Tuesday, December 29, 2015

#AMonthofFaves : 10 Books That Made My Year

2015 has nearly drawn to a close, and it's been a rough one life-wise, but reading-wise it was certainly rewarding.  I think what's funny about my favorites this year is that so few other people seem to have read them, at least the ones that were published this year.  When I read great books published in the current year, it seems like they're never the same ones that everyone else is reading!  On a positive note, though, that gives me a chance to tell you about a few great books that maybe you haven't heard about from everyone and their mother......right? 

Anyhow, here is the top of the crop from my year of reading (in conjunction with a #AMonthofFaves).

 1. In a World Just Right by Jen Brooks - This book gets awarded the "Ugly Cry of the Year" award.  At first it's a strange little romance about a plane-crash survivor that can create worlds with his mind.  In one, his dream girl is his girlfriend, but what happens when the worlds start to meld together?  I never even saw it coming.

2. The Marauders by Tom Cooper - This one gets the "Surprise Hit" award.  When it first arrived, I thought I'd made a severe ARC requesting misstep.  However, this story of the hard luck people in a Louisiana bayou town turned out to be a hit for me because I've never been made to feel more sympathy for a bunch of less likeable characters, and I've never been so surprised at a book packing an unexpected emotional punch.

3. When She Woke by Hilary Jordan - I actually hate when I read a really great book at the beginning of the year because I know when it comes time to make this list, I'll nearly always forget to put it on the list because it seems like I read it an eon ago.  I loved Jordan's dystopian world where Christian fundamentalists dominate and dyeing people the colors indicative of their crimes has replaced imprisoning them.  Very believable world-building, very interesting retelling of The Scarlet Letter.

4. The Happy Christian by David Murray - Look!  It's a non-fiction title on my best of list, and it's not a memoir or even narrative non-fiction.  Be amazed!  This was a great read from last winter/spring full of practical ways to let God's promises make us more happy on a daily basis.  An ill-fit for my blog audience, perhaps, but a great fit for me as a human.

5. The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory by Stacy Wakefield - I fell in love with Sid, the narrator of this book, who is a girl caught up in the "romantic" idea of getting involved in the New York City squatter scene, which doesn't quite turn out like she expects.  The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory is a perfect slice of life book that follows Sid in her highs and lows with a little friendship and a little romance, nights when everything is perfect and others when everything goes wrong, but there's always a chance for a little happily ever after. 

6. Girl Underwater by Claire Kells - This one seems to have flown under the radar a bit, so all the more disappointed am I in myself for not having reviewed it.  It's the story of girl and the guy that dared to tell her to be true to herself, their survival of a plane crash and the long wait for rescue (with three young, newly orphaned boys in tow), and the aftermath. I loved Avery and Colin and their reluctant love story that emerges from tragedy.

7. Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum - I never fail to be captivated by stories set in World War II Germany, and this one didn't disappoint.  Those Who Save Us captures the moral ambiguities of surviving the war when a German woman, whose daughter is the product of her forbidden love affair with a Jew who has been taken away to a concentration camp, has an affair with a German officer to survive and to continue in the dangerous pursuit of supplying extra bread to the prisoners of the camp where her true lover is imprisoned.  

8. The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma - How to describe this book?  Eerie.  One ballerina in prison, one ballerina performing her final dance before she heads to Julliard, a prison haunted by a tragic event, guilt, innocence, and lots of lies.  I won't spoil it by writing more words.  It's way too good to be spoiled. 

9. The Visitors by Sally Beauman - I was a little daunted by The Visitors when I started reading it, lots of pages, small print, but I was totally captivated by this story of 1920s Egypt where the the last of the undiscovered tombs are being excavated in the Valley of Kings.  The narrator is a young girl who proves the perfect observer to the astonishing chain of events when Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered King Tut's tomb.  Beauman's story is the perfect blend of reality and fiction that left me feeling like I'd learned something and enjoyed every bit of it.

10. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson - I wrapped up my reading year with this one, and it was a fantastic choice.  After a slow start, I was totally engaged in this story of a princess turned queen, chosen by God for some feat of service.  I loved the narrator, Elisa, a young, pudgy princess who feels ill-suited to her role as queen and for whatever service may be required of her.  Watching her come into her own amid desperate times made this book positively unputdownable.

Which books have been the highlights of your reading year?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Charlie and the Grandmothers by Katy Towell

Charlie is afraid of everything.  Ever since the terrifying day when his father was killed in a mill accident, Charlie can't help fearing the worst.  Even when there seems to be nothing to fear, Charlie can't help concocting worst-case scenarios in his ever-wakeful, overactive imagination.  Most of the danger lives inside Charlie's head, but even his sister Georgie and their mother recognize the oddity of the numerous children leaving their neighborhood to visit their grandmothers and seemingly never returning. 

One night, darkness sweeps over their house and Charlie, still awake in the night, can hear a strange voice whispering to his mother.  Days later, the impossible is happening.  Charlie and Georgie's mother has taken ill and the two children are being sent away to their grandmother's house while she recovers, which wouldn't be so strange...if they actually had any living grandparents.  Instead of a charming getaway to the safety of their grandmother's house, Charlie and Georgie are plunged into the stuff of nightmares.  These grandmothers are distinctly evil, and only terrified Charlie is equipped to save them.

Katy Towell has crafted a deliciously and imaginatively creepy horror story for kids that worked for this adult reader, too.  Sure, the premise is unlikely.  Charlie's unnatural terror and weird attachment is a little exaggerated, but here, it works. 

While Charlie and the Grandmothers is undeniably unique, I couldn't help being reminded of books like Neil Gaiman's Coraline with a little James and the Giant Peach thrown in.  I love stories like this, fast-paced and full of adventure, where a kid left to their own devices in a world that should be heart-stoppingly petrifying finds his courage and steps up to become the hero of his own story.

(Review copy received at no cost in exchange for review consideration.)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

#AMonthofFaves : A Few of My Favorite Things (of 2015)

Today's Month of Favorites topic: These Are A Few of My Favorite Things in 2015 – eg. to eat, drink, wear, smell, see, do, enjoy, best thing I bought, most used gift received etc, favorite concert, outdoor activity, place visited, most squee worthy moment of the year, biggest change.

I have to admit, I won't be sad to see 2015 go.  It's been a year marked by injuries and injury recovery followed by other injuries and more recovery, and when I wasn't busy being injured (or recovering) I was working like a dog.  And when I finally finished working like a dog and was finally on the brink of a well-earned vacation I broke my ankle, successfully obliterating any semblance of normal life.  I'm still waiting to get back to normal life.  So, yeah, adios 2015, don't let the door hit ya.  

It's been tough trying to pick some favorite things out of the morass of this year, but good news!  I came up with a few! 

My New Apartment - Okay, so I'd lived here not quite a full month when I missed a few steps and see above, but solo living has its perks, like I get to live among my books now.  They're on shelves!  Where people can see them, and I can see them! And my apartment is big enough that 1000 or so books don't make it feel claustrophobic.  I can watch what I want on TV.  I can not watch TV and just read in the living room without being constantly interrupted.  My friends come over way more now.  Which is good, since I'm kind of stuck here.  Still.

That Train Concert - In between the injuries and the recoveries and the moving and the workaholism, I did kind of a bucket listy thing for me and got tickets to see Matt Nathanson, The Fray, and Train in concert.  I love Train and liked the other two acts, and it was a fantastic show and a great time with my cousin driving through the barren wilds of Pennsylvania and New York to get to the (beautiful) venue of Bethel Woods (original site of Woodstock) where they have the thickest grass and the most expensive bottles of water.

Movies -  Going to the movie theatre, is (yippee!) something you can still enjoy while you are fairly handicapped.  Since the movies are one of the only places I went for three months that didn't include x-rays, they easily make the list.  Highlights?  Bridge of Spies and Mockingjay the second.

Chopped - They put it on Netflix just in time!  Whose spirits aren't lifted by watching a professional chef attempt to create an entree from black licorice, kimchi, a species of mushroom that only grows in the hills of a war-torn African nation, and eye of newt?  Obviously, I made these ingredients up, but you get the idea.  

The Voice - It took me until I finally subscribed to Hulu Plus to finally get hooked on The Voice.  Love those blind auditions!

The Awkward Yeti - This was the best moment of serendipity of the year.  First, my friend had to get her gallbladder out, and then this happened to show up in my Facebook feed...

Picture credit: The Awkward Yeti

I looooove these comics.  They're pretty much all about bodily organs and pretty much totally relevant to everyday life all the time.  There is an Awkward Yeti comic for every feeling you've ever had.  There is a book, too.  I should get it.  What I did get was an adorable stuffed sad gallbladder for my now gallbladderless friend.  Too priceless!  

What's your favorite thing from 2015?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

#AMonthofFaves : My Reading Year

Wow, can it be December again already?  This year has flown past at a glacial speed.  (This sort of comment may make better sense to those with broken ankles.  Days go by so slowly, yet it still seems as if three months of my life have vanished with astonishing speed.)  Anyhow, no ankle sob stories today.  I was excited to see that Estella's Revenge, girlxoxo.com, and Traveling with T have brought back their December blogging event - A Month of Favorites.  They've got blogging prompts for most of the weekdays of December to help us keep up our blogging mojo even through this busiest of months.  If you'd like to join the fun, just click over to the one of the hosts' blogs to find out the schedule.

To kick things off, we're doing a little "my reading year" overview.  My reading year was...good.  One more book read and I will have surpassed my number of books read at the end of the year last year.  Astonishingly however, I tallied up my number of pages read this year and last year, and I kid you not, I am within 50 pages of my number of pages read last year at this time.  I might be a slow reader, but it seems I am consistently slow.  Ha!

Also, strikingly similar to last year is my ratio of books authored by females to books authored by males.  The girls have it, making up around 75% of my reading.  I did a good job of balancing review copies with titles from my stacks.  An even half of my reading was not furnished by a publisher for my review consideration.  This was something that I meant to be better about, so it's exciting to have not lost track of that goal over the year.

May was tops for both quantity and quality of books read.  Thank you busted back and beautiful weather.  August was the worst.  Thank you workaholism and ankle surgery.  Ugh.  Thankfully, what the ankle stole in August, it returned in September and October when there was a major uptick in reading.  Obviously.  Those who cannot walk, read.  That's how that saying goes, right?

Thanks to a mid-summer move into a new apartment, I purged around 400 books from my collection, and I also haven't read a single e-book since most of the summer my goal was to unload books that would need to be lifted. I feel a little guilty about leaving my Kindle in the corner (nobody puts Kindle in a corner!), but hopefully I can make a return to occasional e-book reading in 2016.  I certainly haven't taken a break from e-book buying.

On the whole, 2015 was a much better quality reading year than 2014.  There were a random few duds that if I could go back in time I would totally DNF.  That said, looking back over the past few months, while I haven't read anything that's totally knocked my socks off, the books I've been reading have been consistently good.  Here's hoping the trend continues (except maybe a, uh, "sock knocker" is in order before the calendar turns another page) for the rest of the year!

What has been the highlight of your reading year?