Thursday, December 31, 2009

Booking Through Thursday...2009 In Review

It’s the last day of the year, and you know what that means … nostalgia and looking back.

What were your favorite books of the year? (Books that were new to you in 2009, if not necessarily published this year.)

If you've read this blog for very long you know that I am pretty stingy when it comes to giving a book a 5 star rating. I rarely keep or reread books, and to me a 5 means that I loved a book enough that I can't bear to part with it right away. So, not all of my favorites may be 5's, but here are some of my favorite books this year.

-What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen (review)
-Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (review), audio
-The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (review), audio
-The World in Half by Cristina Henriquez (review)
-Impulse by Ellen Hopkins (review)
-Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross (review)
-Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (review), audio

One thing I always find interesting when I look back over my reviews is how my feelings towards a book may change. As I was browsing through my 4-5 star books for this list I came across a few books that I was surprised were rated as high as they were. Obviously, some books are more impressive right after you finish them than months down the road.

I was also surprised how many audio books made this list. It goes to show that a well done audio production can have amazing staying power with me. For example, I can still hear the voices and accents of many of the characters in Guernsey, nearly a year after I listened to it!

What are your favorites for the year?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Review: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Book Info:
The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
Hardcover: 528 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Books (September 15, 2009)
ISBN-13: 9780385504225
Genre: Mystery/Thriller, Fiction
Source: Library
Rating: 2.5/5

As the story opens, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building. Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn. A disturbing object -- artfully encoded with five symbols -- is discovered in the Capitol Building. Langdon recognizes the object as an ancient invitation... one meant to usher its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom. When Langdon's beloved mentor, Peter Solomon -- a prominent Mason and philanthropist -- is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes his only hope of saving Peter is to accept this mystical invitation and follow wherever it leads him.

It's been quite a while since I read The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons, but I remember loving them. I think I spent a long weekend curled up with both book and I devoured them within just a few days. This time around I wasn't quite as impressed.

For the most part I found Brown's writing to be overdone. It seemed like he was mainly writing so that another movie could be made. I felt like he was trying so hard to be creative and secretive with the plot that it came across as cheesy quite a few times. Another thing that I found distracting was the excessive use of italics. All of the characters thoughts were in italics and I thought it was a bit much.

This was the first full length book I read on my Sony Reader though and I loved it. I loved the portability and really enjoyed the actual reading process. I love the physical feel of books and I was afraid I would like the Reader much, but that wasn't the case. I also loved the simplicity of getting the book from the library. It was really easy to download and transfer to my Reader. So, while The Lost Symbol wasn't a hit with me, my reader was. 2.5 stars

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Book Info:
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Paperback: 150 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace (November 24, 2008)
ISBN-13: 9781440472909
Genre: Classic, Fiction
Source: Project Gutenberg, eBook
Rating: 4/5

One of the most beloved Christmas stories in English, this engrossing tale relates Ebenezer Scrooge's ghostly journeys through Christmases past, present and future and his ultimate transformation from a harsh and grasping old miser to a charitable and compassionate human being. A perennial classic that has become as much a part of the holiday season as holly, mistletoe and evergreen wreaths.

I don't usually get into holiday stories, but I wanted to get at least a little closer to completing my classics challenge, so I gave this one a try.

The thing that surprised me the most about A Christmas Carol was how readable the story was. One of the main reasons classics intimidate me is I'm afraid the language will be hard to read. This was not the case with A Christmas Carol at all. While I'm sure knowing the story helped, the story flowed well and I am excited to give Dickens another try. 4 stars

Do you have a favorite Charles Dickens book?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Unfinished Challenges for 2009

As 2009 draws to a close I know that there are a few of my challenges that I'm not going to finish...and so I'm officially giving up on them.

The Read Your Own Books Challenge was probably the hardest one for me, and also the one I did the worst on. I think that is pretty funny considering these are all books that I picked out from my TBR, and yet I never got around to reading them.

I finished 4/10 books on this list. I also should, but probably won't, be trying this particular challenge next year.

1. The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant
2. Dry by Augusten Burroughs, (review)
3. The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory (review)
4. Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
5. The Thin Place by Kathryn Davis (review)
6. Pope Joan by Donna Woolfork Cross (review)
7. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
8. The Constant Princess by Phillipa Gregory
9. Amagansett by Mark Mills
10. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Another challenge I struggled on was the Classics Challenge. There are so many classics I want to read, but I never seem to make time for them with new books always showing up on my shelves. I read 3/4 books for this challenge and am pretty happy with this result. I also did a classics challenge last year and didn't read a single book for it. This may be one I try again in 2010.

1. My Antonia by Willa Cather (review), audio
2. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (review coming soon)
3. The Pearl by John Steinbeck (review coming soon)

The last challenge I was unable to complete was the Book Awards III Challenge. I only completed 3/5 for this challenge. I know I had more award winning books on my shelves, but I never felt compelled to read any of them. I'll probably be skipping this one if it's held again.

1. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (review) - Pulitzer Prize Winner
2. Let Me Go by Helga Schneider (review) - D.J.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award, Listen Up Award
3. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (review) - Romantic Novel of the Year Award

As of right now I am still one book away from completing the War Through the Generations Challenge, and am 100 pages into my last book for it. Since I'm so close, I'm going to work hard on completing it in the next couple of weeks. So far, I've read 4/5 for this challenge.

1. Briar Rose by Jane Yolen (review)
2. Resistance by Anita Shreve (review)
3. Let Me Go by Helga Schneider (review), audio
4. Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas (review)

Happy Birthday, Jake!

I don't usually do birthday wishes on here, but did want to send a special birthday wish to my brother Jake.

Jake is 23 today and is currently in San Diego at Marine Boot Camp. He left about a week before Thanksgiving and we really miss not having him home this year for the holidays!

So, Jake, while I know you won't be able to read this until you get home...I love you and am very proud of you! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Book Info:
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH (March 25, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0786838183
Genre: Young Adult
Source: Library (audio)
Rating: 4/5

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14:
Debate Club.
Her father's "bunny rabbit."
A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15:
A knockout figure.
A sharp tongue.
A chip on her shoulder.
And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston.

Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16:
Possibly a criminal mastermind.

This is the story of how she got that way.

Sorry for the super long description (I even cut some of it out), but I loved the way it was written up and it gives a great example of the humor in this book. I first saw this one mentioned on a blog a while back. It looked good, but wasn't something I was rushing out to get. When the library had it on audio, though, I figured I'd give it a try.

Frankie is a great character. She's smart and opinionated, but she's also in that awkward stage where she's trying to find herself while also trying to fit in with her peers. Lockhart does a great job of keeping this balance believable. Frankie doesn't wake up one day and have all the answers. She's still insecure and that makes her very realistic.

I wasn't crazy about the narrator when I first started listening to this one. I thought her voice was a little whiny, but it grew on me after a bit. Lockhart's book was entertaining, without being full of over-the-top, unbelievable pranks. This was an enjoyable listen and I'll be watching for more of Lockhart's books. 4 stars

Monday, December 14, 2009

Review: Impossible by Nancy Werlin

Book Info:
Impossible by Nancy Werlin
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Dial (September 18, 2008)
ISBN-13: 978-0803730021
Genre: Young Adult
Source: Library
Rating: 4/5

Lucy has nine months to break an ancient curse in order to save both herself and her unborn daughter. Inspired by the ballad “Scarborough Fair,” this riveting novel combines suspense, fantasy, and romance for an intensely page-turning and masterfully original tale.

Lucy is seventeen when she discovers that the women of her family have been cursed through the generations, forced to attempt three seemingly impossible tasks or to fall into madness upon their child’s birth. But Lucy is the first girl who won’t be alone as she tackles the list. She has her fiercely protective foster parents and her childhood friend Zach beside her. Do they have love and strength enough to overcome an age-old evil?

I don't usually read fantasy and if I'd know the book included a faery I probably would have skipped it. This was another time when not reading the blurb ahead of time worked out well.

I thought Lucy was a great character. She was thoughtful and strong, even during an admittedly strange situation. I also liked how the book mostly focused on social situations with the fantasy side of things almost in the background at times. This may not work well for those who are looking for the fantasy aspect though.

I didn't really like the faery character. Maybe that's the realist me in me, but I thought everybody swooning around him was just annoying. I know he is supposed to be able to control human actions and thoughts, but that part of the story didn't really work for me.

While Werlin was a new author for me, I will definitely be checking out more of her books. 4 stars

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What's In a Name 3 Challenge

I really love challenges with categories so I couldn't pass this one up. It is hosted this year by Beth and there is a separate challenge blog with all the guidelines.

1. A book with a food in the title:
2. A book with a body of water in the title: The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
3. A book with a title (queen, president) in the title: The Red Quenn by Philippa Gregory
4. A book with a plant in the title: Waiting for Daisy by Peggy Orenstein
5. A book with a place name (city, country) in the title: A Gift from Brittany by Marjorie Price
6. A book with a music term in the title:

2010 Historical Fiction Challenge

I have a lot of Historical Fiction on my shelves, and while I love the genre it seems to get constantly put aside. Hopefully this challenge, hosted by Royal Reviews, will help with that. The challenge guidelines are listed at Royal Reviews and I am signing up at the Addicted level which is reading 12 HF books.

I am also participating in a HF Challenge at Paperback Swap and will use the categories of that challenge to pick my 12 HF books.

R U Kidding Me? (historical fantasy or alternate history) -
Where Dat At (north of the equator) -
Pagan Past (before the Common Era) -
Whodunit (historical mystery) - Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander (review)
Birthday Book (published during the year of your birth) -
Habla Espanol? (takes place in Mexico or South America) -
Roots (country of your ancestors) -
Read a Winner (from ALA’s annual Reading List) -
15 Minutes of Fame (biographical novel) -
Continuing Saga (second or any subsequent book in a series) -
Bonus - Color Me (color in the title or in the author’s name) - The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
Alternate Category (your choice) -

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Booking Through Thursday...Mark the Spot

Suggested by Tammy:
What items have you ever used as a bookmark? What is the most unusual item you’ve ever used or seen used?

I love bookmarks and always try to buy myself a new one whenever I buy books. I also seem to lose them and so I need a large supply. A couple of my favorites are flat metal ones. One has a turquoise stone at the top and one has stamped wording on it with a ribbon at the top. I really like the metal ones because of their weight.

When I can't find one of my bookmarks I will use any scrap of paper to mark my place. It could be a post it, a receipt or a photo. I refuse to fold page corners and will just try to remember what page I'm on to avoid damaging the book.

I don't think I've ever used anything really strange for a bookmark though...What about you? What's the strangest thing you've ever used for a bookmark?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Review: Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas

Book Info:
Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (February 5, 2008)
ISBN-13: 9780312360207
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: My Shelves
Rating: 4/5

During World War II, a family finds life turned upside down when the government opens a Japanese internment camp in their small Colorado town. After a young girl is murdered, all eyes (and suspicions) turn to the newcomers, the interlopers, the strangers.

This is Tallgrass as Rennie Stroud has never seen it before. She has just turned thirteen and, until this time, life has pretty much been what her father told her it should be: predictable and fair. But now the winds of change are coming and, with them, a shift in her perspective. And Rennie will discover secrets that can destroy even the most sacred things.

I'm a sucker for books that are set in Colorado, and especially the Eastern plains. It always brings me just a little closer to the characters when I recognize and relate to the setting. I also love WWII fiction, so the subject matter and the setting made Tallgrass a must read for me.

My favorite thing about Tallgrass was the story was told through the eyes of a child. Rennie brings an open mindedness to the story that some of the adult characters understandably don't have. While she is uncertain about the Japanese in the camp, she is also willing to give them a chance. This allows her to see them as individuals and realize that they aren't so different after all.

Tallgrass is a story that brought out strong emotions in me. While I know that fear can make people behave shamefully, it saddens me that this same type of discrimination can easily be found today. If you are a fan of WWII fiction, I would recommend Tallgrass as a different view into how the war affected those in the internment camps and the surrounding communities. 4 stars

Thursday, December 3, 2009

2010 100+ Reading Challenge

Once again J Kaye is hosting the 100+ Reading Challenge. I really enjoy this challenge, can usually complete it, and it gives me a great place for listing all the books I've read during the year. Like last year, this post will also include the date I completed a book and a link to my review.

1. Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas (review coming soon), finished 1/09/10
2. Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah (review), finished 02/05/10
3. Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander (review), finished 02/16/10
4. Life Sentences by Laura Lippman (review), finished
5. Some Girls: My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren (review coming soon), finished
6. Kisser by Stuart Woods (review), finished 04/07/10
7. Never Tell a Lie by Hallie Ephron (review coming soon), finished 04/09/10
8. Avenging Angels by Mary Stanton (review coming soon), finished 04/19/10
9. A Gift from Brittany by Marjorie Price (review), finished 04/29/10
10. The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan (review), audio, finished 05/18/10
11. Still Missing by Chevy Stevens (review), finished 05/24/10
12. Bright Light, Big Ass by Jen Lancaster (review), finished 06/06/10
13. Lucid Intervals by Stuart Woods (review coming soon), finished 06/08/10
14. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (review), finished 07/03/10
15. Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian (review), finished 07/10/10
16. I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter (review coming soon), audio, finished 07/14/10
17. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (review coming soon), finished 07/28/10
18. The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory (review), finished 08/12/10
19. I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman (review), finished 08/23/10
20. Girl Missing by Tess Gerritsen (review), finished 08/27/10
21.  Leaving Before It's Over by Jean Reynolds Page (review), finished 09/05/10
22.  Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (review coming soon), finished 09/08/10
23.  Room by Emma Donoghue (review), finished 09/16/10
24.  One Deadly Sin by Annie Solomon (review coming soon), finished 10/15/10
25.  Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson (review coming soon), audio, finished 10/29/10
26.  Waiting for Daisy by Peggy Orenstein (review coming soon), finished 11/01/10
27.  Tricks by Ellen Hopkins (review coming soon), finished 11/15/10
28.  Broken by Karin Slaughter (review coming soon), finished 11/24/10
29. Columbine by Dave Cullen (review coming soon), audio, finished 12/06/10
30.  The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley (review coming soon), finished 12/10/10

TwentyTen Reading Challenge

While I loved the 999 Challenge last year, I'm skipping the 101010 Challenge on LT this year as I just don't think there is any way I'll be able to complete it. What I liked most about the 999 Challenge was the categories and finding books to fit into them. So, I was thrilled to find the TwentyTen Reading Challenge hosted by Bart's Bookshelf. It has the categories I love, but on a much smaller scale.

-Read 2 books from each category, making a requirement of 20 books total.
-The categories are intended to be loose guidelines only, if you decide it fits, then it fits. (Apart from those marked **)
-Categories marked with ** have tighter rules, and these must be followed.
-Each book can only qualify for one category.
-Crossovers with other challenges are allowed.
-Books read from 01/01/2010 to 31/12/2010 are eligible.

Young Adult
1. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
2. The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

1. Bright Light, Big Ass by Jen Lancaster
2. Waiting for Daisy by Peggy Orenstein

Shiny and New
1. Tricks by Ellen Hopkins
2. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Bad Blogger's**
1. Still Missing by Chevy Stevens (Trish @ Hey Lady)
2. One Deadly Sin by Annie Solomon (Becky @ My Thoughts, Your Thoughts)

1. Broken by Karin Slaughter
2. Lucid Intervals by Stuart Woods
New in 2010
1. Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian
2. The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley
Older Than You

Win! Win!

Who Are You Again?
1. Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander
2. Never Tell a Lie by Hallie Ephron

Up To You...Memoir
1. Some Girls: My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren
2. A Gift from Brittany by Marjorie Price

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Book Tour: Murder on the Cliffs by Joanna Challis

One of my favorite bloggers, Sandy of You've GOTTA Read This, hosted a discussion earlier this year of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. While I wasn't able to participate, I loved following along. That discussion was one of the things that first interested me in Murder on the Cliffs. I loved the idea of a mystery surrounding du Maruier.

Please help me welcome Joanna Challis, and enjoy her guest post!


Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley.

The storm led me to Padthaway.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is my all-time favorite book. I also love the black & white movie with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, chillingly transcribed to screen by Alfred Hitchcock. So when my agent first came up with the idea of using Daphne as a fictional heroine, I blinked not once but twice.

I never thought of writing as a real person. The first thing that flashed through my mind was ‘restricted.’ Unlike fictional protagonists, real people and more so real ‘famous’ people left behind a wealth of information.

Daphne du Maurier did more than that. She wrote her own biography “Myself When Young” charting her early years up to the publication of her first novel and marriage. Daphne is quoted as saying “an autobiography is self-indulgent” and when asked if she planned a sequel to Myself When Young, she replied: “No. I believe one can become too introspective writing this type of thing. I intend to look to the future rather than the past and all I can say is that I had a very happy married life, have a delightful family, and I don’t like books which are full of name dropping.”

Myself When Young – the Shaping of a Writer formed the basis for my fictional Daphne. Although many biographers have stitched together other versions of the real Daphne, none can compare to the horse’s own mouth. In her autobiography, she paints a painfully honest picture of herself, her relationship with her parents and her sisters, her education in Paris, her love for Cornwall and abhorrence for London life, her unrelenting interest in history and her ambition to succeed as a writer. As I devoured Myself When Young, I realized I had a kindred spirit in Daphne. She loved the same things I did: travel, ruins, history, and writing. She often felt socially inept, drawn more to observe people than participate. She loved adventure and intrigue and there were no limits to her imagination.

Of course, I knew when embarking upon a new mystery series featuring Daphne du Maurier, particular criticism would be leveled at me. In creating a fictional Daphne, a heroine starring in her own fictional novel, one providing inspiration for her future works, I had to distance myself from the magnitude of biographers out there who all had a pre-conceived idea of who Daphne was. At the end of the day, nobody knows the real Daphne but Daphne herself and she is no longer here to speak for herself. The legacy of family, friends and her writings are left behind to give us clues and they all paint a fascinating, complex personality, not unlike writers today. Daphne lived in her own world and loved to create worlds. Reading her words, my fictional Daphne-the-heroine leapt off the page and I’m sure if she were alive today, to some extent she would be amused by the thought of becoming an amateur sleuth in the great houses of England.

Sharing Daphne’s deep love of Cornwall, I set MURDER ON THE CLIFFS, out this month by St Martin’s Minotaur, on the Cornish coast. Above the waves and the cliffs, a great mansion looms called Padthaway, the home of the aristocratic Hartley family. As Daphne is on holidays, she is drawn to the house and the mystery of the young bride found dead on the beach. She won’t rest until she has unearthed all the secrets of the eerie Elizabethan mansion, even if it places her in danger.

MURDER ON THE CLIFFS was written with a large nod to REBECCA, du Maurier’s all-time classic. Padthaway forms the inspiration for Manderley and the young dead bride Victoria to Rebecca. Other than that, MURDER ON THE CLIFFS has its own mystery to solve and Daphne is just the one to do it. She’s trusted by the family and this provides the perfect basis for her to subtly begin her inquiries. MURDER ON THE CLIFFS (published by St Martin’s Minotaur) is out 1st December, 2009.

Following on with Daphne’s deep love of Cornwall, PERIL AT SOMNER HOUSE is next, a Winter manor-house mystery set on the Isles of Scilly (to be published 2010).

For more information, please visit

Writing as
Joanna and Lisa Challis

And now for the giveaway...Joanna Challis is giving away a signed copy of her book, Murder on the Cliffs, to one lucky tour visitor. Go to her book tour page,, enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 4920, for your chance to win. Entries from Shhh I'm Reading will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) tomorrow. No purchase is required to enter or to win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on their book tour page next week.

A special thank you to Joanna Challis for stopping by today, and Good Luck with the giveaway!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Review: Fear The Worst by Linwood Barclay

Book Info:
Fear the Worst by Linwood Barclay
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Bantam (August 11, 2009)
ISBN-13: 9780553807165
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Source: My Shelves
Rating: 3.5/5

Tim is an average guy. He sells cars. He has an ex-wife. She’s moved in with a man whose moody son spends more time online than he should. His girlfriend is turning out to be a bit of a flake. It’s not a life without hassles, but nothing will prepare Tim for the nightmare that’s about to begin.

Sydney vanishes into thin air. At the hotel where she supposedly worked, no one has ever heard of her. Even her closest friends seem to be at a loss. Now, as the days pass without word, Tim must face the fact that not only is Sydney missing, but that the daughter he’s loved and thought he knew is a virtual stranger.

Thank you for all your well wishes as we took our mini vacation over Thanksgiving weeked. We had a great time and wonderful weather. I'm hoping to get some pictures of our trip up later this week!

I know I've mentioned it before, but I find mysteries really hard to review. For the longest time this was pretty much the only genre I read. Since I've read so many mystery/thriller books it takes an awful lot for them to stand out for me.

I enjoyed reading Fear The Worst, but it's only been about 5 days since I finished it and I'm already having a hard time writing a review. I liked the book, was really into it while I was reading and I finished it in just a couple of days. But now, the characters don't have much to set them apart and the plot was interesting, but forgettable.

If you enjoy mysteries, pick up Fear the Worst. It was a solid mystery and one that kept me entertained. While it didn't have that something special I look for, Barclay hasn't let me down when I'm looking for an engaging read. 3.5 stars