Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2015

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. This is my first time participating and I will try to keep up with it. Every week has a different theme (for over five years now!) and this week asks bloggers to list the top ten books they have read this year so far. Here is my list – if I’ve reviewed a book I will link to the review.

Top Ten Tues June 30

1. Uprooted by Naomi Novik – This was the first book I received from NetGalley and I adored it. Uprooted is a beautiful fantasy tale with a little romance, a lot of action, and descriptive, enthralling writing. I bought my own hardcover as soon as I was done and I know I’ll reread it many times.

2. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – This was an amazing, gorgeously written piece of post-apocalyptic sci-fi and definitely one of my new favorites.

3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt – I have wanted to read this forever and found a well-worn copy of it in the ship’s library on our honeymoon cruise. A college-campus-based murder mystery infused with ancient Greek mythology – it was everything I hoped it would be!

4. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty – My first audiobook and a touching work that, to me, went far beyond the normal bounds of contemporary “chick-lit.”

5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – A favorite from my youth that I reread after buying a beautiful copy designed by Anna Bond from Rifle Paper Co. It was great to return to this book now that I’m at a very different stage in my life since my last read, and it is well-deserving of its spot as a classic.

6. 11/22/63 by Stephen King – While I felt that parts could be shortened, overall this was a really wonderful, unique combination of sci-fi and historical fiction.

7. Paper Towns by John Green – Read in anticipation of the film, not my favorite John Green book, but extremely well-written, heartwarming and fun.

8. Invisible City by Julia Dahl – A very interesting mystery/thriller that I picked up strictly based on the cover and description, this book explores a murder amongst the extremely religious Hasidic Jews living in Brooklyn, and the particular complications that can arise in such a situation based on the fact that this group has their own police force and other quasi-governmental institutions. I’m excited to know that there is soon to be a sequel.

9. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – This book took me FOREVER to read but the payoff was worth it. I am obsessed with all things Tudor and British history in general so this was no exception. I love the idea of telling a popular story through the eyes of someone else, in this case Thomas Cromwell. I began to read the sequel, Bring Up The Bodies (a title which, if you are a law nerd like me, you might want to know relates to the development of the doctrine of habeas corpus), but put it on hold for now because it really needs to be an “only book” type of book and I have a few other current reads at the moment.

10. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – My first Liane Moriarty book, I didn’t love this one as much as The Husband’s Secret but liked it enough to pick that one up. This essentially starts out as an innocent, chick-lit drama between kindergarteners and their moms but gets so, so much darker than that.

Feel free to comment with thoughts/suggestions/links to your own set of top ten books! 🙂

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Book Review: “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

“We clung to books and to our friends; they reminded us that we had another part to us.”

Hardcover edition; Dial Press 2008. 288 pages.

Hardcover edition; Dial Press 2008.
288 pages.

Sorry it’s been a while since my last review. Our best friends got married on Sunday so we had lots of pre-wedding events and then the big weekend itself! It was beautiful and we’re so happy for them!!!

Guernsey was my most recent commuting companion and was a fun audiobook because it’s an epistolary novel with many secondary characters, so there were multiple readers who each used different voices for each individual character’s letters. However, despite my enjoyment of the listening experience itself due to the talented readers, I really did not enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. The basic premise, involving a young (32 years old, as she reminded us often) writer in London after the war struggling to come up with the idea for her next novel, as she begins to correspond with some folks in Guernsey after one of them finds her name and address in his favorite book, was super intriguing, and I’ve wanted to read this for a while, but it fell totally flat.

In my opinion, this novel had amazing potential to address a very serious and interesting topic, the occupation of Guernsey and the other Channel Islands by the Germans during WWII, which I personally didn’t know much about in the larger scheme of WWII history. However, the wartime experience gets lost in what I found to be a very predictable story with unlikable characters. I knew just about everything that was going to happen to Juliet and the others before it did, and found the entire story and much of the characterization to be extremely trite, contrived, and rather boring. EVERYONE was quirky. Elizabeth was just TOO perfect. I especially hated Juliet pretty much from the very beginning, as she consistently complained and whined about everything that happened to her; my hatred culminated when she demonstrated jealousy of another character for always managing to look so stylish, even when she knew that this character was recently released from hospice after surviving as a prisoner in a CONCENTRATION CAMP. REALLY, JULIET?!?!?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?????

Two stars for some absolutely delightful passages about books, bookstores, and book lovers, as well as the descriptions of my favorite character, Ariel the goat. Also, please keep in mind that I know many people (yes, including my mom) who really enjoyed this book, and it has excellent ratings on Goodreads, so I am definitely in the minority, but I can’t in good conscience recommend it.

Book Review: “11/22/63” by Stephen King

“We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why. Not until the future eats the present, anyway. We know when it’s too late.”

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Hardcover edition; Scribner 2011. 849 pages.

Sometimes, it takes me months to get through a book as long as this one. Other times, though, I read the entire length of the book in one day and then feel a massive migraine beginning to develop just from reading so much.

Today was one of the latter days. I simply could not stop.

11/22/63 is a massive tome that chronicles what happens to English teacher Jake Epping as he travels back in time to a fixed point 53 years in the past, via a “rabbit hole” in his friend’s worn-down diner that is connected to one September day in 1958. His friend is dying of cancer and cannot make it through the five years in the past that would allow him to prevent Kennedy’s assassination, so Jake takes on the mission. However, in the beginning, for Jake, he is not as focused on stopping the assassination, but is extremely motivated to figure out a way to prevent a horrific family tragedy in the life of one of his adult GED students from ever happening. The story that follows once Jake makes his trip down the rabbit hole is like a mix of ’50s and ’60s historical fiction, some gruesome moments (but nothing like King’s typical work), a political thriller, and a decent amount of romance thrown in for good measure. Somehow, this works well and it’s like no other book I have ever read, and especially not like any other Stephen King book (though, the references to several of his other novels did not go unnoticed).

I gave this book 4 stars. I enjoyed the story and the writing but I was expecting just a little more out of this book, based on enthusiastic recommendations from friends, many Goodreads reviewers, and my mom, whose opinion is obviously the most important in this case. I think that some of the earlier exposition could have been eliminated before the bigger events. Besides that, though, this was an interesting, entertaining read, which I think would appeal to a wide variety of readers who generally would not consider venturing into King’s work. If you are like me and sometimes think that you were “born in the wrong generation,” this book might definitely make you think twice about that!

Book Review: “The Husband’s Secret” by Liane Moriarty

“Falling in love was easy. Anyone could fall. It was holding on that was tricky.”

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This was the first book that I ever listened to on CD. I really enjoyed the audiobook experience and I will definitely continue utilizing books on CD as a way to get more reading done during my commute. Caroline Lee’s Australian accent was perfect to capture the setting of this book. Now, to the book itself:

I previously read Moriarty’s Big Little Lies on my flight to London and really enjoyed it. That was a 4-star book for me, but The Husband’s Secret gets a full 5 stars without hesitation. I don’t know if my enjoyment was particularly enhanced by listening to the book, or if it really is this good, but I got so emotional over these characters and what happened to them. I feel like Moriarty really gets people, women in particular, and I could identify bits of myself in each of the three leading ladies:

Cecilia Fitzpatrick is seemingly the perfect wife and mother: Handsome husband, successful Tupperware business, three beautiful daughters, the PTA president, etc. etc. etc. Until she (stupidly) opens a letter, written by her husband, not meant to be opened until his death, and what she discovers inside ensures that her perfect life will never be quite so perfect again.

Tess O’Leary feels like everything is going just fine: Her marriage is happy and secure, if not the most thrilling, and she is growing her advertising business with her husband and her cousin/best friend, until they confess something that turns her world upside down and makes her run home to her mother, where she faces her past and then her future.

Rachel Crowley is a bit older: The nice, sweet, somewhat elderly secretary of the elementary school, a devoted grandma. But the truth is, she’s barely holding it together, still reeling from her daughter’s untimely death in 1984.

The stories of these three women come together in some expected and unexpected ways. Even though I figured out what “the husband’s secret” was very early on in the book, the majority of the book really deals with the aftermath of the secret and its effects on every single character. I’m not always the biggest fan of “chick lit” but in my opinion this book actually is much deeper than how it might appear on the cover: Real, concrete issues that may come up in a marriage, figuring out what it means to be a good parent, being a good child to your aging parents, dealing with serious tragedy… and so much more, are all handled within in what I found to be strong, serious writing – it wasn’t fluffy at all, though Moriarty does infuse humor in all of the right places.

The book does a great job of switching between characters (it’s all in third person, though, which helps it from getting confusing on audio) at just the right moment so that there were times I would have to just sit in my car for a few minutes before going into work or my house or the store to finish up a chapter or two. I’ve read some complaints about the epilogue and how it was too “neat,” but for me it was perfect and a perfectly satisfying way to wrap up my experience with this book (of course at that point I wasn’t even driving anywhere, just sitting in a parking lot making myself late for a bridesmaid dress fitting).

This is the kind of book that, when you put it down and come back to the real world, makes you find yourself staring at random people on the street, thinking about what sort of secrets they’re hiding, what might be going wrong in their lives that even they don’t know about. I’ve been asking Anthony a lot of very odd questions and eventually just had to explain the entire plot to him so that he understood why I was being so weird!! It’s rare that a book can take my somewhat middling expectations for it (I picked this book to listen to instead of The Queen of the Tearling from the library simply because I thought a fantasy book might be a poor choice as a first audiobook since there are often so many characters and settings with complicated names) and blow them out of the park. I think that especially as a new wife I really fell for this book, and I’m probably even younger than the target demographic. Devotees of YA will probably not like this as much, but if you are the kind of person who will try any kind of book, I think (and hope) that you will be pleasantly surprised by The Husband’s Secret.

Random Post: My Favorite Literature Quizzes on Sporcle

I’m not going to work tomorrow!! My dad and I are driving to Boston in the morning, because last month while I was on my honeymoon I got THIS email:

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I have taken the Jeopardy! online test every year for many years now. This is the first time I’ve ever passed the test, or at least the first time I’ve ever been contacted to move onto the next step! AHHHHH.

I haven’t done too much preparation for tomorrow since I’ve been so busy, but if I make it through the audition and get called to actually fly to LA and be on the show itself, I will definitely go into studying overdrive. Which brings me to the point of this post: In order to prepare for the online test and audition I used Sporcle. I am obsessed with this awesome little site. There are quizzes on every single topic, and the site itself just has a lot of really great features that definitely make it the superior site for online quizzes and trivia.

The literature section is particularly strong, so before I pack up some things for tomorrow, I thought I would quickly share some of my favorite quizzes that I always find myself returning to until I attain perfection, and sometimes even after that:

Shakespeare Plays – Just what it says on the tin. Naming all of Shakespeare’s plays, divided by comedy, history, and tragedy. Addicting.

‘A’ Books by Cover – There are a few more of these, but I don’t think that they have created quizzes for each letter of the alphabet yet. A really fun quiz where you need to identify the title of the book based on the cover. In my opinion this would be even better if they took the authors’ names off too, because that can be a huge hint.

‘G’ Books by Opening Line – A more recent feature of Sporcle since I began using it (in 2008! Holy crap!!) is the “clickable” quiz, where you can select the answer instead of having to type it in. This particular quiz has you click on the correct book title based on the opening line. I think there are also some more of these besides just the letter G. Easy to memorize and get 20/20 after a few tries, but also good to see what you can get from your own reading experiences or just from common knowledge.

The Hunger Games Character by Tweet – Identifying the Hunger Games character by what they might say on Twitter.

Harry Potter Patronus Match-up – Self explanatory, I think! Still fun after all these years. The Harry Potter section of Sporcle’s literature quizzes is essentially endless, with hundreds to choose from.

Famous Books: First Page – I love this one. You get the actual first page of the book and try to identify it. I LOVE that every page is a different font and design and is the actual one from the book, it’s so much better than just picking through a list of quotes.

Literary Best Friends – Matching up each half of a friendship and also identifying the author whose work features the pair.

If you don’t already visit Sporcle regularly, I highly recommend it! They really have a quiz on everything, and even if you can’t find the exact type of quiz you want, you can register for free and create your own. Some of the user-created quizzes that aren’t made or approved by the editors of the site are the best ones, in my opinion. In addition to the literature quizzes, I really enjoy their geography ones. I’m proud to say that I can now name all of the countries of the world, and their capitals, and I’m hoping that this knowledge comes in handy during my audition tomorrow and perhaps on the actual show itself! Feel free to add me as a Sporcle friend (my username there is Abbynormal) and we can challenge each other 🙂

Random Post: My Book-Themed Engagement Photos, Bridal Shower and Bookish Wedding Decor

So obviously I won’t be able to post a book review every single day, even though I would absolutely love to do that! I have work and it’s just not possible. I do have a few books going right now including an audiobook that I’m almost done with (The Husband’s Secret), so I will be able to post some more reviews ASAP. I think that I will also go back to some earlier reads from before I started the blog and write longer reviews for those to have more content here. But in the meantime I am trying to come up with other ideas for things that I can post that are related to my reading life even if not necessarily a book review. One of our engagement photo shoots, my bridal shower, and the actual wedding had lots of book inspiration, so I’ll discuss and share a few pictures 🙂

We actually had two professional photo sessions because I was dying to have some pictures of us by the monuments in DC after knowing I’d be moving back home, and then after we hired our actual wedding photographer here in New York. Before that, though, one of my friends from law school was nice enough to snap a few photos for us in the Eastern Market area of DC. There is a fantastic used bookstore there called Capitol Hill Books and I’ve seen other great engagement pictures there, so we got a few of our own. The pictures don’t even fully capture the perfect quirkiness of this store: You can barely get up the narrow stairs without thinking that an unwieldy pile of books is going to fall on you; there are foreign language books stacked up in the bathroom; there are sarcastic comments all along the shelves to both guide and amuse as you browse. I am so happy that we have these as a memory of one of my favorite DC haunts. A couple of the best ones are also on the About page of the blog.

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 ^ “Look worried/confused, Anthony!!”

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I know that surprise bridal showers are a pretty popular thing, but I hate surprises and I’m kind of a control freak, so that wasn’t going to happen when it was my turn for a shower this past January. I had a vision in my head of what I wanted the shower to be like, and my mother-in-law and I spent a couple hundred bucks at Michael’s, hit up the book sale at my local library, and got down to business.

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^ The room that the shower was in had a beautiful built-in bookcase. I actually first had the idea for a book-themed shower once I saw this bookcase when we were looking at different venues. I knew then that I wanted to have the bridal shower here and what I wanted everything to look like. I arranged photos of us with some of my favorite books, plus other books I just felt were representative of the occasion (The Book of Awesome). I haven’t actually read Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald yet, but my new last name starts with a Z so that big Z on the cover was just perfect.

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^ The favors were journals and bookmarks, of course!

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^ Some close-ups of the table decorations. I know some people will take issue with this, but yes, a couple of very old books collecting dust in my dad’s office DID have to die for the cause. Pages were ripped out to be punched into heart confetti to decorate the tables and were painted with metallic watercolors (which took FOREVER to dry) in order to create the book paper flowers on each table. I used a tutorial that I found on Buzzfeed and it was pretty simple once I got into it! I think the payoff was so much better compared to regular flowers, and now I’ll have these forever.

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^ We painted some simple wood frames in soft pastel colors and put a different love quote from a book or author inside each. Other book pages were used to create a base for the books, which were either softcover books wrapped in pretty scrapbook paper, or decorative book-shaped boxes, depending on the table.

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^ The cake that my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law made for me. Look at this thing!!!

I was really happy with the way everything looked at the shower, and employed a similar strategy in preparing some of my own wedding table decorations to supplement the centerpieces from the florist. We went with a president theme because we’re both big U.S. history buffs. I painted frames like crazy, so that for a while the entire floor of the upstairs loft in my house looked like this:

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Then it was off to three nearby libraries to pick out biographies for our selected presidents. The final result came out like this:

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So definitely not as bookish as the shower, but still just enough that it was there, without being too themed. The explanation card was actually Anthony’s idea and a lot of people remarked that they would have had no idea why we had presidents on the tables without it, so good for him!

I forgot to mention this when initially posting, but our save the dates were also library cards:

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I really enjoyed infusing my love of books into the wedding planning, pre-wedding events and the big day itself. Maybe in a few years’ time, there will be a book themed baby shower… 😉

Book Review: “We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart

It’s very hard for me to write a book review when I really, really didn’t enjoy a book that basically the entire rest of the reading world seems to LOVE. It’s also very hard to write the first ever book review on my new book blog without really having any idea of what I’m doing. With this review I’ll attempt to conquer both of these challenges and share my experience with We Were Liars without giving away much of anything. If you do plan to read this book, it would be much better for you to go into it without knowing too many details.

We Were Liars

I think in my reviews I might discuss a little bit about my reading experience: where I got the book, how long it took me to read it, etc. Here goes with this one: on Fridays, I usually only work a half day and then spend the rest of my day running errands, taking care of things at places that are only open during the week and I wouldn’t otherwise get to, and almost always spending at least a little bit of time with my mom, who doesn’t work on Fridays at all. This past Friday, we went to the library and I picked this up along with 11/22/63 by the Fantastic Mr. King, though I haven’t had a chance to even open that one up. Because this book was so short I figured I could knock it out in a few hours on Friday night before my very busy weekend, which is exactly what I did. Even though I had to reread many sentences and passages for comprehension, which I’ll discuss in a minute, I was completely engrossed by this book during my reading and knew that I would not be able to put it down until I reached the last page. However, just because I was engrossed doesn’t mean that I enjoyed. I simply had to know what happened to be able to close the book and be done with it.

I was motivated to read this book after seeing some highly laudatory reviews, including one from John Green right on the cover. After getting a few pages in, I figured it would just be another typical YA summer read – spoiled rich teenager is upset by her parents’ divorce, goes to see other spoiled rich teenagers (in this case, her cousins), and they all do their spoiled rich teenagery things in their family’s complex near Martha’s Vineyard. I was very wrong. I honestly don’t want to give anything else away because there is a twist even more twisty than anything in a Gillian Flynn novel. Some people will LOVE this. I was completely blown away, not in a good way, but simply because of just how absolutely unrealistic the ending to this book was. Suffice it to say that the way the other characters continued to treat the main character after the twist was revealed would just never, ever happen in real life, and this was NOT a fantasy book, so I didn’t enjoy my reading experience.

Besides the plot (contrived) and the characters (basically all of them, except maybe one, the main character’s love interest, were truly horrible people), I could not get into the writing style, for two main reasons:

(1) Passages like this. This is on page 5 so it’s not a spoiler:

“Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound…”

So it turns out that in this part of the book, the main character/narrator’s father did NOT actually shoot her. At all. Not even a bit. I had to read this, and similar passages, so many times because sometimes she was really hurt, sometimes she wasn’t hurt at all, and all of the time I had no idea whether the heck she was or not. The author’s use of “metaphor” was just completely overboard and melodramatic in this way. Yes, if my father had left us when I was 14, I too would be so upset that it would feel LIKE he had shot me in the chest. But the way that the author attempted to go about describing these feelings just wasn’t clear enough and made me angry and confused instead of sympathetic for the narrator who really does go through a lot.

(2) Writing like this. I am cool with books that are all prose. I am cool with books that are all poetry. I am even cool with books that switch off writing styles between chapters or some other device like that.

What I am not cool with is when a book is mostly written in completely normal prose and then out of

nowhere

it decides

that it is going to be a poem

and have

just a couple of

words on each line

and annoy the frick out of me

like so.

I honestly feel BAD that I didn’t find this book as moving, as poetic, as beautiful, as perfect as many of the reviewers on Goodreads and Tumblr did, most of whom I trust and respect a great deal. As I mentioned above, basically none of the characters are likable at all, so I didn’t really care what happened to them or why; the overuse of literary devices bothered me; and most of all the “amazing! so surprising! so OMG!!!” ending left me feeling completely hollow and unsatisfied. One thing I DID really, really enjoy was the use of the fairy tale device at the beginning of some of the chapters, set off with italics and continuously transformed to fit the characters’ current situation. I would have loved to see that explored a bit more instead of the bad metaphors/fake poetry/repetition/everything else that drove me bonkers about this book.

This book has the honor of being my first 1-star reviewed book on Goodreads, and so shall it be on this blog. Before you decide whether or not to take the plunge, definitely take a look at some of the more positive reviews. There are some like mine, but many others who adored this, some even for the same reasons that made me hate it so much.

greetings interwebs

After months, maybe even years, of going back and forth on the idea, I have finally decided to create a book blog.

In my dream life, I would have nothing to do besides the really important things: eating, sleeping, reading, playing with puppies, watching Friends and Gilmore Girls reruns… but mostly reading.

However, this isn’t my dream life (though I’m doing my best to make it close), and I have a little thing called work that prevents me from reading all day, every day. I may or may not be starting this blog from work right now. To be perfectly honest, I am currently a lowly intern (though a paid intern, thank goodness) and I am always on the hunt for a better, more permanent position, but I’ll try not to let my whining about work and job hunting spill over onto this blog too much.

Anyway, even though I have to work, I still read a lot. I often have multiple books going at the same time, in various formats. I have a Kindle Fire, but real books will forever be my true preference. Sometimes, though, you just can’t beat the convenience of an e-reader, especially on vacation or while commuting. I also recently got into audiobooks (okay, very recently, I’m listening to my very first one right now) which has made my annoying drive to work much better.

I am absolutely obsessed with chronicling my reading adventures on Goodreads and meticulously organizing my read and to-be-read lists there. I also recently made a book-themed Tumblr page, after not updating my multifandom, TV/movie based blog on there for many months. I think that this blog will be a good way to tie everything together: I can post more detailed reviews than I normally would on Goodreads or than I plan to on Tumblr, utilizing information from both of those sites to find excellent book blogs on here and improve my own reviewing skills. For now this is just my hobby; as you might have figured out from the title of this blog, I’m an attorney by day, but you never know where a hobby might take you, and anything that can bring me closer to being able to spend even more of my time reading is something I want to be doing. So that brings me to my new book blog, and to what I hope will be a fun and productive use of my spare time, if not a much better way to procrastinate than just repeatedly checking Facebook.

Welcome!!

-AZ