Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Club: The Eye of Minds

The Eye of Minds is the first book in James Dashner's The Mortality Doctrine series. Dashner is also the author of the more well-known Maze Runner series, of which I have seen the first movie but have not read any of the books. Here is part of the description of this one from the back of the book: "Michael is a gamer. And like most gamers, he almost spends more time on the VirtNet than in the actual world. The VirtNet offers total mind and body immersion, and it’s addictive. But....Some technology is too dangerous to fool with. And recent reports claim that one gamer is going beyond what any gamer has done before: he’s holding players hostage inside the VirtNet. The government knows that to catch a hacker, you need a hacker. They want [Michael] on their team. But the risk is enormous. If he accepts their challenge, Michael will need to go off the VirtNet grid. There are back alleys and corners in the system human eyes have never seen and predators he can’t even fathom—and there’s the possibility that the line between game and reality will be blurred forever."

(picture taken from Goodreads;
cover art by Kekai Kotaki;
book design by Stephanie Moss)

First Impression: This is a really great story idea, but I'm not sure I like the actual book. Dashner is trying to do too many things at once, and the ideas aren't quite cohesive. Also, I don't like the psychological and emotional aspects of the characters. Why does Michael feel ashamed about his anger when he thinks he's being kidnapped? That seems like a normal reaction to me. And why is all of the emotion in this book so fleeting? Is it poor writing, or is that just how the author perceives adolescence?

Conclusion: I guess I'm not a big fan of Dashner's writing style, although this is the only book I've read by him, so it's hard to compare. The characters in this one were flat and contradictory. For example, Michael is supposed to be the most responsible of the three main characters, but as soon as the action really gets going, he's the one verbally attacking everyone they meet and generally being difficult. Also, the ending was horrible. I guess Dashner made the decisions that he did so he could continue the series on a certain path, but it pushed me even farther away from characters I cared little about to begin with. I almost feel bad for not liking it, because he obviously enjoyed writing it (my assumption based on his appreciation notes at the end of the book). But, so it is. I just didn't feel any connection to this book by the end. I probably won't read anything else he writes.

Recommendation: The people I know who liked this book were fans of Dashner before, so if you've read any of his other books and enjoy his writing style, here's some more.

And the Winners Are...

Announcing the winners of my Recent Reads Giveaway:

Hamlette won a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut,
reviewed by me here:

 and bzee won a copy of Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko,
reviewed by me here:

Congratulations, ladies! Expect a package from me soon. I didn't have enough entries to give away all of the prizes (don't you wish you'd entered now?), but I hope these two enjoy their books! This was a giveaway with a strange selection, I know! Thanks to everyone who checked it out, even if you didn't enter.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Thank You!

 Thanks to everyone who entered my Recent Reads Giveaway this month! I know it was a pretty small turnout this time, but you guys are awesome! Winners will be contacted and then posted soon, and there are more book reviews for you just around the corner. Stay posted and let me know what you're reading during this beautiful entrance to Spring.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

2015 Audiobook Challenge

I signed up for the "Stenographer" level (10-15 books) of the 2015 Audiobook Challenge hosted by the ladies at The Book Nympho and Hot Listens. A lot of these will probably overlap with my other challenges, but I'll still be keeping track of this challenge by itself here until the next quarterly update.

Audiobook / TBR Pile: Eat, Pray, Love

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert is a memoir. The subtitle tells the basics. After her divorce, Gilbert took a year-long trip to try and find balance in her life between love, pleasure, and devotion. This book is her re-telling of what happened in that year-long excursion.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

First Impression: What has really struck me so far is Gilbert's honesty. I really thought she might have romanticized her story a bit (basing my opinion solely on TV commercials for the movie version and the recommendations from friends of mine who are serious romantics), but she doesn't. I love her open, honest, casual writing style and how she sprinkles bits of history and language in her story. She talks about her divorce (though not in detail, which I appreciated) and her struggles with depression and loneliness. The pure experiential way she approaches the memoir helps me to see and feel her story. Personally, I love the Italian language and the very idea of Italy, so I may be somewhat biased at the beginning here. A Room with a View, Only You, Dante...these are all reasons I have been mesmerized before, and Gilbert is basically giving me justification for this loving stupor right now.

Conclusion: This was a fun read about a writer who basically turned her entire life around when she turned 30. I was a little surprised by some of the other reviews I read on this book. I think some people were expecting it to be a great spiritual or life guide for them, and it's not. In truth, it was easy for me to read this just as a memoir, because Gilbert is nothing like me. I couldn't even try to place myself in her position. But learning little things about the places she traveled and the history of those surroundings was a bonus for me. And I was a big fan of this audio version since it's narrated by Gilbert herself. This lends a more personal connection to the story, and the natural inflections in Gilbert's written and spoken language are easily found.

Recommendation: If you enjoy casual memoirs about people taking chances and changing their lives around, this is a good pick for you. If the occasional bawdy reference or discussions of divorce or religious practice make you uncomfortable, this probably isn't a great read for you.

Eat, Pray, Love is my second read for the 2015 Audiobook Challenge and my sixth read for the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge. This is also one of the book prizes for my Recent Reads Giveaway! There's still one day to enter, so go here and leave a comment before time runs out!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Don't Forget!

Don't forget to enter the Recent Reads Giveaway, everyone! Here's the link again--it can't hurt to try something new. I know these books haven't been as appealing to you guys as my Pride and Prejudice giveaway a while back, but they are good. Plus, the more success I have with each giveaway, the more likelihood of vendors, publishers, and artists supporting me for future giveaways with things for you guys! And while I would love it if you followed my blog and commented regularly, that's not a requirement to enter. You all are awesome!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Book Club / Banned Books / TBR Pile: Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut is considered one of the greatest anti-war classics of all time. It is about the life of a man named Billy Pilgrim, an American prisoner-of-war during the fire-bombing of Dresden in WWII, and the choices and consequences of war and life.

(picture taken from Goodreads;
cover illustrations by Kurt Vonnegut;
cover design by Lynn Buckley)

First Impression: Many people have told me that this is a classic and that Vonnegut is a fantastic author. Book group was the final push to read it, but I've found it quite a bit different than I expected. Vonnegut's writing style, while unique, is not producing the profound, moving war story I expected--rather, a sarcastic nonchalance about war and death. Is it humorous or just not incredibly dark? I don't know. I also can't tell what's going on with the alien and space thing that he's added. I'm not sure if the story's supposed to be sci-fi or if Billy's life is just a confusing jumble. I'm pretty sure he's weeping as a result of PTSD, and I've found the glimpses into WWII and life in the 40s and 50s to be fascinating. We'll see what happens.

Conclusion: I'm not sure how I felt about this, honestly. I found it hard to connect to the characters, which is an issue for me. I guess my favorite character would be Vonnegut himself. My favorite parts of this book were the beginning and the end, when Vonnegut is describing his own experiences trying to remember the Dresden burning (he was actually there as a POW) and to write this book. His approach to death and acceptance with this repeated "So it goes" statement actually made sense to me from personal experience. However, it's hard to judge the believability of a chunk of the book, because Vonnegut brings aliens and jumping around in time into the picture. The easiest way for me to accept this is to chalk Billy's issues up to PTSD or at least confusion mixed with trauma, but the narration accepts Billy's experiences as real and not a result of any mental adjustment. I think parts of this book are well worth reading. I learned a few things I didn't know before about the war, and I'm glad I read this. That being said, if Vonnegut didn't have such good writing style and genre-bending tactics to intrigue, I'm not sure his works would be considered literature. "So it goes."

Slaughterhouse-Five is my third read for the Banned Book Challenge 2015 and my fifth read for the 2015 TBR Pile Reading Challenge. I'm doing pretty well with these so far--how are you all doing with your challenges this year? Don't forget to enter my current giveaway in which this book is one of the prizes!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Diverse Books: Still Alice

Still Alice by Lisa Genova is about a Harvard cognitive psychology professor who discovers that she has early-onset Alzheimer's. The novel tells the story month-by-month of Alice's discovery of and progression through her disease from her point-of-view.

I think this cover is so beautiful, especially when you read the book and understand the significance of the butterflies to Alice.

(picture taken from Goodreads;
jacket design by Anna Dorfman;
jacket photograph from Roz Woodward/Getty Images)

First Sentence: "Even then, more than a year earlier, there were neurons in her head, not far from her ears, that were being strangled to death, too quietly for her to hear them."

First Impression: The idea of this book is incredibly simple and the reading of it profound. My favorite thing about this book so far is how subtly the story is being told. It is all from Alice's point-of-view. She may be going about her day-to-day life, but the reader is seeing her Alzheimer's progress even when she misses it. I can completely relate to her distress--language, literature, and family are my life, and to know you have a disease where you will lose memory of all of them? Well, that would be harder than most things.

Conclusion: I can't believe this is Genova's first novel! Her passion for the book and for her topic is obvious. The characters are very realistic and well-developed. They are not perfect and often make mistakes handling Alice's situation, but this reflects the love, confusion, frustration, and helplessness they are all feeling in the face of her diagnosis. My heart aches for Alice, but I still love how realistic this story is. This is not a fairy tale. It's a fictional interpretation of real events and issues people with early-onset Alzheimer's and their families go through every day. It's such a heart-breaking disease that gets little attention compared to cancer and other diseases.

 This is the movie cover. Apparently Julianne Moore won several awards for her part as Alice, but I haven't seen it yet.

Still Alice is my February "Invisible Illnesses" choice for the We Read Diverse Books Challenge 2015. Has anyone else read this book yet, and what did you think? Don't forget to enter my current giveaway in which this book is one of the prizes!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Giveaway: Recent Reads

This giveaway is now closed. Thank you to everyone who entered.

At long last, the giveaway for which you've all been waiting! Since I didn't make it in time for Letter Writing Month, I'm going to time it with my son's birthday! These are books I've read recently or that I am currently reading. I don't have reviews for all of them yet, but I'll link to the review posts when I do, so you can see what I thought of the books I'm giving away. I love giveaways, and I can't wait to see what you guys think of these books!

Now for the prizes!:

1) a mass-market paperback copy of Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut,
reviewed by me here;

2) a mass-market, movie-cover paperback copy of Still Alice by Lisa Genova,
reviewed by me here;

3) a trade-size paperback copy of Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko,
reviewed by me here;

and 4) a trade-size paperback copy of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert,
the audiobook version of which was reviewed by me here.

Here are the contest entry information and the rules. Please read all the way through them before participating! 
How to Enter:
  • To enter, leave a comment on this post answering one or both of these questions: Which one of the prizes are you most excited about? Which book featured on my blog in another post are you most interested in reading in the future (or mention one you read and enjoyed)? You will get one entry for each question you answer. You can earn a third entry by sharing this post on your blog or Goodreads and linking back to it through a comment on this post. If you don't post a link here or I can't click through the link, I can't count your entry. The entries can be posted together in one comment, or they can each be posted separately.
  • Comments must be left on this post before 11:59pm on Monday, March 23, 2015 (Central Time) to be entered into the drawing. One entry per type per person (three entries total) please.
  • Each qualified entry will be entered into a drawing, and four winners will be selected randomly from those entries. Each winner will receive ONE of the four prizes listed in this post. There are no shipping restrictions. I will do my best to get you the prize you prefer on a first drawn, first pick basis.
  • The winners will be contacted via e-mail, so please be sure you leave a valid e-mail address in your comment(s).
  • The winners will be notified by March 29, 2015. If a winner doesn't respond with his or her mailing address by April 4, 2015, he or she forfeits the prize and an alternative winner will be selected.
  • Each winner's prize will be shipped by me after the mailing address is provided. After the prizes are claimed, the winners' names will be announced on this blog.
Make sure you check back to see more reviews of these books! Good luck!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

TBR Pile: A Grimm Warning

A Grimm Warning is the third book in Chris Colfer's The Land of Stories series. If you haven't read my reviews of the previous two books in the series, they're located here.

(picture taken from Goodreads;
jacket art by Brandon Dorman)

First Impression: So far, I'm questioning some of the realism of Conner's experiences (in the real world, not the Land of Stories)--his teacher riding first class on the airplane while her students are in second, for example. And Alex's sudden attachment to the farmer boy and her confidence in Red kind of bug me. It's hard to explain. I'm curious to see how the beginning with the Grimm brothers will play into the rest of the series. Although pieces of this book are bugging me, Colfer always has fun, original ideas, and I'm curious where he'll take the series in this one.

Conclusion: I've enjoyed The Land of Stories series so far. Chris Colfer's writing style seems to be improving, but the increased complexity in his topics counteracted this somewhat. I don't like Alex's character as much in this one. Maybe it's the teenage girl aspect of everything, but it was a bit annoying. Also, I don't really get the state of things between the fairies and the elves, although Empress Elvina is a promising character. Colfer did a really good job with the French Army. I was a little disappointed with the ending. I did enjoy the story, but it's not quite as good as the first two in the series. Not sure if I'll read the next book or not.

Recommendation: If you've read the first and second books in the series and really want to know what happens next for Conner and Alex, this is the book for you. As for unique takes on traditional fairy tales, I think the first two books in the series did a better job of that. Also, a lot of things won't make sense if you haven't been reading the series, so don't skip the others to read this one.

A Grimm Warning is the fourth book toward my 2015 TBR Pile Challenge.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Mailbox Monday: The Kite Runner

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme started by Marcia of To Be Continued. It's a fun focus on what books you're getting in the mail each week. This week, I received an audio CD copy of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini via Paperbackswap. I've been meaning to read this book for a long time, so I figured maybe if I got it on audio, I might have time. Pretty excited.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

This is really sad, but I didn't send hardly anything in the mail the last week of February. (If you told me you wanted mail from me, you will still receive something. I just got kind of swamped this month and haven't sent them yet.) That being said, my Month of Letters was pretty successful for never having participated before. I mailed about 60% of the goal. Definitely more than I usually mail anyway. Thanks for participating with me, guys! As promised, I'll be posting that giveaway either today or later this week. Don't forget to check back for it!