2013 Review

Sure enough, I didn't read as many books this year as I did last year since I wasn't reading while nursing, but I still managed to read more than in previous years. I read more non-fiction this year than I ever have before (not including school).  

Next year I'm hoping to read at least as many books as I did this year and will hopefully complete more challenges.

What's in a Name? 6  (finished 4 of 6)
The Dystopia Challenge  (finished 10 of 15)
50 States Challenge  (finished 14 of 50)
R.I.P. VIII  (completed 4 of 4)

# of books read:
Down from 75 in 2012, up from 39 in 2011, 30 in 2010, 28 in 2009, & 48 in 2008.  Down from 81 in 2007.

My favorites (in the order I read them):
A Storm of Swords  by: George R.R. Martin

Most recommended:

Least favorite:
Proof of Heaven  by: Eben Alexander

# of non-fiction:

Repeated authors:
Allie Condie (3) (Matched series)
Lauren DeStefano (2) (The Chemical Garden series)(Internment series)
Gillian Flynn (2)
Hugh Howey (2) (Wool series)
Marie Lu (2) (Legend series)
George R.R. Martin (2) (A Song of Ice and Fire series)
Kate Morton (2)

Dystopia Reading Challenge 2014

> The challenge will run from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2014. Each month will have its own link form so you will be able to share your book reviews. You do not have to review the books you read to participate, but only those who read/reviewed at least one dystopian book will be able to participate in the giveaway (you can track your reading without the reviews with Goodreads, Shelfari etc.).
> Books that count in this challenge must include any form of post-apocalyptic theme (book sites like Goodreads are good sources of genre information). The books must be full-length.
> All formats allowed.
Rereads allowed (but not the same book five times in a year!).
It does not matter whether it's a series or a stand-alone book.
If you are participating, grab the challenge button from below and post it on you blog. You can also make a post with the header (the code is also below). Please include the link back to this post so others will be able to participate as well.
If you will participate, put the sign-up link to your blog post (about the challenge) or blog (for the button) directly into the linky below. Sign-ups will be open until December 15, 2014.
You do not have to list your books in advance, go and do as you please. Read as many as you want and whenever you want, as long as you have fun!
Info about the giveaway will be available in December 2014.
> Do not cheat with books of other themes/genres/topics because I do check!

Level 1Recruit (1 to 6 books)
Level 2Rebel (7 to 12 books)
Level 3Revolutionist (13 to 18 books)
Level 4Leader (19+ books)

I've decided to try for Level 2: Rebel

1.  Dust  by: Hugh Howey

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What's in a Name? 2014

The challenge runs from January to December. During this time you choose a book to read from each of the following categories:

A reference to time:  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time  by: Mark Haddon
A position of royalty:  His Majesty's Dragon  by: Naomi Novik
A number written in letters:  Ready Player One  by: Ernest Cline
A forename or names:  The Flight of Gemma Hardy  by: Margot Livesey
A type of element or weather:  Windhaven  by: George R.R. Martin & Lisa Tuttle

Extra information
  • Books can be any format (print, audio, ebook).
  • It’s preferred that the books don’t overlap with other challenges, but not a requirement at all.
  • Books cannot overlap categories (for instance my first example, Eleven Minutes, could be used for category 1 or 3 but not both).
  • Creativity for matching the categories is not only allowed, it’s encouraged!
  • You don’t have to make your list of books beforehand, you can choose them as you go.
  • You don’t have to read your chosen books in any particular order.

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Where Are You Reading 2014

I'm a geographer and a bookworm, so I'm super excited about this challenge!

How to get started

Set up a map under Google Maps (optional).  It is easy to do!  Every time you read a book in 2014, upload a cover picture to Picasa Web Albums (there may be other sites to use, feel free to use what works best for you).


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What challenges are you participating in?

Let me know the challenge name and give me the link if you can!

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Dark Places

Dark Places
By: Gillian Flynn

Challenge:  RIP VIII

Published: 2009

# of pages:  345

Official description:
"I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ."

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.
The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club… and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.
As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members–including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started–on the run from a killer.

My opinion:  I couldn't put this book down!  I was afraid it would be too sad or gruesome for me since it is about a family that is murdered, but while it was a little graphic, it wasn't too much.  I also didn't think I'd like the character Libby after reading the first chapter, but I ended up really liking and respecting her.  Not only was this a good mystery, it was also very thought provoking on the subjects of peer pressure (especially in high school) and on raising children.  Patty, the mother, was doing the hardest job there is, on top of being a single working mother, and it was sad reading about her depression while raising 4 kids.

I recommend this to lovers of mystery and also to anyone looking for a well written novel that is a good pace.  It does have some language, but not as much as one of Flynn's other novels, Gone Girl.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Well written, likable main character, good pace, good mystery / a little graphic with bad language

Other reviews:
S. Krishna's Books

Have you reviewed this? Let me know and I'd be happy to post yours as well.

The Lake

The Lake
By:  AnnaLisa Grant

Series:  The Lake

Published:  2013

# of pages:  306

Official description:

At 17, Layla Weston is already starting over. Having lost both her parents and grandparents, and with nowhere else to go, Layla is moving from Florida to a small town in North Carolina to live with the only family she has left: her estranged uncle and aunt. The last five years of Layla’s life were spent appeasing her less- than-loving grandmother, followed by being her grandfather’s caretaker. Growing old before her time, Layla lost her identity, she must learn how to allow herself to be loved and cared for once again. Life takes an unexpected turn when Layla meets Will Meyer. His breathtaking good looks are enough to catch her eye, but his sincerity and passion are everything she needs to find the strength and confidence she lost — and lead her into love. When tragedy once again strikes Layla’s life, her hope is all but completely crushed. Through it all, Layla learns what it means to truly love and be loved.
My opinion:  These days I don't often read young adult books that take place in modern times unless it's a fantasy or sci-fi.  I know AnnaLisa Grant and so when she published her first book, I bought it.  I was excited about the story and I wasn't disappointed!  This review is written many months since reading the book, but the story has stayed in my mind and I can't wait to read the other books in the series (maybe I'll get those for my birthday!?).

The writing style and story are definitely written for young adults, but adults can very well enjoy it too.  Like I said before, the story is interesting and sticks with the reader long after the book is over.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting, great characters, often has a young adult feel to the writing

Other reviews:
Have you reviewed this? Let me know and I'd be happy to post yours as well.

Ashes on the Waves

Ashes on the Waves
By: Mary Lindsey

Challenge: RIP VIII

Published: 2013

# of pages: 373

Official description:

Liam MacGregor is cursed. Haunted by the wails of fantastical Bean Sidhes and labeled a demon by the villagers of Dòchas, Liam has accepted that things will never get better for him—until a wealthy heiress named Annabel Leighton arrives on the island and Liam’s fate is changed forever.
With Anna, Liam finally finds the happiness he has always been denied; but, the violent, mythical Otherworlders, who inhabit the island and the sea around it, have other plans. They make awager on the couple’s love, testing its strength through a series of cruel obstacles. But the tragedies draw Liam and Anna even closer. Frustrated, the creatures put the couple through one last trial—and this time it’s not only their love that’s in danger of being destroyed.
Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s chilling poem, "Annabel Lee," Mary Lindsey creates a frighteningly beautiful gothic novel that glorifies the power of true love.

My opinion:  I think this will be included in my list of favorite books this year!  If you enjoy young adult fantasy, I highly recommend this.  It's such a sweet love story and I love the parallel with Poe's poem "Annabel Lee."  I also looked forward to the beginning of each chapter, where there were excerpts from Poe's works.

The only reason this isn't 5 stars is because it did move a little slowly at times.  I wish the murder mystery had started up a little earlier in the novel.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Unique fantasy, sweet love story, likable characters, a little slow, and - in parts - a little "too young adult."

Other reviews:
Have you reviewed this? Let me know and I'd be happy to post yours as well.

Gone Girl

Gone Girl
By: Gillian Flynn

Challenge:  RIP VIII

Published: 2012

# of pages: 415

Official description:  Marriage can be a real killer. 
One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. The Chicago Tribune proclaimed that her work "draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction." Gone Girl's toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn. 
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick's clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn't doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife's head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media--as well as Amy's fiercely doting parents--the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he's definitely bitter--but is he really a killer?
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn't do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.

My opinion:  I thoroughly enjoyed this book!  I definitely neglected my children at times while reading Gone Girl.  The book moved at a good pace and constantly kept my attention.  The characters were both likable and unlikable at times.  When I wasn't reading the book I'd be wondering "What happened to Amy?"  And I started rooting against Nick, hoping he'd "hang for his crime," and changed my mind over time.  And can I just say - I know someone who is eerily similar to Amy.  I think that made me enjoy the book even more.

I do have to warn readers - this book is full of foul language.  It is also fairly sexually graphic.  The good parts of the book outweighed the bad in my opinion, but be warned.

And I'm excited that the novel is going to be made into a movie!

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting/unique plot, well-written, complicated characters, lots of language and not so great (as far as morals go) characters.

Other reviews:
S. Krishna's Books

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R.I.P. VIII Challenge

It's that time of year!  And of course I'm lagging behind as usual.  I haven't been reading as much so I feel like I should stick with just 2 books, but this is a challenge after all!  So I'm going to try Peril the First of the R.I.P. VIII Challenge!  That's 4 books by October 31 that include one of these genres:
Dark Fantasy.

Here's my list:
2. The Never List  by: Koethi Zan

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The Storyteller

The Storyteller
By: Jodi Picoult

Published: 2013

# of pages: 460

Official description: Sage Singer befriends an old man who's particularly beloved in her community. Josef Weber is everyone's favorite retired teacher and Little League coach. They strike up a friendship at the bakery where Sage works. One day he asks Sage for a favor: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses…and then he confesses his darkest secret - he deserves to die, because he was a Nazi SS guard. Complicating the matter? Sage's grandmother is a Holocaust survivor.
What do you do when evil lives next door? Can someone who's committed a truly heinous act ever atone for it with subsequent good behavior? Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren't the party who was wronged? And most of all - if Sage even considers his request - is it murder, or justice?

My opinion:  Someone asked me what I thought about this book and I said "I love it!  I mean, I don't love it.  It's hard to read."  And that sums it up for me.  The novel is so well written and I couldn't wait to see what happened next.  However, it's a Holocaust book so it is very hard to read.  There were a couple of times where I thought I'd just put the book down and not pick it up again.  It's honest, people.  Picoult doesn't sugar coat what the Jews who suffered during the Holocaust went through.

I really liked the character of Sage.  Her scars made her a unique character and I loved how naturally she grew over the course of the book.  I guessed what happened with Josef, but that didn't ruin anything for me.
Overall, I recommend this to adults who enjoy historical fiction, WWII fiction, and who are looking for a serious, well written book to read.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Well written, great characters, hard read, brutal descriptions.

Other reviews:
Have you reviewed this? Let me know and I'd be happy to post yours as well.

After Death...

After Death... An Anthology of Dark and Speculative Fiction Stories Examing What May Occur After We Die
Edited By: Eric Guignard

Published: 2013

# of pages: 330

Quote:  "'Careful, though—she likes tearing apart soft flesh.'
Revel wanted to argue that his flesh wasn’t particularly soft, then considered it from an alternative perspective. Dancing, drinking, lolling about—he wasn’t exactly a Hercules."  - Revel "Like a Bat Out of Hell" pg. 109

Official description:  Death. Who has not considered their own mortality and wondered at what awaits, once our frail human shell expires? What occurs after the heart stops beating, after the last breath is drawn, after life as we know it terminates? 
Does our spirit remain on Earth while the mortal body rots? Do remnants of our soul transcend to a celestial Heaven or sink to Hell's torment? Are we offered choices in an individualized afterlife? Can we die again in the hereafter? Is life merely a cosmic joke, or is it an experiment for something greater?
Included within this critically acclaimed anthology are answers to these queries alongside tales and suppositions relating from traditional ghosts to the afterlife of e-coli. Explore the afterworld of an Australian cowboy. Discover what the white light really means to the recently departed. Consider the impact of modern, or future, technology on the dead. Follow the karmic path of reincarnation. Travel from the 999th level of Fengdu's Hell to the gates of Robot Heaven.
Enclosed are thirty-four all-new dark and speculative fiction stories, individually illustrated by Audra Phillips, and exploring the possibilities "after death."

My opinion:  Alright fellow bloggers, this would be a perfect read for the R.I.P. Challenge!  I was very impressed with the quality of writing.  I wondered if it would be, with it being short stories from multiple authors, but each story was very well written.  My favorites were "Like a Bat Out of Hell" and "Mall Rats."  I enjoyed the different, thought provoking perspectives of what could possibly happen after death.  Each story is an original peep hole into the "other world" - each story's version being unique.  For example, "Like a Bat Out of Hell" is about what happens to mythical characters after their time on Earth has passed.  If those creatures had existed, what happened when the world moved on and stopped believing in them (keeping them alive)?

I highly recommend this to lovers of dark fiction or horror stories.  Keep in mind that it is an anthology of short stories (perfect for a short story challenge as well as R.I.P.!).  It is obviously dark just because several of the stories mention the death of characters or describe "hell," so if you struggle with depression you may want to skip or at least take it slow and possibly pick and choose stories.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars: Well written, original, thought provoking short stories.  The only reason it isn't five stars is because I'm not going to lie, some of these were difficult for me to read (the whole depression thing?) and this is my personal opinion after all.

Other reviews:
Have you reviewed this? Let me know and I'd be happy to post yours as well.

The Distant Hours

The Distant Hours
By:  Kate Morton

Published: 2010

# of pages: 562

Official description: A long lost letter arrives in the post and Edie Burchill finds herself on a journey to Milderhurst Castle, a great but moldering old house, where the Blythe spinsters live and where her mother was billeted 50 years before as a 13 year old child during WWII. The elder Blythe sisters are twins and have spent most of their lives looking after the third and youngest sister, Juniper, who hasn’t been the same since her fiance jilted her in 1941. 
Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother’s past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Milderhurst, and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in ‘the distant hours’ of the past has been waiting a long time for someone to find it. 
Morton once again enthralls readers with an atmospheric story featuring unforgettable characters beset by love and circumstance and haunted by memory, that reminds us of the rich power of storytelling.

My opinion:  I'm a big fan of Kate Morton, especially The Secret Keeper.  I enjoyed The Distant Hours as well, but not as much.  My favorite parts were the mysteries, the descriptions of Juniper, and the Gothic feel throughout the novel.  What I didn't like was the slightly disjointed feel.  There was a plot line that really could have been completely left out.  It didn't fit and I was left feeling disappointed that Morton didn't use another way of introducing the story of Milderhurst Castle.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting, slightly creepy story, a little disjointed, nice characters

Other reviews:
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The Cutting Season

The Cutting Season
By: Attica Locke
Challenge: What's in a Name? 6, 50 States Challenge
Published: 2012
# of pages: 384

Official description: The American South in the twenty-first century. A plantation owned for generations by a rich family. So much history. And a dead body.
Just after dawn, Caren walks the grounds of Belle Vie, the historic plantation house in Louisiana that she has managed for four years. Today she sees nothing unusual, apart from some ground that has been dug up by the fence bordering the sugar can fields. Assuming an animal has been out after dark, she asks the gardener to tidy it up. Not long afterwards, he calls her to say it's something else. Something terrible. A dead body. At a distance, she missed her. The girl, the dirt and the blood. Now she has police on site, an investigation in progress, and a member of staff no one can track down. And Caren keeps uncovering things she will wish she didn't know. As she's drawn into the dead girl's story, she makes shattering discoveries about the future of Belle Vie, the secrets of its past, and sees, more clearly than ever, that Belle Vie, its beauty, is not to be trusted. 
A magnificent, sweeping story of the south, The Cutting Season brings history face-to-face with modern America, where Obama is president, but some things will never change. Attica Locke once again provides an unblinking commentary on politics, race, the law, family and love, all within a thriller every bit as gripping and tragic as her first novel, Black Water Rising.
My opinion:  Overall this was a good, entertaining read, but I wish it was better written.  I would have liked to have seen the 2 stories, past and present, more entwined or at least more connected.  There were also some typos and some weird time lapses.  It seemed like one day it was Wednesday, 4 days after an event, and then in the next chapter the characters referred to the event as happening "yesterday."  Maybe it was just me, but it seemed off.  Also, the major climactic event at the end seemed to have one of those mixed up time sequences.  I was thinking, "Huh?  How is it possible that...." just because of the timing.  

I did enjoy the mystery and was in suspense in several scenes.  The old plantation made a great mystery setting, especially at night.  I recommend this book to those who enjoy a mystery that also contains a lot of character development.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  Interesting mystery, somewhat disjointed

Other reviews:
S. Krishna's Books

Have you reviewed this? Let me know and I'd be happy to post yours as well.

Zaremba or Love and the Rule of Law

Zaremba or Love and the Rule of Law
By: Michelle Granas
Published: 2013
# of pages: 514
Quote: "'In spite of their frequent delusions in that direction, security guards are not policemen.  I have to go in; I can't get the certificate otherwise.  It'll be all right, don't worry.'
'How can you not worry all the time?' she asked in genuine puzzlement.
'The trick is to think that whatever happens it's going to be interesting - then you don't mind so much if it's not exactly what you wanted in the first place.'"

Official description:  In Warsaw, a shy and high-minded polio victim lives a life of seclusion caring for her odd family until a chance encounter plunges her into the intrigues of dirty politics. Zaremba, a wealthy businessman, is about to be arrested on trumped-up charges and only she can save him. Swept along by events, Cordelia finds her feelings increasingly involved with a stranger for whom she is both rescuer and victim. When Zaremba is implicated in terrorist activities and disappears, Cordelia is painfully uncertain if she has been abandoned and must overcome surveillance, corruption, the media, and mounting humiliations and difficulties to learn the truth.
This is a story about love between a man and woman, but also love of family, country, and justice. Although set in Poland, where the CIA had a black site, it is a story that could happen anywhere, in a world where young democracies struggle against the temptations of covert operations and older democracies sometimes lead them astray.
My opinion:  Thank you Michelle Granas for sending me a copy of this book, because it was great!  I loved the descriptions of all the characters, especially Cordelia and Zaremba.  The dialogue between them is what made the book.  I was afraid when it seemed the story was coming to an end....but I was only halfway through the book!  I just knew that it would drag on and I would end up hating it by the end.  However, it turns out that there's two parts to the books and each is its own story.  It could technically be two separate books, but it does work better as one book with two parts.

I also found the subject content to be interesting.  Especially after recently reading an "alternate" version of the Boston bombings where the military sends in drones to eliminate the remaining bomber, but kills several citizens in the process.  We would be shocked if that happened in America, but that stuff happens all the time in other countries when the U.S. eliminates "threats."  I'm no expert, but it wouldn't surprise me if the kind of behavior of the CIA that is present in this book truly happens in other countries.

The love story is what resonated with me, but there's action and politics (don't worry, it isn't overwhelming!) and morals as well so this story will be interesting to a wide range of readers.  Cordelia's character is amazing and I was glad to have a main character with good values.  I highly recommend this book!

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Great character development, interesting/original subject matter, well written.

Other reviews:
Have you reviewed this? Let me know and I'd be happy to post yours as well.

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His Needs, Her Needs

His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage
By:  Willard F. Harley, Jr.
Published: 2001
# of pages: 224

Official description: Marriage works only when each spouse takes the time to consider the other's needs and strives to meet them. In His Needs, Her Needs, Willard Harley identifies the ten most vital needs of men and women and shows husbands and wives how to satisfy those needs in their spouses. He provides guidance for becoming irresistible to your spouse and for loving more creatively and sensitively, thereby eliminating the problems that often lead to extramarital affairs. The revised anniversary edition of His Needs, Her Needs is a celebration of how the book has helped thousands of couples revitalize their marriages during the last fifteen years. This best-seller identifies the causes of marital difficulties and instructs couples on how to prevent them, guiding them to build a relationship that sustains romance and increases intimacy. With today's soaring divorce rate and prevalence of affairs, Harley's insights are needed more than ever before.An unabridged recording of His Needs, Her Needs, the 15th anniversary edition, is now available as an audio book.
My opinion:  I changed this from 3 stars to 2 stars after thinking about it overnight. First of all, this book is obviously written by a man! Someone who has never given birth or stayed at home full time with babies/toddlers/preschoolers. 

Secondly, the book definitely uses fear and negativity throughout the chapters. I understand that probably every family that deals with a cheating spouse never thought it would happen to them, but I don't think that it is as common as the author makes it out to be, and even if it is, I don't think it's necessary to continually use guilt and scare tactics to make the reader feel insecure. 

Third, the author uses modern ideas of beauty in his chapter on physical appearance. Men should appreciate a woman's natural beauty. A woman shouldn't have to put chemicals on her face, on her skin, or in her hair to keep her husband from cheating on her. It wasn't so long ago that makeup, hair dyes, and trendy hair and clothes were not beautiful to American men and women. Prostitutes were the ones wearing makeup and dying their hair. Now the typical American's idea of a beautiful woman is very thin, tan, wearing makeup, and highlighted hair. It is just a phase and women shouldn't feel forced to take place in that just to make a man happy. There is always going to be someone prettier that your husband comes into contact with to put more "love units" into his "bank." If that's what it takes for him to cheat, it won't matter what you do to make him happy with your physical appearance.

There are some positive ideas in the book. His advice about affection and mutual activities are very helpful. It is also helpful to know that men and women have different needs and that it may be uncomfortable, but trying to meet some of those needs will be helpful in your marriage

Why I gave this book 2/5 stars: Negative, untrue concepts, some good ideas

Other reviews:
Have you reviewed this? Let me know and I'd be happy to post yours as well.

The Uninvited Guests

The Uninvited Guests
By: Sadie Jones

Published: 2012

# of pages: 272

Official description: One late spring evening in 1912, in the kitchens at Sterne, preparations begin for an elegant supper party in honor of Emerald Torrington's twentieth birthday. But only a few miles away, a dreadful accident propels a crowd of mysterious and not altogether savory survivors to seek shelter at the ramshackle manor—and the household is thrown into confusion and mischief.
The cook toils over mock turtle soup and a chocolate cake covered with green sugar roses, which the hungry band of visitors is not invited to taste. But nothing, it seems, will go according to plan. As the passengers wearily search for rest, the house undergoes a strange transformation. One of their number (who is most definitely not a gentleman) makes it his business to join the birthday revels.
Evening turns to stormy night, and a most unpleasant parlor game threatens to blow respectability to smithereens: Smudge Torrington, the wayward youngest daughter of the house, decides that this is the perfect moment for her Great Undertaking.
The Uninvited Guests is the bewitching new novel from the critically acclaimed Sadie Jones. The prizewinning author triumphs in this frightening yet delicious drama of dark surprises—where social codes are uprooted and desire daringly trumps propriety—and all is alight with Edwardian wit and opulence.
My opinion:  This book took me a few chapters to get into, but after those chapters I couldn't put it down.  It was a strange story - a mix of historical fiction, Gothic, and paranormal fiction.  I chose to label it Gothic because of the secluded failing mansion that is cut off from the outside world.  The characters become isolated during a storm and all kinds of unusual things begin to happen.

Like many ghost stories do to me, I felt like the story went from being creepy to just weird.  The climax seemed a little rushed after the buildup, but overall I liked the ending and enjoyed the story.  The characters end up changing during the course of the novel and the entire novel ends with a mysterious occurrence that wraps up the whole book.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  Kept my attention, creepy but not too scary, a rushed climax/ending, a little weird, characters that are hard to relate to.

Other reviews:
Bookfoolery and Babble

Have you reviewed this? Let me know and I'd be happy to post yours as well.

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By: Hugh Howey

Challenge:  50 States Challenge

Published: 2013 (hardcover)

# of pages: 509

Official description: In a ruined and toxic landscape, a community exists in a giant silo underground, hundreds of stories deep. There, men and women live in a society full of regulations they believe are meant to protect them. Sheriff Holston, who has unwaveringly upheld the silo’s rules for years, unexpectedly breaks the greatest taboo of all: He asks to go outside. His fateful decision unleashes a drastic series of events. An unlikely candidate is appointed to replace him: Juliette, a mechanic with no training in law, whose special knack is fixing machines. Now Juliette is about to be entrusted with fixing her silo, and she will soon learn just how badly her world is broken. The silo is about to confront what its history has only hinted about and its inhabitants have never dared to whisper. Uprising.
My opinion:  This book was recommended to me by my dad.  After he described it to me I knew I had to read it.  Dystopian society, yes please. I feel like if everyone in our government would read a couple of dystopian novels this country would be a different place.

The world Howey created in this novel is original and fascinating.  It was a little slow at first, as it follows two characters who introduce the world of the silo.  However, it picks up as it follows Juliette and the reader is pulled into the world and the other characters that are introduced.

I recommend this to lovers of dystopian novels, those who enjoy sci-fi, and those that enjoy reading a novel that can pass on important messages.  There is a little bit of language, but it isn't overwhelming.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Original setting, characters who are easy to relate to, interesting plot, couldn't put it down after I got past the first third of the book!

Other reviews:
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Life of Pi

Life of Pi
By: Yann Martel
Published: 2004
# of pages: 401
Quote: "Despite attending a nominally Christian school, I had not yet been inside a church—and I wasn't about to dare the deed now. I knew very little about the religion. It had a reputation for few gods and great violence. But good schools."

Official description: Life of Pi is a masterful and utterly original novel that is at once the story of a young castaway who faces immeasurable hardships on the high seas, and a meditation on religion, faith, art and life that is as witty as it is profound. Using the threads of all of our best stories, Yann Martel has woven a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means to be alive, and to believe.
Growing up in Pondicherry, India, Piscine Molitor Patel - known as Pi - has a rich life. Bookish by nature, young Pi acquires a broad knowledge of not only the great religious texts but of all literature, and has a great curiosity about how the world works. His family runs the local zoo, and he spends many of his days among goats, hippos, swans, and bears, developing his own theories about the nature of animals and how human nature conforms to it. Pi’s family life is quite happy, even though his brother picks on him and his parents aren’t quite sure how to accept his decision to simultaneously embrace and practise three religions - Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.
But despite the lush and nurturing variety of Pi’s world, there are broad political changes afoot in India, and when Pi is sixteen, his parents decide that the family needs to escape to a better life. Choosing to move to Canada, they close the zoo, pack their belongings, and board a Japanese cargo ship called the Tsimtsum. Travelling with them are many of their animals, bound for zoos in North America. However, they have only just begun their journey when the ship sinks, taking the dreams of the Patel family down with it. Only Pi survives, cast adrift in a lifeboat with the unlikeliest oftravelling companions: a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
Thus begins Pi Patel’s epic, 227-day voyage across the Pacific, and the powerful story of faith and survival at the heart of Life of Pi. Worn and scared, oscillating between hope and despair, Pi is witness to the playing out of the food chain, quite aware of his new position within it. When only the tiger is left of the seafaring menagerie, Pi realizes that his survival depends on his ability to assert his own will, and sets upon a grand and ordered scheme to keep from being Richard Parker’s next meal.
As Yann Martel has said in one interview, “The theme of this novel can be summarized in three lines. Life is a story. You can choose your story. And a story with an imaginative overlay is the better story.” And for Martel, the greatest imaginative overlay is religion. “God is a shorthand for anything that is beyond the material - any greater pattern of meaning.” In Life of Pi, the question of stories, and of what stories to believe, is front and center from the beginning, when the author tells us how he was led to Pi Patel and to this novel: in an Indian coffee house, a gentleman told him, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.” And as this novel comes to its brilliant conclusion, Pi shows us that the story with the imaginative overlay is also the story that contains the most truth.
My opinion:  I loved this book more than I can say!  It is so much better than the description makes it sound.  According to the description, it sounds very intellectual and like it's filled with lessons, but although there are several profound ideas throughout the story, that's just what it is - a story.  If you feel intimidated by the description or even by the description of the movie, I urge you to pick up the book and try reading a few chapters.  I think you will want to continue reading just like I did.

This would be a great book club read.  I find myself wanting to discuss it with others!  I'm also eager to see the movie although before I didn't have a desire to watch it.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Great writing, beautiful descriptions, smooth storytelling, interspersed with just the right amount of humor

Other reviews:

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London Under

London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets
By: Peter Ackroyd

Challenges: What's in a Name

Published: 2011

# of pages: 240

Official description:  London Under is a wonderful, atmospheric, imagina­tive, oozing short study of everything that goes on under London, from original springs and streams and Roman amphitheaters to Victorian sewers, gang hideouts, and modern tube stations. The depths below are hot, warmer than the surface, and this book tunnels down through the geological layers, meeting the creatures, real and fictional, that dwell in darkness—rats and eels, mon­sters and ghosts. When the Underground’s Metropolitan Line was opened in 1864, the guards asked for permission to grow beards to protect themselves against the sulfurous fumes, and named their engines after tyrants—Czar, Kaiser, Mogul—and even Pluto, god of the underworld. 
To go under London is to penetrate history, to enter a hid­den world. As Ackroyd puts it, “The vastness of the space, a second earth, elicits sensations of wonder and of terror. It partakes of myth and dream in equal measure.”
My opinion: I found this book to be very fascinating.  I only wish it was more detailed!  The author jumps around a lot, but it's not so frustrating since it isn't a novel.  However, he spent a lot of time writing about the underground train system, which I don't think qualifies as "secret history."  I wish more time had been spent on the parts of underground London that aren't as well documented in other sources.

I love archaeology and so enjoyed reading about the civilizations that made up London before it was even London.  And the underground rivers were also fascinating.  It's pretty crazy that so many different things exist under the city.  Ancient artifacts, natural formations, and modern improvements.

I just hope someday I will be able to visit London and see this complex city in person!

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars: Interesting non-fiction, but not detailed enough in the actual "secret history."

Other reviews:  
Reading and Writing and Movies, Oh My!

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By: Mark Ethridge

Challenge:  50 States Challenge

Published: 2012

# of pages: 266

Official description:

Josh Gibbs decided he was through with investigative reporting when controversy derailed his Pulitzer Prize ambitions in Atlanta. Now editor of a weekly paper, he gets two pieces of news from Dr. Allison Wright that change everything. The first is that his daughter has cancer. The second -- that a mysterious condition is plaguing Wright's patients -- leads the widowed newspaperman and divorced physician in pursuit of an unimaginable danger. Fallout is the story of their journey -- a journey through an Ohio River town's myths, heroes and oddities, from Indian curses to rat fishing to an alternative view of George Washington. Above all, Fallout is a story of corporate irresponsibility, of political self-interest, and of a potential catastrophe that looms in most American cities. Written by Mark Ethridge, author of the novel Grievances, now the major motion picture Deadline, starring Eric Roberts.

My opinion:  I was very interested when I discovered this book was written by an author from Charlotte, NC, where I live.  This was a well paced book with plenty of mystery and action.  However, I was unsatisfied with some of the jumps in the story.  I felt that some of the conclusions the character Allison comes to were a little too convenient.

I also hated the formatting of the book.  Weird, I know, but it really bothered me.  The author's last name and the title of the book were at the bottom of each page instead of the top.  Before I got used to it, my eyes kept going to it because it seemed like something else to read at the end of the page.  Also, there were several times in the book that there was a change in character without any kind of break in the page.  It would go to the next paragraph, but be a different character's point of view.  Usually you'd have a space between the characters or even a line to separate the paragraphs.

Overall the story wasn't anything special, but it kept my attention and was an easy read.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars: Good pace and story, not very well-written, a little too "perfect" of an ending

Other reviews:
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The Kill Order

The Kill Order
By: James Dashner

Challenges: Dystopia Challenge 2013, 50 States Challenge

Series: Maze Runner

Published: 2012

# of pages: 327

Official description:

The prequel to the New York Times bestselling Maze Runner series.
Before WICKED was formed, before the Glade was built, before Thomas entered the Maze, sun flares hit the earth and mankind fell to disease.
Mark and Trina were there when it happened, and they survived. But surviving the sun flares was easy compared to what came next. Now a disease of rage and lunacy races across the eastern United States, and there’s something suspicious about its origin. Worse yet, it’s mutating, and all evidence suggests that it will bring humanity to its knees.
Mark and Trina are convinced there’s a way to save those left living from descending into madness. And they’re determined to find it—if they can stay alive. Because in this new, devastated world, every life has a price. And to some, you’re worth more dead than alive.
My opinion:  I was a little confused because I misread the "Thirteen Years Earlier" and thought it said "Thirteen Years Later" for some reason.  However, other than that the book was good.  It's definitely geared to young adults like the other books in the Maze Runner series, but it's an action filled, quick read.  I thought the ending was original, not your typical happily ever after.  This is the prequel, but I read it after the other 3 in the series and that's probably how I recommend reading them.  I think it makes this first one easier to understand.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  It was nothing super special, but I liked the main character, Mark.  I think young adults, especially boys, will enjoy this a lot.

Other reviews:
It's All About Books

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City of Women

City of Women
By: David R. Gillham

Published: 2012

# of pages: 390

Official description:Whom do you trust, whom do you love, and who can be saved?  

It is 1943—the height of the Second World War—and Berlin has essentially become a city of women.Sigrid Schröder is, for all intents and purposes, the model German soldier’s wife: She goes to work every day, does as much with her rations as she can, and dutifully cares for her meddling mother-in-law, all the while ignoring the horrific immoralities of the regime. But behind this façade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman who dreams of her former lover, now lost in the chaos of the war. Her lover is a Jew.
But Sigrid is not the only one with secrets. 
A high ranking SS officer and his family move down the hall and Sigrid finds herself pulled into their orbit.  A young woman doing her duty-year is out of excuses before Sigrid can even ask her any questions.  And then there’s the blind man selling pencils on the corner, whose eyes Sigrid can feel following her from behind the darkness of his goggles.
Soon Sigrid is embroiled in a world she knew nothing about, and as her eyes open to the reality around her, the carefully constructed fortress of solitude she has built over the years begins to collapse. She must choose to act on what is right and what is wrong, and what falls somewhere in the shadows between the two. In this page-turning novel, David Gillham explores what happens to ordinary people thrust into extraordinary times, and how the choices they make can be the difference between life and death.
My opinion: I liked the concept of the book.  I liked the subject matter, but I didn't like the main character. It's very depressing to read about married women having affairs.  I know not everyone is perfect and I'm not judging them, but it's depressing all the same.  I especially didn't like that the main character has an affair with a man who doesn't show love or respect for her.  He blatantly uses her and treats her rudely.

However, I did like the main character's transition from an average German citizen to someone whose eyes are opened and takes action.  It was also neat how the story ended, with all the characters working together.

I recommend this to those who enjoy historical fiction, WWII fiction, and people who aren't bothered by some crude sexual descriptions.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  Neat setting, good character progression, inspiring in some ways.  Also depressing, with unsatisfying relationships between characters.

Other reviews:
S. Krishna's Books

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By: Ally Condie

Challenges: Dystopia Challenge 2013

Series: Matched

Published: 2010

# of pages: 366

Quote: "I hold onto my brother and for the first time in years he hugs me back, tight, the way he did when he was a little boy and I was the big sister he admired more than anything else in the world." -pg 203

Official description: Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate... until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.
The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

My opinion: At first I wasn't overly impressed with this novel.  I didn't find it particularly original.  However, as all dystopian books are for me, it became very thought provoking.  I don't want to become too political on this blog, but recently I've found myself comparing the dystopian novels I've read to our current society and the new laws that are being passed/have been passed/will be passed.  The more rules and laws there are, the less freedom a society has.  Some laws are for the common good, but do we really want what's best for all of us at the cost of our freedom?  Cassia's society thought so, but as Cassia discovers, sometimes we don't want what's best for us.  And while some in a society will suffer, is that a reason to take away the freedom of everyone?

As Cassia thinks:
"Even if the fall of our Society would make life better for some, it would make it worse for others.  Who am I to try to change things, to get greedy and want more?  If our Society changes and things are different, who am I to tell the girl who would have enjoyed the safe protected life that now she has to have choice and danger because of me?" -pg 239
She also thinks about the "perfect" Society:
"They have perfected the art of giving us just enough freedom; just enough that when we are ready to snap, a little bone is offered and we roll over, belly up, comfortable and placated like a dog . . . They've had decades to perfect this; why am I surprised when it works on me again and again and again?" -pg 249

I also became impressed with the quality of writing Condie displays.  Cassia is a very thoughtful character and every other thing she thinks and says sounds like it came out of a book of quotes.  I also loved the poetry motif throughout the novel.
Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  High quality of writing, thought provoking, I liked the character of Cassia.  Not the most original (unfortunately young adult dystopian novels are everywhere now!).

Other reviews:
Book Nut
Bookfoolery and Babble
A Girl, Books and Other Things

Have you reviewed this? Let me know and I'd be happy to post yours as well.

50 States Challenge

I'm a geographer as well as a bookworm so this challenge is perfect for me!  

January 1 - December 31, 2013
The goal of this challenge is to read books that are set in each of the fifty states. Your books can be of any genre and any format (ie. paperback, ebook, audiobook, etc.). No short stories. Re-reads and crossovers from other reading challenges are fine. (Re-read reviews must be written within the year 2013; you can not use old reviews.) 

Minnesota: Arms Wide Open  by: Patricia Harman
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina: The Kill Order  by: James Dashner
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia:  Fallout  by: Mark Ethridge

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Wife, mother, bookworm.
This is a place where you can read book reviews, discover links, and learn about the reading challenges in which I'm taking part.


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