2015 End of Year Survey

As always, thank you to Jamie of the Perpetual Page-Turner for creating this survey and link-up.  It is an annual tradition for me to fill it out– one of the only posts I manage to consistently put together every year and I love having them to look back on!

 

reading-stats-2015-1024x278

Number Of Books You Read:

81

Number of Re-Reads:

7

Genre You Read The Most From:

chick lit (of course)

 

best-YA-books-2014

1. Best Book You Read In 2015?

I think I gotta go with Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith.  Just so, so, so good.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer… it sounded so up my alley, got tons of rave reviews, but was one of the worst books I read this year.

 3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?

Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White– I never expected to like Kiersten White’s books as much as I do.  I was really surprised that this managed to be more than just fluffy, stereotypical YA paranormal romance.

 4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?

Hmm.  Maybe the Cormoran Strike series, since I’m sort of obsessed with it?  I also completely nailed it by giving The Martian to my dad without having read it first… he has been talking about it all year!

 5. Best series you started in 2015? Best Sequel of 2015? Best Series Ender of 2015?

Best series started: probably the Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
Best sequel: Career of Evil, duh
Best series ender: Hmm, I finished out two series this year– His Fair Assassins and Paranormalcy– both Mortal Heart and Endlessly were my least favorite books in their series, so I guess a tie between them?

 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2015?

This one’s tough for me this year… I discovered some great new-to-me authors, but not really any that have set me on a mission to read their entire backlists OR ones that don’t have backlists.  I guess I will go with Harlan Coben since I binge-read the Myron Bolitar series this year.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

I’m going to have to go with Brown Girl Dreaming.  I don’t usually read memoir, middle grade, or poetry and this was a really beautiful book.

 8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

I hate to put Career of Evil down as the answer for every question, but… it was all these things.

 9. Book You Read In 2015 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Unsticky because I have reread it annually since discovering it in 2013 and I have been itching for it to be 2016 so I can read it for a fourth time.  And while there are books I read this year that I’d like to reread, I don’t know that I will get back to any of them in 2016.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2015?

I'll Give You the Sun

 

11. Most memorable character of 2015?

Krystal Weedon from The Casual Vacancy or Cormoran Strike from Career of Evil.  That Rowling, man, she writes some good characters.

 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2015?

It would either be Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson or The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien… wowsers, such good writing in both of those.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2015?

I’m going to go with Bottled Up by Suzanne Barston.  It was just the right book for me to read at the right time and helped me process the guilt and disappointment of not being able to breastfeed that I’ve been dealing with for almost 3 years now.

 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2015 to finally read? 

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, which has been on my TBR since 2011 and The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien because I know I bought it after reading about it in one of my grad school classes in like 2009 or 2010.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2015

“I take a sip of my beer, and it’s– I mean, it’s just astonishingly disgusting. I don’t think I was expecting it to taste like ice cream, but holy fucking hell. People lie and get fake IDs and sneak into bars, and for this? I honestly think I’d rather make out with Bieber. The dog. Or Justin. Anyways, it really makes you worry about all the hype surrounding sex.”  —Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda

“How can I explain to anyone that stories are like air to me, I breathe them in and let them out over and over again.” —Brown Girl Dreaming

16. Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2015?

Neither of these is a traditional novel, but hey, I guess that’s why they are shortest and longest.

Shortest: Fanning the Flames by Victoria Dahl (61 page novella)
Longest: Blankets by Craig Thompson (592 page graphic novel)

 17. Book That Shocked You The Most

Three Simple Rules by Nikki Sloane… I don’t really read erotic romance and kind of stumbled upon this one accidentally and maybe I’m a bit prudish, but the things I went along with in this book sort of surprised me.

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

Well, I have to admit to shipping Strike and Robin pretty hard after finishing Career of Evil.  I realize this might be entirely futile, but I don’t even care.

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

I would have to say Simon’s relationships with his parents and sisters in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli.  It’s so rare to see healthy and well-developed family relationships in YA and, at least for me, those were some of the most significant and longest-lasting relationships of my teen years.

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2015 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

Besides Career of Evil, of course?  It would probably have to be Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid… she pulled off a story I don’t think most authors could.

21. Best Book You Read In 2015 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

I only read The DUFF because friends gave it good reviews and it was actually really really good.  I wish it had been around when I was a teen.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2015?

Oh gosh, that’d have to be Reiner Kulti from Kulti by Mariana Zapata.  I really love grumpy, damaged, arrogant love interests.

23. Best 2015 debut you read?

I’m usually bad about reading debuts, but I actually read four 2015 debuts this year, which I’m pretty sure is an improvement on previous years.  My favorite was probably Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli.

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

The Martian by Andy Weir had a very memorable and unique setting (Mars) and the setting played a huge part in the plot of the story.  I also want to highlight Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin in this category because her book was set in Fort Worth and was just the truest depiction of North Texas I have ever read.  And I can’t forget The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth– the Montana setting in that one was spectacular and I am a huge sucker for Western settings.

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White… those books were all just cute and fun and fluffy.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2015?

I never remember which books made me cry, though I know I cried at multiple books this year.  I am pretty sure Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid made me cry.  And if it didn’t, I’m just heartless.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

Well, according to Goodreads, the least popular book I read this year was Bottled Up by Suzanne Barston.  That’s totally a niche read, but very worthwhile if breastfeeding vs. bottlefeeding is a topic you care at all about.  For something I think that would appeal more widely, If You Lived Here, You’d be Home Now by Claire LaZebnik is a backlist title that I haven’t seen much of anything about (would never have found it if it wasn’t the favorite of a blogger friend) and it was one of the best books I read this year.

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Nine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend by Sarra Manning.  I really love Sarra Manning for being willing to portray messy, flawed people, but in this one there was so much back and forth and the main character is a total pushover.  I was totally exhausted after finishing it.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2015?

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson had a really unique writing style that I enjoyed.

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

That would have to be Missoula by Jon Krakauer.  It was rather infuriating to see how women who report rape are treated by the criminal justice system and perhaps it was even more infuriating to see how the accused rapists were not only allowed to get away with their crimes, but actually received more sympathy and support than their alleged victims.

 

book-blogging

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2015?

I am actually not sure about this… keeping up with other blogs hasn’t happened the way I hoped it would in 2015.

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2015?

I’m going to have to go with my review of Bottled Up.  That was a deeply personal post to write, but I think it is the review that I have put the most into in all of my time blogging.

3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?

Most of my non-review posts this year were update type of posts or challenge-related, which are kind of boring to share, so I’ll just skip this category.

4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

I participated in a blogging event back in March called Day in the Life, where we all posted a run-down of an ordinary day in our lives.  That was one of the most fun blogging events I’ve ever participated in and it was fascinating to see how varied everyone’s day-to-day lives were.  I hope that this event will be repeated again in the future… I think it’s a good exercise to see how life looks for yourself at a certain point and to see what goes on in the busy lives of others.

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2015?

Probably completing the 2015 Read Harder Challenge… I didn’t really think I’d be able to commit to a challenge like that and I did and really challenged myself to read some stuff outside my comfort zone.

7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

This kind of surprises me, but it was my Top Ten Tuesday post about Diverse Books.  This was something I tried to more actively focus on this year, so I’m glad to see people enjoyed my recommendations.

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

So, apparently my mini-reviews of books in verse only got one view?  I mean, it isn’t a spectacular feat of reviewing by any means, but those are a couple of diverse book picks that I’d highly recommend, so maybe check it out if you are looking for a novel in verse/diverse book to spice up your reading life!

9. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

Ummm, my library implemented auto-renewals on books checked out without holds on them and I have been taking advantage of this to keep books out from the library way too long.  So, I discovered a way to be lazy and avoid monthly trips to the library?

10.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

I had two reading goals for the year– to read 60 books as part of the Goodreads challenge and to complete the Book Riot Read Harder challenge.  I completed both of these goals by mid-October!  So,it was a very successful year in terms of goal-setting!

 

looking-ahead-books-2015

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2015 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2016?

I have been auto-filling this with Rebecca the last few years, but I actually read that one this year.  How about The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee?  That or The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2016 (non-debut)?

Taylor Jenkins Reid has a new book coming out this summer called One True Loves.  That promises to be a good one.

3. 2016 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

I actually have no 2016 debuts on my TBR yet, so… I guess I’ll wait until more reviews come in before deciding on this category.

4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2016?

*crosses fingers for another Cormoran Strike novel in 2016*

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2016?

Well, 2016 is already looking like it will be a crazy year… I start a new job on January 4 and am expecting a baby towards the end of January, so… I am just hoping to read some good books this year, stretch myself some, but mostly just to have fun with it all and do what I can/want to do.

6. A 2016 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone:

Not applicable.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Read in 2015

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme brought to you by the folks over at The Broke and the Bookish (the button also belongs to them).  This week’s theme is the Top Ten Books I read in 2015.

I am a little late in posting this, but I LOVE doing these lists so I can look back on them.  End of year posts are my favorites!  Anyways, here’s my top 10 favorite books of the year…

 

            

1. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith– I love love love this series and this was the best book of it so far.  Strike and Robin are just the best and this book was so much about developing them as characters and exploring the dynamics of their relationship as they begin moving toward friendship… or more.

2. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling– Yeah, yeah, J.K. Rowling makes the list twice.  No surprise there.  This was such a thoughtful and touching book, a study of real, flawed characters from different walks of life who are all struggling in their own ways.  And more than that, it explores the social safety net and the motives/mindframes of those who wish to dismantle it and those who desperately need it in order to survive.

3. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien– This is a collection of beautifully-written interconnected short stories about the Vietnam War.  I can’t believe it took me until this year to read this one.

4. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson– See all those awards on the cover of this one?  Yeah, they are well-deserved.  This was beautiful and touching and a lovely memoir set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement.

 

        

5. If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Now by Claire LaZebnik– I read some really great chick lit this year and this was one of my favorites.  There was subtle and smart character development, a sweet and easy romance, and the exploration of multiple relationships (family, friends, parent-child, romance).

6. Why Can’t I Be You by Allie Larkin– This has a bit of a Hollywood-style plot– Jenny is on a business trip and gets mistaken for her doppelganger, Jessie, and gets caught up pretending to be Jessie, mostly because Jessie has awesome friends and Jenny is kind of alone in her life.  But somehow this crazy plot WORKS and has realistic consequences.  Also, Allie Larkin writes love interests who love dogs.  You can’t go wrong with that.

7. I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios– I read this book fast, finding it impossible to put down.  I just loved the gritty realness of it, which is sort of rare for YA romance (though I might classify this as NA, which has its fair share of gritty romance).

       

8. Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid– This book tells the story of Hannah Martin in two different timelines, each based on a differing decision she makes one night at a bar.  This was a really interesting twist on chick lit and Reid has a talent for telling stories in ways that just wouldn’t work for other authors.

9. Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center– This was a really insightful book about a woman who is trying to find happiness for herself after a whole lot of heartbreak in her life.  She decides to do this through an intense, extreme wilderness survival course and learns a lot about herself and the nature of happiness along the way.  It especially resonated with me because its main message is that in spite of the bad things in life, there are always little reasons to find to be happy and that is one of life’s lessons I need drilled into me time and again.

10. Kulti by Mariana Zapata– This is one of the best genre romances I’ve read in ages.  I loved the hero, Kulti, because he’s that arrogant, brooding, sexy man with a dark past that I am always into.  The heroine was a professional soccer player and that was interesting.  There was a ton of chemistry and once the story got rolling, I could not put this book down.

 

What were your favorite books this year?

Career of Evil- Robert Galbraith

This is the third book in the Cormoran Strike series, so there are probably spoilers in here for the previous two.  If that is a thing you care about.

THIS BOOK. SO SO SO GOOD.

Strike and Robin are back, keeping busy with some surveillance cases. One day, Robin receive a woman’s severed leg in the post and it is clear this killer has a personal ax to grind with Strike and has his sights set on Robin as his next victim. Strike is quick to identify three likely suspects from his past and when the police don’t take his leads seriously enough, he and Robin do some investigating on the side, of course. All the while, the killer is keeping busy, stalking Robin and killing and dismembering his way across London.

Plot-wise, this wasn’t my favorite mystery in this series. There are several chapters told from the killer’s POV that read like textbook serial killer behavior. He’s misogynistic. He puts on a pretty face to his girlfriend. His thirst to kill ramps up over time and he gets clumsier and more desperate as he seeks that kill-high more and more frequently. All of that felt very done before, not to say that the killer wasn’t super creepy. It was kind of interesting to see the killer’s POV in the story, but again, it’s been done before and I guess evil serial killer is just not compelling enough for me any more (I guess I’ve read too much serial killer stuff).

In addition to the somewhat tired feel of the killer, there are three clear and obvious suspects from the start. While they are all horrible men and I never was certain who was the killer, I was almost able to pull all the pieces together. Galbraith/Rowling is very good at not constructing a mystery in which the answer is obvious to the reader, leaving enough out of the text to leave you wondering and pursuing the truth, but there was such a limited suspect pool for whom we all get extended backstories, it would be impossible to not come up with a theory that touches on the actual solution to the mystery. All that to say, I still cared about the mystery and the killer was dangerous and there were some seriously scary parts with him in them, but really, this book was more about the Strike-Robin dynamic than anything.

There is a serious amount of character and relationship development with Strike and Robin in this installment and Strike and Robin are what make this series as good as it is. The more Rowling that I read, the more I realize that her strength lies in the development of characters, something that was apparent in The Casual Vacancy, but is especially satisfying in the Cormoran Strike series. Robin is amazingly likeable– smart, strong, principled, and wickedly talented at detective work. And I have a weak spot for Strike– he’s exactly the kind of gruff, intelligent hero I can’t get enough of and his interactions with Robin are always the highlight of these books. I was kind of blown away by how much I liked seeing the two of them together in this book– there were a lot more opportunities for a new kind of intimacy to develop in their relationship. This book is the first time that Strike and Robin really acknowledge that they are friends and confidantes, that their relationship is more than strictly professional, and that there might even be more than platonic feelings between them.  I don’t want to say too much, but this is the first time I’ve really seen Rowling write sexual tension and go figure, she’s amazing at it.

The final chapter left me with my mouth hanging open. I have no idea what actually happened there and I’m sure it will be at least another year before I can find out. More Strike, more Robin, an actual answer to what the heck that last sentence meant–gah, I can’t wait. These books are some of my favorites. Basically, everyone needs to read them and love them as much as I do.

October 2015 Roundup

I know that every month seems to go by in a blur at this point in adulthood, but October especially seems to have flown by this year.  I again read like the wind this month, especially on audio, finishing FIVE audiobooks this month out of a total of nine books.  I had some mixed luck with my reading this month– several REALLY awesome, book-hangover-inducing reads and a couple total duds, not a whole lot of middle ground.  My most anticipated read of the year came out– Career of Evil— and was totally awesome, so yay for expectations lived up to!

Blogging… eh, I posted a couple reviews this month and half-drafted some other posts that never went anywhere and will most likely end up in the virtual trash can.  I am just kind of glad I got something up, as I’ve been feeling equal parts busy and lazy lately.

Oh, hey, guess I should mention that I completed the Read Harder Challenge finally!  Woo!  I might put together a quick wrap up post before the end of the year as kind of a review of what I learned/would I do it again/here’s what I read.

As for other life stuff, October involved a lot of family time, a couple rainy weekends, and trick-or-treating with the child for the first time.  The weather has been nice enough to get out and about and we’ve spent a lot of time at the park.  I am seriously sad to say goodbye to weeknights at the park, as it is just too dark by the time I get home now that DST has ended.

I’ve also kind of hit the hugely pregnant stage (earlier and bigger and badder than last pregnancy) and have been dealing with the discomforts that brings.  We are slowly getting ready for this baby to come, but I have high hopes to get everything major done before New Year’s, so I guess we need to pick up the pace.  This second pregnancy has been a whole other beast for me than the first.  I kind of feel like they’re going to hand me this kid in a couple months and I’m going to be like, wait, where did this come from?  But at the same time, I’m so uncomfortable most of the time that it’s impossible to forget there’s a little person waiting to join our family.  Mostly, I’m just glad I’m so much less anxious than I was the first time around.  I’ve learned the real time to panic is when the baby is actually here (ha!).

Anyways, on to book stuff again…

Books Read in October:

After You by Jojo Moyes (audiobook)

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

The Final Detail by Harlan Coben

Burned by Ellen Hopkins (audiobook)

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (reread, audiobook)

Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (audiobook)

Kulti by Mariana Zapata (audiobook)

In the Works: I am sort of between books at the moment.  I started Gillian Flynn’s short story, “The Grownup,” last night and while it’s definitely something you could read in one sitting, I did not.  I think after that I’ll be reading Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which is loved by just about every reader I know and I somehow haven’t really had it on my radar.  It was on sale for Kindle, so yeah, time to get on it.  I’m stuck waiting for my next Audible credit and I don’t know what to spend it on quite yet, so no audiobook going right now.

I am hoping the rest of this month is very productive in terms of baby prep and just general pre-holiday craziness prep.  The only big plans are to do some furniture shuffling (I guess I’ll just be supervising this) and to go see the in-laws for Thanksgiving.  And hey, maybe I’ll actually blog a little bit, too.

How was your October?  Whatcha reading?

 

A Window Opens- Elisabeth Egan

Alice is a married mother of three in her late 30s, living in the New Jersey suburbs of NYC.  She works part-time at a women’s magazine writing the column on book recommendations and this gives her a nice balance between being present with her children, taking time for herself (spinning class! book club! wine with friends!), and remaining active in the career force.  But then, her husband, Nicholas, loses his job as a high-powered corporate attorney and decides to go into practice for himself.  In the meantime, Alice decides to take on a full-time job to support her family while Nicholas’s business gets off the ground.  She finds a well-paying job with Scroll, the latest innovation in bookstores.  Alice thinks she’ll be curating a collection of ebooks for customers to choose from in Scroll’s luxurious reading lounges, complete with free trade coffee and organic snacks.  But Alice is actually entering the retail world where customer demand and the dollar are the bottom lines.  Her job offers very little flexibility, includes a 90 minute one-way commute, and requires Alice to be hooked up to email and her phone all the time.  At first, she is thrilled to be taking on this new challenge, but real life soon gets in the way.  Her kids are handling things alright, but she is never quite satisfied to be spending so little time with them.  Her husband begins drinking more and more.  And on top of all that, her father’s cancer has returned and is not responding to radiation.  Alice tries to make her new job work alongside the personal interruptions, but she eventually finds that she is being made miserable trying to “have it all” and that the job she has put her life on the line for is making her miserable.

This is a very “ordinary life” sort of story– Alice deals with work details and raising a family and taking care of aging parents. I liked that and I liked Alice. She’s navigating through a lot of new things, but seems to remain down-to-earth and just… I dunno, seems like the kind of person I’d want to chat books or kids with. I like that Alice is thrown into the deep end with her new job and that she tries to make it work and is capable of doing work that is probably outside of her depth of experience when she comes in. There is some of the excitement of a new business venture in here and that is entertaining (until things take a dramatic turn that ruins the whole deal for Alice). I’m always down for stories about women finding themselves and making life work for them and this was no exception.

But there were three big things that bugged me about this story.  First, Alice’s husband’s drinking issue is never really tackled in a meaningful way.  He’s been getting black-out drunk in the afternoons for about a year and manages to turn this around just by wanting to quit?  To me, it sounded like he had addiction issues, which are unlikely to be solved by force of will.  I kind of feel this story would have worked without a drunk husband, so Egan needed to deal with this in a real way or leave it out.

Second, I’m a little uncertain how to take the ending of this story, where Alice figures out Scroll is not for her. It was the ending I was rooting for and absolutely appropriate for Alice’s situation, but I am kind of left hanging. I’m a working mom (granted in a more family-friendly environment) and it almost feels like a slap in the face to read a book about a working mom whose problems are all solved by her quitting her job and letting her husband’s business take the lead. I don’t know. Not every working mom has the luxury of quitting her well-paying job to “figure things out.” I think I’d have been more satisfied if this had ended with Alice finding a full-time job that gave her more flexibility to be present with her family, rather than having her return to part-time work and the vague possibility of a future business venture.  I just felt very uncomfortable about reading a book about “having it all” that settles firmly into the message that it can’t be done.  And sure, I think “having it all” is a problematic concept and that there is no realistic way to do everything you want in life (even without kids), but I think many mothers manage to find a balance they can live with, even with a full-time job.  It just really bugs me that Alice’s solution had to be exiting the traditional workforce, especially when all her children are in school full days.

Finally, I think a lot of my dislike about the ending of this book has to do with my discomfort with the socioeconomic background of the characters in this book. I just felt vaguely unsettled that money is never a REAL problem for Alice, that she can afford the babysitter, the house with the perfect location, the new work wardrobe, the lessons and activities for the kids, etc. without breaking a sweat. She lives in a rarefied world (one where she inherits money from her father’s death, even)– not the world most of us would find ourselves in if our partners lost their jobs and went into business for themselves.  I always feel a little uncomfortable with these stories of women for whom money is no big deal, particularly ones that strive for as much realism as this one did.

Anyways, despite the fact that had some rather major issues with this book, I did enjoy it quite a bit.  I think Alice’s character won me over and that that made this book a lot more charming than it would have been had these issues been present in the story of a flatter character.  I’d definitely be willing to try more from this author, should she write another novel.  As for a recommendation, if Jennifer Close is your kind of chick lit, then I think Elisabeth Egan would be, too.  This is definitely for fans of that higher brow sort of chick lit– the kind with heavier issues and East Coast, privileged characters, where the drama of daily life outweighs romance or comedy.

The DUFF- Kody Keplinger

Bianca loves her best friends, but isn’t interested in dancing at the under-21 dance club in their home town.  While watching her friends have fun on the dance floor, notorious womanizer, Wesley, comes over and informs Bianca that of her friend group, she is the DUFF: the designated, ugly, fat friend.  This gets under Bianca’s skin because, like any high school student, she is a little bit insecure.  Anyways, things kind of blow up in Bianca’s home life and somehow she finds that her only way to deal with it is to find some moments of escape in sex.  With Wesley.  Wesley, who is actually a better listener and friend that Bianca gave him credit for.  But Bianca doesn’t believe in love in high school and certainly not in love with the guy who gets around the most out of their whole class.  So where on earth can this “relationship” take them?

I’d heard a lot of good things about this book, which is why I picked it up in the first place, but I still kind of feel surprised by how much I liked it.  The story reminded me of being in high school more than any other YA books I’ve read.  Bianca’s life is not just her parents getting divorced or her fooling around with Wesley.  She’s got schoolwork and friends.  She isn’t popular, but she’s not an outcast, even though she feels that way some of the time.  Mostly, she’s happy and comfortable with herself, but sometimes she wonders if she isn’t the DUFF and worries about what other people think about her.  Basically, she’s a normal teenager.  And a pretty likeable, interesting one, at that.  She is cynical, but smart and funny and loyal to her friends.  She doesn’t exactly have the best coping skills when it comes to some of the problems in her life, but she’s 16 and human and that makes sense.

As for the romantic plot, it’s nothing new,  just an enemies become lovers plot, but the depth of the characters, particularly Bianca, made for a fun romance.  I liked Wesley, sort of in spite of myself, and as much as I agreed with Bianca that he was probably bad news, I couldn’t help rooting for them to work it out, for Wesley to settle down on just one girl.  There is also a point where Bianca gets caught in sort of a love triangle, as Toby, the sweet, nerdy boy she has crushed on for 3 years, suddenly notices her and as she tries to disentagle herself from whatever is going on with Wesley.  I found that I liked Toby, too, and was kind of sad that there was so little chemistry between him and Bianca.  Also refreshing, plot-wise, is that teenagers have casual sex in this book and nothing bad happens.  It’s really not even a big deal.

I only had one complaint with this book and that is that the home stuff wrapped up a bit too easily.  Bianca’s father is a recovering alcoholic who has a relapse and even shows a violent temper as a drunk.  But he seems to bounce back to recovery pretty easily.  Bianca’s mother has been traveling across the country for years doing speaking events, but after she files for divorce, she suddenly seems to want to connect to and be present for the daughter she’s been ignoring and absent from for so long.  And Bianca accepts that.  These are all big things and the solutions seem a little more simple and drama-free than they’d actually be in real life.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book and wish it had been around when I was a teenager.  There is something about the plot and characters that resonated strongly with me as an adult and would have had an even bigger impact on me as a teen.  I imagine this would have landed on my short stack of books that I reread for comfort from time to time.  As it stands, this was absolutely worth my time and I would recommend this as a YA book with appeal to both teens and adults.

 

September 2015 Roundup

September was an insanely good reading month for me.  I read 11 books… I haven’t come close to that in a very long time.  Most of that was due to the fact that I was on a major binge read of the Myron Bolitar series and those are snappy little mysteries that I just blew through.  I forgot how much fun it is to binge read a series… it’s SO nice to not have to think about what to read next and to not have to reacquaint yourself with the characters or overarching plotlines.  Really, I should only ever read series back-to-back-to-back.

I also finished up 3 of my remaining Read Harder Challenge tasks (Sci-Fi, Author of the Opposite Sex, and Book Written before 1850) and only have 3 tasks left (all of which are toughies).  I might actually “win” this challenge after all!  And since I read at a ridiculous pace this month, the last book of September was my 60th book of the year, meaning I have completed my Goodreads challenge for the year, too.  This is actually the earliest I’ve ever finished up my book count goal, so I guess I grossly underestimated my reading speed this year.

Blogging didn’t quite go as I had hoped in September, but that is mostly because I became unexpectedly busy at work and because I read a bunch of books in genres that I don’t review very well (mystery, romance).  I keep hoping for more on this front, but hey, I do what I can.

Real life was lots of fun in September.  The weather was finally not blazing hot and I’ve been feeling more energetic, so one weekend we did a family trip to the zoo and another we stopped by the annual hot air balloon festival held in our town.  Both these things were tons of fun.  Lydia is at a great age to go out and do things with and we all seem a little happier getting out and about than being stuck inside all weekend.  I’ve also been doing prenatal yoga once a week with a friend who is also pregnant and that’s been a nice little me time to look forward to.  We’ve also been making some progress to getting the future nursery cleaned up.  Baby steps, but hey, it feels good to be doing something with it.

Books Read in September:

The Martian by Andy Weir (audiobook)

Deal Breaker by Harlan Coben

Drop Shot by Harlan Coben

Fade Away by Harlan Coben

Back Spin by Harlan Coben

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

One False Move by Harlan Coben

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

Flirting with Disaster by Victoria Dahl

Fanning the Flames by Victoria Dahl (novella)

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan (audiobook)

In the Works: I am currently reading Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch (which is not turning out to be my thing, really) and listening to After You by Jojo Moyes (which is so totally my thing that I kind of want to read/listen to it all at once).

I am looking forward to October, as the weather should finally settle into comfortable temperatures, my friend will be having her baby, and I might actually get to participate in the Readathon on October 17 for a few hours, at least.  I imagine we’ll try to get out for some more family fun time, but we’ll see how that pans out between a visit from my mother-in-law and a work trip for my husband, not to mention Halloween.

What’s new with you?  Read anything good lately?  Looking forward to October with hearts in your eyes like I am?

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten All-Time Favorite Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme brought to you by the folks over at The Broke and the Bookish (the button also belongs to them).  This week’s theme is a FREEBIE and I totally meant to finish drafting this post of my top ten favorite authors back in April, but didn’t get a chance so now I am finally finishing it and putting it out there.

This is a hard/easy category.  I am pretty fickle and am always adding new-to-me authors to this list, so this is more like an all-time favorites as of right this minute.

1. J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith— Duh, Harry Potter.  But she mostly makes this list because of her Cormoran Strike books and The Casual Vacancy, all of which hooked me and wowed me and confirmed for me that Rowling is an awesome and multi-talented author.

2. Sarra Manning— I’m on a mission to read all of Sarra Manning’s books and have enjoyed the handful I’ve read so far, but mostly she is on this list because Unsticky has wormed its way into my soul and is one of my all-time favorite books.

3. Shirley Jackson— I’ve loved Shirley Jackson since I was a teenager reading “The Lottery” in school.  Back then, I made it my mission to read everything by her I could get my hands on and ended up reading most of her major works.  I found out a year or two ago that Penguin released some of her titles that I think were out of print for a while (at least they were never in stores/libraries in the late 90s/early 2000s), so I have been meaning to get back to reading her complete works.  I love that she does everyday creepiness so well.

4. Juliet Marillier— I discovered Marillier’s books last summer and I have slowly been making my way through her enormous backlist.  I love her strong female characters, her worldbuilding skills, and her beautiful writing.

5. Allie Larkin— Larkin is a rather new addition to this list, but I listened to both her books (Stay and Why Can’t I Be You) on audiobook earlier in the year and just devoured them.  I love her romantic interests (marriage-material kind of guys), the dogs that pepper her stories, and that there is some real depth to her stories and characters.  I wish she had a bigger backlist because these are the kind of stories I love reading.

6. Liane Moriarty— I actually just finished reading her entire backlist after getting hooked on her stuff with Big Little Lies and I have enjoyed all of her books.  They are addictive and funny, but also tend to explore serious issues and themes.  Smart stuff and her writing seems to get better as time goes on, so I am eagerly anticipating her future releases.

7. Rainbow Rowell— I have enjoyed all her books, although I am uncertain about even bothering with Carry On.  I like her quirky, but well-developed characters and that somehow her books feel like they are written for me.  I don’t know how to explain that other than I related so strongly to Lincoln in Attachments and to the sentiments about marriage in Landline.

8. Taylor Jenkins Reid— I just finished up the remaining 2 of her books I hadn’t read and I loved them.  Reid has the ability to tell unconventional love stories that are totally absorbing and her stories are just tight– I only ever have minor quibbles after completing them.

9. Kiersten White— If I want to read something that is fun and fluffy, but not at all vapid or dumb, I pick up a Kiersten White book.  I have been surprised by how much I enjoy her books, but they are the best kind of fluffy.

10. Janet Evanovich— Another fluff author that I apparently cannot get enough of.  She does sexual tension like no other (Stephanie-Ranger-Morelli is the best love triangle ever) and though I keep swearing I’ve overdone it with her books, I keep picking up more of them.  I like the over-the-top humor and action and, of course, the romantic tension.

Who are your favorite authors?  What topic did you pick this week?  I’d love to visit your post, so please leave me a comment/link and I will do my best to stop by your blog!

Stiff- Mary Roach

I have been meaning to read this book since I started this blog and I finally got around to it, using it for the microhistory portion of the Read Harder challenge.  (Though, now that I think about it, this was only kind of history and more pop science, but whatever, I’m counting it for a category that seems kind of arbitrary to me anyways.)

So… Mary Roach is a journalist with a focus on science who decided to write a book about allll the various things that can happen to a dead human body.  She covers the role of cadavers in medical education and the history of anatomical dissection, as well as the role of cadavers in other science research/practice (criminal forensics, car safety, gun/explosive safety, organ donation).  While her focus is more on the extreme things done with human bodies, she does talk briefly about decomposition of dead bodies and funereal options for dead bodies– embalming, burial, cremation, and some of the newer, greener ideas such as body composting.  She also dabbles in the super extreme, spending some time talking about bodies used in religious experiments (trying to prove that the Shroud of Turin was authentic) and even goes so far as to spend way too much time talking about cannibalism.

This was an interesting subject, but if you know me you know that I have an academic background in the history of medicine and that I kinda dig reading books about death or history of medicine (see my reviews of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks).  I came into this excited to learn something new.  However, I spent the first several chapters rehashing or reviewing information that was not at all new to me.  For example, the history of medical dissection and body snatchers is not new to me because of stuff I read in grad school, body farms are not a new concept to me as I used to read/watch a lot of crime fiction/TV, and Doughty covers what happens to bodies in funeral homes in greater detail in Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.  The later chapters provided new information and I was interested in the use of bodies in scientific research, organ donation, and thought some of the ideas for new ways of disposing of dead bodies were pretty interesting, too.  But Roach lost me when she gets to the most extreme and rare examples of cadaver use– religious research and as food/medicine.  In particular, the cannibalism chapter seemed designed to push the reader to the limits of squeamishness (and dead bodies don’t really squick me out, so this was certainly a bit much) and just involved Roach investigating a bunch of bogus stories without finding any real actual evidence of people eating their dead in contemporary society.

I did enjoy learning some new things about what happens with dead bodies and I did enjoy that Roach really plugs for body donation and organ donation– options I am pretty firmly set on for my eventual dead body– and options which get some odd reactions from people.  (You know if you donate your body to science, people will see you naked, right?  Umm, yeah, they see you naked when they embalm/cremate you, too.)  I had always figured on cremation as my back-up option, but hearing it has such negative environmental effects has made me think on that a little more, too.

There were things that really bugged me about this book, though.  Namely, Roach’s tone and style.  Roach tries to inject humor into her analysis and it wasn’t very successful for me.  I kind of wondered if the narrator on the audiobook was just not delivering the punchlines successfully, but I think the jokes just weren’t that funny.  Also the tone of this book is very… pop-journalismy, if that makes sense.  I do prefer my non-fiction not be stuffy and dry and this wasn’t stuffy or dry, but it just bordered on too unserious and too casual for my tastes.  And perhaps this last complaint is related to the style of the book, but there were areas where I wanted Roach to push further and she just didn’t. She seemed far more interested in trotting out extreme or gross examples of what happens to dead bodies than in actually talking about anything in real depth.

Anyways, I’d recommend this to people who want more of a gross out, wow example of what happens to dead bodies, people without a whole lot of background knowledge of the subject. I guess I’m just not the average Joe when it comes to dead bodies.

A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents- Liza Palmer

I’m going to develop a reputation for not liking Liza Palmer’s books, but I swear that’s not true.  I really did enjoy the first two of her books that I tried.  (Proof 1 and Proof 2)  But I guess pushing that proof aside, I really did not like A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents.

Alright, so the premise of this story is Grace is from this super tight-knit family with four kids, an estranged father, and a really awesome mother.  Grace’s mother died five years prior to this story started and Grace hasn’t spoken to her siblings since her mother’s funeral.  She has isolated herself in this little bubble of numbness, hiding from the intensity of her grief.  Then, one day, Grace’s sister calls to tell Grace their father has had a stroke and has made their older brother his power of attorney.  Grace sucks it up and out of a feeling of obligation to be a good child like she thinks her mother would have wanted her to be, drives up to see her father and her siblings gathered at his bedside.  It soon becomes clear that Grace’s father is dying and there is a big scuff-up because a lady claiming to be his wife keeps turning up, making it incredibly puzzling why their father left his power of attorney to a son he hasn’t seen in 20 years.  Amid the legal issues this precipitates, Grace is left with trying to process her grief for her mother, resolve her feelings about her father who abandoned her, get back in the good graces of her siblings and nieces/nephew, and reconnect with the boyfriend (who is also older brother’s partner at their law firm) who she abandoned when she deserted her family five years earlier.

There were parts of this story that worked for me, particularly the sibling relationships.  It felt like a very real reunion between these four very close siblings, with some anger and resentment from her sister, total acceptance from her younger brother, and some tough love from her older brother.  In the face of some really trying circumstances, they band together to make sure their father’s dying wishes are complied with.  I also enjoyed the plot antics in terms of the second wife and legal rights and inheritance and all that.  It was an original and interesting plot for a chick lit book and was actually a cohesive plot (unlike that of Girl Before a Mirror).  Also, Palmer’s writing is very readable and this book was no exception.

But there were parts of this book that did remind me of my dissatisfaction with Girl Before a Mirror.  Mainly the romance and character development in this book felt forced, much like they did to me in GBAM.  Grace’s grief bubble dissolves in the blink of an eye.  That sort of sudden character change doesn’t feel authentic and is kind of confusing.  In addition, the romance in this book lacked the establishment of a real connection between John and Grace.  It’s mostly told in flashbacks, but the on-screen, real-time romance we get is no real discussion or resolution of the five years separating these two, but rather just some sex and quick forgiveness and I love yous and never ever leave agains.  And that was also much the same way that the resolution of relationships went for Grace between her and her siblings and between her and her father.  It was all quick and easy forgiveness, and while I was willing to buy that Grace and her siblings could put aside the past to work together on their father’s behalf (after all, that’s what families do), I had a hard time buying that her ex-boyfriend whom she abandoned and the father who abandoned her would result in such easy resolutions.

Also, I wasn’t particularly happy with the ending of this book.  The epilogue was gag-me-with-a-spoon cheesy (seriously, why do authors think the surprise pregnancy is a cute, romantic thing?  WHY?) and for a story with a lot of people in heartaching situations, everything ended up a bit too rosy.  A story about a father who abandons his children and then calls them to his deathbed 20 years later could have much more depth and emotion than this story managed to.  This was all a little more fluffy and happily ever after than you might imagine based on the plot description.

And I think that brings me to the big thing that has been bugging me in Palmer’s books– she chooses very big issues to discuss in her books (the death penalty, school shootings, the death of one’s parents, sexism in advertising) and instead of digging deep, still manages to turn out a story that is rather fluffy without any major examination of those big issues.  I think that’s why Seeing Me Naked and Nowhere But Home worked for me– they were mostly about the family and personal drama.  The death penalty could have been a big issue in the latter, but plot-wise it wasn’t necessary, so it didn’t work against the overall development of the characters.  And I think this is also is why A Field Guide for Burying Your Parents fell so flat for me– it promises to deal with the grief of losing both parents through death and abandonment, but ends up settling for an easy out with a father who always loved his kids and ex-wife, but could never ask for forgiveness and come back to them and made grieving a mother as simple as not talking about it for five years and then having a mini-breakdown in a parking lot.

I only have one of Liza Palmer’s books left to read and I’m honestly not sure if I will or not.  It is her debut and should be closer in tone to Seeing Me Naked.  But I have had such mixed results with her books, that I have a hard time imagining giving them another try with the failures so fresh in my memory (Girl Before a Mirror was such a major disappointment for me).  In any case, it has been interesting to be working on authors’ backlists this year (kind of unintentionally) and to see that sometimes an author who really works for me in one book doesn’t at all in another.  Has this ever happened to you?