Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy New Year! 2015!

Happy 2015!  

I am so pleased that it is the new year.  I took a few days off work and I feel very refreshed and ready for all of the new challenges and joys that 2015 will bring.  

I also love reflecting on all of the books that I read in 2015, so here goes! 

In 2015, I read 60 books and a total of 21,392 pages. This was 10 books short of my reading goal and I attribute this to watching more TV and having zero reading time on the weekends because we got a new kitchen!   That means that we spent 6 months of weekends working on the house instead of reading. 

Longest Book:  NOS4A2 by Joe Hill. Honestly, not great, it was a long 642 pages. 

Shortest Book:  The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin at 132 pages. 

Most Disappointing Book:  Revival by Stephen King.  I always have super high expectations for Stephen King and Revival just didn't do it for me.  It was loose, felt like it was written too quickly and was a long rambling novel that I just couldn't get behind.  Still, I gave it 3/5 stars.

Also disappointing was The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg.  This was rated one of the best books of the year on Goodreads, but my god, it was awful.  So much passive voice in this book.  This is my biggest pet peeve.  I wanted to edit this book for Mr. Rosenberg and I was highly disappointed. 

Most Rewarding Book:   Soy Sauce for Beginners by Kirstin Chen.  This book was beautiful.  It sent me on a search for real-brewed soy sauce and it made me crave good Asian food. 

Worst Book:  The Last Town (Wayward Pines #3) by Blake Crouch.  This was the last book in the Wayward Pines series and it was incredibly disappointing.  I hated the ending and hated how Blake kept us all waiting for a crap book.   It is very highly rated on Goodreads, a full 4.14 points, but I gave it 1/5 stars.  

Best Non-Fiction:    The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.  I recommend this book to almost everyone I know.  It was by far the best non-fiction book that I've read in years.  The tension was palpable and I loved learning about crew and rowing. 

Funniest Book:  This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper.  This book was relatively funny, but after reviewing my books for 2014, I realized that I didn't read very many memorable funny books this year.  I definitely need to change this in 2015.  

Favorite Book:   Toss up between The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters and Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.  I have been recommending these books to people all year, or in the case of The Paying Guests, since I finished it in early December.  They are both outstanding reads.  

Best Rated on Goodreads:  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.   This was not the best book that I read this year, but it was certainly a five star. 

Worst Rated on Goodreads:  The Hit by Melvin Burgess.  Not surprising.  This book was so so bad. See my review here.

I set some goals for 2014 and here's how they panned out:

1.  Read 70 books.  I fell short by 10 books!   Yikes! 

2.  Alternatively, read 30,000 pages.  I needed about 10,000 pages to fulfill this goal.  Whoops!  

3. Post to this blog 30 times.  Let's get out of this 27 slump nice and easy.  Eek.  Also a fail.  I posted exactly 6 times.  

4.  Continue my One-Line a day journal.  I love keeping records of my day to day and I hope this journal will help me do it.   I did this until approximately May.  That's pretty good for a NY Resolution! 

5.  Actually read the books that I buy.  My to-read shelf is bigger than the shelves of books that I've read.  I am going to try to buy fewer books this year, get more books from the library (FREE), and make a dent in the to-read pile.   I mostly achieved this goal too!  I stopped buying books on the Kindle Daily Deal because they became sort of a toss up, and got more books from the library.  Nothing beats holding (and smelling) a physical book! 

I love making goals and I try to do them yearly, monthly, and on my birthday.  I am turning 30 this year, so I'm also working on my "Before I'm 30 Bucket List." 

My goals for 2015 are varied.   My hubs and I have several financial goals that I will not bore you with here, but one includes a trip to Italy for our 30th birthdays!  I want to run a 5k with my mother.  I want to work hard to make my billable hours at work.  I want to landscape my yard in the spring, build a dining room table (amish style), and finish the last remaining kitchen projects. 

My reading goals are: 

1.  Update this blog!  I'm certain I've lost loads of readership due to my general lack of updating, but I should at least be able to double my 2014 entries.  12 seems doable! 

2. Continue to rent books from the library.  

3. Read 62 Books - See what I did there?  I upped my 2014 total by two!  I hope to crush this goal.  

Do you have any reading goals for 2015?

Happy 2015!!  I hope your year is full of life, love, laughter and fabulous books.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

In Sickness and In Hell by Stefan Barkow

Book:  In Sickness and In Hell

Author:  Stefan Barkow

Grade:  B

Recommended To: Philosophers, People who like a creepy story.  Perfect for Halloween. 

This book is now available for purchase at:

I enjoyed this freshman effort by Barkow.*  In Sickness and in Hell is a collection of short stories that included themes ranging from forgiveness, to the supernatural.

I liked the vast majority of the stories in this book.  There were a few that seemed a little over my head and comprehension, but that's not to say that they were bad, just a little too thoughtful for a train ride home.

The absolute best part of this book is Barkow's writing. It is excellent. He has a strong gift for creating scenes and characters in a very short format.  Short stories are hard to write because so much must be conveyed in small number of pages and Barkow does this exceedingly well.   He is also very good at writing dialogue.  One of my biggest pet peeves in books is dialogue that is chunky and detracts from the story; not true in Barkow's work.  The dialogue adds to and supports the stories so well that I found myself marveling over how accurately Barkow captured his characters through dialogue.  Most reviews are subjective, but if there is one thing that cannot be argued with; it is that Barkow's writing is superb.

Because the stories are so short, it is hard to summarize them without giving it all away, so I will just point out a few of my favorites.  I really liked the cover story In Sickness and in Hell, which was truly a gem in regard to dialogue and plot twist.  I also enjoyed Forgive Me, Father, which included a different perspective on a well known and traditional bible story. The Definition was creepy and fun and very short and left me thinking about and re-reading the plot twist.

Finally, I enjoyed the theme of change that ran through the entire book. In Jen,Now, Barkow explores how people grow and change and that sometimes we love the image of a person, a past person, that can no longer exist.  This theme resonates throughout the stories and Barkow introduces a fresh perspective on change and how it effects our relationships with ourselves and others.

Overall, I really enjoyed this whole collection.  I don't know how many other stories Barkow has written, but although the stories were distinct, they include the same themes and worked well together in a compilation.  This is not a book that I would have picked up on my own, but I'm thankful for the opportunity to read and review it.

Happy Reading!

*Full disclaimer, I went to high school with Stefan and he is my brother-in-law's best friend.  He asked to to read and review his book and gave me a free copy.  I tried very hard not to let that influence my review, but I do think it is super cool to know someone with a published book!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Hit by Melvin Burgess

Book:  The Hit (Take it. Live it. Do it)

Author:  Melvin Burgess 

Grade:  D

Recommended To:  I would only read this book if I had one book left to read to achieve my Goodreads goal and I didn't have any other book options. 

I got The Hit from my friend who received an Advance Reader Copy on Goodreads.

The Hit is completely misdirected.  It had a decent premise, but it fails to deliver on that premise which is disappointing but unsurprising.  With a cover like that, no one thought that this was going to be a "bestseller."  Also, no one believes that Mr. Burgess' first book, apparently titled Junk, was also a bestseller.

So, the cover ain't doing it for me.  The content was even worse.  This book features a drug called Death which gives the person one week to live, but that week is the best week of the person's life.  The main character, I've already forgotten his name, takes the drug and then uses it to convince his girlfriend to sleep with him.  Death apparently also makes the user lose all moral sense.  They also steal somethings, drive a fast car, and then she gets kidnapped.  Then it starts to get really weird because naturally the people that take Death regret it and start riots because they have "nothing left to lose."

The book gets really crazy with the introduction of an underground terrorist cell that kidnaps people and manufactures fake Death which is loosely related to a crazy guy who likes to paralyze people at the C4 vertebrae, but can't get it right.  WTF am I writing?!

I'm sure you can already tell that this book ain't great.  The plot is incredibly weak, the characters are stupid (no really, they are actually dumb), and this book did not deliver on whatever weak promises it plied me with.  This book gets a D instead of an F because it was short and I didn't have to suffer reading it for very long and because the premise on the back cover was intriguing.

Melvin, this is a miss.

Happy Reading!!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Clifton Chronicles by Jeffrey Archer

Books:  The Clifton Chronicles.  There are four books in the series, the newest was just released and I finished it in three days.

Author: Jeffrey Archer 

Grade:  Variable:  From B+ to C+ 

Recommended To: Fans of British writing.

I picked up the first three books of the Clifton Chronicles on Amazon for two bucks apiece.  I hadn't heard of Jeffrey Archer before and after reading the first book, I blazed through the rest. I couldn't possibly parse out the stories for complete reviews of each book now, so I am combining them all into one review.  I thought these books were delightful!   The grades do not necessarily reflect how much I liked reading this books, but let me explain.

This is a British family saga story.  It is about Harry Clifton and his life from boyhood at an English prep school on a choral scholarship to his eventual adult life as a married man with children.  Then, the story branches out and includes the lives of his best friend Giles, his mother, his children, his wife's siblings, etc.  Each family member is devoted to a few chapters that eventually advance the story.  Occasionally the chapters retell a portion of the story from a different perspective.

First, these books cannot be described as well-written.  But, there is a vast difference between passable writing, a literary genius, and books that are just plain terrible.  Archer's series is an example of the first.  These books are not literary works, but Archer can put together a sentence and he can keep a story moving.  Think Daniel Silva or John Grisham.  These authors do not write prize winning literature, but their writing is decent enough so that I keep buying.

Second, is Archer writing something totally new and fresh?  Probably not.  But, his characters get themselves into scraps and scrapes and come out somewhat fresh and changed, which can't be said for some other writers (AHEM, Veronica Roth).  I know, I know, you want to know why on earth I like these books since I'm usually the most critical of flat characters and overdone plots.  But, I found the situations interesting.  The books keep pace very well.  They don't lag or drag.  The reader knows exactly who to root for at all times, so the reading is fast and easy.

Third, although Archer uses some of the same literary devices again and again, I oddly wasn't bothered. Just about the only device in Archer's arsenal is the cliffhanger.  Almost every chapter ends with a cliffhanger. I admit, it is repetitive, but the story kept moving and Archer resolves almost all of the cliffhangers by the next chapter or book.  Instead of becoming irritating, I found the cliffhangers endearing and a minor hurdle for the sake of the story.

Ultimately, these books kept my attention and made me laugh.  For example, there is one scene in the most recent book where the wife of one of the "bad" characters leaves her husband and takes only the left shoe of all of his shoes.  That's hilarious!  I found myself chuckling out loud several times while reading these books because of the crazy situations that the characters find themselves in and because of the revenge exacted.

Are these the best books ever written?  No, of course not.  But, are they fun, lighthearted, easy reads? Yes!  And I absolutely recommend them for summer reading.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Boys in the Boat by Danial James Brown

Book:  The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their epic quest for gold at the 1936 Olympics. 

Author:  Daniel James Brown 

Grade:  A 

Recommended to:  Everyone. This is a non-fiction must read. 

I can't say enough good things about this book.  The Boys in the Boat is the story of the Washington team that rowed their way to victory at the 1936 Olympics.   The story is primarily told from the viewpoint of Joe Rantz, one of the boys in the boat.

I know nothing about rowing.  And, I always thought that rowing was one of those sports for eastern uppity colleges. This book taught me a lot about rowing without being boring, the fatal flaw of non-fiction writing.

 This story is very American.  It is a book of struggle, perseverance, and it is the exact opposite of my perception of rowing.  The Washington boys all came from rough beginnings.  They worked long hours at crappy jobs to pay for college, aced their classes in order to stay on the rowing team, and rowed in freezing rain, snow, and ice to become the world champions.  That sounds like a spoiler, but it isn't.  There's zero chance that Mr. Brown would have written about these boys if they had failed to make it to the Olympics.  

One of the best parts of this book is Mr. Brown's ability to capture the suspense of a rowing race.  He is inside the head of the coxswain and the rowers.   He writes as though the reader is there listening to the race on the radio or watching on television.  It is an incredibly talent that is particularly useful in sports stories, especially racing sports.  I couldn't put this book down, especially during a race sequence.

The book also included short chapters about the enormous propaganda campaign waged by Hitler, Goebbels, and a filmmaker that I hadn't heard of, Leni Riefenstahl, who created an entire Olympics to fool the world into believing that Germany was peaceful.  Those portions of the story were also extremely well written.

In my opinion, this book rivals the big non-fiction thrillers, Unbroken and The Devil in the White City.  This book is at least equal in quality and caliber, if not better.  I absolutely recommend it to everyone looking for a good sports story

I'm sorry for the massive delay in posts and updates.  I'm going to write a bunch of posts tonight and slowly release them, so hopefully I don't get behind again!   We have been very busy with the house and work has picked up.  So, I'm definitely going to make this blog a priority again!

Let me know what you think of The Boys in the Boat and Happy Reading!