normally wouldn't read. Wonder by R. J. Palacio was one of those books. It has been a long time since a juvenile fiction book has mesmerized me in such a way that I feel compelled to tell people to read it. The last book to do this was "Where the Red Fern Grows" by Wilson Rawls. Wonder is the story of 10-year-old Auggie, who was born with severe facial disformities. His parents decide, after years of homeschooling, that Auggie should go to school. Auggie is both excited and afraid. We then have the pleasure of following Auggie and his classmates through his first year at school. I could NOT put this book down and lost several hours of sleep reading it. Sad and triumphant, this book is...a WONDER. 
  • Inferno by Dan Brown - I loved all of Dan Brown's previous books. Inferno made the list this year because I was so excited when I heard that it was going to be released and it was such a disappointing book. Mr. Brown is either loosing his touch or trying to pull a "Patterson" by riding on the coattails of his previous EXCELLENT books. The puzzles and symbolism that made his previous books so great were sorely lacking in this installment. I actually wanted to get my money back on this one. 
  • The Walk by Richard Paul Evans - Let me start this by saying I hate sappy books. I have always put Mr. Evans' book in the Sappy Crap category. At one point during the Summer, I was without a good book to read and The Walk was a Kindle Deal. I went for it. The main character, Alan Christoffersen, decides, after a series of personal and professional set backs, to walk from Seattle, WA to Key West, FL. It, of course, has a "cliff hanger" ending which made me read the next book in the series (Miles to Go), the third (Road to Grace), and the fourth (A Step of Faith). I currently am hanging there waiting to read the fifth and hopefully last of the series (Walking on Water) which is scheduled to release in June 2014. While they are not great literature, they were pleasant books that kept me involved and interested enough to want to read the next book. 
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - I waited until the hype died and broke down and read this book. What stands out about this book is the fact that there is not one likable character. Even in the most horrible stories you can normally pick one sympathetic person that you can identify with. In the end, I wished that they had all killed each other. 
  • Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman - I have always been a fan of myths. Each culture has it's own myths, from the Native American's to the deepest jungles of Africa. Mr. Gaiman has a magical way of telling updated stories of these myths. Anansi Boys tells the story of two brothers, Fat Charlie and Spider. They meet after their father Mr. Nancy, dies. In typical myth fashion, Spider takes over Fat Charlies life - from his job to his girlfriend - and the two get discover and get tangled in a coworkers embezzlement scheme and a mythic struggle between good and evil. 
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter - A struggling inn on the Italian coast is visited by a beautiful young actress, who is there to rest because she is "dying". Pasquale, the innkeeper, falls in love with the actress, Dee Moray. She, unfortunately, is involved with the famous husband of a famous actress in the movie in which she is an extra. A thoroughly entertaining book which the characters interact with two Hollywood legends. 
  • Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant by Veronica Roth - I know, I know...not another YA (young adult) dystopia (noun. An imaginary place or state in which the condition of life is extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terror) triliogy. This trilogy follows the story of Beatrice Prior from her Choosing Day ceremony in which she chooses which of the five personality based factions she joins. She can choose the faction she was born into (Abnegation) or one of the other four (Amity, Candor, Dauntless, or Erudite). I enjoyed the first two books so much that I actually pre-ordered the third book. Divergent has been made into a move which comes out in March 2014. 
  • When Mockingbirds Sing by Billy Coffey - Nine-year-old Leah's invisible friend starts telling her to paint pictures that predict things that are to happen. From the winning lottery numbers to a storm that will change the lives of those in her new town. Is her invisible friend God or something sinister? This question is asked by those around her. 
  • While We Were Watching Downton Abbey by Wendy Wax - The story of the residents of the swanky Alexander apartment building forge a bond while watching the weekly episode of Downton Abbey. Not my normal type of book but I was missing Downton Abbey. While I wouldn't give it high marks for literature, it was a pleasant book and will kind of give you a Downton Abbey fix. 
  • The Fault In Our Stars by John Green - There are some young adult authors who are NOT writing clique novels about rich guys and girls who have everything they want and still want more. John Green writes books about realistic teenagers and their lives. My favorite of his books is The Fault In Our Stars, the story of Hazel and Augustus, who meet in a Cancer Kids support group. Moving and well written, I advise you to keep the tissues handy. 
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King - I decided to read King's fantasy about time travel and the Kennedy assassination when everyone was talking about the 50th anniversary of the assassination. What would happen if you could go back and stop the assassination? You might be surprised at King's take on the idea. Great read. 

That's all I can think of now. If I think of any additional books I forgot, I will add in the comments.

Please share your favorites of 2013.

Thanks for reading.












Sunday, September 29, 2013

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple kept me wanting more...right up to the end.

I love a book that keeps me wanting more.  The first book that I borrowed from the Charlotte County Library System's new e-book provider 3M Cloud Library had me wishing that I could stay home and keep reading.

Where'd You  Go, Bernadette is the story of 15-year old Bee, her hilariously dysfunctional parents Bernadette and Elgie, and the events that lead up to the disappearance of  Bernadette. Dad works at Microsoft while mom stays home and finds ways to annoy her neighbor, Audrey Griffin.

When Bee brings home her report card with straight A's, her parents are forced to give her "anything she wants" because they promised her they would if she got straight A's.  What Bee wants is to go on a family trip to Antarctica. The problem is, Bernadette is a bit of a recluse. It turns out that she was a famous architect until she had a breakdown due to a neighbor tearing down the famous house that she built all from extremely local building materials.

Between the feud with her neighbor, Audrey and the rest  of the mothers at her daughter's school and Bernadette getting scammed by the Russian mafia through the false virtual assistant, Manjula, that she hires, the story of Bernadette's mania and the inevitable "intervention" and disappearance - this book had me not wanting to go to work, food shopping, get out of bed, because I HAD to find out what was going to happen.  I found myself chuckling one moment and sniffling back a tear the next.  It was a truly enjoyable book.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Something Borrowed, Someone Dead by M.C. Beaton - A great read

I received a copy of Something Borrowed, Someone Dead by M.C. Beaton from NetGalley.com in return for my honest review.

I am late to the Agatha Raisin series by M.C. Beaton.  I see them come and go at the library and always think to myself, "I should try one of these books. They seem popular."  It took book #24, which is set to be released on September 17, to get me started.  Better late than never!

I loved this book.  The characters, including Agatha Raisin, are so quirky and fun. 

Agatha is a private investigator in England.  Due to the current financial climate, business is slow in the P.I. business. That is until Agatha gets called to a nearby village to investigate the murder of Gloria French, a randy widow with a penchant for "borrowing" things.  Everyone in the small village in which the murder occurs seems to be hiding something.  With the help of her employees, her fellow private investigators, and her ex-husband James, Agatha gets to the bottom of the murder and more. 

With enough twists to make a pretzel, this book kept me interested and planning to go back and read the other 23 books in order.

If you like a good British mystery or are a fan of the Agatha Raisin series, you are going to love Something Borrowed, Someone Dead.

Thanks for reading.
Title release date: September 17, 2013
Find it at AmazonBooks-A-Million, Barnes & Noble, your local independent book store, or your library .

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Broke down and read it - Gone Girl

Ever since the much hyped book, "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn came out, I have been resisting reading it. For the past year, I have heard both good and bad reviews on this book.  One day it was returned to the library and I started to skim it and decided to give in and read it.

My ridiculously short synopsis:  On their 5th wedding anniversary, Nick's wife, Amy, disappears.  It looks like there was a violent struggle...or was there? Told from both Nick and Amy's points of view, follow the investigation and see if you can figure out what happened.

Here are my thoughts on the book.

  1. There were so many twists in this book that I started to feel a little car sick.  Every time I thought I had figured out what actually happened, the author would throw in a new twist. I was totally prepared to hate this book but the twists had me needing to read on to find out what REALLY happened. Positive!
  2. I disliked every single character in this book.  There was not a single person that I felt sympathy for. Nick and Amy, the "happily" married couple, to Amy's psychologist-author parents, I felt that each character deserved the horrible things that happened to them.  Not only would I not want to be related to any of these people, I wouldn't want to live in the same town.  It was the first time I've ever read a book where I wasn't rooting for anyone except for KARMA! Negative.
  3. The ending left a LOT to be desired. There was absolutely NO closure.  No one was punished - legally.  There was no satisfactory payoff at the end.  Maybe the author is planning a sequel?  All I know is I feel cheated. Negative.
I don't want to spoil the book for those who would like to read it, so I will not give more details on the story.  I did enjoy this book and will recommend it even though I didn't like any of the characters. The story did keep me interested, right up until the end.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay - read it!

I received a copy of The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay from NetGalley.com in return for my honest review.

This was one of the most gut wrenching books I have ever read. The characters in the book were very realistic and relatable.  There were times when teen man-whore, Drew, made me laugh out loud.  We all know that one guy or girl who is an over the top flirt, yet really has a heart of gold.  That, to me was Drew.  While he wasn't the "lead male character", he was the one that I understood the most.

Josh, the main male character, is an emancipated teenager whose tragic story is spelled out for you early in the book. His actions throughout the story are based on the fact that he has lost everyone whom he loved.

The main female character, Nastya, is the new student at school.  She wants everyone to leave her alone and dresses in a provocative way to try to scare everyone away. She also does not talk.  Her story comes out little by little to the reader but is not revealed in full to the other characters until the very end. She has been traumatized and has pushed everyone away.  That's until she meets Josh.

This is a truly touching story about two damaged individuals developing a life saving relationship.

Thanks for reading.
Title release date: June 4, 2013
Find it at AmazonBooks-A-Million, Barnes & Noble or your local independent book store.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Repurposing old books

It's that wonderful time of year when I start thinking about making Christmas gifts.  Today, I looked around on Pinterest, aka "internet crack", for Christmas craft ideas.

While working at the library, I have seen many interesting ways to repurpose old books.  For the 50th anniversary of one of our library branches, a coworker made a birthday cake out of books.  It was really very pretty.  Last Christmas, we had a Christmas tree built out of active library books.  These ideas got me thinking that there must be SOMETHING I can make from old, discarded books.  While searching for Christmas card holder crafts, I found one made out of a hard cover book.  If you fold all the pages in half, it makes a big fan to stick the cards in.  You can decorate the book any way you would like.  I used a gold stamp pad to make the book look even older. I found a sprig of Christmas fun and ended up with...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Some of my favorite books

I've never been one to pick out a "favorite" book, song, or movie.  I just can't narrow it down to just ONE because there are so many good ones out there.  It's like having twins and choosing your favorite twin.  I just can't do it. I can, however, share some of the books that I love - in no particular order. I won't give a detailed description of the books so I don't give too much away.

The Shoemaker's Wife - Adriana Trigiani
I am not a romance novel reader.  If you see a long-haired male in an open shirt grasping a busty woman on the front of a book, you can bet your bottom dollar that I won't be reading it. I just don't think that these books are good for women (or anyone) because they give a false sense of the reality of love.  I do, however, enjoy a good love story and that is what The Shoemaker's Wife is.  It is the story of Ciro and Enza who meet as teenagers in the Italian Alps at the turn of the century.  It is a realistic love story with struggles and triumphs.  I don't often cry while reading books, but this book has such heart and it got to me.  Read it and you won't be sorry.

The Greatest Miracle in World - Og Mandino
I received a copy of this book from a friend who said it helped her get through her very ugly divorce. It is one of those books that either helps you or means nothing to you, depending on what is going on in your life at the time.  It is a beautiful story that I like to read whenever I need a lift.  I don't want to give away anything about the book because you need to experience its story as you read it.

Watership Down - Richard Adams
When you read Watership Down you will enter a world people do not normally get to experience.  The world of rabbits.  You will enter the rabbit warren and join them as their home is threatened with destruction.  It is the story of survival and strength as the rabbits abandon their warren to find a new home.  Fascinating.

Relic - Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
The first book in a thoroughly engaging series introduces us to Aloysius Pendergast, a very interesting FBI agent.  This was a page turner of a book which kept me completely interested.  To those who knock the books as being to over the top with it's creatures, I have to say it is a FICTION story. It is not REAL LIFE.  I have read every book in this series and they were all fantastic, but this one was my introduction to the main characters.  This book was made into a movie, which did not follow the book completely.  While I enjoyed the movie, I liked the book much better.

The Blessing Way - Tony Hillerman
The first book of  the Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee Navajo Reservation series.  Tony Hillerman weaves a fantastic murder mystery with traditional Navajo beliefs. This was my introduction to this series of books. I have since read all of them.  When Mr. Hillerman died in 2008, it was surprisingly sad to realize that there would not be anymore of these books.

Seven Arrows - Hyemeyohsts Storm
Native American mythology at its best.  This is the story of Night Bear and his people.  It is filled with stories of the Cheyenne people.  It is about how the European invasion of the new world affected the Native Americans.  Wonderful storytelling.

Anansi Boys - Neil Gaiman
I love mythology of different peoples.  This is the story of Fat Charlie and his discovery that his late father was Anansi, the trickster, a West African god who often takes the shape of a spider.  Anansi is the keeper of all stories. This was an engaging book. It is a follow up book to American Gods - which I have yet to read.  I guess you can say I like books with a touch of mythology in them. 

I hope you get a chance to read some of these books and get as much enjoyment out of them as I did.  I will continue to add books that I find that stand out for me as I continue working through my reading list.

What are YOUR favorite books?

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Good Karma from Karma Gone Bad by Jenny Feldon


Karma Gone Bad (How I learned to love Mangos, Bollywood, and Water Buffalo) by Jenny Feldon

I had the distinct pleasure of reading an advanced review copy of this book through NetGalley.com.

Imagine being snatched from the cosmopolitan streets of Manhattan and dropped onto the monsoon flooded, water buffalo filled streets of India.  This is what happens to Jenny, when her husband Jay is transferred to Hyderabad, India to start up a regional office for his company Berkeley, King & Coolidge (affectionately known as BKC). She has left behind her job, family, friends, and her beloved Starbuck to become an expat wife.  With no job, no coffee, and Jay at the office all day, Jenny is lost. While Jay adapts to the new culture, Jenny doesn’t and sinks into a depression fueled by $13.00 bottles of Ragu spaghetti sauce and Lays “Style Cream and Onion” potato chips. 

The more settled Jay becomes, the more upset and depressed Jenny gets.  At one point, Jay sends Jenny back home to her parents in Boston and contemplates divorce.  While in Boston, Jenny discovers that there are people, places, and things that she actually enjoyed  while in India. When Jay comes home for Thanksgiving, they reconnect and Jenny agrees to go back to India for the remainder of their stay.

Karma Gone Bad rises above the self-absorbed whininess of Eat, Pray, Love and makes you really care about the people in the book. Jenny’s failure to adjust to the significantly different culture and her subsequent change of heart, made this a very enjoyable read.
Keep an eye out for this one and make sure you read it.  Your karma will thank you.
Thanks for reading.
Title release date: November 5, 2013
Find it at AmazonBooks-A-Million, Barnes & Noble or your local independent book store.

So many books, so little time

What is worst than having nothing to read?  Perhaps having TOO MUCH to read.  Working at the library has caused a constant question in my life..."What should I read next?"  As I watch books come and go from the library, I am constantly adding books to my "to read" list. I will have to live forever to read everything on my list.

When looking for a book to read, I try to find something unique, which in today's world of copycat storylines, is very hard.  It is rare for me to look to the best seller list or a "recommended" list as I often find the choices do not live up to their hype.

I tend to find an author I like and read everything by that person.  When their books run out, I am lost.  I do have some "go to" websites for discovering similar authors.  If you want to find an author that is similar to your favorite, go to www.literature-map.com and type in your authors name.  A funky bunch of names will explode onto the screen and float around.  Once they settle, you will see a screen like this:

I did a search for author suggestions similar to Vince Flynn.  In the center you see his name with a bunch of names all around.  The closer the name is to your original search name, the more alike they are. You can click on these floating author names and go to their literature map. I have found authors that I have never heard of this way.  It is one of the websites that I share with our library patrons.

Literature-map.com is part of http://gnod.net, and is described on its homepage as "Gnod is my experiment in the field of artificial intelligence. Its a self-adapting system, living on this server and 'talking' to everyone who comes along. Gnods intention is to learn about the outer world and to learn 'understanding' its visitors. This enables gnod to share all its wisdom with you in an intuitive and efficient way. You might call it a search-engine to find things you don't know about." You can also do a similar movie and similar music search.

Another website to help you find new authors is http://www.similarauthors.com/.  Type in an authors name and you will get a list like the following, showing authors to try.



One of the things that I love most about my job at the library is helping patrons discover new books and authors.  It is always a good feeling when a patron returns and tells you how much they loved the book you suggested.  Our library has a display of Staff Recommendations, which is very popular.  It is so popular that a patron will ask a staff member who recommended a book they liked, for another book recommendation. 

How do you discover new books or new authors?  I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

My thoughts on eReaders vs. a physical book

When eReaders first came out, I was very reluctant to try one.  Like most people, I believed the hype that eReaders would kill the book, bring the publishing industry to a crashing halt, and make libraries obsolete. Instead, the eReader has actually been an enhancement. Instead of hurting the publishing industry, I think it has made it stronger and - in fact - cockier.  What I mean by this is the whole "price fixing" and the class action lawsuit that ensued.  As for making libraries obsolete, this has NOT happened.  The library that I work at is busier than ever.  Physical books are STILL being checked out and read.


The first ebook that I read was on the Kindle app on my iPhone. 
Each night, on this tiny screen, I read many, MANY books. I was hooked.  I would often have a print book and an ebook in progress at the same time.  I still do.  As convenient and portable as ebooks are, I still love the feel of a print book in my hand. I believe that there is room for both physical books and eReaders in this world.  One is not better than the other.  Here are some pros and cons for both:

                                          Physical Book

Pros                                                                            Cons
Easily lendable                                                           Bulky
Physically ownable                                                     Can be damaged
You can make notes in them                                      Uses up natural resources
                                                                                    Landfill fillers

                                               eBook

Pros                                                                            Cons
Portable                                                                       No physical ownership
Many books, one holder                                             Not easily lendable
Green (no trees involved)                                           Most cost the same as physical book
Don't take up much room

I know there are more Pros and Cons on both types of books. Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments.

I will continue to use both ebooks and physical books. As a voracious reader, it gives me more options to read, which is always good.

Thanks for reading.






Hurricane stories

Excuse me for the non-reading related post, but I wanted to share some things I observed during Hurricane Irma. Steak n Shake 17509 N Pa...