Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Books Read in 2014

This is a comprehensive list of all the books I read during 2014, alphabetically listed by the author's last name. The titles link to my review of the book if I have one.

  1. The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (Flavia de Luce #2) by Alan Bradley
  2. A Red Herring Without Mustard (Flavia de Luce #3) by Alan Bradley
  3. I am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia de Luce #4) by Alan Bradley
  4. Speaking From Among the Bones (Flavia de Luce #5) by Alan Bradley
  5. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce #6) by Alan Bradley
  6. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust (Flavia de Luce #7) by Alan Bradley
  7. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
  8. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
  9. Christmas Stories by Charles Dickens
  10. The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
  11. Life is a Verb by Patti Digh
  12. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
  13. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  14. The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
  15. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  16. The Skin I'm In by Sharon Flake
  17. The Royal Ranger (Ranger's Apprentice #12) by John Flanagan
  18. Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman
  19. Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan
  20. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  21. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
  22. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  23. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  24. River Secrets by Shannon Hale
  25. Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected by Kelle Hampton
  26. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
  27. I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree by Laura Hillman
  28. The Sweetness of Life by Paulus Hochgatterer
  29. Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman
  30. Christ and the New Covenant by Jeffrey R. Holland
  31. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
  32. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
  33. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
  34. Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
  35. Her by Harriet Lane
  36. Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
  37. French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon
  38. The Dance of Intimacy by Harriet Lerner
  39. Lillian on Life by Allison Jean Lester
  40. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
  41. The Executioner's Heart (Newbury & Hobbes #4) by George Mann
  42. Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham
  43. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  44. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
  45. After the Armistice Ball (Dandy Gilver #1) by Catriona McPherson
  46. The Burry Man's Day (Dandy Gilver #2) by Catriona McPherson
  47. Bury Her Deep (Dandy Gilver #3) by Catriona McPherson
  48. Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Blood Stains (#5) by Catriona McPherson
  49. Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses (#7) by Catriona McPherson
  50. The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
  51. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
  52. A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough by Dr. Wayne Muller
  53. Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
  54. The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson
  55. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  56. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
  57. The Darkening Field by William Ryan
  58. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  59. The Book of Mormon translated by Joseph Smith Jr.
  60. Taste of Darkness (Healer #3) by Maria V. Snyder
  61. Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons
  62. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
  63. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  64. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  65. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
  66. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
  67. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  68. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
  69. The Jaguar's Children by John Vaillant
  70. Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool
  71. Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson
  72. The Unseen Guest (Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #3) by Maryrose Wood
  73. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Monday, December 29, 2014

Stacking the Shelves

Here is what is new for me this week:




What's new on your shelf this week?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Lillian on Life by Alison Jean Lester

As mentioned in an earlier post, I received this eGalley from Edelweiss.

Lillian on Life is a work of fiction, written like a memoir, in first-person. This book is a series of memories, told by Lillian, mostly about her romantic escapades throughout her life. None of these relationships last and I felt that all of them seem like pretty superficial relationships.

I didn't particularly care for this book. While it is well-written and has some insightful moments, I just could not bring myself to like it. I don't think that real people in real life actually live like Lillian does... and if they do, I find that really depressing. This woman defines herself based on all of these fleeting and unsuccessful relationships. She prides herself on her independence and her resilience, which I felt was really just a lack of human connection and a lack of conscience. I basically felt that Lillian had no redeeming qualities to make a reader sympathize with her.

As I said, I felt that this novel is insightful at a times. I especially liked this quote:
"When we're young, we're unfit judges whether our parents know what they're talking about. Sometimes we want them to be right, sometimes we want them to be dead wrong, but we can't tell which they are actually being."
So, overall, I would not recommend this book. I think that the author, Alison Jean Lester, has great potential as a writer and I would be willing to read her next book if/when it is written.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Audiobook Review: Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

I was a little wary of listening to this book while I worked, worried that it would be too intense or too emotional. Here are my thoughts about the book:

This book is a non-fiction, first-person account of a man who was born free in New York and later kidnapped and sold into slavery. Solomon Northup spent twelve years as a slave in Louisiana. This book tells his story, starting with his background, his married life in New York, his abduction, and his years as a slave, ending with him regaining his freedom. It's not a spoiler... obviously he was freed or there would be no book!

This is an incredible book. If you haven't read it, you should. I have not seen the movie and probably won't see it, simply because of the level of violence. I know that it is probably realistic, but I still don't like watching it. The book also includes a fair amount of violence (as any real account of slavery will), as well as the language that you would expect to accompany it.

The wonderful thing about listening to a first-person narrative in audiobook form is that it feels as if the person is speaking directly to you -- telling them your story. This audiobook is wonderful and the reader does a fantastic job of capturing the emotion involved in the story.

I loved this book and I am so glad I listened to it. It is rare to find a book written by someone who was enslaved, so this book was especially enlightening of the conditions and horror that the slaves experienced. I heartily recommend this book!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

I found this book on the NY Times list of "The 10 Best Books of 2014." So saying it was well-recommended is an understatement.

This is the first graphic novel I've ever read. It is a memoir written by an adult daughter, detailing the last few years of her parents' lives. This book is so true and so human. Reading about Chast's mom and dad brought memories flooding back of my Great-Grandma, who suffered from Alzheimer's when I was a kid. And reading about the author's reactions and thoughts about these experiences made me think about my own Grandma and my mother-in-law, both of whom found themselves caring for elderly parents. The book is as hilarious as it is sad. I found myself laughing out loud at points only to be struck by how not-funny the entire situation was.
"Meanwhile, my father lived with us. Any Florence Nightengale-type visions I ever had of myself - an unselfish, patient, sweet, caring child who happily tended to her parents in their old age - were destroyed within an hour or so."
Chast does an amazing job of bringing all these emotions to the forefront throughout her book. This truly is a work that is relevant and relatable for so many people. I highly recommend it!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Stacking the Shelves

Here is what is new in my reading pile this week:


A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter
by William Deresiewicz


Since I've determined that audiobooks are one of the best ways to get through all those classics I still haven't read...
Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

Advanced Reading Copies

As usual, these Advanced Copies (or NetGalleys) came from Edelweiss or Shelf Awareness.

The Sirena Quest by Michael A. Kahn
Golden State by Stephanie Kegan

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan

As stated in a previous post, I received this book as a birthday gift from my hubby. He sure understands me well.

My husband and I are big fans of Jim Gaffigan's stand-up comedy. If you've never seen it, you should. He's hilarious. Of course, we might just identify with his jokes more because we're also exhausted parents who love food and don't necessarily love to exercise. So when Jim Gaffigan wrote a book entitled Dad is Fat, of course I had to get it for my husband for Father's Day last year. And it was only fitting that he get me Gaffigan's next book, Food: A Love Story.

This book surprised me in one respect: it took me extra long to read. This phenomenon baffled me for a solid week. I can normally read 2-3 books a week and here I was, a full week into Food: A Love Story, and only about halfway through. Eventually I decided it is because the book doesn't have a plot to keep me moving from one chapter to the next. Or maybe I was just savoring every delicious morsel...

The book reads like an extended stand-up set. Gaffigan explores his love of food and eating mostly unhealthy food. Portions of it made me laugh out loud, which I suppose is what you expect with a book like this. Even if this book is not destined for literary greatness, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Our Favorite Christmas Picture Books

On the last day of November, I posted a list of our "Picture Book Christmas Countdown" books. This is a tradition that I love doing each year with my kids. In this post, I wanted to provide a little more detail on our favorites. If you're looking to add to your Christmas book collection or just looking for something good to read with your kids before the big day, these are my recommendations:

Santa Claus by Rod Green
If your kids are like mine, they will come up with a lot of questions about Santa Claus and how he does what he does. This book is an excellent resource for answering those questions. The book includes sections about the North Pole, Santa's house, elves, reindeer, the workshop, Santa's suit, the sleigh, and details how Santa can magically travel the world all in one night and how he can deliver presents without being seen. I especially love that this book gives an explanation of how Santa gets into houses without chimneys -- which is something my son was worried about because we don't have a chimney. I would say this book is best for ages 5+ just because of the amount of detail included... younger kids might not understand it.

Santa's Favorite Story by Hisako Aoki

I think this book is another that is great for kids with questions about how Santa fits in with the story of Jesus' birth. In this book, Santa tells the Nativity story and explains that Jesus is the reason for the gifts we give at Christmas. An excellent book!

Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini

This book made it onto our "favorites" list because it is hilarious. Palatini has written several Moose books, but I think this one is my favorite out of them. It is a fun way to show kids all the preparations that go into Christmas and that it's okay if everything doesn't turn out "perfectly perfect."

Friday, December 12, 2014

Audiobook Review: The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

After falling in love with the writing of Dickens during my college years, I made a goal to read all of his novels before I turned 30. Sadly, I turned 30 last month and I still have not made it through Martin Chuzzlewit and Dombey and Son. I blame this mainly on the fact that Dickens requires a fair amount of time and attention to read, and I don't have much of either one while living with two little kids. Now that I can listen to audiobooks while I work, I decided to get back into Dickens. 

I have tried to read The Old Curiosity Shop several times. I've started. I've stopped. And I've started again... and stopped again. If you've never read Dickens, I must warn you that he does require his reader's attention. The chapters are lengthy, as are his paragraphs and sentences, so you really need some time to devote to reading. His plots are complex, and his characters are often a bit ridiculous.

That being said, I absolutely love the writing of Charles Dickens. He created some of the greatest characters ever, in my opinion. His heroes are unlikely, his villains are devious, and everyone else is hilarious. His prose is clever, witty, and quite funny at times. So I think that his books are worth the time and effort required. I have read a fair number of Dickens' novels -- David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Hard Times, Barnaby Rudge, Nicholas Nickleby, Great Expectations, Bleak House, and A Tale of Two Cities. I took a class studying nothing by Dickens during college. It's safe to say that I enjoy Dickens, but even I have a hard time slogging through sometimes.

Now that I have experienced a Dickens audiobook, I think this is a very good way to "read" Dickens -- especially if you've never tried before... or if you've tried and failed. I loved listening to The Old Curiosity Shop. Anton Lesser's characterization is incredible and he does a great job of distinguishing between characters. I don't think I'll ever be able to read any dialogue of Daniel Quilp without imagining it in the voice from this recording. And I really want to go back to the book and read some of Dick Swiveller's scenes to see if I like him just as much in print as in audio.

I think that one of the greatest things about Dickens is the description and development of his characters (not to mention their incredible names). Even minor characters are described thoroughly enough that you are never sure how big of a role they will be playing. Characters will disappear from the story for a time, only to come back later on. Leave it to Dickens to always tie up his loose ends. The same goes for plots and sub-plots. I am convinced that everything Dickens put in print was put in with a purpose.

So if you're new to Dickens, I suggest you try an audiobook! If you haven't read any of his novels before, I would recommend starting with Oliver Twist or David Copperfield. But really, I think they're all wonderful.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Stacking the Shelves

Here is what is new (ish) in my to-read pile this week:


I started listening to this one earlier this week. This is my first "classic spin-off" and so far I'm not terribly impressed. It could be the narrator, though. I might need to try reading it after I finish listening to see if it's less obnoxious.

This is next on my audiobook reading list. Ever since watching Sherlock, I have been interested to see how the books compare. Although I think a version read by Benedict Cumberbatch would be better, I'll take what I can get.

Advanced Reading Copy

I received this Advanced Reading Copy through Shelf Awareness (sign up for their Pro newsletter to see opportunities for advanced copies and egalleys). This book is set for publication in mid-January.

What's on your "to-read" list this week?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Flavia de Luce Mysteries by Alan Bradley

I was first introduced to Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce Mysteries a few years ago when I organized a book club reading mostly juvenile and young adult books. One month, we read the first installment, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

I liked it enough that I added the next installment to my reading list. Now, book #7 is set to be released on January 6, 2015. I was able to get an advanced review copy through Edelweiss, so I determined to get caught up so that I could review the entire series in one post!

This is a series of books that really ought to be read in order, especially the later installments. Set in 1950's England, these mysteries are led by young Flavia de Luce, a budding chemist and amateur detective. Flavia has a penchant for discovering dead bodies, and an incredible talent for analyzing the details and solving the mystery.

Flavia is surrounded by a great cast of characters. She lives at Buckshaw with her father, Colonel Haviland de Luce, and her sisters Ophelia (Feely) and Daphne (Daffy). The household servants, Mrs. Mullett and Dogger, also play important roles throughout the series, as does Flavia bicycle Gladys. Through Flavia's adventures (or misadventures), the reader also becomes acquainted with the local townspeople.

Bradley does excellent character description. He also helps the reader feel a wonderful sense of place. By the second or third novel, the reader can really picture the setting in and around Buckshaw and Bishop's Lacey.

The earlier novels would stand on their own fairly well, containing their own individual mysteries, but beginning in the 5th installment, a larger mystery begins to unfold around Flavia.

Here are my brief thoughts about each novel:

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (#1)

Here the reader is introduced to all the major characters at play in the series. We become familiar with Flavia's family dynamic and get a decent amount of background story from Colonel de Luce when he is in dire straits. Bradley does a decent job of balancing the need to provide background with the need to keep the reader engaged in the present mystery.

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (#2)

Things take a dark turn in the second installment and Flavia is able to solve the mystery surrounding not one, but two deaths. This novel helps expand Flavia's world beyond her own village of Bishop's Lacey and introduces some important characters, while more fully developing some of the characters that reappear throughout the series.

A Red Herring Without Mustard (#3)

This time, Flavia befriends a gypsy woman and later finds her beaten within an inch of her life. As she works to uncover the truth surrounding this attack, Flavia finds herself caught up in a bigger mystery than she realized, including a counterfeiting ring and a religious cult. She eventually uncovers an important truth about her own identity. This novel helps to begin setting the stage for the revelations that are still to come surrounding Flavia's mother.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (#4)

As Colonel de Luce finds himself in danger of losing his home (due to legal and financial difficulties), he agrees to hire out Buckshaw at Christmastime for the making of a film. The house is invaded by the cast and crew, and naturally, a death quickly follows. Flavia is determined to uncover the killer, but still finds time to devise an elaborate scheme to discover the truth about Father Christmas once and for all.

Speaking From Among the Bones (#5)

The upcoming exhumation of Bishop Lacey's own Saint Tancred draws Flavia into the tombs below the church, where a body is discovered -- just not the right one. Flavia is on the case, but it turns out that she is not the only one. Solving this mystery involves solving several, and ends with a shocking revelation about Flavia's family.

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (#6)

Following close on the heels of #5, this novel begins not long after Flavia learns of the discovery of her long-lost mother. This novel works to expand the larger mystery surrounding Flavia's parents and brings big changes to the de Luce family, resulting in Flavia being sent to Canada for school. This novel works quite well to portray Flavia's sadness, frustration, and confusion.

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust (#7)

This latest addition to the series was my favorite so far. Flavia is sent to Canada to attend Miss Bodycote's Female Academy and on her first night at school, discovers a body in most mysterious circumstances. As she works to solve the mystery, she also has to navigate her new environment, new characters, and new secrets.

All in all, I think this series has been wonderful. The books are not classified as "juvenile," but are still clean enough for anyone to enjoy. Bradley does an excellent job of building suspense, hinting at clues, and leading the reader through each mystery. I can't wait for the next one!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Her by Harriet Lane

I received this NetGalley through Shelf Awareness. Sign up for their "pro" newsletter to find opportunities for Advanced Reading Copies of books.

Her was originally published earlier this year. This new edition from Little, Brown and Company is set for release on January 6.

Knowing very little about this book in advance of reading it, I was sucked in as soon as I began. The novel is told from two different perspectives -- those of Nina and Emma. They are two very different women whose lives become intertwined through the design of Nina. There are hints of a shared past between the women, but the details are not revealed until the final chapters.

Nina is a painter, a mother to a teenager, and a wife. The reader is introduced to her parents and given some details of their personalities and history. Emma is a mother of two young children, a wife, and a former television professional.

Through most of the novel, the reader is given the idea of Emma committing some great wrong against Nina sometime in the past, which becomes even more mysterious when Emma obviously has no memory of Nina. Nina sees and recognizes Emma and designs to involve herself in Emma's life. On the surface, she seems like a kind and compassionate friend to Emma. But the reader is apprised to her subterfuge and her methodical breaking down of Emma.

Eventually, the reader is shown Nina's motivations, which just serve to make her actions even more abhorrent.

I felt that Lane's characterization of Emma is spot-on for a frazzled mother of young children. I also felt that, though the story seems slow at times, it was done purposefully to show how methodical Nina is in her efforts to destroy Emma.

Would I recommend it? Maybe. I did not particularly like the book, perhaps because I read it through my own "frazzled mother of young children" glasses, which may have colored my opinion. It is a well-written, intriguing story, and I found the characters well constructed. But the story is disconcerting and downright creepy in parts.
“I found the final plot twist unsatisfying, as plot twists often are: nothing like life, which - it seems to me - turns less on shocks or theatrics than on the small quiet moments, misunderstandings, or disappointments, the things that it's easy to overlook.” Her

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Audiobook Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Having never read Dracula, I took the opportunity of listening to the audiobook while I worked during October. The audiobook is quite long, but surprisingly interesting. I have found that some of the more lengthy classics are easier to get into in audiobook form than attempting to read the text, and I think this is certainly the case here.

This book is organized like a collection of journal entries and documents. The reader's first glimpses of Count Dracula are mysterious and we don't understand the nature and details of the vampire until much later in the story. As it is told chronologically from multiple perspectives, the reader discovers the truth about Dracula along with the characters.

The book follows the experiences of a small group of friends as they work to discover and destroy Dracula after Miss Lucy Westenra is killed and changed by him. Dracula works to evade them, kill them, and emotionally defeat them by trying to take another of their group as his own.

Eventually, the group learns Dracula's secrets, follows him back to Transylvania, and ultimately destroy him. The book, being quite old, has some interesting themes -- including the concept of the "new woman," which seems quaint from today's perspective.

All in all, I felt this read was worth the 15 hours of audio. It is a very slow and methodical narrative, but I enjoyed it and now can check this classic off my list.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Picture Book Christmas Countdown

There are a lot of great bloggers who have posted lists similar to this. I love the Christmas book countdown and I've been doing this with my kids for the last couple of years. Before December starts, I wrap up 24 Christmas books and let my kids open one each day, ending on Christmas Eve. I number ours so that we have certain books on certain days -- generally to correspond with another advent activity we're doing together.

If you're looking for ideas for Christmas-themed picture books, this will give you a good start. I've included some extras that we've read in years past but didn't make the list this year. Some of these are books we own and others are borrowed from the library. Just be careful if you do this with library books -- mark them well so you open them early enough and don't wrack up late fees! I also try to give us a good mix of styles, so some of these are funny and others are more serious, some are informative and some are downright ridiculous.

(I've marked our family favorites on the list with a **)

Books We Own

**Santa Claus by Rod Green
**How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson
**The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton
A Bad Kitty Christmas by Nick Bruel
**Santa's Favorite Story by Hisako Aoki
If You Take a Mouse to the Movies by Laura Numeroff
Santa is Coming to Utah by Steve Smallman
Olive, The Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh
Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Beuhner
The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Patricia M. Scarry
Elf: A Short Story of a Tall Tale by David Berenbaum
Mickey's Christmas Carol
**The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer

Books We're Borrowing

The Night Before the Night Before Christmas by Natasha Wing
Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera
The Christmas Giant by Steve Light
My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
Santa Claus: The World's Number One Toy Expert by Marla Frazee
**Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini
A Merry Little Christmas by Mary Engelbreit
**Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert E. Barry

More Ideas

The Great Reindeer Rebellion by Lisa Trumbauer
Dinosaur Christmas by Jerry Pallotta
Peter Claus and the Naughty List by Lawrence David
Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo
Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner
Santa Claustrophobia by Mike Reiss
Sad Santa by Tad Carpenter
The Santa Trap by Jonathan Emmett

Do you have other Christmas picture book favorites? I'd love to hear what you're reading with your kids during December.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Sweetness of Life by Paulus Hochgatterer

I received a Review Copy of this ebook through Edelweiss. If you're interested in getting advanced copies of books, this is a good resource as some are available for immediate download.

I am really torn about this book. I sincerely wanted to like it, but I feel like it had too many little marks against it for me to give it a stellar review. Here are my thoughts:

The Sweetness of Life is the English translation of a German mystery/thriller, set to be released December 2. Perhaps due to the fact that it is translated, or maybe just coincidentally, the style is somewhat reminiscent of the novels of Steig Larsson or Jussi Adler-Olsen, but this novel is not executed nearly as well as those I have read by the aforementioned authors.

The story is a good one -- really a horrible one if you look at it from the perspective of the characters. A grandfather is found dead by his young granddaughter, who then stops talking. As the child psychologist and the local police work to discover the old man's murderer, the story becomes quite complex as more and more people become intertwined.

The thing I love most about this book is the shifting perspectives. Some chapters are written in third person and others are written in first person. In some chapters, it takes a while for the reader to understand which character is narrating. This shifting perspective really helps to develop the mystery. Some characters have obvious suspicions about the identity of the killer, while others stick more to the facts of the case. Other characters seem to be wholly disconnected from the heart of the story, but since they are there, the reader becomes suspicious of them as well. This is very well done.

So I don't hate the book. I feel it has many points in its favor. However...

I feel that there are too many minor characters introduced with too much detail, which leads nowhere. For example, the reader is told quite a bit of detail about Dr. Horn's coworkers. These people are minor characters, having little or nothing to do with the main plot, and I felt the details provided about them were unnecessary. Other characters who later become more central to the story are less developed. I would love to know more about Joseph Bauer, Bjorn Gasselik, and Joachim Fux.

My other gripe with this novel is its abrupt ending. The murderer is revealed on the final page of the book, seemingly out of nowhere. I think that if some of the characters I mentioned earlier were more developed, this revelation would make more sense. But perhaps that is the point. After all, this is a psychological thriller and much of the book is spent inside the minds of the various characters, many of whom have psychological disorders.

And that is why I feel so ambivalent about this book. Hochgatterer has published the second installment in the "Kovacs and Horn Investigation" series and I am interested to see if it is better. For now, I would probably only recommend The Sweetness of Life with strong reservations.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Stacking the Shelves

Here is what is new to my reading pile this week linked up on Tynga's Reviews:

Lillian on Life by Alison Jean Lester -- an advanced reading copy, set for release in January 2015. I got this novel from Edelweiss.

I can't remember if I've actually read this installment of Robertson's Crowther & Westerman series, so I decided to borrow it from the library and find out. So far, not ringing a bell.

Monday was my birthday and I received Jim Gaffigan's Food: A Love Story from my hubby. I anticipate that this will be a fun read.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Audiobook Review: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

Just before Halloween, I finished off my last audiobook and wanted something festive to listen to while I worked. I quickly downloaded The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (read by Anthony Heald). This is a classic that I had never read before, so my familiarity with the story comes from the cartoon adaptation and the Tim Burton film.

Since I assume that most everyone is familiar with the plot of this one, I won't bother with a summary. What I will say is that, having only seen film adaptations and not read the book, I was surprised at how faithful the cartoon version is to the original. The Tim Burton version took quite a few liberties, though.

The interesting thing about this book is that there is not much, if any, dialogue, so there was little need for characterization in the audio version. I felt that Heald did an excellent job of narrating the story. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this, and as it is a short novel, the audio is less than 2 hours long.

This audiobook could be a great one to listen to with kids prior to Halloween -- especially if they're already familiar with the story.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon

This read was inspired by my 6-year old son, Eddie. He is slightly picky. And when I say 'slightly,' I mean 'quite.' And when I say 'quite,' I mean 'ridiculously.' I happened upon this book while shelving at the library and decided it wouldn't hurt to read it. I'll take any help I can get at this point.

French Kids Eat Everything was an interesting read for me. Not only are my kids the same ages as the author's kids at the time that the book is set, but their eating preferences seem to mirror my kids' quite well. Le Billon's eldest daughter would eat mostly pasta with parmesan. My son will eat pasta, bread, and not much else. I always just assumed that he is picky and that it is a personality trait -- nature, not nurture. Then my daughter came along (much like Le Billon's second) and would eat pretty much everything... to a certain point. Now she is 3 and her eating is starting to be influenced by her brother. Clearly, this is not entirely nature at work here.

Since I found the correlations between Le Billon's children and my own to be strangely aligned, I was sucked into this book. Le Billon writes about moving her family to France for a year (which is not feasible for most of us, but since she could telecommute and her husband is French, it was for them). Once there, they work to get settled into French society, which includes eating "the French way." According to Le Billon, the French do not snack, they engrain good eating habits into their children from birth, and they value the time spent preparing and eating delicious and nutritious food.

Le Billon writes about her daughters' struggles to integrate themselves into French society, particularly the food culture. After wasting some energy trying to "protect" her older daughter -- protect her from being hungry all day at school since she wasn't allowed to snack and was required to eat the same lunch as everyone else -- she realized that she was trying to protect her daughter from the wrong things. So she and her husband decided to alter the way their family ate at home to better reflect what their children were being taught in school. This includes things like scheduled meals at specific times of the day, no snacking between meals, introducing new foods as often as possible, and taking the negativity out of eating.

I found many of Le Billon's "food rules" to be insightful and intriguing, even if they are things we've all heard before. I would like to try some of these things in my own home once my work schedule doesn't take me away during dinner time 4 nights each week. I love the idea that kids should eat what the adults eat, with no modifications or substitutions.

So, from my perspective as "frazzled parents to an extremely picky eater," I found this book inspiring and a little guilt-inducing. I realize that I'm to blame (at least partially) for my son's poor eating habits. But Le Billon doesn't just leave the reader with guilt, she empowers parents to make what positive changes they can.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone struggling with a picky eater, or anyone looking for ideas to take the negativity and conflict out of eating with children.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Stacking the Shelves

I'm hoping to make "Stacking the Shelves" a regular feature here on the blog. This was inspired by Tynga's Reviews, a blog that hosts a weekly link-up. If you're looking for new book ideas, check out their latest link-up to get ideas from a lot of different sources!

"Stacking the Shelves" is all about sharing what I've recently added to my reading pile, both paper books, ebooks, and audiobooks. Here is what is new for me this week:


I was recently awarded a galley of Alan Bradley's upcoming Flavia de Luce Mystery from Edelweiss. I love this series and I'm reading feverishly to catch up so that I can review the entire series before this latest installment is released in January. Look for that review in mid to late December!


I also recently received a galley of Her by Harriet Lane through Shelf Reliance. This book was first published earlier this year, and a new edition is being released early next year. I've started reading, but I'm not far enough into it to give any initial thoughts yet. Look for a review in a couple of weeks.


A library copy of Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety is now sitting on my shelf, waiting for me to get to it. I have never read any of Stegner's work, but feel like he is another author I need to experience for myself. Hopefully I can get to it before I have to return it! I'll also post a review of this when I've finished it.


Since I feel like I always need some non-fiction on my list, I recently borrowed 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup. This will be the next audiobook I delve into and I hope it's not too intense to listen to while I work.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Audiobook Review - The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Last month, I started working for my local library as a shelver. Since I work on my own and don't work with library patrons much, I get to listen to music or audiobooks while I work. This is an amazing perk and helps me multitask and "read" more books than I would otherwise be able to.

The first audiobook I listened to was F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Despite the fact that it is a classic and there have been several film adaptations, I hadn't read or seen any of them and was quite unfamiliar with the story. I checked out the William Hope version from my library's online system and started listening.

Hope's voicing and characterization immediately engrossed me. Instead of feeling like someone was reading to me, I felt like someone was telling me this story about themselves. His voicing of the female characters did take a little getting used to (as would pretty much any man voicing a variety of female characters). I absolutely loved this version and would heartily recommend it.

But, I didn't finish the book quickly enough before the online system made me return the audiobook to the library. So I checked out a different version, this one voiced by Tim Robbins. This version was similarly done, with Robbins adding characterization to the narrative. I think if I had listened to this version from the beginning, it would have seemed like an excellent version. But coming from the William Hope version, I felt that Robbins' characterizations were off, his accents wrong, and the emotions not conveyed as well as they could have been. It was well done, but not as well done as the Hope version.

After finishing the book and exploring online to see what other versions there were, I came across a more recent version read by Jake Gyllenhaal. This new version was released around the same time that the newer film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio was released. This audiobook got a lot of press and as I browsed the Google search results raving about Gyllenhaal's performance, I decided I needed to take a listen and judge for myself. So I listened to several different snippets and found myself disappointed. This is not to say that Gyllenhaal does a bad job narrating the story, but this version felt more like being read to instead of being spoken to. Gyllenhaal didn't even attempt to do the voices of the characters, which I suppose is better than doing it badly. But I feel that the characterization adds a lot to the listener's experience. I felt that the emotion in this version was seriously lacking.

Have you listened to audiobooks before? Do you have favorite narrators? I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject as I'm just getting into the audiobook scene. Please tell me your favorites (and least favorites) in the comments below!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson

When I prepared to start this blog, I researched how to get Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) of books so that I could review them prior to their release. I have gotten several ARC ebooks, but this is the first printed book I have received. This book was originally published in the U.K. in 2013. This first U.S. edition is set for release on November 18.

Imogen Robertson is not a new author for me. I have read and thoroughly enjoyed her Crowther and Westerman series. That series is historical mystery/thriller, so that is what I expected with The Paris Winter. I was not disappointed.

The Paris Winter is a stand-alone novel, the story of young Maud Heighton. Miss Heighton is an English art student living in Paris in 1909. The story follows her developing friendship with another student, Tanya Koltsova, and model Yvette. Through the assistance of her friends, Maud begins working as a companion to a young Frenchwoman, Sylvie Morel. Slowly, Maud is lured into the sordid underbelly of Paris, becoming a victim of violence and deceit.

The characterization in this novel is superb. Maud is a sympathetic and naive character and through the first half of the novel, she is the focus of the narrative. Mid-novel, the perspective shifts slightly, and the reader is given more insight into the lives of the other characters -- Tanya, Yvette, and the Morels. As the young women work to solve the mystery surrounding what happened to Maud and why, an intricate web of lies and violence is revealed.

The plot lines are interesting and beautifully interconnected throughout the novel. The story reaches its climax during the massive flooding in Paris in January 1910, and as the water rises, so does the intensity.

This novel is artfully written and I heartily recommend it to all who enjoy historical fiction.

Monday, November 10, 2014

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I had a notoriously bad public education -- at least in my opinion. Ever since I watched the film Of Mice and Men in sophomore English and read the final chapter of The Grapes of Wrath in that same class, I was convinced that I hated Steinbeck. I never attempted to read any Steinbeck since... until now. Inspired by my neighborhood book club, I delved into East of Eden, expecting to hate it. Here is what I really thought:

This novel follows the character of Adam Trask through his childhood and beyond, beginning in his childhood home in Connecticut, his time as a young man in the army, then his marriage and move to the Salinas Valley in California. The story also follows the Hamilton family, which is said to be based some of Steinbeck's relatives. Each character is artfully introduced and woven into the story.

At its root, this is an adaptation of the story of Adam and Eve -- two people, seemingly in their own Garden of Eden, until Eve makes a choice that changes everything. Adam and Cathy's twin sons, Aron and Caleb, even seem to embody the biblical Cain and Abel.

Beyond that, this story is about love and loss, good and evil, virtue and vice, and the redemption that can come through forgiveness. And I loved it.

That said, this novel has a lot of adult content, including sex and violence. So if you're squeamish about those things, this may not be for you. Otherwise, read it and enjoy it!

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

This read was inspired by The Modern Mrs. Darcy, a blog that you should definitely check out if you haven't already. Anne gives excellent book recommendations, including this one! 

(Do you see the ice cream or the faces? Dumb question, I know, but I was reading this book for days before my husband pointed out the faces and it freaked me out. I really didn't see them...)

The Sea of Tranquility was a very surprising and compelling read for me. I began reading this book with very little background knowledge apart from skimming the blurb on the book jacket. This book is Young Adult Fiction and is the story of two teenagers, Nastya and Josh, and it is told from both of their perspectives in turn. It is a story about love, loss, and second chances. But it doesn't really seem that way at first. Sorry if that's a spoiler.

The book starts out with Nastya as the new girl at high school. Not only is she new, but she dresses terribly and doesn't talk -- at all. If she has to communicate, she does it through writing, but rarely does so. Instead she just tries to avoid interacting with people. Then you meet Josh, a boy who is not new and everyone knows his tragic backstory. Because nobody knows how to relate to him, he is usually alone. But soon, Josh and Nastya are drawn together.
“I know at that moment what he's given me and it isn't a chair. It's an invitation, a welcome, the knowledge that I am accepted here. He hasn't given me a place to sit. He's given me a place to belong.”
I think this story is really about how we construct our own identity or how we let other people construct it for us. And in the end, I think all that really matters to these two characters is how true they are to themselves as they deal with the heartache and tragedy of the past.

This was an interesting and enlightening read. There is a fair amount of language and some adult situations, but overall I would recommend this book.

Linked at:

  The Steadfast Reader

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

This read was inspired by the Salt Lake County Library, which is currently hosting a reading event called "One County, One Book." They selected Ordinary Grace as their first book, hoping to create a county-wide discussion. I thought this was an excellent idea, so I decided to participate. If you're in Salt Lake County and you're interested in learning more about this event, check out "One County, One Book" by clicking here.

Ordinary Grace is a novel about family, faith, and tragedy. The story is told by Frank Drum as an adult, looking back on the summer of 1961. That year, a series of tragedies struck the small town of New Bremen, where Frank lived with his family. Frank tells of his first experiences with death and the intense aftermath. This is truly a coming-of-age story, not only about Frank himself, but also about his siblings, Ariel and Jake. Through the novel, 13-year old Frank is immersed in an adult world that he doesn't fully understand, and is faced with choices and consequences that no child should ever have to face.

Reading this story from my perspective as a mother, it was a tear-jerker in parts. My absolute favorite scene in the book came when Frank's father, a Methodist minister, gives a sermon following his own family tragedy. It was very moving for Frank and that emotion is brought through quite well to the reader.
“The miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and be able to see again the startling beauty of the day.” 
This was an excellent read and I heartily recommend it. There are adult themes, as well as some language, but don't let that dissuade you from experiencing this wonderful novel.

Linked at:

  The Steadfast Reader