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 :)