Monday, December 26, 2011

Page Goals, Christmas Goodies, and 2012

Hello everyone!

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, Kwanza, or Hanukkah! For Christmas this year, Matt couldn't get much time off work so we stayed curled up in our little North Dakota apartment and celebrated with just the two of us, which was really nice. Next year, we're hoping to get more time off to spend the holidays with family.

Christmas was wonderful, though. bookish news, Matt's parents bought us a Kindle Fire! We're so excited to use it! Matt doesn't read, so he'll likely only use it while traveling. I haven't officially surrendered to the idea of ebooks, but this is my chance to test it out.

Here's what I've downloaded so far:
Life of Pi by Yann Martel (I never did read this when it was consistently on the Bestseller's list)
Life From Scratch by Melissa Ford
Single in the City by Michelle Gorman (gifted to me by author for review)
Inconvenient Love by Elizabeth Lashaun
Colin Preston Rocked and Rolled by Bert Murray

None of these books were more than $.99 To be honest, it makes me nervous that I've purchased three of these books in just 2 days. My bookshelf already has too many unread novels on it (159, to be exact). I can't afford to continue with this book hording! Why can't I read faster?!?!?

I also got two autographed books from Matt, both of which I'm really looking forward to reading:
Dart is Phil Rustad's first book and is set in Minneapolis, but travels throughout. His second, Alamo North Dakota, takes place in said town. Alamo is located just 40 miles away from where I'm at, so the author did a book signing at our local bookstore. I'm looking forward to reading these two thriller/suspense novels!

Alright, that covers Christmas goodies. Now for Page Goals:

I was inspired by an incredible boss several years ago to set a New Year's goal for the number of pages to read. What a great idea! I used to create goals based on the number of books, but I'd find myself discriminating against books based on how many pages they had. Anyway, for 2011 I chose (with your help, readers!) a page goal of 12,500. And I surpassed it last week, with the completion of Sandra Brown's White Hot. In 2011, I have completed 13,052 pages, surpassing my goal by 552 pages. Yay!

This page count came from 38 books.
Here's a summary of all my books by month completed:

January 2011 (1,973 pages)
Stealing Buddha's Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen
Who Moved my Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D.
Into the Wild by John Krakauer
One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell
Sam's Letters to Jennifer by James Patterson
Literacy and Longing in L.A. by Jennifer Kaufman & Maren Mack
5th Horseman by James Patterson

February 2011 (no books)

March 2011 (532 pages)
House Rules by Jodi Picoult

April 2011 (891 pages)
When the Wind Blows by James Patterson
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Montana 1948 by Larry Watson

May 2011 (959 pages)
Black Notice by Patricia Cornwell
The Help by Kathryn Stockett

June 2011 (718 pages)
1984 by George Orwell
The Killing Hands by P.D. Martin

July 2011 (1,810 pages)
The Brick Layer by Noah Boyd
Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella
What Looks like Crazy on an Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage
Seven Year Switch by Claire Cook
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

August 2011 (1,490 pages)
Seeing me Naked by Liza Palmer
The 6th Target by James Patterson
The Last Juror by John Grisham
Exposed by Ashley Weis

September 2011 (1,058 pages)
Indelible by Karin Slaughter
Bed Rest by Sarah Bilston
Commandant of Auschwitz by Rudolf Hoess
The Shack by William Paul Young

October 2011 (1,998 pages)
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
An Emergency in Slow Motion by William Todd Schultz
The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman
Demons in the Age of Light by Whitney Robinson
Cujo by Stephen King
Envy by Sandra Brown

November 2011 (no books)

December 2011 (1,622 pages)
I'd Know you Anywhere by Laura Lippman
Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
White Hot by Sandra Brown

For my 2012 page goal, I let you, my readers, vote for one of the following three options:

Seven votes were cast and the winner is...drumroll...15,000 pages won by one vote! I will begin working toward that goal starting at Midnight on January 1st.

Speaking of next year... (is this getting too long? I promise this next section is shorter)

I'm sure you've all noticed that I've been getting more and more books for review. Here's my TBR stack of said books:
I'm so eager to get to all of these novels (including the sticky note squished in between Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Proof of Heaven, which reminds me to read Single in the City on my Kindle) and am confident there will be more on the way throughout the year. I thought about taking a picture of my overflowing bookshelves as well, but it's way too messy and might scare some of you. I'm hoping to get lots and lots of reading done next year, perhaps beyond my 15,000 page goal if I can. I'll need to average 1,250 pages a month in order to reach the 15,000 page goal.

However; I start on my Master's degree on January 9th. I will be attending school online part-time and continuing to work full-time. I'm hoping to squish in as much time as possible to continue all of my hobbies (including reading), but please, be patient with me. It may very well end up being a situation where I only read on my "breaks" from college. :/

I appreciate all of you who have continued to support me in my blogging and book reviews. I wish everyone a happy New Year and will post again soon!

Book Review: White Hot by Sandra Brown

I've surpassed my page goal for 2011! So far, I've completed 13,052 pages this year. Woot woot!

Here's the book that helped me to exceed my goal by so much: Sandra Brown's White Hot.

Goodreads Summary:
"When she hears that her younger brother Danny has committed suicide, Sayre Lynch relents from her vow never to return to Destiny, the small Louisiana town in which she grew up. She plans to leave immediately after the funeral, but instead soon finds herself drawn into the web cast by Huff Hoyle, her controlling and tyrannical father, the man who owns the town's sole industry, an iron foundry, and in effect runs the lives of everyone who lives there." "As she feared, Sayre learns that nothing has changed. Her father and older brother, Chris, are as devious as ever, and now they have a new partner-in-crime, a canny and disarming lawyer named Beck Merchant, who appears to be their equal in corruption." "Soon, Sayre is thrown in closer contact with Beck and becomes convinced that something more sinister is at play than her father's usual need to dominate people and events. As she sets out to learn just what did happen to Danny, she comes to realize that there are many secrets in Destiny - secrets that hide decades of pain and anger, and that threaten at any moment to erupt and destroy not only her father and brother, but perhaps Sayre herself." "Underneath the rigid control that the Hoyles exert over the town, trouble is brewing. Old hatreds foster plans for revenge, past crimes resurface, and a maverick deputy sheriff determines that Danny Hoyle's death was not suicide, but murder." As tensions mount, threatening to ignite a powder keg of long-held hostility, Sayre finds herself inextricably drawn into a struggle with striking laborers, her unscrupulous father, and her own emotions over the love/hate relationship that is growing with Beck, a man apparently with his own agenda, and mysteries of his own.

As with any of Sandra Brown's novels, I was hooked. It did take me a little longer to develop a personal attachment to the characters, but I think much of that is because we readers are set up to like the main character, Sayre, despise her family, and have mixed feelings about the family's lawyer, who Sayre is crushing on. It was a fast-paced read, and I didn't predict the ending whatsoever. If you're into a good, quick thriller, this would be a great read for you!

And my stats...

White Hot by Sandra Brown
Rating: 4/5
Pages: 579
2011 Reading Goal: 13,052/12,500

I'll do another post soon (hopefully tonight) revealing my Christmas goodies and books to come! :)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Book Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

It's been a very long time since I've been able to curl up all afternoon for some uninterrupted reading time. It happened today. There's a book I started on October 17th. I just now finished it. It's pretty rare that I'm working through a book for more than two weeks, so two months is just shocking.

The book, We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, has been on bestseller lists for years. I'm not exaggerating, either: go to a Barnes & Noble and you'll always find it either on the "bestseller" table or the "recommended reading" table. Ever since it was published in 2003, I've been waltzing up, reading the back cover, muttering "someday", putting it back, and walking off. I picked up this copy of it at the local bookstore's going-out-of-business sale back in August (click here for the post).

When you read this Goodreads summary, you'll understand why I was so eager to dive in:

Eva never really wanted to be a mother - and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin's horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.  

As mentioned, I started this novel back in October. It was really slow. Chapters are usually around 20 pages long. By the time I would get to the end of the chapter, I felt as though I had accomplished such a challenging feat that I would just put the novel down. Normally, at this slow of a pace, i would have vetoed this novel and started on the next somewhere around page 100. The way this novel is written is very challenging. The whole novel is letters from Eva to her estranged husband, Franklin. There's no interaction or excitement. Eva is simply telling a story. The lack of engagement with the reader makes this an extremely challenging novel. I'm not sure what kept me reading, but I'm certainly glad I continued. It's the last 100 pages of this 400 page book where it really starts to get interesting. I did not predict the twists and turns until right up when they were happening. The suspense literally had my heart racing. Amazing!

Although I am rating this with 3/5 stars due to the completely torturous boredom of the reader for three-quarters of the book, I highly recommend everyone pick this novel up--soon!

Here are my numbers:

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Rating: 3/5
Pages: 400
2011 Reading Goal: 12,473/12,500 (really?!?!? 27 pages short?!?!? really?!?!)

I'm so close to meeting my reading goal for 2011! At the bottom of my blog is a poll for my 2012 reading goal. Be sure to cast your vote by December 24th!

Happy reading and Happy Holidays! :)

Book Review: Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb

For those of you who don't know, Wally Lamb is my favorite author. I try not to choose favorites, but if I had to put one author above all others, it's Wally Lamb. Would you believe, then, that his book Wishin' and Hopin' was published in 2009 and I've just now gotten around to reading it?

I'm ashamed.

Here's the storyline, courtesy of Goodreads:

LBJ and Lady Bird are in the White House, Meet the Beatles is on everyone's turntable, and Felix Funicello (distant cousin of the iconic Annette!) is doing his best to navigate fifth grade—easier said than done when scary movies still give you nightmares and you bear a striking resemblance to a certain adorable cartoon boy.
Back in his beloved fictional town of Three Rivers, Connecticut, with a new cast of endearing characters, Wally Lamb takes his readers straight into the halls of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School—where Mother Filomina's word is law and goody-two-shoes Rosalie Twerski is sure to be minding everyone's business. But grammar and arithmetic move to the back burner this holiday season with the sudden arrivals of substitute teacher Madame Frechette, straight from QuÉbec, and feisty Russian student Zhenya Kabakova. While Felix learns the meaning of French kissing, cultural misunderstanding, and tableaux vivants, Wishin' and Hopin' barrels toward one outrageous Christmas.
From the Funicello family's bus-station lunch counter to the elementary school playground (with an uproarious stop at the Pillsbury Bake-Off), Wishin' and Hopin' is a vivid slice of 1960s life, a wise and witty holiday tale that celebrates where we've been—and how far we've come.

For those of you who love a good Christmas story--and even those of you who appreciate them from time to time, this is a must-read. It's an extremely quick read, at only 273 pages, and entertaining the whole time. I would criticize that much of it sounds as though it's straight out of A Christmas Story (movie), but I imagine most young boys in the 1960s had similar holiday experiences.

Perfect holiday read! Especially one week before Christmas! :)

My stats:

Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb
Rating: 4/5
Pages: 273
2011 Reading Goal: 12,073/12,500 (almost there!)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Giant Audiobook Review

Hello my lovely readers!

In a time span of 12 weeks, I managed to travel 9,902 miles across North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana. It was a fun, beautiful traveling season for me. The roads were great and the people I met were wonderful. However, I spent a lot of time behind the wheel of a car, which can get boring. How to I entertain myself? Well, for starters, I like to rock out to my iPod and sing a little too loud, and probably off-key too. But with how many hours I'm behind a wheel, I'd have no voice if that's all I did. Additionally, I listen to audiobooks.

Last year for the traveling season, I got a subscription to Audible. Audiobooks are pricey, but I found that Audible is pretty reasonable at $14.95 per month, which gets you one audiobook. Not bad. Anyway, I listened to A LOT of hours of audiobooks, and thought you all might be interested. I'll do mini-reviews of all 7 audiobooks listened to in my 12-week span.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

This has been a bestseller and even made Oprah's Book Club. The unabridged audiobook is over 24 hours long, so there were times I had to interrupt it with some upbeat music. Here's a summary of Freedom, courtesy of Goodreads:

From the National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections, a darkly comedic novel about family. Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul-the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter's dreams. Together with Walter-environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man-she was doing her small part to build a better world. But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz-outré rocker and Walter's college best friend and rival-still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become “a very different kind of neighbor,” an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street's attentive eyes?  In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom's intensely realized characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.

The status of this book intrigued me more than the description, to be honest. While listening, I found that I really didn't like any of the characters. Yes, they were all flawed in their own way, but I don't believe that deep down, any of them was a genuinely good person. There were many twists and turns in the plot, but I believe ultimately everyone got what they deserved. The novel dragged (as a book it runs over 500 pages) and told a contemporary tale I did not find to be revolutionary, by any means.

My rating for this was a 2/5. If I had been reading the 500+ pages, it would have taken me months to get through because it was so slow-moving. Franzen, no promises I'll be reading any of your other "indelible and deeply moving" contemporary works of art.

A Darkness More than Night  by Michael Connelly

I've never read Michael Connelly before, but have had his works suggested to me numerous times. This 12+ hour audiobook was on sale, so I thought this would be the perfect time to see if Connelly is as good as everyone says he is.

Here's the Goodreads description:

Independent elements from several earlier books come seamlessly together in Michael Connelly's ingenious, compelling novel, A Darkness More than Night. This one features both Terry McCaleb, last seen in the Edgar-nominated Blood Work, and Hieronymous (Harry) Bosch, the haunted hero of several of Connelly's finest novels. The lives of these two damaged, all-too-human figures intersect in a typically extravagant story that is at once a murder mystery, a legal thriller, and a psychological drama of considerable subtlety and power.
The novel begins when McCaleb, an FBI profiler forced into retirement following a successful heart transplant, agrees to lend his expertise to a particularly baffling murder investigation. The victim is Edward Gunn, an alcoholic lowlife with a violent past. He was once arrested -- by Harry Bosch -- for the murder of a Los Angeles prostitute but managed, despite Harry's best efforts, to avoid prosecution. McCaleb's analysis of the crime scene reveals a number of anomalies: an unexplained head wound, a phrase ("Beware, beware, God sees") written in medieval Latin, the replica of an owl placed in the vicinity of the corpse. Following his instincts, McCaleb locates mirror images of these arcane clues in a number of paintings by Harry's namesake, the 15th-century Dutch master, Hieronymous Bosch.
Harry, meanwhile, is serving as chief investigator and star witness in the sensational murder trial of a world-famous Hollywood director and has no idea that he's just become the primary suspect in an unrelated investigation. As the trial progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that Harry's testimony is critically important and that any attempt to destroy his credibility will undermine the case against a vicious, well-connected killer.
Eventually, Harry learns about McCaleb's suspicions and forces a confrontation. McCaleb takes a second look at the accumulated evidence and begins to discern the outlines of a very different scenario. As new revelations come gradually into view, the disparate elements of the novel coalesce, and the narrative moves with increasing urgency toward a violent, thoroughly satisfying conclusion. 

As aforementioned, I haven't read a Connelly novel, so maybe this wasn't a good one to start with. It references previous situations the main characters have been in, and is the 7th book in a series starring Harry Bosch. But overall? It was a snooze. I often found myself dreading pressing "play" on my iPod because I was worried I'd fall asleep at the wheel. Connelly is not for me, that's for sure. I gave the book a 2/5, but am impressed I even made it through.

Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs

I'm hooked on the tv show Bones. It's got the perfect mixture of science, attractive actors, sexual tension, and comedy to be a great show. So when I found out the show was based on a book, I knew I had to get my hands on Kathy Reichs' novels. Yes, I recognize there are differences between the book and the novel, but I'm interested in understanding the basis of everything I love in the show. This book is #10 in the Temperance Brennan series. Here's the summary from Goodreads:

Temperance Brennan, like her creator Kathy Reichs, is a brilliant, sexy forensic anthropologist, called on to solve the toughest cases. But for Tempe, the discovery of a young girl's skeleton in Acadia, Canada, is more than just another assignment. Evangeline, Tempe's childhood best friend, was also from Acadia. Named for the character in the Longfellow poem, Evangeline was the most exotic person in Tempe's eight-year old world. When Evangeline disappeared, Tempe was warned not to search for her, that the girl was "dangerous."
Thirty years later, flooded with memories, Tempe cannot help wondering if this skeleton could be the friend she lost so many years ago. Meanwhile, Tempe's beau, Ryan, investigates a series of cold cases. Two girls dead. Three missing. Could the New Brunswick skeleton be part of the pattern? As Tempe draws on the latest advances in forensic anthropology to penetrate the past, Ryan hunts down a serial predator.

Although this audiobook is ten and a half hours long, time flew by when I was listening to it. Temperance Brennan is as likeable of a character on paper as she is made to be in the tv show. The mystery and excitement throughout the novel kept me wanting more. I'll definitely be picking up another Kathy Reichs novel--hopefully soon! I rated this book 4/5.

Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

I'd seen reviews for Domestic Violets all over the place, and instantly knew from reading the description that I needed to get my hands on a copy. Immediately.

Here's a summary, courtesy of Goodreads:

Tom Violet always thought that by the time he turned thirty-five, he’d have everything going for him. Fame. Fortune. A beautiful wife. A satisfying career as a successful novelist. A happy dog to greet him at the end of the day.
The reality, though, is far different. He’s got a wife, but their problems are bigger than he can even imagine. And he’s written a novel, but the manuscript he’s slaved over for years is currently hidden in his desk drawer while his father, an actual famous writer, just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His career, such that it is, involves mind-numbing corporate buzzwords, his pretentious archnemesis Gregory, and a hopeless, completely inappropriate crush on his favorite coworker. Oh . . . and his dog, according to the vet, is suffering from acute anxiety.
Tom’s life is crushing his soul, but he’s decided to do something about it. (Really.) Domestic Violets is the brilliant and beguiling story of a man finally taking control of his own happiness—even if it means making a complete idiot of himself along the way. 

What. A. Masterpiece!  This is Matthew Norman's first novel and I was so impressed with it! The 11-hour audiobook had me lingering in my car, desperate to know what was next. It was the perfect blend of comedy, tragedy, and reality. This is one of the best contemporary fiction novels I've read all year. If you're looking for an engaging read with realistic characters, pick this up now! I'll definitely continue to read Norman's novels, should he continue writing them. I rated this book 5/5.

 Deadly Defiance by William Manchee

Unlike the rest of these audiobooks, I received a copy of Deadly Defiance free through the Goodreads First Reads program, in exchange for an honest review. I'd never heard of William Manchee before, nor his main character Stan Turner. This is the tenth book in a series of Stan Turner mysteries.

Here's a summary of the novel, courtesy of Goodreads:

A young mother complains to Stan that she’s been abandoned by her husband, left penniless, and deeply in debt. Maureen Thompson is livid with her husband and suggest she’d be better off if he were dead, so she could collect on his sizeable life insurance policy. Stan cautions her not to think in those terms and, before she leaves, promises to develop a strategy for effectively dealing with her seemingly unsurmountable problems. Several weeks later Maureen calls Stan from the City Jail where she’s been arrested for the alleged murder of her husband. Since Paula is between murder cases, Stan assigns the case to her. She is elated with the assignment until she finds out Rodney Thompson isn’t her first husband to fall victim to a seven-inch ice pick.

While Paula is busy trying to prove Maureen Thompson isn’t the Ice Pick Killer, Stan and Jodie try to help an illegal Hispanic woman obtain redress for the murder of her husband at the hands of a sweatshop owner with ties to a Mexican drug cartel. It’s a dangerous case so Stan and Jodie team up with the Dallas Police and the FBI to attempt to bring the abusive employer to justice. But just when they think they have Icaro Melendez on the ropes he strikes back with a vengeance making Stan and Jodie wish they’d never taken on the case. But there is no going back now, so they press on, praying they’ll survive a final confrontation with the ruthless cartel.

I was impressed with this 10+ hour audiobook by a lesser-known author. The novel was intriguing, fast-paced, and left the reader excited to continue. There's a nice combination of the legal side of the story and the detective side. If you're a fan of John Grisham, but looking for something a little more exciting and quick to read, I definitely recommend Manchee's novel. I'll be picking up another one of his novels in the near future, that's for sure! I rated this book 4/5.

Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult

I was introduced to Jodi Picoult in 2005, when her novel My Sister's Keeper was flying off the shelves at the Target where I worked. I had to know what all the fuss was about. In 2006 I picked up The Pact. I then understood why Picoult was so famous. She's definitely got talent. Since then, I've made it a personal mission to get through all of her books to date. I've read most of her books, but this is one I hadn't even heard of. First published in 1993 (yes, when I was only 5 years old), this has been one of Picoult's lesser-known novels.

Here's the Goodreads summary:
Jodi Picoult earned rave notices for her debut novel, Songs of the Humpback Whale. Now this gifted young writer turns her considerable literary talents to the story of a young woman overcome by the demands of having a family. Written with astonishing clarity and evocative detail, convincing in its depiction of emotional pain, love, and vulnerability, Harvesting the Heart recalls the writing of Alice Hoffman and Sue Miller. Paige has only a few vivid memories of her mother, who left when she was five. Now, having left her father behind in Chicago for dreams of art school and marriage to an ambitious young doctor, she finds herself with a child of her own. But her mother's absence, and shameful memories of her past, make her doubt both her maternal ability and her sense of self worth. Out of Paige's struggle to find wholeness, Jodi Picoult crafts an absorbing novel peopled by richly drawn characters and explores issues and emotions readers can relate to.

In spite of this being one of Picoult's first novels, this is a contender with the modern-day excellence Picoult is cranking out. I think what makes this novel, as with most of Picoult's novels, is the relate-ability of the main character. Admittedly, I do not have a lot in common with her on the surface: my mother never abandoned me, and we have a very close relationship. I have not run thousands of miles away from my problems, in search for a new life. I do not have a child or any of the emotional concerns that come with motherhood. Yet, somehow, I felt a connection to Paige. I understand why she felt the need to run, her guilt, and her concerns about motherhood. This is yet another one of Picoult's books I recommend to everyone. I gave this 18-hour audiobook a 4/5.

Match Me if you Can by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

To be honest, I have no idea how this audiobook got on my iPod. It's not on my Purchased list on Audible; it isn't in my Goodreads FirstReads "won" list; and I certainly didn't buy it! I don't recall borrowing it from the library, either. In spite of this, I listed to the 11-hour audiobook by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, of whom I've never heard before.

Here's the description from Goodreads:

You met star quarterback Kevin Tucker in This Heart of Mine. Now get ready to meet his shark of an agent, Heath Champion, and Annabelle Granger, the girl least likely to succeed.
Annabelle's endured dead-end jobs, a broken engagement ... even her hair's a mess! But that's going to change now that she's taken over her late grandmother's matchmaking business. All Annabelle has to do is land the Windy City's hottest bachelor as her client, and she'll be the most sought-after matchmaker in town.
Why does the wealthy, driven, and gorgeous sports agent Heath Champion need a matchmaker, especially a red-haired screw-up like Annabelle Granger? True, she's entertaining, and she does have a certain quirky appeal. But Heath is searching for the ultimate symbol of success—the perfect wife. And to make an extraordinary match, he needs an extraordinary matchmaker, right?
Soon everyone in Chicago has a stake in the outcome, and a very big question: When the determined matchmaker promised she'd do anything to keep her star client happy...did she mean anything? If Annabelle isn't careful, she just might find herself going heart-to-heart with the toughest negotiator in town.

I found this quirky novel to be extremely cliche, yet cute. There's really no surprises in the novel if you've read any chick-lit at all. The main character is a cliche, right down to her messy, unmanageable red hair. Her client, who she falls in love with, is her exact opposite: a put-together, serious workaholic. There wasn't a twist I hadn't predicted. And yet? I enjoyed this novel. If you like cliche chick-lit novels, this is a good one. I rated this 3/5.

Whew. Are you glad this humongous review is over with?!?! Although these 100+ hours of audiobooks definitely kept me entertained throughout my fall travels, I'm excited to be back home and able to curl up with real paperback books.

I hope you're all curled up on the couch with your favorite paperback and coffee. Have a great Saturday, everyone! :)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

I would rather...

I know I disappeared for about a month. And I'm sorry, readers.

I've been in one of those moods where I'd rather do anything but what I normally do. Does that make sense?

Christmas Mojitos? Yes, please!
Instead of doing:
  • reading
  • couponing
  • blogging
  • cleaning
  • organizing
  • reading others' blogs
  • sewing
  • crocheting
  • cooking
  • unpacking from work travels
  • preparing for Christmas
  • laundry
I only feel like doing:
  • spending time with family and Matt
  • drinking wine or cocoa
  • preparing for Grad school (Yes, I got in!)
  • watching movies I haven't seen in ages
  • getting a full night's rest
It's a strange funk I'm in. I'm sorry to be depriving you all of reading my blog in the meantime. I'll snap out of it, hopefully soon. My apartment will get pretty disgusting if I don't.

I just wanted to let you all know that I am alive and well, just in a funk. I hope all my American readers had a great Thanksgiving and everyone is enjoying their preparation for the holidays :)

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Hi, my name is Leah.
*chorus of voices* Hello, Leah.
And I have a problem. I am... addicted to couponing!

I know I've mentioned couponing a little bit before in this blog. To be honest, I'm afraid that if I post about couponing, I won't be able to stop. And it would devour Leah's Literature and Coffee. But just one post can't hurt, can it?

I started couponing back in early April. If you remember, I was trying to purchase a house, save up for a car and a master's degree, and Matt was weeks away from moving in with me. There was a lot going on, and money was becoming tight. A coworker told me about couponing. I sat down on a Friday night with a huge goblet of wine and YouTube as my teacher.

Next thing I know, I'm hooked. I love it. Matt loves it. We've managed to save enough money to by year-long memberships at Anytime Fitness. We're also working to chisel away his student debt, save up for a new car for me, and together have a comfortable savings for the future. A wedding would be nice, too. I've been couponing for 8 months now, saving right around 50% with every shopping trip. For the two of us, we now usually spend about $160 per month on health and beauty supplies, household goods, and groceries. Not so bad, eh? This past fall, I even taught a class through Community Education on beginner's couponing.

I can't stop sharing my savings, though! I had a really great "haul" at Albertson's today, and thought I'd share with you:

In this trip, I spent $105.40 (way more than normal).  I received a coupon for $5 off my next purchase, too. The price before savings was $236.52. WOW. I saved 56%. This isn't my largest savings, but look at everything I got at such a low cost!

We picked up:
2 bottles of V8
6 different spices (on a 40% off sale!)
4 cans of Dole Pineapple
6 cans of Green Giant veggies
3 jars Heinz gravy
2 jars Smucker's Jam
4 boxes Stovetop Stuffing
1 package Bear Creek soup mix
4 boxes Jello
1 Febreze Noticeables warmer
1 Febreze Set & Refresh
1 container Lysol Wipes
1 Lysol toilet bowl cleaner
3 2-packs Mr. Clean Magic Erasers
2 containers Chobani Greek Yogurt (admittedly, I didn't have a coupon. I just love these)
2 Garnier Fructis hair products (one shampoo, one conditioner)
1 box Theraflu
2 bottles Robitussin cold medication
2 bags Ludens throat drops
5.09 lbs beef (Buy One, Get One Free!)
2.88 lbs pork (also BOGO)
4 containers of Oscar Meyer Lunch Meat

This was definitely one of the more well-rounded trips I've done. My savings is satisfactory and these are all products I use.

I hope this inspires some of you to be creative in your ways to save for your dreams. You can do it! I'm here to help :)

Any other closet couponers out there?

Giveaway Results: One Year Bloggiversary

Happy Thursday, readers!

Here are the results from my One Year Bloggiversary giveaway:

Stealing Buddha's Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen
...Winner: Amber R!

The Bricklayer by Noah Boyd
...Winner: Me!

An Emergency in Slow Motion by William Todd Schultz
...Winner: Me!

Again, I didn't have many entries. Actually, just the one for Amber! Amber, I'll mail that book to you along with the headset! :)

Thanks for participating! :)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Book Review: Envy by Sandra Brown

Hello again!

Hope you're all having a great weekend! I'm sad it's almost over!

I posted yesterday about how I read a couple of "spooky" books in honor of Halloween. Cujo by Stephen King was one of them. The other? Envy by Sandra Brown. Both novels were acquired at the going-out-of-business sale at my local bookstore in August. Both novels have also proved to be amazing.

Here's the summary of Envy from the back cover:

"When New York publisher Maris Matherly Reed receives a tantalizing manuscript from someone identified only as P.M.E., its blockbuster potential--and perhaps something else--compels her to meet its author. On an eerie, ruined cotton plantation on a remote Georgia island she finds Parker Evans, a man concealing his identity and his past. Maris is drawn into his tale of two young friends and a deadly betrayal...and to Parker himself. But there's something especially chilling about this novel, its possible connection to Maris's own life, and the real-life character who uses her, or anyone, to get what he wants"

There's no denying that Sandra Brown has talent! This novel showcases just how great of a writer she is! I found the characters highly realistic and relate-able. I felt like I was Maris's best friend, and was wooed by her perception of other characters throughout the novel. The twists kept going; I tried to stay on top of predicting what was going on, but there is no way I could have predicted such a spectacular ending. I literally stayed up to read, and took every chance I got to devour this novel. This is probably the most well-written suspense novel about envy and vengeance I've read to date. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to get lost in a twisty, windy, unpredictable suspense novel.

With that said, here are my numbers:

Envy by Sandra Brown
Rating: 5/5
Pages: 549
2011 Reading Goal: 11,430/12,500

The combination of Cujo and Envy has brought me within 1,100 pages of my reading goal. I'm confident, now, that I will meet and/or exceed my 2011 reading goal! I'm offering the opportunity for my readers to determine what my page goal should be for 2012. Please cast your vote on the bottom of the page!

I hope you all are able to meet your reading goals as the chilly weather and hot cocoa season rapidly approach! :)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Book Review: Cujo by Stephen King

Hi, everybody!

I hope you all had a great week! It's always a pretty exciting (and busy!) time before Halloween. This year, I decided to read a couple of "spooky" novels to really get me in the mood for the upcoming holiday. Boy, did I!

The first of the two novels I picked up for my "spook fest"  was Stephen King's Cujo. Sometimes, I forget just how much I love Stephen King. What makes him such a talented author is his ability to take fears you never had and turn them into your worst nightmare. In all his books, the stars would have to align perfectly to make the event even possible--but you see what happens when things just fall into place. Cujo wasn't any different.

Here's the Goodreads summary:
He lay on the verge of grass by the porch, his mangled snout on his fore-paws. His dreams were confused, lunatic things. It was dusk, and the sky was dark with wheeling, red-eyed bats. He leaped at them again and again, and each time he leaped he brought one down, teeth clamped on a leathery, twitching wing. But the bats kept biting his tender face with their sharp little rat-teeth. That was where the pain came from. That was where all the hurt came from. But he would kill them all. He would--

Cujo is a two-hundred-pound Saint Bernard, the beloved family pet of the Joe Cambers of Castle Rock, Maine, and the best friend ten-year-old Brett Camber has ever had. One day Cujo pursues a rabbit into a bolt-hole--a cave inhabited by some very sick bats. What happens to Cujo, and to those unlucky enough to be near him, makes for the most heart-squeezing novel Stephen King has yet written.

Vic Trenton, New York adman obsessed by the struggle to hand on to his one big account, his restive and not entirely faithful wife, Donna, and their four-year-old son, Tad, moved to Castle Rock seeking the peace of rural Maine. But life in this small town--evoked as vividly as a Winesburg or a Spoon River--is not what it seems. As Tad tries bravely to fend off the terror that comes to him at night from his bedroom closet, and as Vic and Donna face their own nightmare of a marriage suddenly on the rocks, there is no way they can know that a monster, infinitely sinister, waits in the daylight, and that the fateful currents of their lives will eddy closer and faster to the horrifying vortex that is Cujo.

The convenience of each event happening which leads up to the point of a rabies-ridden dog terrorizing the neighborhood make this novel grip your seat. I suppose things would be different in today's society with cell phones and other technology. Yet, it succeeded in scaring the pants off me.

I know this novel is a "classic" and was written before I was even born, but this is my first experience with it. If you haven't read it, you must. Now. It's the perfect Halloween thriller.

And my data:

Cujo by Stephen King
Rating: 5/5
Pages: 319
2011 Reading Goal: 10,881/12,500

I'll post about my other "spooky" read at a later time. In the meantime, don't forget to enter my giveaway, which closes October 31st!

Monday, October 24, 2011

One Year Blogiversary

 Happy Monday, everybody!

Today, October 24th, marks the date of my one-year blogiversary. In celebration, I'm giving away three of the novels I've reviewed throughout the year:

To Find out More about the book, click on the link below each book picture.

Stealing Buddha's Dinner
by Bich Minh Nguyen
The Bricklayer by Noah Boyd
An Emergency in Slow Motion
by William Todd Schultz

To Enter: Fill out the brief form for the specific book(s) you're interested in winning. Unfortunately, I can ship to US addresses only. Sorry, my international friends! Entries received before 11:59 pm on Monday, October 31st will qualify to win.

Only one entry per person per novel will be entered to win.

Thanks for being such loyal fans! :)

Enter Giveaway: Stealing Buddha's Dinner

Enter Giveaway: The Bricklayer

Enter Giveaway: An Emergency in Slow Motion

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Just 3 Hours...

Sometimes, all it takes to regain your sanity is just 3 hours. How simple; yet, how challenging to find.

I get really frantic this time of year with work. Once school starts, I have to assist with orientation, plan a college fair, schedule my high school visits, and get ready to hit the road in two weeks. What happens is that, right about this time of year, I fall behind on my scheduling. So far behind, that I often can't even get a hotel room or visits I need to schedule. And I freak out for weeks straight.

Last week, I was scheduling my high school visits to make this week. I'm normally not a procrastinator like this, but here is my largest issue: I work from 7:00 am until 3:00 pm--during normal school hours, right? Well, counselors also work 7:00 am until 3:00 pm. This means I never have time (except on Fridays) to call and schedule everything. Anyway, back to scheduling the visits for this week. Out of the nine schools I called, only three got back to me in time for me to schedule things out. So the rest? I'm not going to visit this year. I need to recognize where those lines need to be drawn.

Anyway, I was bummed with this visit-less schedule because it left me a huge block of time after my one college fair today. I'm in the beautiful Black Hills, so I could certainly go be a tourist for the afternoon hours. Instead, I sat down in my hotel room with multiple cups of tea and made my calls. And scheduled visits. And planned things out. It was beautiful.

After only three hours of doing "office work", I feel 10x better. No, not everything is in order. But I feel like I mashed a whole week's worth of work into these three hours.

When I'm in the office, I tend to overwork myself. But I have recognized that the trick is to leave at 2:00 and go home, drink cocoa, and relax. When returning to work the next day, I am way more productive. It takes a simple three hours to regain my sanity. I need to remember that when I'm on the road, too. And, I need remind you all.

Have a wonderful Wednesday! And relax for three consecutive hours this week--it'll help save your sanity, too :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Book Review: Demons in the Age of Light by Whitney Robinson

Yesterday afternoon, upon completion of by blog review for The Sleepwalkers, I decided to pick up the next novel on my to-read list. Although it is a pretty short novel, standing at only 238 pages, I thought I would just read a few chapters and spend the rest of my afternoon cleaning.

The problem? I couldn't put this book down! I received Demons in the Age of Light by Whitney Robinson through the Goodreads First Reads program a month or so ago. It sounded really good, very Sylvia Plath, but I had not intended to be really sucked into it!

Here is a summary of Demons in the Age of Light, courtesy of Goodreads:

With the skill of a gifted novelist, twenty-three-year-old Whitney Robinson recounts the harrowing true story of her descent into mental illness soon after she arrived at college. Her doctor labeled the illness schizophrenia, but Whitney felt that she became possessed by a malevolent, seductive entity that attempted to influence her into harming herself and others.

Institutionalized and heavily medicated, Whitney encounters other horrors and mysteries within the walls of a psychiatric hospital. Determined to release herself from pharmacological shackles, Whitney finally confronts and expels her demon through sheer will and alternative methods, including an attempted exorcism and shamanic healing.

Whitney's saga parallels current discussions in the media regarding American psychiatry's dependence on drug-based treatments and the renewed interest in alternative healing methods of eastern and indigenous cultures, which, according to a recent New York Times article "The Americanization of Mental Illness," have been revealed to be at least as effective as pharmaceutically driven treatments.
Whitney's story of survival and personal growth will serve as a living model for others.

This novel immediately caught my attention as a memoir. The author is my age and is experiencing John Nash symptoms. I believe she's probably as smart as he is, too. The moment I started reading, I knew I could not put the book down. Robinson writes in such a descriptive, dramatic tone that I couldn't help but get sucked into the novel. There were several parts where, in spite of the schizophrenic situations, the author's descriptions made me laugh. The novel was so raw. Robinson opens up completely to her readers, confessing her most embarrassing and intimate situations. She reflects on the past and analyzes her future.

I don't even think my review could do this novel justice. All you need to know is that you need to buy/borrow this book now. Set aside 4 hours to read it. Enjoy. You won't regret it.

And my numbers...
Demons in the Age of Light by Whitney Robinson
Rating: 5/5
Pages: 238
2011 Reading Goal: 10,562/12,500 (right on track, woo hoo!)

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.

A couple of updates...
  1. I added a poll to the bottom of this page for you to vote on my page goal for next year! Please do cast your vote. The poll closes on Christmas Eve.
  2. I'm coming up on my one-year blogiversary on October 24th. I'll be doing a pretty big giveaway. Stay tuned!
  3. Thanks for being such wonderful readers!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Book Review: The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman

Hello again, readers! Happy Saturday to you all!

It was a super busy week for me, so I'm really thankful to have the time this weekend to read, relax, and rest. Next week, I'll be in South Dakota's beautiful Black Hills area for work. Then, next weekend, my mom and younger brother will be around to visit, so I may not be posting another book review for a little while. The weather is getting more and more dreary, which means I'll be spending more time curled up indoors, reading, when possible.

Last weekend, I began reading The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman. This is another book I received free through the Goodreads First Reads program, with encouragement to write a review. Here's a summary of the novel, courtesy of Goodreads:

In the final weeks of the Weimar Republic, as Hitler and his National Socialist party angle to assume control of Germany, beautiful girls are seen sleepwalking through the streets.  Then, a young woman of mysterious origin, with her legs bizarrely deformed, is pulled dead from the Havel River.  Willi Kraus, a high ranking detective in Berlin's police force, begins a murder investigation. A decorated World War I hero and the nation's most famous detective, Willi also is a Jew. Despite his elite status in the criminal police, he is disturbed by the direction Germany is taking.  Working urgently to solve the murder, Willi finds his superiors diverting him at every turn. As he moves through darkness closer to the truth, Willi begins to understand that much more than the solution to a murder is at stake. What he discovers will mean that his life, the lives of his friends and family, and Germany itself will never be the same.

I instantly loved the setting for this novel--Berlin at the rise of Hitler's power. The events that take place are rather historically accurate as well. The timeline is a little off, but that's essential to the realistic storyline. The storyline itself was great. The main character, Willi Kraus, is a likeable detective who has a passion for his work. He has his soft spots and his political disagreements. What I was most disappointed with in Grossman's novel was character development. The novel was a fast-paced, exciting read. I feel it was at times, almost too fast-paced; I often found myself confused about just what had happened within the past few pages I'd read. Aside from Kraus, I didn't feel a real connection with any of the characters. I sometimes had a hard time telling them apart, and found myself wanting to know more and more about them.

Overall, though, I was pretty satisfied with this read. Tucked in the back of the novel is an excerpt from Grossman's next Willi Kraus novel, Children of Wrath. It doesn't come out until March of 2012, but it's likely I'll pick that novel up as well. I recommend this novel to anyone looking for a good, fast-paced thriller. Familiarity with the German language would be helpful, because some terms are listed in German.

And now for the numbers!

The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman
Rating: 4/5
Pages: 326
2011 Reading Goal: 10,324/12,500

Pretty soon, I'll need to set a new page goal for myself for next year. Watch for a poll at the bottom of my blog to come soon. Please vote and let me know what you think my next page goal should be!

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Book Review: An Emergency in Slow Motion by William Todd Schultz

Hello again, readers!

I hope this finds you well on a lovely, drizzly Saturday. I actually think it's done being drizzly and rainy here, but that's my excuse today for staying indoors and reading all day, so humor me.

I've mentioned in previous posts the Goodreads First Reads program. This is a giveaway program where authors or publishers list books to give away--free, of course-- to readers. They encourage a review of the novel, but it's not required. The first book I won in the First Reads program, back in August, was William Todd Schultz's An Emergency in Slow Motion. It did not arrive until the middle of September, but I've been excited to burn through it ever since August. So now, for you lucky readers, here is my review:

Summary of An Emergency in Slow Motion, courtesy of Goodreads:

Diane Arbus was one of the most brilliant and revered photographers in the history of American art. Her portraits, in stark black and white, seemed to reveal the psychological truths of their subjects. But after she committed suicide in 1971, at the age of forty-eight, the presumed chaos and darkness of her own inner life became, for many viewers, inextricable from her work.

In the spirit of Janet Malcolm's classic examination of Sylvia Plath, The Silent Woman, William Todd Schultz's An Emergency in Slow Motion reveals the creative and personal struggles of Diane Arbus. Schultz veers from traditional biography to interpret Arbus's life through the prism of four central mysteries: her outcast affinity, her sexuality, the secrets she kept and shared, and her suicide. He seeks not to diagnose Arbus, but to discern some of the private motives behind her public works and acts. In this approach, Schultz not only goes deeper into Arbus's life than any previous writer, but provides a template with which to think about the creative life in general.

Schultz's careful analysis is informed, in part, by the recent release of some of Arbus's writing and work by her estate, as well as by interviews with Arbus's psychotherapist. An Emergency in Slow Motion combines new revelations and breathtaking insights into a must-read psychobiography about a monumental artist-the first new look at Arbus in twenty-five years.

Before I get started, I have some confessions to make: 
  1. I had never heard of Diane Arbus before reading this novel 
  2. I'd also never heard of a psychobiography
  3. To research Diane Arbus prior to reading this novel, I looked her up on Wikipedia. This was the extent of my knowledge of her    
I was highly impressed with this novel. In spite of never having heard of Diane Arbus before reading this novel, I was sucked into the history and knowledge Schultz divulged. I was fascinated to read of her art, relationships, and emotional trauma. Not only does Schultz investigate, factually, what would have caused Arbus to lead down the path of suicide, but he also analyzes how her actions may have been a result of her emotional dysfunction. I was concerned An Emergency in Slow Motion would read like a textbook, but I found it to be fast-paced and highly intriguing.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in Diane Arbus' life, Sylvia Plath, or other emotionally struggling artists. It's likely I'll pick up another psychobiography written by William Todd Schultz.

Now for the numbers:
An Emergency in Slow Motion by William Todd Schultz
Rating: 4/5
Pages: 219
2011 Reading Goal: 9,998/12,500

I hope you all have a wonderful rest of your Saturday! I'll be blogging again soon! :)

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Book Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Hello, readers!

I feel as though it's been ages since my last post, even though it's only been about two weeks. What a busy two weeks! I've been traveling around Montana and North Dakota for work--listening to audiobooks and encouraging teenagers to consider higher education. I also took my GMAT this past weekend, and am hoping to complete my grad school application soon!

I was able to squeeze in some reading time (actual reading, not just listening to my audiobooks :P). I finally completed Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, which I started reading at the beginning of September. Just a little behind....

I'm sure you've all seen the novel displayed throughout Barnes & Noble's Recommended Reading section. Perhaps it's on your recommended reading on Amazon, too. Although published back in 2003, this book is everywhere. I received a copy from my best friend, Jessie Mae, who suggested I read it. She couldn't get through it herself, but thought maybe it would interest me. It did interest me; I would pick it up and read the back cover at every bookstore I went to. I put it toward the top of my TBR list. Jessie Mae gave me her copy in May, and I even got around to reading it this year!

For those of you who have not obsessively read the back cover thousands of times, here is the Goodreads summary:
Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi's living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. In this extraordinary memoir, their stories become intertwined with the ones they are reading. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.

Reading Lolita in Tehran could be a really excellent novel. It's got the foundation for greatness--great characters, great story line, great perspectives. But there's something lacking: it's written so blandly. Like a textbook. There's a reason it took me over a month to get through. It's obvious to the reader that Nafisi is a highly intelligent woman with a passion for teaching and an extensive educational background. The largest issue with this book is that it reads like a textbook: factual, omnipotent, unemotional.

I also felt as though I was unprepared for a lecture in my college English class: I have only read one of the four novels Nafisi discusses. The novels, put under scrutiny by a true professor, were dissected and analyzed so much that I'm not even sure if they're worth reading now. I feel as though I listed to the lectures for the novels before having read them, which has spoiled the endings for me. 

The events outside of the novels in Iran and the girls' lives are fascinating, but again told too factually. I would have loved for Nafisi to reveal more laws she thought preposterous and detail how other women felt about them, too.

Overall, I recommend this book for those of you obsessively picking it up in bookstores time and time again. Or, for those of you who enjoy reading textbooks. 

Here are my numbers for this book:
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Rating: 3/5
Pages: 347
2011 Reading Goal: 9,779/12,500 (78% there!)

I had the flu all week (already, yuck!) and am just now getting over it--mostly. So I will bid you adieu to enjoy more chamomile tea, a good book, and a good nights rest.

Have a lovely Friday :)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Book Review: The Shack by William Paul Young

The Shack by William Paul Young was released in May of 2007 and there's been a buzz about it ever since. After hearing so many recommendations to read the novel (usually something along the lines of "it will change your life", or "it's revolutionary" or "all Christians must read this"), I broke down and purchased it on sale from Amazon for $6.

Here is a summary of The Shack, courtesy of Goodreads:
Mackenzie Allen Philips' youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation, and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his "Great Sadness," Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack's world forever.

I spent months reading this 250 page novel; not because it was long or I didn't have time, but because I made the mistake of putting it down. It's a quick read when you get into it, but I never felt compelled to pick it up again after setting it down. Young does a wonderful job of character development: Mackenzie is a father everyone can relate to. Readers feel the emotions he has as he struggles with his daughter's murder. They relate to his struggles when he meets the Trinity in The Shack. Because of this, I can see why many readers would recommend this to their friends.

For me, it was dry. I did not feel my world was shaken, revolutionized, or that I'd suddenly renewed my faith in God. It was an ok read with an interesting perspective on God, the Trinity, and faith. Nothing more.

Me in the summer of 2009, on a hike overlooking Wallowa Lake
My favorite part about the novel, of course, was the setting. The Shack is located in the "wilderness" surrounding Wallowa Lake in Northeastern Oregon. It's about an hour's drive from where I attended college, and a perfect setting to "meet God". The lake itself it beautiful, and the surrounding towns are adorable. I highly recommend it as a vacation spot for those of you interested in hiking, fishing, and relaxing :)

I recommend this novel for anyone who was already looking to read it. For those of you who weren't...well, you aren't missing out on much.

My stats:
The Shack by William Paul Young
Rating: 3/5
Pages: 250
2011 Reading Goal: 9432/12500

Book Review: Commandant of Auschwitz

A few years ago, I was browsing a book sale held every year at my college. The sale was for the Women's Club, and sold thousands of books donated by the community. Books were sold by the inch, for only $0.75 per inch. Needless to say, it was one of my favorite book sales ever.

What I liked most about it was the uniqueness of books found. Some were textbooks; others, bestsellers. And the best ones? They came from the libraries of professors. Commandant of Auschwitz, by Rudolf Hoess, was among them.

As many of you may know (or perceived from previous novels read), I'm fascinated with the events of WWII, both in Germany and America. Commandant of Auschwitz is a true account from the Auschwitz Commandant's perception of all the events taking place in Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

I've had this book, which consists of only 235 pages, on my bookshelf for a while now. It should, theoretically, be a quick, easy read. But it isn't. My stomach was churning with every page. The accounts of what happened sickened me.  I applaud Hoess for his honest recollection while in prison waiting to be murdered for the events in Auschwitz. Not one group in the camp goes unexamined by Hoess, including Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, women, and homosexuals.

A particularly disturbing excerpt from the book reads:
" By will of the Reichsfuhrer SS,  Auschwitz became the greatest human extermination center of all time. When in the summer of 1941 he himself gave me the order to prepare installations at Auschwitz where mass exterminations could take place, and personally to carry out these exterminations, I did not have the slightest idea of their scale or consequences. It was certainly an extraordinary and monstrous order. Nevertheless the reasons behind the extermination program seemed to me right. I did not reflect on it at the time: I had been given an order, and I had to carry it out. Whether this mass extermination of the Jews was necessary or not was something on which I could not allow myself to form an opinion, for I lacked the necessary breadth of view."

Hoess continues to describe, in great detail, the look, function, and activity taking place in gas chambers. He estimates numbers killed (which never made it to the millions, because Hoess believed there was no way there had been millions murdered).

This novel is an incredible first-person account of Auschwitz. I recommend it to anyone interested in the events of World War II in Germany.

My stats:
Commandant of Auschwitz by Rudolf Hoess
Rating: 5/5
Pages: 235
2011 Reading Goal: 9182/12500

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Book Review: Bed Rest by Sarah Bilston

 Hi everyone! I hope this finds you on 9-10-11 enjoying a lovely, relaxing weekend!

This is my uber busy time of the year. As you probably recall, I'm a recruiter for a local college. As such, I travel from mid September-mid December, Monday-Thursday. It's really great and I love my job, but it can be a little stressful preparing to live out of a suitcase for three months. Anyway, I'm taking the morning off from stressing and finished a book I started months ago. My brother and sister-in-law got me a large (and beautiful!) stack of 14 books for Christmas last year. I'm still working my way through them. In the pile was Bed Rest by Sarah Bilston. It looked really intriguing, so it was the first of that large stack I picked up. In February. And just now finished.

Here's the Goodreads Summary:

Quinn "Q" Boothroyd is a young British lawyer married to an American and living in New York City. She's checked off most of the boxes on her "Modern Woman's List of Things to Do Before Hitting 30," and her busy working life has been relatively painless. But when her doctor tells her she must spend the last three months of her pregnancy lying in bed, Q is thrown into a tailspin. Initially bored and frustrated, Q soon fills her days by trying to reconnect with her workaholic husband, provide legal advice for her sweet Greek neighbor, forge new emotional bonds with her mother and sisters, and figure out who will keep her stocked up in cookies and sandwiches.

Q experiences adventures on the couch she never would have encountered in the law firm and learns a lot about herself and what she wants out of life—and above all, about the little one growing inside her.

And my review:

Bed RestBed Rest was a surprisingly disappointing novel. The characters created are highly realistic and even likeable, but the plot was definitely lacking. It's short (my edition is only 215 pages) but torturous for the reader. The main character, Q, is put on bedrest during her last three months of pregnancy. All she has to journal about is what takes place in her home--guests, relationships, etc. But ultimately, there is not enough of a storyline to warrant this long of a book.

It's unlikely I'll pick up any more of Sarah Bilston's works, or recommend them to a friend.

My stats:

Bed Rest by Sarah Bilston
Rating: 2/5
Pages: 215
2011 Reading Goal: 8,947/12,500

I can't promise I'll be posting much these next couple of weeks, with traveling, studying for my GMAT, and applying for Grad school, but I hope to connect with you all soon! :)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Book Review: Indelible by Karen Slaughter

Hello my friends! Happy labor day weekend! I've made my to-do list for this weekend ridiculously long, which indicates to me that we need more three-day weekends :)

I'm not actually sure where this book came from, but I found Indelible by Karin Slaughter sitting on my bookshelves. Before reading this novel, I'd never even heard of Karin Slaughter. I guess this book is #4 in a location series, but I didn't feel lost at all when reading it. With location series, I find it's not necessary to read them sequentially. With character series, though, it's practically a must they be read in order.

Anyway, here's the description, courtesy of Goodreads:

An officer is shot point-blank in the Grant County police station and police chief Jeffrey Tolliver is wounded, setting off a terrifying hostage situation with medical examiner Sara Linton at the center. Working outside the station, Lena Adams, newly reinstated to the force, and Frank Wallace, Jeffrey's second in command, must try to piece together who the shooter is and how to rescue their friends before Jeffrey dies. For the sins of the past have caught up with Sara and Jeffrey - with a vengeance.

 I was super impressed with this book. It's told in both the past and present. That is, the chapters alternate between being present, in the hostage situation, and reflecting on Sara Linton and Jeffry Tolliver's past. Slaughter wrote with such detail to where the reader feels they are really there, in both stories, times, and places. I felt like I, too, lived in Grant County. I could not put this book down, it was that enthralling, just as a good mystery should be. I recommend this novel to anyone who loves a good mystery. 

I will definitely continue reading her books. In fact, as it just so happens, I had unknowingly picked up the next novel in the series, Fearless, at the local secondhand bookstore's going-out-of-business sale. It's taking all my strength to not snatch it up and dive right in :)

Here are my stats for the book:
Indelible by Karin Slaughter
Rating: 4/5
Pages: 358
2011 Reading Goal: 8,732/12,500

P.S. I've added a new poll to the bottom of the page, which will be there until September 15th. Cast your vote today! :)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Giveaway Results: Seven Year Switch

The results are in for the giveaway to win Claire Cook's Seven Year Switch.

The winner is....





There was only one entry, and it was myself, testing to see if the form would work. I know I don't have many followers; however, with 2,003 page views, I was surprised to find no entries for the giveaway.

I may try to do another giveaway in the future, because I don't want to give up on it after just one try.

In the meantime, I suppose Seven Year Switch will be donated to the local Salvation Army. It will find love again--soon, I hope.

Stay tuned for a really good review on Karin Slaughter's Indelible. I just finished it tonight, after not being able to put it down! :)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Coffee. Cinnamon Rolls. Books.

Coffee: Seattle's Best (boldness: 4)

Delicious. Dark roast. Perfect for the morning pick-me-up.

Cinnamon Rolls: Rhode's

Easy. With coupon, only $1.50. Perfect for the lazy Saturday morning breakfast.

Books: Used Bookstore Liquidation Sale

I bought a lot of books. Oops. See photos below.

When I went to the sale the first time, all
books were 75% off the publisher's
price. I paid just a couple of dollars for each
of these books.

On my second trip to the store, the price for each
book had been slashed to just $1. Can you blame me
for buying 21?!?!?
In total, these are the books I purchased from Second Pages.
It's going to take me a year to get through them all, but I'm
eager to start! :)