31 December 2012

Here's to the Best of Everything in 2012

Well, it's that time of year again. My heart is full once again at the close of this year, and I'm thankful to all of you for continuing to read my blog in this little humble corner of the blogosphere. Thank you.

Just a reminder that these are my favorites books, whether released this year or not.


Wool Omnibus, by Hugh Howey

I still can't believe this is a self-published book, but I've recently heard that Simon & Schuster is releasing a print version in March and Ridley Scott has optioned this for a film. I am definitely not surprised that they are trying to dive in on the Hugh Howey creativity as they would clearly be missing out on what will definitely be a powerhouse book that will be nabbed off the shelf come the end of the first quarter next year. If you have an electronic reader, download it now, or if you prefer a print copy, you may want to pre-order it now. This brilliant five part tale of a future society living underground only able to view earth through a camera is suspenseful and full of superb character and story development. This kept me up late at night and I found myself in many a checkout line during the holiday rush trying to read what I could. I'm still thinking about this story and the characters, and anxiously awaiting future installments. You absolutely do not need to be a sci-fi expert at all, this is a tale for anyone who enjoys stories on love, political corruption, mysteries, suspenseful thrillers, action, and love. Wool has it all, and it just might be the book to convince readers to try more of a genre they may not be used to. You won't regret this one.


It, by Stephen King, narrated by Steven Weber

One of Stephen King's classics, this audiobook is expertly delivered by actor Steven Weber. Because of his narration, many of his characters that I might have found challenging to read were easily understood through Weber's flawless skills. Not to mention that the scary parts were just that. much. scarier. because of Steven Weber. Each character was distinct and recognizable and I couldn't be happier with recommending this audiobook to everyone that wants to try audio. I listen to audiobooks while I run and this is the book that helped me get through my longest run of more than six miles at the time.
My Favorite Books Read in 2012 are (in alphabetical order):
  1. Baker Towers, by Jennifer Haigh
  2. The Casual Vacancy, by JK Rowling
  3. Clair de Lune, by Jetta Carlton
  4. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
  5. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
  6. In the Woods, by Tana French
  7. The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  8. The Poison Tree, by Erin Kelly.
  9. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
  10. Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts (I haven't finished it yet, but is it presumptuous to know it will be one of my favorites this year?
  11. The Stand, by Stephen King
  12. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce
My Favorite Audiobooks Listened To in 2012 are (in alphabetical order):
  1. Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall
  2. The Breathing Method, by Stephen King
  3. Days of Blood and Starlight, by Laini Taylor
  4. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor
  5. Divergent, by Veronica Roth
  6. The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty
  7. Legion, by Brandon Sanderson
  8. Lullaby, by Chuck Palahniuk
  9. The Shining, by Stephen King
  10. The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater
  11. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach
  12. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami
What's on your list?


29 December 2012

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times over many years and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travelers and researchers. The introduction begins like this: "Space," it says, "is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space. Listen..." and so on. (p.53)
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams was my escape from all of the tragic news and social media debates over the past two weeks. I purchased the complete series in this ultimate guide and settled down on a rainy weekend for pure escapism, jumping into the famous first short novel, and successfully ran away from everything. My first thought, in-between bouts of giggles, was that I couldn't believe it was the very first time I've ever read this book. It's one of those realizations I wish I could go back in time and seriously tell my younger self to stop caring about who said what in school and just sit down and read this. Don't waste time, dive into the story and get ready to laugh away.

When Earth is destroyed to make way for an expressway in space, one earthling named Arthur Dent is saved by alien friend, Ford Prefect. Thrown out of one ship (I guffawed my way through the descriptions of why the poetry by aliens on that ship could result in stomach-turning moments) and then subsequently picked up by another ship, Arthur and Ford come face to... faces with Arthur's long-lost cousin, Zaphod Beeblebrox (er, semi-cousin) who happens to be the President of the Galaxy on his own mission. Riding along with Zaphod is a brilliant human woman named Trillion, a depressed robot named Marvin and a rather cheerful computer. Their eventual antics to uncover life's answers, a long-lost planet, and more, brought me to tears of laughter. As Arthur tries to understand and bumble through moments to understand the new world he's now in, while also mourning the loss of Earth, Douglas Adams takes you through a delightful romp in space with the most hilarious moments and events that could ever possibly occur.

I loved every page of the first installment. I learned about why a towel is the most important item to always carry, why "Don't Panic" is so important, and the answer, at least partially, to life, the universe and everything. I laughed out loud in several scenes and completely understood why this book is loved by many, even those who have reading interests that fall outside of science fiction. When family friends who are fans of contemporary fiction did a virtual foot stamp for me to read this, I needed no further encouragement. Thank you, my friends. This was absolutely hilarious and I cannot wait to read the rest.

What I love about science fiction written thirty or more years ago is reading their versions of what life and technology will be like in the future. I'm sure it's already been covered time and again by other readers and reviewers, so this will be redundant, but I love quotes like the ones below that clearly indicate smartphones, iPads, Nooks, and Kindles. Right?
For years radios had been operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as the technology became more sophisticated the controls were made touch-sensitive - you merely had to brush the panels with your fingers; now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the components and hope. (p.67)
Or, what about air bags?
Air cushions ballooned out of the walls in an instant as everyone was thrown against them. For a few seconds the inertial forces held them flattened and squirming for breath, unable to move. (p.86)
But, really, for me it was all about the depressed robot, Marvin.
"You think you've got problems," said Marvin, as if he was addressing a newly occupied coffin, "what are you supposed to do if you are a maniacally depressed robot? No, don't bother to answer that, I'm fifty thousand times more intelligent than you and even I don't know the answer. It gives me a headache just trying to think down to your level." (p.92)
I can't wait to read the next installment.

Publisher: Random House
Release Date: 2002 (first published in 1979)
Pages: 144 pages for the first book in the collection, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

FTC Disclosure: I purchased this book from my local independent bookstore in Norfolk, Virginia called Prince Books.

About the Author
Douglas Adams is the author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series which originally started off as a radio series on the BBC in 1978. More than 15 million books in the US, UK, and Australia have been sold. He died much too soon in 2001 at the age of 49. The introduction by Neil Gaiman in this collection is a beautiful tribute.

Visit the author:


27 December 2012

Wool, Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey

I am quickly realizing that I need to pay more attention to my fellow bloggers out there. When Carl said this would be his favorite of the year, I screeched to a halt and thought, wha? A self-published tale? Really? Interest piqued and a tad bemused at the idea (please forgive my elitist tone) I downloaded Hugh Howey's Wool Omnibus and on a whim, opened it to read the first few chapters, fully expecting to not really get it. Instead, I was hooked. Instantly.

I haven't been this excited about a book in a long time. I haven't been this eager to read a book every chance I got in a long line at a checkout counter. I actually was excited when I knew I had to wait in the stores fighting holiday crowds. Or waiting in line to get coffee. Sitting at a bookstore and foregoing all the other books I was buying for family and instead whipping out my iPhone to read just a few more pages. When was the last time I did that? Honestly, I really can't remember.

Even though it's broken into five "short stories," I would rather describe it as five parts. Wool feels like one continuous tale about a society in the future forced to live in a silo buried underground because the air is so toxic that any who venture outside are poisoned, ultimately succumbing to their death. Living in a silo with over a hundred levels below ground consisting of all the necessary systems to function a society properly, people exist almost within a caste system with the "up-toppers" as the upper-class with a "view" of the outside and the down deep levels of the working class. Because no one can go outside for fear of death, only those who are found guilty of a crime of some sort are sent to "cleaning," which allows them to go outside with only one requirement: to clean the cameras and sensors which invariably get thick with grime and distort the feed of the images of the outside world back to the silo's residents. It is always a death sentence to be sent outside.

Wool 1 sets the stage of introducing the silo, its residents and overall systems, and Mayor Jahns, Sheriff Holston, Deputy Marnes, and the IT group led by Bernard. It's been three years since the Sheriff's wife was sent outside, and he's never come to terms with it. Because I don't want to give anything away, I'll just vaguely describe that the remaining sections of Wool Omnibus delve into more characters, events, and such breathtaking moments of complete suspense that the idea of leaving the book to do something else seems utterly unimaginable. Everything is so intensely real that quite frankly, it's set the standard on any books I pick up for a long while. I still can't get these characters out of my head and I want more. My understanding is that there are at least three more parts to this tale and I am eagerly awaiting their releases.

I couldn't believe how sucked in I was. Each character was so thoroughly developed and the action so intense that I happily read the entire book on my iPhone. That means about 1200+ pages (screens?) that I flew through, desperate to know what happened next. It is one of the BEST books I have ever read in my LIFETIME, and is my absolute favorite book of the year. This, when released in print next year by Simon and Schuster, will be picked up on the day of release and will rest nicely on my bookshelf next to Stephen King's The Stand, Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth, and other favorites that I always want to have at my fingertips. As many of you know, science fiction is not one I'm that used to, so I can easily assure you that if your reading preferences include political corruption, mystery, thrillers, suspense, love, and more, I highly recommend that you step outside of your boundaries and do a dual risk of reading a self-published tale and one that just happens to be labeled as science fiction. The bottom line? I LOVED THIS BOOK.

Upcoming events to put on your calendar
  • Simon & Schuster to release a print version in March 2013 in the United States. (Or, just buy it now.)
  • Ridley Scott has optioned it for a film.
Others said:
Stainless Steel Droppings

Publisher: Broad Reach Publishing
Release Date: 4/6/12
Pages (screens?) on my iPhone: 1200+

FTC Disclosure: I purchased and downloaded this story directly to my iPhone.

About the Author
Hugh Howey is the bestselling author of the self-published phenomenon that is the Wool series. He is also the author of the Molly Fyde series and a host of others that can be found by clicking here. He currently lives in Jupiter, Florida with his wife, Amber, and his dog, Bella.

Visit the author:


With my reading preferences continuing to lean towards the epic fantasy and science fiction genres, I'm excited to participate in The 2013 Sci-Fi Experience, brought once again to you by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings. Over the past year I made a considerable number of changes, including not accepting the majority of review requests, and instead only reviewed the books I picked out for myself. The result was a much happier year in reading, without pressures. I'll definitely continue this ban on review requests simply because the blog has now become my "happy place" and I post only when I've reviewed a book that I've read, and not because I have a deadline to meet. This blog is a place I rest at when the work day is long.

Which means that when Carl has a reading event planned, it's never a challenge, just a chance to continue to do something different. I'm ready for the experience again and while I haven't picked specific books yet, I'm thinking Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs (I just watched the movie John Carter and had no idea that story came from a book written about a hundred years ago), Douglas Adams, and definitely more of Hugh Howey.  I also have a couple of George R.R. Martin sci-fi books that are signed by the author that I received sometime last year and have been meaning to get to.

Here's to a new year, my friends. Will you be trying something different in your reading preferences this year? Let me know if you plan to go outside of your comfort zone, your go-to selection of books, and try something "out there."

[Edited 8:38 am EST] I also noticed that there is a vintage sci-fi experience as well, so I'm definitely joining the Little Red Reviewer for her month of January with vintage sci-fi tales. And, in this case also, this is not-a-challenge. This is just for fun. I'm looking forward to it. Why not join along and try something new?


26 December 2012

Europa Challenge Holiday Swap Gift Exchange

Merry Christmas! I hope all who celebrate enjoyed their day with family, friends, and good food and mirth. I enjoyed my day the same, but my thoughts and prayers continue to be with the families of all those affected by the  horrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Two months ago, the incomparable Marie from The Boston Bibliophile organized the Europa Challenge Holiday Swap and I immediately signed up. Maria also is the creator and organizer of the Europa Challenge, and with a recent visit to Europa's offices on her trip to Italy, I am beginning to feel the motivation to join the challenge for 2013. I was a bad participant in this year's holiday swap as I somehow missed a pile of packages to be sent out in the first part of December that were hiding in my office, so the recipient of my Europa Holiday gift will find their UPS package today. My apologies to Marie and to Bibliosue for my embarrassing delay.

Michael from Vancouver, a documentary filmmaker currently creating a series on art in public spaces, sent me my delightful package and was much more prompt and considerate as I received his gift a few weeks ago with specific instructions to not open until Christmas. As much as I eagerly wanted to open up the package, I minded my manners (very hard for me to do at times) and opened up my gift last night. I had put my list together of options for the swap and was hoping one in the top of the order would be selected so I was thrilled The Nun was selected! The Nun is written by Simonetta Agnello Hornby and translated from Italian by Antony Shugaar. I cannot wait to dive into the story. Don't these covers selected by Europa Editions just call out to you? The painting is entitled Reflection, and the artist is John Francis (1808-1886).

Thank you  again, Michael, I so appreciate it. Happy Holidays and New Year to you and all my friends. Here's to a healthy, happy and, most especially, safe 2013.

Here's the description of The Nun from Europa Editions:
August 15, 1839. Messina, Italy. In the home of Marshall don Peppino Padellani di Opiri, preparations for the feast of the Ascension are underway. But for Agata, the Marshall’s daughter, there are more important matters at hand. She and the wealthy Giacomo Lepre have fallen in love, and her mother is determined to obstruct the consummation of their love. When Marshall don Peppino dies, Agata’s mother decides to ferry her daughter away from Messina, to Naples, where she hopes to garner a stipend from the King and keep her daughter far from trouble. The only boat leaving Messina that day is captained by the young Englishman, James Garson. 
Following a tempestuous passage to Naples, during which Agata confesses her troubles to James, Agata and her mother find themselves rebuffed by the king and Agata is forced to join a convent. The Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio Stilita is rife with rancor and jealousy, illicit passions and ancient feuds. Agata remains aloof, devoting herself to the cultivation of medicinal herbs, calmed by the steady rhythms of monastic life. She reads all the books James Garson sends her and follows the news of the various factions struggling to bring unity to Italy. Though she hasn’t chosen to enter a convent, and is divided between her yearnings for purity and religiosity and her desire to be part of the world, something about the cloistered life reverberates within her. Agata is increasingly torn when she realizes that her feelings for James Garson, though he is only a distant presence in her life, have eclipsed those for Lepre. 


22 December 2012

Saturday Snapshot...Anniversary in Maine Part I

It's been a busy year, so my Saturday Snapshot participation has reduced. What with all the expanded duties in my new role at work, my husband and I also found weekends were full as well. We finally took some time off a couple of months ago and headed to Boston to visit his family, and then spent our wedding anniversary in Maine. Can you guess where in Maine I wanted to go? Since I'm a Stephen King fan, I first wanted to head to Bangor, Maine to see the author's house, but it was much too far away. Instead, we settled on Ogunquit, which is a little over an hour or so from Boston. It also happens to be where the character I hated the most in The Stand was from. Yes, that's right. I hated Frannie, but Ogunquit is a resort town, so why not? We loved every minute we were in this beautiful neck of the woods. It was an overcast and rainy day when we got there, but I actually loved it. It really added to the atmosphere. I can't wait to go again and I hope it is cloudy and rainy once more.

For more Saturday Snapshots or to participate, please visit Alyce with At Home With Books.

This is our view from the balcony. We chose to stay in the older section of Beachmere Inn and I'm so glad that we did. If you go to their website, you'll see a longer building behind a smaller one that is positioned right at the water. That's the building we stayed in. A nicer group of people on staff you will not find, my friends. This is customer service at its finest.


14 December 2012

The Mist, by Stephen King

When in doubt, just read Stephen King.

So goes my mantra in 2012, and will continue on through next year and for many more to come. If I'm left conflicted between which of two books I want to read, I invariably drop both and end up going for Stephen King. Even with ones delivering a bizarre and unintentionally funny plot (*coughcough* The Tommyknockers), I usually always find something in it that ultimately leaves me happy and thrilled I read it. With this short story, I was extremely happy I settled into this for a rainy, cold evening in Virginia Beach.

A quick read at 230 pages, The Mist was originally published as part of an anthology of short stories included in the release of Dark Forces in 1980. It was released a few years ago as a novella and I guess now I'll have to rent the movie. (Although I will not hold my breath for it, King movies notoriously are poorly executed.)

David Drayton, his wife and young son live on Long Lake in Maine. After a particularly frightening series of storms one summer night forcing them to seek cover in their basement, the next morning unveils the beginning of an unnamed sense of dread. When David sees a weird mist of fog across the lake, quiet fear settles in. He heads to the store with his son and neighbor, and the mist moves even further, trapping the shop's customers in. It's here in this tiny supermarket, somewhere in Maine, that the battle for survival begins.

I marvel at King's ability to build tension.  It actually reminded me of the first part of The Stand and I was completely freaked out by the unknown constantly squawked to myself over and over "what is in the mist? Please, someone tell me, what the heck is that, oh my gawd, what is that??" and the subsequent breakdown of a group of people exiled from everything and other humans, a la Lord of the Flies. And while I was disappointed with one choice David made, he was otherwise a likable character.

The Mist hit the mark yet again for me; a great Stephen King tale to while away the time and scare the stuffing out of you. Diving once more into fear of the unknown, King doesn't meander into side stories much as it's confined to a shorter length, but don't expect for it to be tied up into one nice and neat little bow at the end, which even the main character points out. Instead, you can anticipate another solid story by the master of fear to keep you up late, late into the night.

The only thing missing? Stephen King's introduction or afterword of some sort. I have gotten used to reading his insights into the development of a story, most especially his self-deprecating humor, and I was looking forward to it.

Passage of Note
You know what talent is? The curse of expectation. As a kid you have to deal with that, beat it somehow. If you can write, you think God put you on earth to blow Shakespeare away. Or, if you can paint, maybe you think - I did - that God put you on earth to blow your father away.
Others said:

Publisher: Signet, a division of Penguin
Release Date: My copy is 2007, originally 1980
Pages: 230

FTC Disclosure: I purchased this from my local independent bookstore.

About the Author
Stephen King is the author of more than fifty novels, including The Stand, The Dark Tower series, It, The Shining, oh...what more can be written that one doesn't already know. So here you go, click here to visit this wicked cool author's official website.

The Stephen King Project. My education (and others') continues. The Mist is another selection for the challenge Kathleen and I are hosting. The site can be found (with other participants' reviews) here.


12 December 2012

Today I'm Over At...

...Alyce's blog, also known as At Home With Books, discussing the Best and Worst of author Katherine Neville. The Eight was her best, and her sequel to it The Fire, released almost twenty years later, was her worst, sadly. Have you read either of these? If so, please stop by and let me know your thoughts!


11 December 2012

Storm Front, by Jim Butcher

Last year, Carl held a readalong during RIP VI for Jim Butcher's Storm Front and I had it on my list to get to but couldn't fit it into my reading schedule. I was bummed since it seemed everyone had a good time with the story, so this weekend, I thought I'd dive right in. And while I didn't feel this introduction to the now-thirteen-book-series broke new ground, I don't think it needed to do anything other than set the stage for a very unique main character. I had a lot of fun with this story and am ready and excited to continue on with the series. I've heard it just gets better, so sign me up!

Harry Dresden is a wizard by trade. While not many believe his abilities, Lieutenant Karrin Murphy with the Chicago Police Department does, and regularly hires Harry to help out with more of her unusual cases. When the body of a top hired gun of Chicago's toughest mob boss is found murdered with a high-class escort in a brutal and seemingly magical way, it's up to Harry to find out what he can.  While many believe Harry is the only one who could conjure enough magic to commit the crimes, he has a limited amount of time to find out who really did the deeds since the secret White Council is scheduled to decide Harry's fate in a few days. And the ultimate sentence of death will be handed down.

This was just a lot of fun. Harry was a wonderful character who had sarcastic humor for days. The supporting cast of wildly bizarre demons, mob bosses, hired guns, and damsels in distress, set the stage for future books in the series and I'm looking forward to it. I found Butcher's ability to craft Harry's witty dialogue that delivered a zinger absolutely hilarious in certain scenes, and the working relationship Harry has with Karrin Murphy was refreshing. I enjoyed the barbs they threw back and forth at each other and am eager to see how this partnership develops. With an occasional noir-like atmosphere, Harry is the typical five o'clock shadow private eye helping the beautiful woman who walks into his office and asks for help. Sort of reminded me of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon and I dug it.

I've also read that the series gets even better, so you can bet I'll be committing to this one next year.

Publisher: A Roc Book, a division of Penguin
Release Date: 2000
Pages: 355

Others said:
Bibliophile's Corner
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Virginia Beach Public Library Recommends

About the Author:
A martial arts enthusiast, Jim Butcher has published thirteen installments to The Dresden Files series. It turned into a one season show on the SyFy Channel, cancelled for random ridiculous reasons leaving old and new fans confused. Hopefully, they'll bring the series back? Or make a movie? Either way, Jim Butcher is an author I'll be making time for in my 2013 reading experience.

Visit the author:


07 December 2012

Legion, by Brandon Sanderson (Audio Review)

When a trusted fellow blogger of audiobooks, The Guilded Earlobe, writes that he loved an audio so much he'd give it "a manly bear hug without bothering to take a moment to glance awkwardly around for witnesses," I pretty much knew that I'd have to download Legion, a two-hour audiobook (free on Audible.com until the end of 2012) immediately. And he was so right!

I've not experienced Brandon Sanderson's work previously, but his epic fantasy novels are ones that I have on my list and cannot wait to dive into. In Legion, Stephen Leeds is a fixer of many things and is well-paid to do so. What separates him from the rest of the fixers and investigators in this sci-fi/time travel tale is that Stephen has the help of an excellent team who are experts in everything from psychology, body language, military survival tactics, history, and linguistics. The only thing is that each member of his crack team are all parts of his multiple personalities, or as he calls them, aspects. He can see them, they talk to him, they are fully developed characters, and they are awesome. When Stephen is hired to find a missing person who has taken something that could have greater implications for all of humanity, the truth behind all religion, science, and more, the race is on, and Stephen and his aspects travel all the way to Israel to uncover the truth.

At only two hours long and narrated by one of the best audiobook narrators I've ever listened to, Legion is escapism literature at its finest. When the aspects are much more fully developed characters than in chunkster books I've read, you know it's going to be one of those stories that you make excuses to spend one-on-one time with, and no breaks to stop the flow. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in trying sci-fi, time travel, and speculative fiction, but don't want one that is highly confusing with a lot of separate story lines that you have to keep track of. This was a perfectly easy story to listen to, with such a unique approach that I, like The Guilded Earlobe, just wanted more. I wonder if he'll ever branch this out into a full book? I can only hope.

Others said:
The Guilded Earlobe (audio review)

Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Audio Time: 2 hours, 8 minutes
Release Date: 10/2/12
Narrator: Oliver Wyman

FTC Disclosure: I download this from Audible.com for free with their offer to all members that will expire at the end of this year. Hurry up and download this!

Audio Notes: Click here to listen to the incredible sample of Oliver Wyman. He was incredible! My favorite character, or favorite aspect of Stephen's, was Tobias, an older gentleman full of wisdom and historical knowledge. Or maybe it was JC, the military survival guy, who was absolutely hilarious in several scenes. I can't pick! The story and characters were so well-written, and with Oliver Wyman knocking it out of the park on audio, I just can't do a virtual standing ovation long enough!

About the Author
Brandon Sanderson is an American fantasy author with almost a decade of published work. With the wildly popular Mistborn series I plan to dive into soon, he is also known for his stellar work in completing Robert Jordan's epic fantasy series, The Wheel of Time, another series I have on my list.

Visit the author:

About the Narrator
Oliver Wyman is an established audio narrator with an extensive selection available on Audible.com. Click here to see all of the options. He has voiced a wide range of options including sci-fi, fantasy, and even memoirs, particularly with Audie Award Winner It's Not About the Bike, by Lance Armstrong.


26 November 2012

*This review is spoiler-free. Click here to read my review of the first book in the trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone.*

Well, my friends. Laini Taylor has hit it out of the park yet again with her sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and partnering yet again with incomparable audio narrator Khristine Hvam, I am simultaneously thrilled and pained that the wait has now begun for the final book.

Picking right up where Daughter of Smoke and Bone left off, this fast-paced and emotional book will not disappoint, as second books in trilogies sometimes can. Instead, Taylor sparkles with wit and depth, continuing the intelligent, wistful, and adventurous tale of Kerou, the heartbroken chimera. Left alone and considered a traitor, Kerou is still dealing with her conflicted feelings for Akiva, the seraphim angel. And although she is completely dedicated to her chimera people, and her wonderfully loyal and hilarious friends Zuzana and Mick (loved them!), Kerou doubts the leader of her chimera people, Thiago, and his motives. Final chapters leave the listener reeling, shocked by events, and breathless for the final book.

I refuse to divulge anything more for fear that it might give anything away for either book in the series, however suffice it to say that:
  • Book 2 is just as spectacular, creative, and innovative as Book 1
  • It is excellent on audio
  • It is the perfect book to listen to while running (it will make you run longer just to hear what happens next)
  • I wish that this was a longer series simply because I believe that Taylor has created a universe just as full and magnificent, and could equal a long duration, as the successful Harry Potter series
  • Bottom Line: You should read this
That is all I can say about this stunning Young Adult fantasy tale of angels and monsters, good versus evil, love and heartache, loyalty and betrayal. Laini Taylor keeps the fierce momentum going in Days of Blood and Starlight, powering through to the final emotional scenes, that ultimately leave you determined for more. Well done yet again, Ms. Taylor!

Audio Notes: Khristine Hvam returns to book two, thank goodness, and is a theatrical genius. I enjoyed her brilliant narration for all characters. Each is distinct and memorable. Click here to listen to a sample.

Parental Notes: While the books are for an older young adult crowd, bear in mind that while it should be expected that there are battle-worthy moments of sword fighting and more, this one has moved a little more into scenes with consensual s3x, but also attempted s3xual assault. These are tougher to read/hear than the previous story. Make sure you have a conversation with your young reader to see if they have any questions.

Others said:

Publisher: Hachette Audio
Release Date: 11/6/12
Audio Time: 15 hours, 25 minutes
Narrator: Khristine Hvam

FTC Disclosure: I downloaded this from Audible.com

About the Author (from her website)
Laini Taylor is the author of 3 novels including the Dreamdark books. She was also a finalist for the National Book Awards for Lips Touch: Three Times. She lives in Oregon with her husband and daughter.

Visit the author:
About the narrator
Khristine Hvam is a successful narrator with an established history of performances ranging from commercials for radio, tv, and film, documentaries, video games, audiobooks, and more. For a list of audiobooks available on Audible.com, click here.

Visit her:


20 November 2012

No Black Friday Here. I Like to Shop Small.

In the Coffee and a Book Chick house, we prefer to participate in Small Business Saturday. The idea of competing with a gazillion other buyers at the larger franchise stores is just stressful. Instead, contributing to the growth in the economy by supporting locally-owned businesses is much more helpful, not to mention extremely fun! And as you can imagine, independent bookstores are a treat to shop at. To help you with your shopping efforts this season, I've compiled a snapshot of those I've been lucky enough to visit this year. Add your favorite independent bookstore in the comments to give them some word-of-mouth marketing! If you aren't familiar with one in your area, click the button on the sidebar to help navigate to one in your town.

Neptune Beach, Florida
For six years, I lived in the North Florida area by Neptune Beach, outside of Jacksonville and was so thankful that The Book Mark was located in such a cute part of town right by the beach. Swing by and support Rona's shop! She and her team are extremely helpful and they always have phenomenal authors stopping by. On a recent trip to Florida, I purchased The Malice of Fortune and Shantaram (which I'm currently reading and the only thing I can share is WOW! Shantaram is amazing).

Prince Books
Norfolk, Virginia
Moving bak to the Virginia Beach area, I head into Norfolk when I can and shop at Prince Books. It's also attached to a great cafe.

Cambridge, Massachusetts
On a recent trip to Boston and Maine, my husband and I swung by Porter Square Books. In the blogging world, you all may be familiar with this wonderful bookstore because The Boston Bibliophile is one of their booksellers. She was on an envy-inducing vacation to beautiful Italy at the time we stopped in, but we still happily browsed and purchased a couple books to support the store. I bought Live by Night by Dennis Lehane (it's autographed!) and I can't wait to dive in.

Wilmington, Delaware
This was a recent and fantastic find! When I was in Delaware recently for business, I had an opportunity to swing by the Ninth Street Book Shop in Wilmington on the way home to Virginia. Meeting the owner Gemma was a delight; a nicer and more helpful person you will not find, I assure you. If ever in the Wilmington area, do make certain you swing by her store and support Gemma and Jack's new location. I bought Tana French's The Likeness which I can't wait to get into, considering how much I enjoyed her debut In the Woods.


19 November 2012

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell (Audio Review)

I make this commitment today: I will never again listen to a book while I am running if it requires complete and total focus and concentration on each and every single word. If I learn in advance that a book requires this much attention, plus so much, much more, I will consider it another form of exercise and will instead pick up the printed version.

One of two things happened for me with this book. Either I should only have read the printed format, or I am just too feeble-minded to understand the complexities, nuances, and brilliance of this novel.

Broken into six stories from different characters in multiple time periods, David Mitchell tackles the connection one life has to another, ultimately coming full circle to the initial start. Without question, this is an extremely intelligent story, and the attempt to interweave each tale is unique.

The Six Stories

The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing

Starting in the 19th century on a Pacific island, Adam Ewing is waiting for his ship to be repaired. While there, he meets a variety of people including Dr. Henry Goose and a slave from the peaceful Moriori tribe named Autua. Adam continues his personal documentation of his travels and while waiting for his ship, he begins to feel ill and Henry begins to take care of him.

This was a challenging introduction to the story. Written in convoluted nineteenth-century prose, I found it quite distracting with my concentration veering off a bit. It ends abruptly at the partial conclusion of Adam's journal entries, which had it not been for a note on Audible.com's site, I completely would have thought that I had a faulty copy. Apparently, David Mitchell designed it to be jarring, and he was successful with it.

Letters from Zedelghem
The story jumps to the 1930s and Robert Frobisher is in Belgium working with a famous composer. He writes letters to his lover Rufus Sixsmith, while simultaneously having an affair with the composer's wife. He finds the journal of Adam Ewing, but what he finds is incomplete.

I also found this story challenging in both the accent and the method of narration delivery, and considered taking a break from listening. I found the story interesting, but difficult to focus on.

Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery
Jumping to 1975 in California, Luisa Rey is a journalist with a tabloid newspaper, but wants to break out of this type of reporting. She begins an investigation into the local nuclear power plant and meets Rufus Sixsmith, who was the recipient of the letters in the previous story with Robert Frobisher. He reveals to Luisa that the plant is unsafe and she begins to pursue the investigation.

This jumped out as my favorite story thus far. Narrated by favorite Cassandra Campbell, I found this to be the easiest to understand and was the most engaged in the investigation Luisa was working on. I was heartbroken when the story shifted to the next tale as I wanted to hear more about Luisa.

The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish
Ah, Timothy Cavendish. A publisher with considerable financial problems in the present day, Cavendish's brother helps him escape from thuggish collectors to a hotel far from home. It's only until the next day that Cavendish realizes that he is not in a hotel, but rather in a nursing home. Cavendish struggles to explain to the hospital staff, his "captors," that it's a mistake and he must return home.

This was hilarious. While it was a little all over the place, I enjoyed this part and ended up not regretting the shift from Luisa's story to Timothy's. I felt so bad for him, yet found his humor to be delightful.

An Orison of Somni-451
Jumping to the future in a dystopian world set somewhere in Korea, an interview between two people is shared. The interviewer is the archivist documenting the events of Somni-451, a cloned human being, or a fabricant. A fabricant is not truly aware of who they are and is solely created to perform menial tasks that need to be done in this futuristic society, and Somni-451 works in a fast food restaurant. She slowly ends up becoming aware of herself, but this self-awareness and the actions coming from this are not approved of.

While I completely understood this story and that the narrator was supposed to deliver the tale in a way that would convey that the speaker was not fully aware of who they were to a certain extent, it was too robotic, or monotonous, for me to be truly engaged. Granted, I felt the "hollowness" that Somni-451 was experiencing, and I was horrified by certain sections, but I wasn't pulled into this one as much as I know I should have been.

Sloosha' Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After
Zachry is now an old man and is relaying the adventures of his youth. Living in Hawaii, the world is now in a dystopian state, after a major catastrophic event that caused those who survived to live in an extremely primitive state. Meronym, a woman who is a "Prescient," visits the island to study Zachry and his people. He regrets her visit and observation, considering it an intrusion and an insult, yet is confused with whether he can trust her or not.

While one of the more crucial tales reflecting the connections to others, this was by far my absolute least favorite.  In fact, this was PAINFUL. I so wanted it to end. The dialect and verbiage used was extremely challenging to understand, and unlike the other stories in which just when I was starting to understand what was happening, things switched to a new tale, I never quite completely felt like I "got" Zachry's story. Words were shortened for this made-up dialect, and it was annoying. Usually, when I listen to the audio format, it's much easier to understand dialect, but not in this case. "Spesh" meant special, "un'stan" (or something like that) meant "understand," etc. Given that this was the only tale to be told without interruption, I was floundering through it and praying it would just. end. already.

What's the bottom line?
While I will emphatically state that each story had a certain triggering event that would make my ears perk and I waited for more of that intrigue to continue, invariably, one story would jarringly shift to the next and I was left wistful, wishing a little more was given so that I could sink my teeth into it and really grasp the meaning.

I just couldn't get into the story, though. I found the complicated method of storytelling to be confusing and mostly abstract, and for the most part, I was perplexed by the events. I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm not bright enough for the intricacies of the tale, especially the audiobook while running! (Maybe I just don't have my wits about me? Possible.) I do plan on watching the film; perhaps the greater reveals of the story's brilliance will finally be unfolded for me then.

That all being said, it would be a book that could be read more than once, simply because so much is involved with each character; one reading is really not enough. With an abundance of themes, ranging from corporate corruption, racism, sexism, and more, for the right reader, this will keep you thinking for days. For me, it was all just a blur.

Passages of Note (both from The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish)
Books don't offer real escape but they can stop a mind from scratching itself raw.
Looking back, I see that Ernie tolerated my posturing because he knew Veronica was only humoring me. Ernie had never read a work of fiction in his life. "Always a radio man, me." But watching him coax the Victorian boiler system to life one more time, I always felt shallow. It's true. Reading too many novels makes you go blind.
Audio Notes
Multiple narrators always ease the listener with cues on the shift in perspective, which is helpful. This was the case with Cloud Atlas as well, and I felt most drawn to the narration of Luisa Rey and Timothy Cavendish as they were the most engaging and delivered extremely well. You can listen to a sample from Audible.com by clicking here.

Others said:
Buttery Books
Care's Online Book Club
Leeswammes' Blog
Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity
The New Dork Review of Books

Publisher: Random House Audio
Release Date: 11/23/04
Audio Time: 19 hours, 33 minutes
Narrators: Scott Brick, Cassandra Campbell, Kim Mai Guest, Kirby Heybourne, John Lee, Richard Matthews

FTC Disclosure: I purchased this from Audible.com

About the Author (from his website)
David Mitchell is the acclaimed author of the novels Black Swan Green, which was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of the Year by Time; Cloud Atlas, which was a Man Booker Prize finalist; Number9Dream, which was short-listed for the Man Booker as well as the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; and Ghostwritten, awarded the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for best book by a writer under thirty-five and short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award. He lives in Ireland.

Visit the author:


12 November 2012

In the Woods, by Tana French

Finally. FINALLY! I have finally read Tana French and yes, I feel complete.

I might be a wee bit dramatic, but how lovely was it to read this psychological thriller with a narrator who tells you right off the bat that he's a liar, combined with a new homicide that pulls in a twenty-year-old cold case with no identifiable killer? Reading this confirmed what every reviewer said about it. Fantastic! It was a delightful trip to Florida last weekend as I was immediately consumed by this creepy story.

First in the series for the Dublin Murder Squad, Tana French has obviously knocked it out of the park on her debut published in 2007. Opening with a horrific event from 1984, three children set out into the woods near their home for an afternoon of fun in Knocknaree, Ireland. Only one boy returns. Rather, he is discovered after a fearful search, catatonic and against a tree in complete distress, his eyes seeing something no one else witnesses, unable to share what happened to his two friends.

Twenty years later, that young boy, Rob Ryan, has grown up into a police homicide detective. Still unable to recall any of the events of that fateful night, Rob is partnered with Cassie, a new homicide detective into the group, and their pairing brings them to the discovery of a missing child, found near the very same woods in Rob's hometown of Knocknaree. Could it be the same killer? As Rob and Cassie delve into the case even further, Rob dives deeper and deeper into the case, to the point of sleepless nights and too much alcohol. When he begins to see things, confused events that blend with past memories that are just now starting to come out, even his trusted partner Cassie begins to feel a trickle of doubt.

I don't think I can do this book justice and convey eloquently how incredibly caught up I was in this story. French's writing is what brings psychological thrillers to the next level, and each characters' story is delivered efficiently, yet with striking prose, and I know I would be remiss if I didn't pick up her next books immediately upon release date. The strength of this story is not just in the chilling plot itself, but more with French's characters, each of whom have a past to contend with. Partners Rob and Cassie are an incredible duo, and certain events they experience throughout this case simultaneously made me giddy with glee and heartbreakingly devastated. What a fearless and fierce debut!

There's no question I will collect Tana French's first edition hardcovers to put on my shelves for permanent safekeeping.  And as much as I love horror stories (I listened to the audiobook for The Exorcist, for cryin' out loud), there were several sections in this book that I actually found much creepier (which I loved, by the way).

Tana French delivers a powerful debut, a mystery mixed full with psychological conundrums and beautiful writing, with the final pages resulting in a combination of sadness for its end, and anticipation for the next in the series. With a brilliant story and characters, and a questionable ending which can only be served by following the series, this intelligently told tale will keep you engrossed in its pages long after closing the book.

Publisher: Penguin Group USA
Release Date: 5/27/08
Pages: 464

Others said (If I've missed your review, let me know so I can link to it here):

FTC Disclosure: I purchased the book two years ago.

About the Author (from her website)
Tana French is the Edgar Award winning author for In the Woods and the author of The Likeness, Faithful Place, and Broken Harbor. She grew up in Ireland, Italy, the US and Malawi, and has lived in Dublin since 1990. She trained as a professional actress at Trinity College, Dublin, and has worked in theatre, film and voiceover.

Visit the author:


01 November 2012

The Twelve, by Justin Cronin

This is the second in The Passage trilogy.

In The Passage, told mostly through emails and journal entries, the world was destroyed by a virus created in a government lab, injected into twelve death row inmates. Breaking free from confinement, these "virals" possess increased strength, power, and infinity, living off human blood. Within months, the world once known is no more. One hundred years later, the Colony survives in a self-imposed compound, protected by the lights that shine throughout night, shielding them from virals. When the batteries keeping the lights on die, the Colony must find another way to survive.

The Twelve picks up where The Passage left off from the first section, immediately following the aftermath in Year Zero. Moving from that year and progressing with certain sections throughout the next 100 years, the original Colony residents (Peter, Michael, Alicia, and Amy) return and the remaining humans in America have created small factions of government and military. Members of the Colony have immersed into the world, several lost. Finding the original group, led by Amy, a young girl who, while her blood is merged with the virus injected into her by the government lab 100 years prior, doesn't live off blood at all. The only indication that she is different is that it has taken her a century to grow from an adolescent to a young woman, but she also possesses a powerful internal way to communicate with the original Twelve virals, and their "Many." Through a violent journey that encompasses a wide range of villains from the original twelve virals, their Many, and from corrupted humans enslaving their own, The Twelve is another fierce installment in the trilogy.

My Thoughts.
First, let me say I read The Passage and I loved it. I couldn't put it down and read it in a few days. The initial jump from events following the aftermath to 100 years later with the Colony was a little jarring at first, but then I settled into it. One note I had from that reading was that I didn't like how Cronin would lead you into a spectacular event and then the section would end. The next page would be the results of that spectacular event, but he never allowed you to dig your heels into what was actually happening as it occurred. That was frustrating, and it happened often enough that I made a note of it, but all in all, it was an incredible story and world, and I loved every page of it.

I picked up The Twelve the day it was released. It was ON. I was ready to pick the amazing story back up and for the first one hundred or so pages, I was enjoying it. I thought.

You know that feeling you have when you pick up a random book because it sounds amazing and right away, you feel unsure, brushing off the disjointed storytelling because you're confident it will clear up soon? There's this nagging suspicion that maybe, the book is part of a series and you might be right in the middle of it? Yeah, you know what I'm talking about.

The problem is that I obviously knew this was the 2nd in a trilogy. I read the first one and I loved it. I knew the characters, I knew the story.

While I didn't mind that Cronin jumped right into Year Zero and introduced new characters following the aftermath of the virals' exposure to humans, I was disappointed. The Passage concluded with such intensity that I was ready to pick up from there, keeping consistent pace with tension-building and fear. Once I realized that just wasn't going to happen, I settled in with the characters and spent 150 pages with them and it was...interesting. It was decidedly slow, and there was just not a lot of suspense, at least not the way Cronin was so magnificent with building in The Passage, and so I spent the majority of my time fighting this horrible guilt, aware that I wasn't enjoying it. I was confused with the jump in timelines and I had this eerie and remote sense of detachment. It is a clear-cut lesson for me that if the time between installments in a series is more than two years, I simply need to re-read the one that came right before it. Or, at the very least, I need to hop onto Wikipedia and read the Cliff Notes version of the book to remind myself of events and characters. (Which I didn't think of until later.)

Yet even re-reading The Passage, I still would have waffled in confusion. There were too many new characters, and events which jumped all over the place. I spent the majority of my time drifting aimlessly and I even rushed through events in the end. I can't believe I did that.

There were just too many confusing elements, events, new characters that came and went, and timeline switches to be engaging. I missed the mostly epistolary format Cronin used in The Passage. With increased melodrama and shocking soap-opera like moments (Wait, that's really her father? And then someone else found their daughter?!), it just missed the mark for me. Don't get me wrong, I'll still pick up the final installment, but this post serves as a reminder for me to be more on guard. I missed the original universe, the feeling of being swept away into a story, the scary setup of the story, and most especially the refined method of storytelling Cronin previously implemented. This was just a little too scattered for me to really get into. I'm so disappointed to share that.

But, I have no idea what I'm talking about.
As I always say (er, write) in my posts, please remember that there is a reader for every book, and my opinion is simply my own. There are more than enough readers who loved this book. A simple check on Goodreads should give you more insight. After all, it currently has a 4.18 starred review rating, coming from 1,786 readers.

Favorite Characters.
  • Alicia. She rocked. Didn't understand the scenes where she was confined, or with Sod, though.
  • Ah, the disgusting Guilder. There was a lot of depth to the early introductions of his character and the reasons that clouded his judgement. While the concluding pages of his deterioration were a bit insane, I will recall fondly how villainous and interesting he was in the first half of the book.
  • Lila has gone cray-cray. Oh, Lila, you are nuts. But sheesh, you're funny even when it's horrifyingly sad and I think you're awesome.
  • Danny. I just love this guy. The determined bus driver who tries to drive everyone to safety. I want to be your friend. If they do end up making the movies for this trilogy, you doggone better be in it.
  • Peter and Michael. Equal parts goodness. Loved ya both.

Characters I didn't care about.
  • Amy. Sorry, I just wasn't as interested in her tale. Although I did feel the sad points in her interactions with Wolgast. Broke my heart.
  • Lore. I just thought she was a little over-sexed and it didn't seem genuine.

Comparisons to The Stand?
I felt bad for Cronin a couple years ago when readers began comparing The Passage trilogy to Stephen King's The Stand. When I first read The Passage in January 2011, I hadn't read King's epic tale, so I couldn't see it. This year, however, I did read The Stand, and yes, I can completely see why there were multiple comparisons. There really are a lot of similarities, and for a few excellent side-by-side references, head on over to Fizzy Thoughts' page. I would also add to her list that Lacey was essentially Mother Abagail from The Stand and that Farmstead in The Passage trilogy is Hemingford Home. If I were to continue to make comparisons, though, I would say that while Cronin has a gift for writing, I much prefer King's "plainspeak." There's just no fluffed up pretty way to spell out that it's a cold day, for example, so in King's world, it just is so damn cold it'll freeze your n1pples off. Know what I'm sayin'?

But, either way, The Twelve, while it didn't work for me, picked the story ball up and carried it for yet another game. I'm still committed to Justin Cronin's trilogy and I will eagerly await the final installment.

Publisher: Ballantine Books, an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group
Release Date: 10/16/12
Pages: 568

Others said:
A Bookish Way of Life
The Boston Bibliophile
Fizzy Thoughts
The Guilded Earlobe (audio review)

FTC Disclosure: I purchased this book from my local bookstore in Virginia Beach.

About the Author
Born in New England, Justin Cronin is the author of Mary and O'Neil, which won the Pen/Hemingway Award and the Stephen Crane Prize, and The Summer Guest.  Having earned his MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, Cronin is now a professor of English at Rice University and lives with his family in Houston, Texas.

Visit the author:

This is my final selection for Carl's RIP celebration. For other participants' reviews, please click here.