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.