Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 Reading Challenges

I don't know about anyone else, but I love participating in reading challenges.  I find them to be a great way to help me decide which books to read, which is often difficult since my TBR list is massive.  I've tried to choose my challenges carefully, as I tend to be a bit overzealous and bite off more than I can chew.  Since today is New Year's Eve, the last day of 2010, it only seems fitting that I share with you my challenges for 2011.  Here it goes!

111 in "11
Jennie at Life is Short. Read Fast. created this challenge.  The name of the challenge is pretty self-explanatory.  Read 111 books in 2011.  This is going to be a huge challenge for me, since I only read 50 books in 2010.  Of course, I was pretty busy in 2010.  I was working full-time, getting my Master's degree in counseling, and planning a wedding/getting married.  With 2010 coming to an end, I have been married for 6 months and graduated with my Master's degree a few weeks ago.  That means the only major obligations I have for 2011 are working full-time as a counselor, keeping my husband happy, keeping my house from looking like a disaster area, and reading.  If you're interested in the 111 in '11 Challenge sign up here

2011 Debut Author Challenge
Kristi at The Story Siren is hosting the 2011 Debut Author Challenge.  The idea is to read at least 12 novels from debut Young Adult or Middle Grade authors.  12 is just the minimum, so you can read as many as your little heart desires.  Kristi has posted the challenge guidelines and a list of books to choose from on her site.  Check it out and sign up for the challenge!  So far, there are HUNDREDS of people signed up!

There's one more challenge I'm participating in, but I don't have a cute little picture for it.  It's the Winter Book Challenge from The Nest Book Club.  A list of tasks are created with each task given a point total.  Points range from 5 to 10 to 15 to 25.  It's a great challenge.  The first five people to win get to choose the 25 point tasks for the following challenge.  I've had my list of books for the challenge since the tasks were first posted.  I love these challenges and get super excited for them.  I haven't finished any of the ones I've participated in, but I have high hopes for this one.

In addition to these challenges, I'm hoping to read more of the books I already own.  My bookcase is exploding!  I'm also hoping to get more books from the library.  This might be hard, though, because my local library doesn't have much to offer.

Well, those are my reading challenges for 2011!  I don't know about you, but I'm excited for tomorrow.  It's the start of an awesome year of reading.  :-) 

The Vespertine

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

Release Date: March 2011
Source: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

In the summer of 1889, Amelia van den Broeke was sent to Baltimore to stay with relatives.  Her brother facilitated this stay in hopes that Amelia would find a husband.  Amelia makes friends, thanks to her welcoming cousin, and finds herself head over heels crazy for a Fourteenth, Nathaniel Witherspoon.  Unfortunately, he is below her, making a marriage impossible.

While searching for a husband, Amelia discovers she has a gift.  When the sun sets, she sees the future in the vespers.  Initially hesitant about revealing this gift, Amelia soon finds herself doing readings for callers. 

The summer had been enjoyable, that is until one of Amelia's more tragic predictions came true.  Amelia then found herself being blamed and facing a much different end to ther summer than expected.

My Thoughts:  I found this book to be a refreshing twist to the paranormal YA books I've read.  It's not your typical vampire or werewolf story like many paranormal stories are nowadays.  Don't get me wrong!  I love vampire and werewolf stories, but I also like to mix it up a bit.  I've never heard of anyone seeing the future in the vespers at sunset.  In fact, I don't think I've ever heard the words "vespertine" or "vesper."  (Clearly, I need to expand my vocabulary.)

One of my favorite things about the story was how Amelia's gift was handled.  I'm so used to reading books about paranormal gifts that must be kept secret.  If the public knew, that person would be shunned, experimented on, or maybe even worse.  Amelia, though, was embraced in a way.  The people in Baltimore were eager to meet with her and find out what the vespers held for them.  It wasn't until something bad happened that everyone had a much different outlook on Amelia's gift. 

Aside from the paranormal aspect of the story, I found it to be a great coming of age story.  That summer was a turning point.  It was the transition between childhood and womanhood, and Amelia was faced with the huge task of finding a husband.  She fell in love, and of course it was a difficult love.

I really liked The Vespertine.  I felt it blended historical fiction and paranormal gifts quite nicely.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, December 16, 2010

If I Am Missing or Dead

We've all heard the stories on the news of women who disappear or are killed by boyfriends or husbands.  It's often a shock.  What if you received a call that your sister was missing?  What if you then found out she left a hidden letter explaining who was responsible if she should go missing or be found dead?

This is exactly what happened to Janine Latus.  She tells her story in If I Am Missing or Dead.  When Janine's sister goes missing, she immediately suspects the boyfriend.  Upon searching her sister's house, a note is found, hinting that the boyfriend is responsible for whatever tragedy has occurred.

When I picked up this book, I expected the whole book to be the story of Janine's sister's disappearance, discovery, and fight for justice.  Instead, I found that most of the book was about Janine's life.  She talked of her own experiences and relationships.

While this wasn't what I was expecting, I still enjoyed the story she told.  Both Janine and her sister suffered in abusive relationships.  They would confide in each other but only to a certain point.  They would encourage each other to leave the abusive relationships while staying with their own abusers.

I have always been interested in learning why people behave certain ways and how their experiences and families have shaped them.  Janine spent most of the book talking about those events in her life that have shaped the woman she has become.  She writes about the messages she received from others, how she internalized them, and how she then reacted to these messages.

If I Am Missing or Dead is a revealing memoir about abusive relationships and the struggles that come with them.  Many people ask, "Why doesn't she just leave?"  Whether a relationship is physically, verbally, or emotionally abusive, there is damage being done.  There's also feelings of confusion, helplessness, and fear.  Janine demonstrated this nicely.  There were times when she wanted to leave her abusive husband, but then she would think of his good qualities and the good times they had shared.  She wanted him to love her and want her and feared that she would be alone if she left him.  She questioned how she would care for herself and her daughter if she left him, since he was the breadwinner.  Abusive relationships are complex, and Janine's book shows that.

So this book wasn't what I originally thought it would be.  It turned out a lot different.  I was expecting the story of Janine's sister, not the story of Janine.  Despite this difference, I still really liked this book.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Fifth Child

A relative gave me a box of books a few weeks ago, and The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing was included.  I had never heard of it before, but the synopsis sounded interesting.

From Goodreads:

The married couple in this novel pull off a remarkable achievement: They purchase a three-story house with oodles of bedrooms, and, on a middle-class income, in the '70s, fill it to the brim with happy children and visiting relatives. Their holiday gatherings are sumptuous celebrations of life and togetherness. And then the fifth child arrives. He's just a child--he's not supernatural. But is he really human?

My Thoughts:  I found this book to be interesting.  I couldn't wait to read about the fifth child and find out more about him.  That being said, I found the main characters, Harriet and David, to be really annoying.  They had this dream of having a ton of kids.  They both wanted a big family.  Unfortunately, they hadn't considered how much it would cost to have a big family.  David's father was wealthy, and he paid for most of their needs.  This was something that bothered me.  Harriet and David did very little thinking or planning when it came to starting a family.  Don't get me wrong.  I think big families can be great but only if there is sufficient financial stability.

Another thing that annoyed me was Harriet's feeling that everyone thought she was a criminal because she wanted a big family.  I really didn't like that the author chose the word "criminal."  This is just my opinion.  I feel there could have been a different way of describing how Harriet felt people thought of her.  It didn't seem to fit with the way the other relatives treated Harriet and David's stance on family size.

Anyways, back to the fifth child.  I was anticipating more about what the child was or what led to his strange behaviors and characterisitics.  I didn't get this.  The story continued throughout part of fifth child's childhood but there was very little discussion about what exactly was wrong with him.  He made the family's life difficult, and they were forced to try different ways of coping.

I thought the concept behind this book was interesting, but I would've liked to see more exploration into what caused the fifth child's problem behaviors.  That could just be the psych major in me, though.  :-)

Rating: 3/5 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hex Hall

I'm one of those people who believes things happen for a reason.  Whether it's a major event or some minor everyday task, I think it all happens for a reason.

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins had been sitting in my bookcase for months.  I would pick it up, flip to the first page, close the book, and put it back on my shelf.  I just had this feeling like the time wasn't right.

Last month, I finally picked it up and read it.  I was immediately sucked in and found myself flying through the book.  For those of you not familiar with Hex Hall, here's a little synopsis from Goodreads:

Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It's gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie's estranged father--an elusive European warlock--only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it's her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.

By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tagalong ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect.

As a series of blood-curdling mysteries starts to converge, Sophie prepares for the biggest threat of all: an ancient secret society determined to destroy all Prodigium, especially her.

My Thoughts:  Let me start by saying I really liked this book.  The story was interesting.  I didn't find any parts of the plot to be slow or boring, which is great.  There are some books that have slow parts, and it becomes difficult to finish them.  This plot seemed to always be moving along.

I really liked Sophie.  I felt I could easily relate to her.  She was lonely, felt like an outcast, didn't have the greatest opinion about herself, and would rather do what makes her happy than do what the "in" crowd wants.  This sounds just like me.  There was a specific part in the book where Sophie mentioned using magic to try to straighten her hair because it was so out of control.  That sounds like something I would do if I were a witch. 

If you take away the paranormal aspect of the story, I think Sophie sounds like many teenagers.  I also think she'd be a great role model.  She speaks her mind, stands up for her friends, and doesn't give in to the pressures of others for the sake of fitting in. 

So as I mentioned earlier, I feel things happen for a reason.  What does that have to do with Hex Hall?  Well, I kept picking up and putting down this book.  Here's my thoughts on why I did that.  It turns out the sequel to Hex Hall, Demonglass, doesn't come out until March 2011 (I think).  Since I liked Hex Hall so much, I'm itching to read Demonglass and find out what happens next.  If I had read Hex Hall months ago, I would've had that much longer to wait for Demonglass.  Since I waited longer, I now don't have quite as long to wait for its release.  That might sound silly, but oh well.  :-)

Rating: 4/5

Monday, December 13, 2010


A friend from my online book club recommended Dreamland by Sarah Dessen to me AND sent me her copy.  I had asked for some recommendations for books about teen dating violence, and this was one.

From Goodreads:

Strange, sleepy Rogerson, with his long brown dreads and brilliant green eyes, had seemed to Caitlin to be an open door. With him she could be anybody, not just the second-rate shadow of her older sister, Cass. But now she is drowning in the vacuum Cass left behind when she turned her back on her family's expectations by running off with a boyfriend. Caitlin wanders in a dream land of drugs and a nightmare of Rogerson's sudden fists, lost in her search for herself.

Why do so many girls allow themselves to get into abusive relationships--and what keeps them there? In this riveting novel, Sarah Dessen searches for understanding and answers. Caught in a trap that is baited with love and need, Caitlin must frantically manage her every action to avoid being hit by the hands that once seemed so gentle. All around her are women who care--best friends, mother, sister, mentor--but shame keeps her from confiding in any of them, especially Cass, her brilliant older sister, whose own flight from home had seemed to point the way.

Dessen has here created a subtle and compelling work of literature that goes far beyond the teen problem novel in a story rich with symbolism, dark scenes of paralyzing dread, quirky and memorable characters, and gleams of humor. With the consummate skill and psychological depth that brought her praise for Keeping the Moon, she explores the search for self-identity, the warmth of feminine friendships, and the destructive ways our society sets up young women for love gone wrong. (Ages 14 and older) --Patty Campbell

My Thoughts:  I really liked this book.  Susie, the person who recommended it, told me it didn't take her long to get through it.  The same happened to me.  I couldn't put the book down. 

Having worked with women who have been in abusive relationships, I have some firsthand knowledge of how those relationships affect them and how those perpetrators can really get under their skin.  I found Dessen's telling of Caitlin's story to be very realistic.  The writing conveyed Caitlin's feelings, confusion, and struggles.  I saw some of the standard red flags that can be found in abusive relationships.

I think Dreamland should be read by all young women.  There are so many girls out there who fall prey to guys like Rogerson and don't know what to do.  It's nice to read a book about a delicate subject and find that it's realistic, accurate, and attention grabbing.  I've already recommended it to others.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I've been slacking on posting reviews lately, so I've decided to do a post with some mini-reviews.  There are quite a few books that I've finished lately, and I'd like to share a bit about my thoughts on each.

I read Bag of Bones by Stephen King back in October.  It was a book picked for the October read with my online book club.  I've read a few Stephen King books before, so I was excited to read another one.  I had heard some people talk about how scared they were reading this book, but I didn't find it scary at all.  If I had to think of one word to describe Bag of Bones, it would be "intriguing."  King kept me thinking the entire time, trying to figure out what was going on.

Rating: 4/5

I read The Girl in the Green Sweater in November while on a Holocaust kick.  I had found some books about the Holocaust that looked interesting and this was one of them.  This is the story of a girl who lived with her family in the sewers under their city for a little over a year.  They were a Jewish family and were hiding from the Nazis.  This story was amazing.  Krystyna was so young when her family was forced into hiding.  I was blown away by the family's strength and resiliency.  I can't imagine experiencing what they went through.

Rating: 4/5

Like I said, I was on a Holocaust kick.  I loved this book!  I developed an attachment to the main character, which led to some interesting responses to the end of the book.  This is the story of a young boy whose father is an important part of Hitler's SS.  The boy's family is moved to a different location because of his father's job.  It is here that the boy comes face to face with what his father actually does at work.  Great book!  Read it!

Rating: 5/5

I'll finish up this post with yet another Holocaust book.  This one is a bit different, though.  This is the story of a young Polish woman who experienced the terrors of the Nazis because of her nationality.  In addition to dealing with her own struggles every day, she also risked her life to hide Jews.  Irene's story is sad, inspiring, and happy at times.  Reading it made me feel very grateful for my own life and made me think of all the things I take for granted every day.

Rating: 5/5

2011 Debut Author Challenge

With grad school coming to an end this week, I've been thinking of ways to spice up my reading habits.  I haven't participated in many reading challenges.  The main one I usually take part in is the seasonal book challenge from my online book club.  When I found this challenge, though, I knew it would be perfect!

So, what is the 2011 Debut Author Challenge?

The Story Siren created this challenge asking participants to read at least 12 novels from Young Adult or Middle Grade authors who haven't released a YA or MG book before.  You can read more than 12 books, but 12 is the minimum. 

I've made a list of books that I plan on reading.  Warning: My list will probably grow.  :-)

Unearthly - Cynthia Hand (January)
Entangled - Cat Clarke (January)
Angelfire - Courtney Allison Moulton (February)
The Iron Witch - Karen Mahoney (February)
A Touch Mortal - Leah Clifford (February)
Falling Under - Gwen Hayes (March)
Wither - Lauren DeStefano (March)
Entwined - Heather Dixon (March)
Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys (March)
Blood Magic - Tessa Gratton (April)
Starcrossed - Josephine Angelini (May)
Lost Voices - Sarah Porter (July)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Let me start off by saying I love anything written by Augusten Burroughs. What do I love even more? Anything read by Augusten Burroughs. The first book of his I read was Running with Scissors. I know some people were a bit disturbed by some of the things that he wrote about, but I wasn't. I admired him for sharing stories about his childhood and past.

One day, I found Magical Thinking on audiobook at a local bookstore. I snatched it up and immediately began listening to it. After that, I decided I only wanted to listen to his books. Well, only if he's reading them.

I have a membership to Simply Audiobooks and requested Dry from them. It fit for a challenge in my Fall Book Challenge and was on my TBR list.

Here's a bit about Dry (Goodreads):

You may not know it, but you've met Augusten Burroughs. You've seen him on the street, in bars, on the subway, at restaurants: a twenty-something guy, nice suit, works in advertising. Regular. Ordinary. But when the ordinary person had to drinks, Augusten was circling the drain by having twelve; when the ordinary person went home at midnight, Augusten never went home at all. Loud, distracting ties, automated wake-up calls, and cologne on the tongue could only hide so much for so long. At the request (well, it wasn't really a request) of his employers, Augusten landed in rehab, where his dreams of group therapy with Robert Downey, Jr., are immediately dashed by the grim reality of fluorescent lighting and paper hospital slippers. But when Augusten is forced to examine himself, something actually starts to click, and that's when he finds himself in the worst trouble of all. Because when his thirty days are up, he has to return to his same drunken Manhattan life—and live it sober. What follows is a memoir that's as moving as it is funny, as heartbreaking as it is real. Dry is the story of love, loss, and Starbucks as a higher power.

I really enjoyed this book. Burroughs revealed a lot about himself. He shared his journey through rehab and recovery. He shared his disastrous relationships. He shared his losses. His story is definitely informative and enlightening for those of us who have not experienced an addiction. One of my favorite parts of the book was when Burroughs was in rehab and had to write out how much he typically drank. This seemed to be an "aha" moment for him. I found myself in awe that a person could drink that much and still function to some degree.

This is definitely a book that everyone should read. I might buy it in print format just to have and possibly read again.