The Sunday Salon

sundaysalon2Good morning! How was your holiday? My Christmas was good but very quiet. We didn’t really do gifts this year, but we had a great dinner Christmas day that my mother-in-law cooked, had a super relaxing Christmas Eve night with just the hubby and myself, and as we both worked the rest of the week, nothing much else to note. Yesterday was my birthday! And I had a great day. After working long hours the week of Christmas I gave myself the day off yesterday and tomorrow for a nice four-day weekend! I was inundated with birthday texts, phone calls, and Facebook messages all day yesterday – people sure do know how to make a girl feel loved! And last night my wonderful hubby took me out to dinner at Mitchell’s Fish Market after stopping at The Wine Room (one of my very favorite places) for a glass of wine. Today we plan to finally see Les Miz (SO excited, yay!) and then head to Universal for a few hours with my sister-in-law. New Years Eve will bring dinner out with friends, and New Years Day will bring reading, blogging, grilling out, and probably fun things like laundry and cleaning. ;)

I’m enjoying reading everyone’s 2012 wrap-up posts. In case you missed it, last week I spotlighted my favorite books read this year in nonfiction, audio, YA, and adult fiction. I read some great books and even though I read fewer books this year than I have in the past, I’m still happy with my reading year overall.

I don’t plan to set any concrete reading goals for myself for next year, other than the fact that I’d like to be a bit more discriminatory about what I do read. I want to read books I will love, not just books that are okay or even that I like. Also, I have a bunch of books from SIBA that I would like to get to as well as the huge TBR bookshelf I’ve had forever and keep adding to. So I guess a loose goal would be to read from my own collection, but I say that every year and it rarely happens. So we’ll see. ;)

I’m off to enjoy the rest of my day. What are your plans for New Years? And any goals for 2013?

Happy New Year everyone! Let’s make it a great one. :)

Faves from 2012: Adult fiction

Here are my favorite adult novels I read this year, in no particular order. This was the category I had the hardest time with, I truly read a lot of great adult fiction this year, and I couldn’t narrow the list down to five, so you get six faves today!

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh [my review] – One book that made me cry a LOT. There is a lot of pain and sadness in this one, but also it’s absolutely gorgeous, and if you can get through the emotional upheaval, the end result is totally worth it. I promise.

The Slap by Chris Tsiolkas [my review] – This novel, which begins by a man slapping another person’s child at a backyard get together and gets into how that one act had far-reaching and disastrous consequences, was one of the more unique books I’ve read in a while. And the writing is so unbelievably good.

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan [my review] – So this is a somewhat slow, quieter novel, but my goodness did this thing shatter my soul. Jordan has a crazy-amazing storytelling ability and her writing is flawless. I loved, loved this book and couldn’t stop thinking about it after I finished it.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn [my review] – Yes, I realize this was one of the most hyped books this year, but if you want my opinion I have to say the hype was right on. I could not believe the adventure this novel took me on and my mouth hung open in shock for the majority of the time I spent reading it. Plus, it inspired me to pick up Flynn’s other two novels this year, and I will tell you that they are both also great. She is another one that has crazy-amazing talent. In a creepy way, sure, but still – the girl can write.

The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel [my review] – I met Emily at SIBA and found myself totally speechless, in a haze of star-struck idiocy. She is an absolutely brilliant writer and this book is like nothing I’d read before. I am now kicking myself for not getting to her other novels this year as I should have. I loved this one SO much.

Broken Harbor by Tana French [my review] – I had to sneak this one in here because Tana French is so fantastic and I was so happy to get to read another of her novels this year. Like all her previous books, this one blew me away and I found myself once again in awe of her unbelievable talent. Absolutely phenomenal, her books are for me. Every time.

Well that’s all for my 2012 favorites! What were some of your favorite books this year?

Faves from 2012: YA fiction

In no particular order, here are my top five YA books I read in 2012.

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr [my review] – I’ve always really liked Sara Zarr’s novels, and this one might be her best yet. The characters are real, the issues they face are even more so, and everything comes together in a beautiful, brilliant way. And it made me sob, in public no less. So this is a favorite for sure.

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver [my review] – This follow-up to Oliver’s Delirium did not disappoint. The action was there, the characters were developed in a way that made them feel even more true, and it ended with a HUGE bang that made me waiting desperately for the conclusion to the trilogy. I loved it.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth [my review] – Yet another middle-of-trilogy book that was as strong as its predecessor. I really enjoy this series, mainly because the main character Tris is kick-ass, and secondly because it’s set in Chicago, and this one made me supremely excited for the next installment in the series.

A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan [my review] – What I liked about this one so much is that Sheehan took a really unique concept and created a great story and excellent characters around it. In all, this novel was the total package for me. Plus, while I do love my series books, this is a standalone novel! Something refreshing to see in the age of a new YA series popping up every week, it seems.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness [my review] – Oh my heart! This book, this gorgeous, devastating  brilliant, heartbreaking book, it practically killed me. There is nothing else I need to say about this one other than: read it.

Stay tuned tomorrow, for the final installment of my favorite books of 2012, where I’ll be focusing on adult fiction!

Faves from 2012: Nonfiction

Here are my top five nonfiction books I’ve read this year, in no particular order.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn [my review] – A foodie memoir with recipes, what more could a girl ask for? Not only that, but the writing is great, the memoir reads almost like a novel, and the recipes are easy and the one I made was absolutely delicious! Totally loved this one.

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber [my review] – Okay, so this wasn’t a perfect book, but I did really like it and found it incredibly inspiring. Not only that, but it really hit home for me and resonated with many of my own personal experiences. If you like come-to-Jesus type memoirs, this is a really great choice.

MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche [my review] – I put this one on my list because I so got where Rachel was coming from. It is HARD to make friends as an adult woman. We women have a million things going on – jobs, husbands/boyfriends, family commitments, household chores, children in some cases – it’s hard to find the time to create and maintain new friendships. I also enjoyed this one so much because I liked Rachel’s personality and found it very easy to relate to her.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein [my review] – This is a really eye-opening look at the princess culture girls today are being raised in and inundated with from every angle. Orenstein never sensationalizes what she’s studying; rather, she gets down to the nitty-gritty and really gets to the heart of what’s going on. She also makes it clear that there are no easy answers to the question of the “right” way to raise a daughter.

Field to Feast: Recipes Celebrating Florida’s Farmers, Chefs, and Artisans by Pam Brandon, Katie Farmand, and Heather McPherson [my review] – This is an absolutely amazing, must-own cookbook. The recipes are great, the pictures are gorgeous, and the spirit is of using local, high-quality ingredients to make delicious food. I loved every single thing about this cookbook.

Up tomorrow: my favorites in young adult fiction!

Faves from 2012: Audios

Here are my five favorite audiobooks I’ve listened to this year, in no particular order:

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson [my review] – This is a LONG audio but it’s well worth the time commitment it requires. Even though I’m not really an Apple person, the life and legacy of Jobs is absolutely fascinating and this audio is done amazingly well.

A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard [my review] – While Jaycee’s story can only be described as disturbing and heartbreaking, her bravery and resilience is something that needs to be understood. The fact that she narrates this audio herself takes it to that next level, and the entire thing had me riveted as I listened in shock but also awe of this remarkable woman.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline [my review] – This one made a lot of people’s “best of” lists last year, so I’d be surprised if you haven’t read it. But if you are in that camp, go with the audio. I’m telling you, the narration by Wil Wheaton brings this to life in an amazing way. The book itself is fantastic, but the audio brings it all together to a level of perfection we don’t see too often.

The Chaperone by Laura Morairty [my review] – If you read my review of this one, you may be surprised to find it on this list because I didn’t love the narrator’s accent. However, I loved so much else about this book and its audio production that I couldn’t leave it off my list. Fantastic novel and a great audio, overall.

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson [my review] – This should really say, “anything and everything by Joshilyn Jackson, as long as it’s narrated by Joshilyn Jackson”. While this particular book wasn’t my absolute favorite of Jackson’s, her narration as always was spot-on and such a joy to listen to that I couldn’t leave it off my list. Nothing she writes is bad, and nothing she narrates is less than fantastic.

Stay tuned tomorrow for my top five nonfiction reads this year!

Astray by Emma Donoghue

AstrayAstray by Emma Donoghue
Published by Little, Brown and Company, an imprint of Hachette
Review copy received at SIBA

From the publisher:

The fascinating characters that roam across the pages of Emma Donoghue’s stories have all gone astray: they are emigrants, runaways, drifters, lovers old and new. They are gold miners and counterfeiters, attorneys and slaves. They cross other borders too: those of race, law, sex, and sanity. They travel for love or money, incognito or under duress.

With rich historical detail, the celebrated author of Room takes us from puritan Massachusetts to revolutionary New Jersey, antebellum Louisiana to the Toronto highway, lighting up four centuries of wanderings that have profound echoes in the present. Astray offers us a surprising and moving history for restless times.

To say I was excited about this book when it caught my attention at SIBA would be an understatement. I was blown away by Donoghue’s genius with Room and highly anticipated whatever she wrote next. I do tend to enjoy short stories so I was even more looking forward to this one when I heard that’s what this book was.

I have to say, that although I did enjoy Astray, it wasn’t love like I was hoping for. What’s great about this book is that Donoghue’s writing is just as wonderful as I wanted it to be, and I appreciated the fact that all the stories did have a theme in common with one another. I also really enjoyed that each story has some aspect of historical truth to it, and after each story Donoghue enlightens the reader on what that truth is and how she was inspired by a particular person or event in history to write an entire short story around said person or event.

What I didn’t love, and this happens a lot with short story collections, is that I didn’t feel a consistency in how compelling the stories were throughout the book. A few I really liked, a few were just okay, and there were unfortunately one or two stories in this collection that bored me. So while the truth is that I was disappointed in some of the stories in this collection, there were aspects of the overall picture that I did enjoy tremendously. Because of that, I would still recommend reading Astray if you have enjoyed Donoghue’s work in the past and/or if you are a lover of short story collections.

The Sunday Salon

It just occurred to me that I haven’t done a Sunday Salon post in a LONG time! I guess I have been busy these past many Sundays! Where have I been? Let’s see … well, there was Thanksgiving. We went out this year so my mother-in-law didn’t have to cook, and we had a delicious Thanksgiving lunch at a restaurant near her house. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, hubby and I left on a cruise to St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Nassau, which was fabulous, super relaxing, just an excellent vacation in a million ways. It was the perfect thing he and I both needed to relax and recharge.

Since we’ve been back, it’s been working and a little fun too. I’ve really tried to get back into the gym pretty seriously these past few weeks, as hubby and I are looking at potentially going on a short trip to the Bahamas (for work!!) in March – if we go on this trip, I will be wearing my swim suit in front of my boss, hubby’s boss, many of our colleagues, etc., and I want to not feel yucky as I do that. So, I’ve got 3 months to get myself into some semblance of decent shape and I’m working hard already.

This particular week was a busy one. I worked a lot of hours, had a full day of training on Wednesday about some upcoming changes at work next year, had my work Christmas party on Wednesday, and book club on Thursday. I got a gorgeous Coach case for my Nook from my employees, which I love, and which made me super excited for my other work Christmas party this coming Tuesday – my colleagues and I got together and got an amazing gift for our boss and I can’t wait to see his face when we give it to him! We all agree that we are lucky to work for him and it will be great to show our appreciation with this awesome gift. Yay!

So, I did read a lot of books over my vacation which is exciting because now I have enough things to review to schedule myself through most of January. This week, I’ll have a review up Monday, and then the rest of the week will be devoted to my “best of” lists. I’ll feature my favorites from this year in nonfiction, audio, YA fiction, and adult fiction. Stay tuned for those!

And after that, I plan to go dark the week of Christmas. There are just too many things going on in everyone’s lives to read blogs, I think. So you’ll see me back after New Years!

If I don’t speak to you before then, have a fabulous holiday and a Happy New Year to you and your loved ones. :)