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. :)

Red Rain by R.L. Stine

Red RainRed Rain by R.L. Stine
Published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

From the publisher:

Before there was J. K. Rowling, before there was Stephenie Meyer or Suzanne Collins, there was R.L. Stine. Witty, creepy, and compulsively readable, his books defined horror for a generation of young readers— readers who have now come of age. In Red Rain, Stine uses his unerring knack for creating terror to tap into some very grownup fears. Travel writer Lea Sutter finds herself on a small island off the coast of South Carolina, the wrong place at the wrong time. A merciless, unanticipated hurricane cuts a path of destruction through the island and Lea barely escapes with her life.

In the storm’s aftermath, she discovers two orphaned boys—twins. Filled with a desire to do something to help, to make something good of all she witnessed, Lea impulsively decides to adopt them. The boys, Samuel and Daniel, seem amiable and immensely grateful; Lea’s family back on Long Island—husband Mark, a child psychologist, and their two children, Ira and Elena—aren’t quite so pleased. But even they can’t anticipate the twins’ true nature—or predict that, within a few weeks’ time, Mark will wind up implicated in two brutal murders, with the police narrowing in.

I read a LOT of R.L. Stine when I was younger. I think I read every single Fear Street book that I could find at my local library, and before that I read most of the Goosebumps books. I was somewhat nervous about reading Red Rain, though, because I couldn’t imagine how Stine’s style would translate to an adult audience. And I have to be honest here and say that I was right to be worried – I didn’t enjoy this one much. I felt like I was reading a Fear Street book – it was written as if for a teen or even older middle grade audience, but with a lot of sex and swear words thrown in to maybe make it more of an adult book. I don’t know about you, but gratuitous sex and random curse words does NOT magically turn a book into one for adult audiences. For me, those elements were simply annoying and unnecessary.

Besides that, I didn’t love what Stine did with the story. I was somewhat interested in the concept, but once it got going I became frustrated with every one of the characters as they failed to see what was so blatantly in front of their eyes. Also, who randomly decides to take home a set of twin boys? It was just strange, and not at all realistic in my opinion.

I don’t want to rip the book apart too much, so I’ll stop here and just say that I’m sad to say Red Rain disappointed me. While I can’t recommend the book, perhaps certain readers who are really excited to read something new from R.L. Stine may want to check it out.

Broken Harbor by Tana French

Broken Harbor by Tana French
Published by Viking Adult, an imprint of Penguin

From the publisher:

Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, the brash cop from Tana French’s bestselling Faithful Place, plays by the book and plays hard. That’s what’s made him the Murder squad’s top detective—and that’s what puts the biggest case of the year into his hands.

On one of the half-built, half-abandoned “luxury” developments that litter Ireland, Patrick Spain and his two young children are dead. His wife, Jenny, is in intensive care.

At first, Scorcher and his rookie partner, Richie, think it’s going to be an easy solve. But too many small things can’t be explained. The half-dozen baby monitors, their cameras pointing at holes smashed in the Spains’ walls. The files erased from the Spains’ computer. The story Jenny told her sister about a shadowy intruder who was slipping past all the locks.

And Broken Harbor holds memories for Scorcher. Seeing the case on the news sends his sister Dina off the rails again, and she’s resurrecting something that Scorcher thought he had tightly under control: what happened to their family one summer at Broken Harbor, back when they were children.

Tana French is something of a genius, in my humble opinion. I have loved every book she has written and I couldn’t ask for her to do anything better in her novels. With Broken Harbor, her talent once again shines as she writes yet another member of the Murder Squad, Scorcher Kennedy, as he solves this grisly murder while battling demons of his own.

One thing I love about French, and she’s done it again in this book, is that she creates characters that are so REAL it’s almost unbelievable. Scorcher is a deeply flawed person, but deep down he’s trying to do everything he can to hold his life and his very messed-up family together. But at the same time, he has a majorly important job to do and he must keep laser-focused on finding the person who killed the Spains. His struggle to balance these two huge responsibilities resonated with me so deeply and I felt that he was such a genuine, true character, thanks to the mastery of French’s writing and character development. He jumped out of the page (as her characters all have in the past) and I couldn’t stop reading with the goal of getting to know Scorcher even better.

And the mystery! I was literally kept guessing this ENTIRE book. There is a point where the detectives think they know who did it, and they even get the person in custody, but even at that point I was completely up in the air and thought it could have been any one of, say, four people. French does such an excellent job crafting her mysteries every single time and Broken Harbor was no exception. I was riveted by the complexity of the thing and read this 400+ page book in one day.

I highly recommend you pick up any of French’s novels if you haven’t already. And if you are already a fan (can’t think of why you wouldn’t be) definitely put Broken Harbor next on your list. My favorite of her novels will probably always be The Likeness, but I think this one comes in at a close second. Very highly recommended!

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
Published by Little, Brown and Company, an imprint of Hachette

From the publisher:

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity, and unexpected revelations?

Even though The Casual Vacancy has gotten mixed reviews, there was no way I wasn’t going to pick up this novel. I am a huge fan of J.K. Rowling and I really wanted to see what she could do with an adult book, so I went into this book knowing that it wasn’t going to be like Harry Potter at ALL. I think that expectation helped me because I did enjoy this one – enjoy is a difficult word to use because this book is incredibly sad, but whatever – and I think that Rowling has a great future in writing books for adults if she chooses to do so.

Anyway, about the book. Well first of all I have to say that I absolutely hated every single one of the characters in this book. Okay, I didn’t hate maybe three of them, but most of them were pretty small-minded, despicable people. But for some reason, I was interested in their lives despite this. I wasn’t interested in the petty stuff (for example, the race to fill Barry’s seat on the council annoyed me) but there were seriously complex relationships going on here and I was truly interested in finding out how some of the conflicts and issues would (or wouldn’t) get resolved.

Particularly woven into my heart was Krystal, the teenage daughter of a severe drug addict, a sixteen-year-old girl who was basically raising her four-year-old brother because her mother’s addiction left her incapable of doing anything. Her story broke my heart in a million ways and as I was just devastated as her life spiraled more and more out of control.

Reading The Casual Vacancy proved to me even more what a master Rowling is at creating complex characters and tying everything together in a unique way. I thought she did this so brilliantly with the Harry Potter books, and in this book her talent shined as well. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this was a five-star read, but I did really like it and am impressed with Rowling’s venture into adult books. I will definitely read anything else she writes.