Friday, February 5, 2016

Saturday Snapshot - February 6

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

So, we took the kids bowling.  I know, that doesn't sound like a big deal...but it was the first time we had done it.  My daughter's school was having a family bowling night and, since the bowling alley is just 2 minutes from our house, we thought we'd give it a try.  It was successful in that I learned that you don't have to be a kid to use the bumpers (my score was MUCH better in the second game) and that bowling may not be a regular activity for our family.  Still, it was fun...until, of course, all the kids were crying the same time!

One must always have the most stylish shoes for bowling.

Women bowling with wine: I'm not sure if this is a brilliant idea or a recipe for disaster!

My daughter giving it a try

And my son.  You can't see it here, but his technique is to shot put the ball down the lane.  As I said, we are not natural bowlers!

#FitReaders Check In - February 5

Welcome to February!  I looked at my calendar and this month is going to be incredibly busy (my daughter's birthday, my daughter's birthday party, Girl Scout cookies stuff....), so I'm now wondering if I set my February goals, especially #1, too high.  Oh well....I guess we'll have to wait and see!

So, how did I do this week?  Well, kind of like this:

Honestly, I was just tired.  Not sleep-deprived--although I could stand to get more rest, just worn out and, well, not there this week.  I think we all have those times so I'm just calling it for what it is and moving on.  Hoping next week will be better.  (Also, I love this .gif, so you'll probably see it every time I have on off week.  Just warning you all!)

February Goals:
1. At last 81,000 steps/week
Friday 1/29 - 13,359 steps (6 miles)
Saturday 1/30 - 16,804 steps (7.55 miles, including my January 5K)
Sunday 1/31 - 6,438 steps (2.89 miles)
Monday 2/1 - 8,822 steps (3.96 miles)
Tuesday 2/2 - 10,965 steps (4,93 miles)
Wednesday 2/3 - 13,474 steps (6.05 miles)
Thursday 2/4 - 8,490 steps (3.81 miles)
TOTAL: 78,352 steps (35.1 miles)
So, I didn't quite meet my goal this week.....sigh!

2. At least 2 dedicated workouts
Just 5K on Saturday.

3. Complete the #FitReaders Virtual 5K at some point this month
Not yet, and I don't know if I'll get to it this week.  However, it looks like things will warm up and dry out a bit, so I'm hoping soon!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Book Review: "The Scent of Secrets" by Jane Thynne

The Scent of Secrets Jane Thynne
Published: September 15, 2015
ISBN: 9780553393903
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Netgalley

You might enjoy this book if you like: World War II Historical Fiction, novels about the "Golden Age" of filmmaking, spy novels

August, 1938. Paris is a city living on its nerves and the threat of war hangs heavy as a distant thunderstorm on a summer's day.

British actress, Clara Vine, is in Paris to film her latest movie, having left Berlin under a cloud. Joseph Goebbels has become increasingly suspicious that Clara has been mingling in Berlin society and passing snippets of information to her contacts in the British Embassy. It would have been absurd, if it hadn't also been true…

With war becoming increasingly likely, Clara is approached by an undercover British operative, Guy Hamilton, who asks her to perform a task for her country: to befriend Eva Braun, Hitler's girlfriend, and to pass on any information she can gather.

Clara knows that to undertake this task is to put herself back in danger. But she also knows that soon she may have to do everything in her power to protect her country… 

My Thoughts:
Reading this book was one of the more frustrating experiences of my reading life.  That being said, a big chunk of my frustration stems not from the book itself, but from a choice made by the American publisher.

This book was originally published in the United Kingdom under the title A War of Flowers and it is the third book in a series of four books (so far).  However, the American publisher made the decision to publish this book first, as a standalone--although the author says that the first two books (and supposedly subsequent books) will be published at a later date.  I didn't realize until I was at least a fourth of the way into this book that this was the case, although I suspected that I was missing something.

You see, this book is one that needs to be read as part of a series.  Yes, you can follow the plot of this story without the first two books (mostly because it is all based on actual and well-known events), but you will definitely feel like you are a party where everyone knows everyone and you know no one.  There are some interesting characters who pop in and out--characters who were apparently well-developed in previous books, and the main character is presented pretty much as-is.  There are also characters who are "referred to" who either only appear briefly or don't appear at all, which would make sense if you knew who they were but, not having read the earlier books, you'll just wonder what is going on.

An even bigger problem is that I spent almost the entire book wondering why Clara, if she was in so much danger, didn't just go back to her native England.  I'm assuming that the reason for this is given in one of the earlier books, but the absence of it here makes the reader who is starting with this book question the entire premise of the book.

However, even with this handicap, there were things I liked and disliked about this book.  The characters, while most were developed in earlier books, are intriguing.  I do believe that Thynne did fictionalize the personalities of many of the historical characters--Joseph Goebbels is supposed to have been dashing and handsome (really?  have you seen pictures of that guy?) and Eva Braun was supposed to be a silly, silly girl of no real consequence, which may not be completely inaccurate, but still sells the historical Eva Braun short.  Still, as a work of fiction, these things can be overlooked because Thynne does make the characters so interesting.

I did feel that this was a spy book less like say, James Bond, and more like a game of chess.  I'm not exactly a Bond fan, but I do wish that there was more, well, ,action in this book.  Really, the only action was Clara going from a movie studio to a party to a salon to a restaurant and so on.  The plot does crescendo, but the peak of that crescendo falls flat.

I was also bothered by the fact that the two plots--Clara as a spy in the resistance and the case of a murdered young woman on a cruise--never really come to a conclusion, much less a satisfying merging of the two story lines.  This left the narrative feeling incomplete--like Thynne had run out of energy and just wanted to finish things quickly.

Obviously, not everything can be blamed on the book and the author as the publisher deserves a hefty dose of criticism.  The flaws in this book outside of that are not so great that they "ruined" things for me and, honestly, if I had had the opportunity to read the first two books, I might have had a very different opinion.

I received an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

How I became an eBook reader.

Confession:  I'm a book snob.

I mean, you probably could have guessed that because I have a book blog and all.  But, in case you didn't put those two things together, there it is.

And when I saw "snob," I mean I have some...prejudices.  We all have them in some area and, yes, we probably would be better off without them--but we're all human.  I think that if you recognize your prejudices, decide if they are okay or not (I am prejudiced against low fat and fat-free cheese...and I'm okay with that), and then go to work on those that you don't think are're ahead of the game.

So, with that sentiment in mind, I'm going to share how I've worked, or am working, on two of my reading prejudices over the next two weeks.

The first prejudice I've had to overcome--and I do think I've succeeded--is reading eBooks.  When the Kindle and Nook first became "things" I was resistant.  No, I was completely against the idea of them.  Really?  Reading a book on a little screen?  That was only one step away from television!  Besides, you would miss the tangible joys of reading--the smell of the pages, the feel of the paper, the weight of the book.  In short, e-reading was not actual reading.

Then, something happened.  I had just given birth to my second child two months earlier and, for Christmas, my in-laws gave me a Kindle.  My husband had actually asked me a few weeks before that if I had wanted a Kindle and, if I remember correctly, my response was definite and LOUD!

So, here I was with something I had told myself I would never use.  I'll admit that I was this close to just putting it back into the box and shoving it into a drawer.  After all, I was a real reader and real readers read real books!

It just so happened that one of my friends, who is also a big reader, came over for Christmas dinner that year.  She had already made the jump to a Kindle (she is more of an early adopter than I am!) and she sat me down, showed me how to work the damn thing, and gave me a few book recommendations to get me started.

I gave it try.  I downloaded a few books, I read them.  It was okay--but it wasn't the same as holding a book in my hand and turning the pages.  After about a month, the Kindle battery emptied out and the device went into a drawer.  For months.  I would take it out and charge it up now and again, but it just wasn't my thing.  I was a reader who read real books.

About a couple years ago, 2 things happened that forced me to change my way of thinking about eBooks.  First of all, my children were older and starting to have their own activities.  Because of that, I started to spend more time just waiting for them.  Frankly, it was just much easier to stick my Kindle in my purse than a 400 page book.  The Kindle was also easier to handle during those windy afternoons at the park while my children played on the playground.

Then...the other thing happened.  I have some eye issues.  I had Lasik back in 2012 to correct some of the issues, knowing that the surgery would make other issues worse.  About a year after my surgery, I realized what exactly I would be dealing with as far as my eyes were concerned.  It's nothing horrible, but I have trouble driving at night and--sometimes--I have trouble reading print on a page.  Strangely, though, I have no problem reading on my Kindle (although I do sometimes have to adjust the contrast or print size).

And there it was....the Kindle had become my friend--at it will be a friend for life.  Do I still read print books?  Of course!  I'm just not as flexible about when and where I read them and, sometimes, I just can't read a certain title because of the print.  I also have read on my phone (usually very "light" material) or on my Galaxy Tablet with the Kobo app (I prefer the Kobo app to the Kindle app).  However, I can't say that my phone or tablet works as well--the glare off the screen can give my eyes problems.  That is why I would advise anyone who thinks that e-Reading might be for them to get a dedicated eInk device instead of using an app on a tablet, even though the current wisdom is to go the app route so that you can get books from multiple sources.

I still purchase both print and eBooks--although I'm much more likely to go electronic these days, which does pose one additional "problem" with electronic books.  They are sometimes cheaper--A LOT cheaper.  There are also these quick and amazing sales on them--an eBook which is normally $11.99 might be $1.99 for a day or two.  I currently have over 200 titles on my ebook-dedicated wish list on Amazon and, every day, I go in and sort it by price.  If cheap titles, as in less than $5, pop up I will buy them.  That's part of the reason why I have almost 400 unread books on my kindle.

If you are thinking that maybe you might try e-reading, I'd encourage you to give it a try.  Download an app and see if you like it or find a friend with an eInk reader and see if that works for you (as I said, I'm all about eInk).  I currently use a Kindle Paperwhite--the original Kindle my in-laws gave me fell victim to a 3 year old, which gave me the perfect opportunity to upgrade.  Neither Kindles nor Kobos are horribly expensive (they are significantly less than an iPad)--and they might just change the way you think about "real" books!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Book Review: "Love Anthony" by Lisa Genova

Love Anthony Lisa Genova
Published: April 2, 2013
ISBN: 9781439164693
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy (January Book Club Selection)
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Stories dealing with loss, female friendship, and/or autism.

In an insightful, deeply human story reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Daniel Isn’t Talking, and The Reason I Jump, New York Times bestselling author and neuroscientist Lisa Genova offers a unique perspective in fiction—the extraordinary voice of Anthony, a nonverbal boy with autism. Anthony reveals a neurologically plausible peek inside the mind of autism, why he hates pronouns, why he loves swinging and the number three, how he experiences routine, joy, and love. And it is the voice of this voiceless boy that guides two women in this powerfully unforgettable story to discover the universal truths that connect us all. 

My Thoughts:
I recently read Still Alice, which I quite enjoyed (as much as one can "enjoy" that book) and so, when this title by Lisa Genova came up as a possibility for our book club this year, I lobbied heavily for it.

This book was pretty much what I expected from something by Lisa Genova (after reading only one other book by her!) and that is a good thing--the bar was set high!  I really love Genova's writing style.  It's very readable in that Genova has a very clear and descriptive, but not overly flowery or dramatic, voice.  That being said, it is also not dumbed down or emotionless.

I'm not the most in-the-know person about autism.  I probably have no more than a baseline knowledge about it.  Because of that, this book was almost educational for me.  I do think it painted a clearer picture of autism than some other novels I've read.  I think that is because of the format of this book.  We don't begin to hear Anthony's voice until his autism, and the effect on his parents, is already established.  I have frequently found in books where a character has a condition such as autism that the condition becomes almost a character in itself, and I don't think that is a good thing.  However, Genova makes sure that Anthony is the character, and autism is just part of him.

One thing that surprised me about this book is, from the description, I expected this to be a female friendship novel--and there is that element, but not between to the two main characters, Olivia and Beth.  I spent about half the book waiting for that, but once I realized that it wasn't really going to happen, I was almost relieved.  I think the fact that the arcs of the two main characters are almost completely separate is not only unique, but also extremely effective.  I think that, if Genova had merged the two stories, it would have watered down both.

There is a point in this book where the reader needs to make a choice to either roll with it or be skeptical.  That choice is up to the reader and their own beliefs and I can only talk to my own choice (which was to roll with it), but because of that, I found this story especially bittersweet.  I felt that while Genova's choice here was risky, it did pay off.  And...that's all I'm going to say about that.

Genova has quickly become one of my favorite authors and Love Anthony delivered on all levels for me.  I would recommend this to just about anyone.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

Monday, February 1, 2016

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? - February 1, 2016

Happy February everyone!  Guess what...Spring starts in 6 weeks (forget about that old groundhog and trust your calendar!).  I'm a person who loves winter until January 2nd, so this is good news.  However, springs in the Pacific Northwest can be, well, not much different than I'm not sure it makes a difference.

February is a busy month over here.  My daughter's birthday is the 13th and her birthday party is the 20th and, if you know any 7 year olds you know that is a BIG DEAL!  Plus, the second phase of Girl Scout cookies sales (the booths!) starts this month.  So, if these posts start looking the same week after week, you'll know why!

Right Now, I'm Reading:
The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley
Still working on this one.  It's not a slow's just that I've been staying up later than usual and I usually read this one in bed...which I haven't since I've been staying up too late.  Sigh!  I need to go to bed sooner!

A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-Fiction by Terry Pratchett
This is actually the March selection for my book club.  Normally, I try not to read too far ahead, but the nature of this book--collected essays--lends itself to reading in small doses over a longer period.  So, I'm reading an essay or two a day, which hopefully means I'll finish it right before our book club meets.

The Virgin's Spy by Laura Andersen
I'll admit it...I'm apprehensive about this one.  I like the original trilogy--except this is now the 5th book in the trilogy.  Already in the 4th book (of the trilogy), I started to get the feeling that it was being stretched too long, so we'll see how this one goes. (Also, on a more petty note, I really hate this cover).

Again, no change in my audiobooks, so I'll skip listing them here.

Last week, I read:
Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley (review June 16, 2016)
I've got to be honest...this was a book that I had to read from start to finish AND THEN decide what I thought of it.  It's definitely a thought-provoking and unique book and one I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot about when it is released in June.

30 Days (30 Days #1) by Christine d'Abo (review March 10, 2016)
Well, this one was about reading outside my comfort zone!  I actually wasn't going to review it and then I thought, "Why the heck not?"  So, stay tuned...

The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye (review March 15, 2016)
I have hundreds of unread books on my kindle so--and this will tell you how much of a geek I am--I put them all in a spreadsheet (along with my unread print books) and numbered them.  Then, when I want something to read, I use and whatever number pops up, that's what I read (although sometimes I have to run a couple times to get either an eBook or Print book, depending on what I need).  Anyway, this was the first book I've read because of that--which was great, becauxe this book probably would have just languished on my eReader for all eternity!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Saturday Snapshot - January 30

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

This year, my daughter and I have become fans of the Oregon Children's Theater--by "fans," I mean we went to one show and were hooked.  The first was Junie B. Jones: The Musical, which I was was not really looking forward to, since I hated reading those books to my daughter (another mom gave me the hint to get the books on audio and that is MUCH better).  However, that show was FANTASTIC!

The second show of the season, Geronimo Stilton: Mouse in Space, is currently going and we were able to catch it on opening day.  My daughter hasn't yet read any of the Geronimo Stilton books, so I wasn't sure how this would go...but she ended up loving this as well (and she'll be getting a few Geronimo Stilton book for her birthday!).  We even ended up sitting next to the author.

Since the theater is in downtown Portland, and I don't take the kids down there too often, it is always a treat for us!

I made her run laps at the train station to get some energy out before our ride into town!

The picture we get every (er, both) times we go to the Children's Theatre

So, she REALLY wanted to sit in this chair the last time we came, but there were too many people around..  So, I made sure she got the chance this time!

Obligatory Pioneer Courthouse Square picture
Yes, she's chasing a pigeon.  Actually, I was told that it was THE pigeon--from the Mo Willem's books!

The next show is Bad Kitty and we're going to bring my son along for the first time for that one...can't wait!

#FitReaders Check In - January 29

Can you believe that January is almost over?  I need time to just SLOW DOWN, 'kay?  Is that really too much to ask?

I also need my cat to quit acting like a narcissistic jerk so I can finish this post, but I KNOW that is too much to ask!

January Goals
1. 63,000 steps/week
Friday 1/22 - 12,084 steps (5.43 miles)
Saturday 1/23 - 11,077 steps (4.98 miles)
Sunday 1/24 - 11.831 steps (5.32 miles)
Monday 1/25 - 11,644 steps (5.23 miles)
Tuesday 1/26 - 15,587 steps (7 miles)
Wednesday 1/27 - 11,176 steps (5.02 miles)
Thursday 1/28 - 6,557 steps (2.95 miles) (BOO!)
TOTAL - 79,956 steps (35.9 miles)

Thursday ended up being too crazy of a day to get all my steps in. happens.

2. At least 2 dedicated workouts
Drum roll please....YES!  I finally met this goal!  I did resistance workouts on Tuesday and Thursday!

3. Complete the #FitReaders Virtual 5K at some point this month
Saturday, folks, Saturday.  I thought I'd have to do it on the treadmill--which I HATE--but the weather report says it is actually supposed to be dry this weekend, so maybe I can do it outside!
* I will update this post with my "proof" once I complete it so that I can join the official link-up

*Edited!  I did it on the treadmill.  Man, I really hate the treadmill!

Okay, now onto February goals.  They aren't changing too much since I only met #2 once and have yet to do #3, but here we go.

1. At last 81,000 steps/week
So, that's an average of my steps in January, plus about 5 percent.  Obviously, there will be a little January in those numbers, but it will also be missing a little February at the end.

2. At least 2 dedicated workouts
Once I nail this one for a month I'l increase it.

3. Complete the #FitReaders Virtual 5K at some point this month
Hopefully it will be a little easier to get this in during February than it was in January!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Book Review: "Under the Udala Trees" by Chinelo Okparanta

Under the Udala Trees Chinelo Okparanta
Published: September 22, 2015
ISBN: 9780544003446
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Netgalley

You might enjoy this book if you like: Novels set in Africa, LGBQT Novels, African History, Christianity in a non-religious work

Ijeoma comes of age as her nation does; born before independence, she is eleven when civil war breaks out in the young republic of Nigeria. Sent away to safety, she meets another displaced child and they, star-crossed, fall in love. They are from different ethnic communities. They are also both girls. When their love is discovered, Ijeoma learns that she will have to hide this part of herself. But there is a cost to living inside a lie.

As Edwidge Danticat has made personal the legacy of Haiti’s political coming of age, Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees uses one woman’s lifetime to examine the ways in which Nigerians continue to struggle toward selfhood. Even as their nation contends with and recovers from the effects of war and division, Nigerian lives are also wrecked and lost from taboo and prejudice. This story offers a glimmer of hope — a future where a woman might just be able to shape her life around truth and love.

My Thoughts:
This was actually an up and down book for me.  There were a number of things about it that I loved, and other parts that I just didn't feel worked.  Added to the fact that this book was pretty strongly hyped by the time I got to t, and those lows seemed just that much lower to me.

This book does benefit from a strong narrator.  Ijeoma is an interesting young woman and I really felt that Okparanta wrote her in a way that I got to know her.  Her life is a series of struggles, to list them all would be to spoil the book, but  I will say that they deal with her life as a lesbian in a nation where homosexuality is not tolerated and where her religion, in this case Christianity, is used against her.  I found that part about religion especially upsetting, since I am a Christian and I could see how it was used as a weapon.  Yet, the fact that Ijeoma found her own truth in the faith and stayed true to it, made me admire the character even more.

At various times in the narrative, Ijeoma tells Nigerian folk tales and I found these fascinating.  They are treated almost as a religion alongside Christianity and Ijeoma draws strength and clarity from them as she does from her faith.  Okparanta weaves them in seamlessly, so I never felt like I was leaving the main story to read these tales.

I have to admit--and this may be more a fault of mine than of the book--that I wasn't always able to follow the history of this novel.  African History is not my foray, but Okparanta does spend some time explaining what is going on.  Still, I often found myself confused about who stood for what and who was fighting whom and who won what war.  Ultimately, that isn't especially critical to the central plot, but it did add a layer of confusion that I felt detracted from the narrative.

My main complaint with this book is that Okparanta doesn't really ever build up the emotional connection between Ijeoma and the two women she is involved with during the course of the book.  In the first chapter of the book, Okparanta emphasizes the importance of Amina, Ijeoma's first love who she meets when her mother sends her to live with friends during the war.  However, Amina is dropped as a character about halfway through the novel.  Even with that, I never felt that Ijeoma had a truly emotional connection to Amina--rather, Amina was the one who was there.  With Ndidi, Ijeom's 2nd romantic relationship, there is a bit more of a build up, but still not enough to convince me that there was a strong emotional attachment between the two characters.  This novel would have benefited by Okparanta spending more time on the relationships and really showing the deep emotional bond that Ijeoma had for these two women.

While this wasn't a perfect book for me, I would probably still recommend it to someone who was looking for something along these lines.  And, even with the problems with this book, I was impressed enough by Okparanta's writing that I would read more by her.

I received an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My 10 Favorite Reads of 2015

I actually wasn't planning on doing this post.  I mean, choosing your favorite books is like choosing your favorite children (sort of...).  However, when I posted my 2015 recap, I received a few requests.  So, I decided to try to narrow things down and I came up with 10 books.

Now, these books are in order than I read them, not in order of preference.  Also, not all of them were published in 2015, but I did read them in 2015.  I will include a snippet from my review (when applicable) and, by clicking on the title, it will take you to the full review (again, when applicable).  I am including affiliate links, indicated at the end of each book section at the link saying "Click here to purchase from Amazon."  If you choose to order a copy, I will receive a (very) small commission in return--which will most likely go into buying more books.  Just sayin'.

So, here we go:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (finished February 18, 2015)
Mandel's language is just lovely and I found her way of taking the mundane and making it art interesting.  For example, there is a fair amount of Shakespeare in this story--Arthur dies during a performance of King Lear, the actors from the Traveling Symphony perform A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the entire plot is, well, Shakespearean.  However, in the same way and given almost the same weight, are lines from Star Trek: Voyager.  And,no, it does not come across as pop culture pandering.  Instead, it shows that there is art and beauty in every age (I'll take Mandel's word on the importance of Star Trek: Voyager, though...)
Click here to purchase from Amazon

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson (finished April 1, 2015)
Setting in this book is paramount.  Both lives that K experiences is set in Denver, but in different worlds in the same city. If my memory is correct, I've only been to Denver twice and both times I was stuck in the airport.  So, I have no way of knowing if the portraits of Denver Swanson draws are accurate--but they are definitely evocative (for the record, it seemed like a hybrid between Portland and Tucson, which probably isn't too far off).  I felt like I was right there in Denver of the early-60s.  And, speaking of the time period, Swanson also uses current (to the time) events to set things up, something which I appreciated as a reader.  In a book where reality is questioned, it was nice to have an"anchor."
Click here to purchase from Amazon

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (finished April 20, 2015)
I truly feel that this is an important book for young people to read.  Yes, it examines the struggles of modern Native Americans but, more importantly, it is about finding your own place in the world.  And to all those people who try and challenge this book....don't worry, when my children are older, they won't be checking this book out of the library. I'm going to buy them their own copies.
Click here to purchase from Amazon

The Martian by Andy Weir (finished May 12, 2015)
The big question is: does it live up to the hype?  Yes, yes it does.  I was actually a little wary of this book going in.  From what I had heard about it, I was afraid it would be a Castaway scenario where it would be one character talking to himself (or to an inanimate object).  Thankfully, that is not the case.  Yes, the bulk of the book is Mark Watney trying to survive on Mars, but there are also scenes with NASA and with Watney's crew as they travel away from him.  And Mark never talks to a soccer ball, or personifies any other non-living thing, so that is a plus.
Click here to purchase from Amazon

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (finished June 10, 2015)
The characters are what really make this book work.  I won't go into the specifics about each one (like story lines, characters abound here), but I will say that I found myself relating to all of them, including the one really unlikable (yet entertaining) character.  Because there are so many people and story lines, Walter explores facets of the characters instead of developing the entire character.  In another book, I would find this annoying.  However, there is more than enough here so that Walter's approach is successful.
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Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (finished July 16, 2015)
The original suggestion that Lee should write about Scout's childhood does make sense.  We all know about the wonderfully precocious Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, but I must tell you that the Jean Louise of this book is freaking awesome.  I can't think of another character of that age in literature who I have enjoyed as much as I did Jean Louise (who I will call Scout from here on out--because she will always be Scout in my mind).  She's opinionated and brash and knows how to make a situation deliciously uncomfortable.  Also, this Scout is a natural evolution of the Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird.  There are a lot of flashback scenes to her childhood and they read as if they could have come out TKAM.
*Note: I debated including this one.  Frankly, it is not a very good book.  However, the experience of reading it made it worthwhile.  If you are looking for a similar experience, but would rather not read this book (I do understand the reasons for that), I highly recommend Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which I would have included on this list except that I read over half of it in 2014.
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Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (finished August 20, 2015)
The language of this book is absolutely breathtaking.  This particular sentence sold me (found on page 5 of my copy): "Night was the dark of the soul and being up in an hour when the rest of the world was dead with sleep gave me a sinful thrill." Once I read that, I knew that Krueger was a writer of great note.
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A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev (finished October 18, 2015)
I really appreciated how Dev wrote this--there are a lot of interesting cultural details, but Dev doesn't put them out there like a lesson.  Too often in books set in a non-Western (or even just non-American) culture, the author feels that they have to take the time to explain everything.  Dev, on the other hand, just puts it out there like it is the most normal thing in the world to the audience.  The reader may not catch what something is the first time it is mentioned but, by the end of the book, they know what it is.
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The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev (finished November 19, 2015)
Forgive me, but I don't have a review for this one.  I was so busy with NaNoWriMo in November that a number of books I loved just didn't get reviewed.  However, the fact that I picked this up so soon after reading A Bollywood Affair should be a good endorsement of both books.
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My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (finished December 31, 2015)
The review for this book will be posted on February 25, so come back then.  I will say now, though, that the hype for this book and its series is well-deserved!
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