Monday, January 26, 2015

Beginning 2015

Sorry it took me so long to post this, guys! I decided which challenges I was doing in 2015 right after my last post, but I haven't made myself sit down during my free time and write about it instead of reading. Can you blame me? I hope not. But anyway, this is a basic list of my plans for this year, including challenges, new post ideas, and general fun.

Challenges with a goal:
We Read Diverse Books Challenge
I'm really excited about this new challenge. I really like to learn about different people and lifestyles around the world (and right next door). And I hear about some great and diverse books, but I often end up reading the same old types of books anyway. My goal is to read one book for each monthly challenge--12 books.

Banned Books Challenge
I don't agree with banning books. I've always read anything to which I felt drawn, so a banned book challenge seems appropriate. That being said, I don't often consult any banned book lists before deciding what to read, so I'm keeping my goal for this one low for the first time--"Trouble-Maker" Level, 3-5 books.

2015 TBR Pile Reading Challenge
Yay for TBR pile challenges! I've needed to do one of these for a while. The 2014 Book Bingo Challenge had a section for TBR books, but I didn't make a lot of progress with it, and I have so many books around my house just waiting for me. I'll be doing the "A Friendly Hug" Level, 11-20 books.

2015 Audiobook Challenge
Last year the CD player in my car was broken for a while and seriously cramped my audiobook listening time, since I primarily listen while driving. I'm hoping that 2015 will be the year I make a dent in those books that are better (or at least different) with a narrator! Aiming for roughly one book a month, I'll be doing the "Stenographer" Level, 10-15 books.

Just for fun/Challenges without a goal:
Where Are You Reading Challenge 2015
I did this challenge last year and found that picking books based on location doesn't really work for me. I'm much more interested in picking books based on the story, the characters, my book group's choices, etc. That being said, I did have a lot of fun tracking "where I was reading," so I'll be doing that again this year.

Literary Pickers Reading Challenge 2015
This challenge seems a little weird to me. When I first read the post, I thought, "Why would anyone decide what they're reading based on some random object in the story?" But now, the challenge seems kind of fun, like a scavenger hunt in a story. That being said, the blog host is only allowing romances for the challenge, and I'm not reading 50+ extra romances just to check a bunch of objects off a list. So, I'll be listing books in which I find the listed items/people/etc, but not exactly participating in the challenge.

I'll make an individual post for each of the mentioned challenges as I make progress with them, and there will be a lot of overlap between them. I will write and link to a review for each book read for my challenges with goals. For the Where Are You Reading Challenge, I'll list everything I read (except picture books) with its location, even if I don't write a review for each one. For the Literary Pickers Reading Challenge, I'll list the book titles beside the pickers list as I find each item and such in my reading and link to my reviews after I finish the books. As with the location challenge, I'll list a title as applicable, even if I don't end up writing a review of it or even finishing it this year.

New and old ideas:
I found this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson the other day: "There is a great deal of poetry in a chest of tea." And now I'm inspired to start the poetry posts of which I've been dreaming lately! I'm calling it "Poetry in a Chest of Tea," and I'll talk about one or two poems I've read recently and what tea I've been drinking, as well as other related tidbits. I'm not an authority on poetry or tea by any means, so these will be very casual (and hopefully fun) posts.

I'm really going to try and jazz up my blog this year, both visually and practically. I'm also going to try and have more "Bitsy View" and non-review posts. Hopefully, this will encourage me to post more often and help you guys to have more fun reading my blog! You're always welcome to throw ideas out to me, as well as requests (examples: "I want quotes from what you're reading!" or "Have you seen any great book bags lately?").

Thanks for reading about my plans for 2015. Don't forget to subscribe to my blog so you can see me fulfill all of my challenges! And tell me, what challenges are you participating in this year?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

2014 Wrap-Up

This may seem a little late, but I've been avoiding my computer. It's hard to explain...but anyway, I'm wrapping-up my challenges for 2014 so I can start thinking about challenges for 2015! This is one of the best parts of blogging from my perspective. I can see how much I've accomplished on my goals for the last year and get really excited about what is to come! (This will just be a final numbers post, but I'll have a link for each challenge so you can see titles and more information.) So, without further ado, here are the final lists:

Let Me Count the Ways
Original Goal: Gold, 4001-6000 pages
Adjusted Goal: 10,000 pages
Read: 13,371
Both goals completed!

Book Bingo
Original Goal: Diagonal, 11 books
Adjusted Goal: Blackout, 55 books
Read: 30 books
Original goal completed!

Dive into Poetry
Original Goal: 2 books
Read: 1 book

Where Are You Reading
Challenge Suggestion: 50 states+foreign books
Original Goal: Have fun and map where I'm reading!
Original goal completed!

I didn't actually set a goal for the last one, but I had a good time mapping where I'm reading! I might do that again this year and then compare the maps to see how it changes with my goals. Obviously, I was disappointed by my incomplete status on the poetry challenge. I only challenged myself to read two books! I got stuck on Ariel by Sylvia Plath and didn't want to pick up a new one because then I might never finish the former! I'm not going to take another poetry challenge, but I'll try to read individual poems (rather than an entire book of them at a time) more often. Maybe that will help. The host of the page-counting challenge deleted her blog early in the year, but I adjusted my goal and continued counting pages anyway--I had never tracked pages read before; that was fun! I always have fun with Book Bingo, too. I did quite a bit this year and reached my original goal, so that's awesome. All in all, it was a great year of reading. Here's hoping this year is just as wonderful and fun!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Book Bingo / Audio: The Mermaid Chair

I listened to The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd narrated by Eliza Foss. When her mother is rushed to the hospital missing a finger and an explanation of what happened, Jessie Sullivan rushes to Egret Island to find out what happened and monitor her mother's health. But returning to her hometown turns over a lot of stones Jessie thought she had buried away, and she finds herself pulling away from her husband and toward freedom and artistic exploration in a mysterious puzzle of her past, present, and future.

(picture taken from Goodreads;
cover design by Amy King;
cover illustration by PoodlesRock/Corbis

Conclusion: I don't really know how to feel about this book. I picked it up at a library book sale, wanting to listen to more audiobooks. Initially, I was unimpressed, because I'm so sick of books about women breaking free at middle age of the lives they've built, but there is more to this story that I do like. I just couldn't bring myself to like Jessie. I can't approve of her choices and actions, and even at the end she just seems selfish to me. I was really surprised by the ending, and it explains a lot about the characters that didn't make sense earlier in the book. And I imagine the book is supposed to be some kind of message of love. The specifics of this message bother me, but I can't really imagine a way to make it better, so I'll let it go. I'll say this--the book got me thinking. Kidd adds great description to her writing, down to how a character looks when he sleeps and the little things in a person's appearance that convey how they are or what they do and feel. I can appreciate that, and I really liked Hepseba and Whit, as well as the variety of settings in the book. I haven't decided if I'll read more books by Sue Monk Kidd or not. I guess we'll see.

Audio: Eliza Foss's accent (whether natural or fabricated) is perfect for the location of Jessie's home town (Southeast US). She affects the right attitude for each character and has the fantastic inflection of a true storyteller. If I had been reading this in print, I probably would have stopped and set it down at some point; but Foss kept drawing me back when I got tired of the story, probably just for the sake of hearing her tell it.

Recommendation: I would recommend this for people who like books about (1) women exploring their independence after they reach a certain age; (2) families and friends with complicated emotional dynamics; or (3) culture on small islands off the Eastern US Coast.

The Mermaid Chair is my seventh TBR Pile choice for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge. Last book for my 2014 reviews! Whew! Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Book Club / Book Bingo: The Spymistress

The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini is a fictional interpretation of a real Union spy, Elizabeth Van Lew, living in the Confederate capital (Richmond, Virginia) during the United States Civil War.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

First Impression: I'm kind of bored. I guess I expected Chiaverini to jump into the interesting part of the story and do flashbacks if she needed to explain things, but she's starting when Virginia first secedes from the Union. I've only read three chapters; I just feel like the author is lingering in descriptions of Lizzie when the story should be active, exciting, and historical. I hope there's an Endnote or something to explain which parts are based in fact and what Chiaverini created. If it wasn't for book group, I probably wouldn't keep reading this. Too much emotion, not very profound language or storyline.

Conclusion:  I'm glad I kept reading this book. There were times when it felt a little like a beach read, but it was pretty good overall. I enjoyed the setting and learned quite a bit about historical events in the Confederate South. There was an Afterword where the author tells a little about her research and what happened to Elizabeth. I'm still curious how many of the side characters were made-up and how many real people were combined to make specific characters. I was also curious to know what really happened with Elizabeth's sister-in-law, Mary. I might do more research on it, although I imagine there isn't much to be found about her specifically. I might not seek out and read everything by Chiaverini, but if her next topic is of historical interest to me, I will probably read it. I trust her research, and her writing style is solid if not my favorite.

Recommendation: If you're interested in the Civil War and would prefer to read about it in an easily readable, historical fiction format, this is the book for you! This is also a good option if you're curious about past U.S. spy networks or strong female role models.

The Spymistress is my Historical Fiction choice for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge.

Book Bingo: Shop Like a Chef

Shop Like a Chef: A Food Lover's Guide to St. Louis Neighborhoods by Chef Clara Moore and Matt Sorrell is a bit self-explanatory in the title. It features different areas of St. Louis and surrounding places to tell you where to shop for everything from foreign fruits and spices to a basic cutting board.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

My store actually received this book from a publisher and we were asked to review it. This is an honest review. I ended up buying it anyway, so my store receiving it for free didn't taint anything!

Conclusion: I don't live in St. Louis, but I go there at least a few times a year. I found Shop Like a Chef to be useful even though it wasn't about my hometown. There are features on the best places to buy a variety of basic as well as hard-to-find cooking supplies and ingredients. There are also fun recipes, glossaries of terms (for those of us who don't know what chayotes are), source websites, market and celebration features, a produce calendar for MO and IL, and more! For a 222-page paperback, this thing packs some serious punch. Between the one visit I've made since discovering the book and the many source websites I've visited, I've already gotten a lot of use out of this book.

Recommendation: If you live in Missouri or Illinois and like to cook or bake or buy gifts for someone who does, this is a fantastic resource which you'll use a lot. If you don't live in this area but enjoy cooking or taking a trip to St. Louis once in a while, this could still be a really useful book for you.

This book is my Non-Fiction choice for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge. As with romances, I don't really write reviews on non-fiction books that you don't read like a story--such as cookbooks, travel books, regional features, and the like. If you guys are interested in reading more reviews about these kinds of books, please let me know!

Book Bingo: Caged in Winter

Caged in Winter by Brighton Walsh is about a girl and a guy: self-sufficient bar waitress Winter and family man/chef Cade. They seem like the worst match for each other, and neither of them really wants a relationship right now, but after being thrown together by circumstance (or a grabby bar patron, whatever you want to focus on) they find themselves inexplicably drawn together.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

Okay, confession time: I do read romances from time to time. Not constantly, but probably every other month or something like that. I'm not talking about books that have a variety of literary values and just happen to include some romance (like Pride and Prejudice), which I could read all the time. I'm talking about books where the primary focus is the romance. Anyway, while I like reading these to "cleanse my palate" between more serious reading, I don't usually write reviews of them. There's not a lot to say usually in the form of a review. I'm going to write a short one about this book, though, because there's a spot for "Romance" on my Book Bingo sheet, and I'm trying to wrap it up for 2014.

Conclusion: Winter was not my favorite character. While I appreciate her troubles and her strength standing up to them, I feel like she dwells in the past a lot. Cade, however, is the perfect guy. He's a great chef, and he's completely focused on school and taking care of his niece. He's very sweet and protective of those he cares about. The two characters really seemed like a mismatch initially, but I think Walsh did a pretty good job of showing why these two opposite personalities fit so well together. And isn't that true in reality? You have to have a balance of similarities and differences to make a great relationship. So, I enjoyed this as a quick read just for fun. I will warn you that if you refuse to read books with sex scenes, you might want to be careful with this one. There are only two or three, though, and it's more of an afterthought rather than the focus of the book. I was able to skip a couple pages each time and come back to the story.

Caged in Winter is my Romance selection for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge. This has been so much fun this year! I'll probably have to post a few of these reviews today to finish it up. Whew!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Book Bingo: The Garthim Wars

Wow, did I miss a lot of time! Sorry about that! I wish I could say I was taking a vacation, but I was actually working more. My supervisor left the store, and I got a promotion! Hopefully this was a temporary lapse, but no matter what, I'm here just in time to review some books I've read before the end of the new year!

The Garthim Wars by Barbara Randall Kesel is part of the Legends of The Dark Crystal graphic novel series. It's illustrated by Heidi Arnhold and Max Kim. If you've ever seen the movie The Dark Crystal, this is a prequel to that storyline. In a fantasy world that is ruled by evil Skeksis (vulture-like creatures with magic), two Gelflings (a more peaceful race--big fans of music, craft, and animals) whose towns have been destroyed set out to rouse others of their kind in defense of their homes. In this novel, the Gelflings are fighting Garthims (giant cockroach and crab-like creatures), but who knows what lies ahead of them next?

(picture taken from Goodreads;
cover art by Jae-Hwan Kim)

First Impression: I'm a bit confused by the pace. There's a lot of action right at the beginning,  and then it dies down for the council discussion in the gelfling cave community. I'm concerned that this storyline won't fit very well into the timeline of The Dark Crystal and its other prequels. I like that the authors included dream-fasting--that's a nice little tidbit from the movie. The art is pretty good and its fairly accurate to the style of Henson's puppets. I like the different outfits, hair, and everything they pulled in to make the characters unique, but I wish the faces were a little more varied, as well. This would make a huge difference, especially since the art is all black and white.

Conclusion: Lahr and Neffi had good interaction with each other as well as other characters. It's interesting to see how the gelfling society traditions conflict with wartime--for example, all of the older gelflings are constantly trying to discuss Neffi's search for a husband, but she is more focused on necessary defense tactics. The story would have been more unique if the authors had chosen two boys or two girls to be the main characters rather than a boy and a girl. As it is, the graphic novel reads a bit like an attempt to copy Jen and Kira from the movie. I was surprised that the book ended where it did, but it's apparently the first volume in a sub-series of The Dark Crystal timeline. Stories set in war time rarely grow old, even if the war is fictional and/or unrealistic. Many of the issues remain the same, and the primitive setting of this story puts an interesting spin on war and Henson's fantasy world. This is, in fact, an official graphic novel from the Jim Henson Company--not a separate one as I originally thought. I enjoyed it more that I thought I would, though I'm still unsure how it will fit in the complete storyline. I will probably read the second one if only to know what happens next.

The Garthim Wars is my tenth "Series" choice for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge. I don't usually write reviews of graphic novels, but I read them fairly frequently, and I figure I can use as many books crossed off my bingo sheet as possible at this point. I can't believe the year is almost over!