Wednesday, December 31, 2014

#amonthoffaves: 5 Fave Post Titles From This Year

The final prompt from A Month of Favorites is to share our Five Favorite (or Most Popular) Blog Posts from the year. I want to be honest with myself and all of you so I have to admit that I didn't have the best blogging year. When I did get posts up (besides a post a day for DWJ March), they were usually quick and to the point. And while I was glad to share some great books with all of you, the posts weren't the most thoughtful or imaginative of my blogging career. I *am* still amused by a couple of my post titles though so here are my ...

Five Favorite Blog Post Titles of 2014

One Cop, Two Cop (Countdown City, The Yiddish Policemen's Union) - 30 May
A Three-Story Trip Through London (Ten Second Staircase, The Pigeon Pie Mystery, This Other London) - 3 June

I hope you've enjoyed these Favorites posts this month. It's been fun to share so many aspects of my 2014 blogging with you all and I do feel like I've gotten a bit of my blogging mojo back. So I also hope that you all decide to stick around through 2015, while I try to entertain and share even more wonderful books!

Happy New Year's Eve,

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The City of Dreaming Books

The third book in Walter Moers' Zamonia series (but definitely readable as a stand-alone), The City of Dreaming Books is an amazing adventure in a city where books and authors are of extreme importance. I am having trouble finding the words to tell you exactly how amazing this book is so I'll use some of the author's own* words --
   It's not a story for people with thin skins and weak nerves, whom I would advise to replace this book on the pile at once and slink off to the children's section. Shoo! Begone, you cry-babies and quaffers of camomile tea, you wimps and softies! This book tells of a place where reading is still a genuine adventure, and by adventure I mean the old-fashioned definition of the word that appears in the Zamonian Dictionary: 'A daring enterprise undertaken in a spirit of curiosity or temerity, it is potentially life-threatening, harbours unforeseeable dangers and sometimes proves fatal.' 
   Yes, I speak of a place where reading can drive people insane. Where books may injure and poison them -- indeed, even kill them. Only those who are thoroughly prepared to take such risks in order to read this book -- only those willing to hazard their lives in so doing -- should accompany me to the next paragraph. The remainder, I congratulate on their wise but yellow-bellied decision to stay behind. Farewell, you cowards! I wish you a long and boring life, and, on that note, bid you goodbye!
*As the original of this book is in German, I want to give major credit to the translator, John Brownjohn, who has done a flawless job of bringing this story to English. Here's an interview with him from November 2012 about translating and Moers.

This book is funny and exciting and charming and imaginative. Each book I read in this series is more amazing than the last. Moers is a genius in the vein of Terry Pratchett or Jasper Fforde, using wordplay in a witty but seamless manner. I'm sure that I have missed well over half of what was really in this story. Rather than discouraging me, it just makes me look forward to rereading the book before too many years have passed. I'm also excited to see that the sequel to this is out in English and the third book in this side series will be out soon as well.

Always dreaming books,

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

#amonthoffaves: 5 Hyped Books That Deserved the Hype

Five Hyped Books That Deserved the Hype

All of these books were ones that I heard (almost) nothing but love about before I picked them up. I was hesitant to grab a couple of them for just this reason. But they all turned out to be great reads and I would recommend them myself now.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken was one I somehow missed in my childhood but it still managed to be thrilling and tense when I finally picked it up last year. I still need to read the sequels.

The Supernatural Elements by Edgar Cantero was praised even before it came out for its beautiful cover. The story inside was even more amazing.

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein was such a smart book but the kids weren't all "nerds" and they still managed to be smart even while liking things like video games. The sequel to the book is coming out soon and Z and I are both excited about it!

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman was just totally unexpected and unique. I am eagerly anticipating the sequel to this one too.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple was crazy but was really fun for a Seattle resident like me to read (it's set in this lovely city). I don't read a lot of modern fiction so it's nice when I give something a chance and end up enjoying it.

And a bonus: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern which I put off until late last year because of the hype and then, of course, loved. This year when I reread it, I loved it even more -- so it managed to outperform my own high praise and thoughts!

Did you join the adoring fandom of a well-loved book this year?

Now a believer,

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

#amonthoffaves: 5 Books I Almost Put Down and I'm Glad I Didn't

Today, I'm talking about Five Books I Almost Put Down and I’m Glad I Didn’t. I only had one DNF this year but there were a few books that I was either hesitant to read in the first place or thought about putting down after starting.

Shada - Douglas Adams and Gareth Roberts
This is the novelization of a 1980 episode of Doctor Who written by Douglas Adams. The episode never came to be due to a strike at the BBC. Though I watch Doctor Who (from the reboot) and love Douglas Adams, I was still hesitant to pick this one up when I saw it at the library. It just seemed too nerdy. BUT! It ended up being a really fun (and strangely visual) read and had some of the seeds for Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, my favorite DA book.

The Glass Sentence - S.E. Grove
This one was highly recommended around the internet but I was having trouble getting into it after the first couple of chapters. LUCKILY!, a short passage dragged me back in and I sped through the rest of the book. Now I'm impatiently waiting for the sequel.

Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin - Nicole Hardy
I had heard of this book and wasn't super keen on reading it. Then a friend recommended it to me based on some conversations we had AND SO! I picked it up anyway. It ended up giving me a lot of food for thought. It was strange to see some parallels to my own experiences and also to have a few "this could have been my path if I hadn't veered sooner" revelations.

The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit - Graham Joyce
This one was weird. There were some times where I didn't know what was happening or things went too far away from where I thought they should have been. BUT! this was a review copy so I stuck with it and I'm glad I did. It never ended up being what I thought it should be but it was a good book on its own.

Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder - Jo Nesbø
I really didn't want to buy this book for Z but I had a feeling he would love it. Then he wanted to read it together as his bedtime book. I was super hesitant and ready to just grimace and bear it BUT THEN! it turned out to be a really fun story with lots of adventure and some cool, unconventional friendships and a bit of Norwegian culture. I'm actually looking forward to reading the second book in the series with him this spring.

Which book were you glad you stuck with until the end?

Expanding my horizons,

Saturday, December 20, 2014

New Releases: Penguin Christmas

If you're still looking for a stocking stuffer or two (or five), you can't go wrong with the new Penguin Christmas Classics series, featuring

A Merry Christmas & Other Christmas Stories by Louisa May Alcott
The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann
The Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Christmas At Thompson Hall & Other Christmas Stories by Anthony Trollope

They have beautiful foil-stamped covers ...

and lovely inner artwork as well, all in petite books that will fit in a purse or jacket pocket. I read the Alcott stories last week and am rereading A Christmas Carol tonight. I'll read the others during the coming week and I know that they will set the perfect mood for a lovely Christmas Day.

Seasons readings,

Thursday, December 18, 2014

#amonthoffaves: 5 Must-Haves for Winter Survival

Today's prompt is a fun one -- Five Must-Haves for Winter Survival --

First is tea. And not just any tea. MarketSpice Cinnamon Orange. I bought this nice 8oz bag that should last me another month or so and then I'll be off to Pike Place Market again to pick up some more. This is the most cinnamony tea that I've ever found and the orange gives it just enough sweetness that I am always satisfied just drinking it straight. When I have to get up early, I make two cups and fill a big travel mug and it gets me through the dark and usually damp mornings.

Second is lip balm. I come from a family of lip balm addicts. I've tried a lot of them over the years and my current favorite is the Cocoa Butter Lip Care Stick from The Body Shop. It's thick but not greasy and smells yummy.

Third is a down throw for the couch. Mine is sage green and is frequently featured in the background of my book photos. It's starting to get a bit worn so I may be shopping for a new one soon!

Fourth are the touch screen gloves. These are the most awesome invention ever. I love the look of these ones from World Market and am going to have to go looking for them to replace my current plain gray ones.

Fifth and finally, a good book. I got this one, The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson, from my Secret Santa, Heather. I can't wait to cuddle up under my blanket, with my lip balm and tea (or gloves if I happen to be reading in the car)!

What is your number one winter must-have?

Hunkering down,

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

#amonthoffaves: 5 Fave Winter Reads

Today's prompt is Five Favorite Winter Reads, taken from our reading last winter. I feel like I'm getting repetitive with my book mentions though so instead I'm going to share five of my favorite chunksters. Chunksters (which I consider to be books near or over 600 pages long) are the type of book I love reading when all of the hustle and bustle of the holidays is done, there's nothing to entice me out of the house into the frigid air, and the evenings are long and dark.

So, in increasing order of pages ...

Starting at 695 pages,
The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

Up to 781,
The Quincunx by Charles Palliser

A nudge to 782,
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

A jump to 1024,
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Finally, a pair to top it off at 1168 pages,
Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis

Do you like reading chunksters in the winter? Which is your all time favorite?

Upping the stakes,

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

#amonthoffaves: Top 10 Books That Blew My Mind in 2014

Today's prompt is Top 10 Books That Blew My Mind in 2014. I'm taking this literally and I chose books that have a wow! factor. There were other books this year that I enjoyed but these were the most exciting, the ones I thought about for days, weeks, and months later. Here are my choices with excerpts from my reviews --

The Supernatural Elements - Edgar Cantero
As soon as I finished the book, I went to my reading spreadsheet where I usually record a couple of brief thoughts. All I could come up with was "holy crap". I tweeted this thought and the author himself found my tweet. He asked if it was the sort of crap he should retweet or not. I chuckled and said that it was absolutely the kind to retweet because I loved the book and the end was simply mind-blowing. I didn't see it coming at all. I would love a sequel that just expands the Epilogue.

The Ghost in Love - Jonathan Carroll
... it's about many things and it's hard to describe but believe me when I say that its uniqueness makes it fresh and thought-provoking and beautiful, all in an unusual way -- because this is definitely a strange book and it's not ashamed to be that at all.

The Land of Laughs - Jonathan Carroll
It has been three months since I finished this book but I can't stop thinking about it and I already want to read it again. I can't explain exactly why I loved this book so much because it's really rather strange and sometimes violent and disturbing and the relationships are very dysfunctional and it's about books that I can never read. But it's also about the magic that is in the best stories and what would happen if that magic escaped and took form and that's pretty awesome if frightening.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate - Jacqueline Kelly
I loved this book SO SO SO SO much. I honestly can’t think of a single moment when I wasn’t enjoying it completely. I wish I had marked some passages and taken notes as I read because there were so many small, wonderful parts that all added up to make this a stellar story.

The Final Solution - Michael Chabon
This was such a beautiful meditation on [Sherlock] Holmes and his legacy and his inevitable decline.
Seraphina - Rachel Hartman
I LOVED this book. I loved this book so much that I want to tell you all to read it right now. You don't have to take my word alone for it either. Ask anyone else who has read it. They'll also sing its praises because it's just that good.

Constable & Toop - Gareth P. Jones
It takes a bit of effort at the beginning to get used to switching between multiple narratives (it changes each chapter between three or four story lines) but once you learn patience, it pays off with a story where you find yourself truly caring about the fates of ghosts. Because, though Sam is the main living character of the story, I'm not sure that he's any more important than ghostly paper-pusher Lapsewood, young and transparent rogue Tanner, or the comical and clearly insane Marquis. I can't wait to give this one a reread during a future RIP season.
Murder on the Home Front - Molly Lefebure
I loved Molly and I loved this book. It turns out the the TV series is fictional and just based off of these memoirs (the lead character is called Molly Cooper, I believe) but I'm still looking forward to watching it soon. If it has half the wit of this book (something one certainly doesn't expect when reading about murders), it will be a fun show!

Jackaby - William Ritter
I loved, loved, loved this book. It has some of everything and it is all brought together in an interesting and fun way. Jackaby is smart and amusing and Abigail is brave and also intelligent. But what I loved most is that they still needed each other. Their world views are very different but they are definitely complementary. I'm so excited to see that there is a sequel to Jackaby already in the works.
The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern (reread)
I loved the story just as much (if not more) as I did last year.

and, the bonus series, ...
The Last Policeman, Countdown City, and World of Trouble - Ben H. Winters
I didn't expect this series to become one of my all-time favorites but somehow it did. Between the first book (The Last Policeman), the second (Countdown City), and this one, I only spent about four days reading. I just couldn't put these books down. I can't say if it was the sense of urgency of an impending asteroid strike or the need to help Detective Henry Palace find what he was looking for or simply the morbid desire to watch the breakdown of civilized society as the end of the world approached. Whatever it was, this was an incredible ride and I'm sorry it's over.

(Pre-post edit: I already chose all of my books and wrote and scheduled this post and everything and then ... I read what is actually probably my favorite book of the year and it is so WOW! that I still have to process it. So, I'll just drop the title here and then you will have to wait a few days to see my review of it ... The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers.)

Which book blew your mind this year?

Looking forward to a mind-blowing 2015 read or two,

Monday, December 15, 2014

Today at The Estella Society: Little Women

I've read Little Women as the next book in the Top 100 Chapter Book Project. Head on over to The Estella Society today and see what I thought!

In the holiday spirit,

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Baker's Dozen of (Non-Bookish) Photos From the Year

As I always share so many of my book photos through the year, I thought I would also share some of my favorite non-book photos from 2014. Enjoy!

Okay, so I'm starting with one that has a book in it but this is really a picture of my fat cat. The cat in the book is fat because she gets pregnant. My cat is a boy.

Strange illumination

At the Washington State capitol

On a field trip to the estuary

By the sea, Padilla Bay

A walk through the woods on San Juan Island

Bumper cars

The end of ... everything?

The Seattle Great Wheel, from the Seattle Aquarium

At the local park

Chickens who are ...

In Pittsburgh (name that building)

And it seems only appropriate to end with a double rainbow.

Looking forward and out,

Friday, December 12, 2014

Joining Up: The 2015 Sci-Fi Experience

It's time again for The 2015 Sci-Fi Experience, hosted by the wonderful Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings. Through the months of December and January, he has invited readers to join him in reading and enjoy as much science fiction as they choose. There are no rules, no limits.

I was thinking about which books were on my TBR but then realized that I've already started this 1000 page tome of sexy sci-fi. I have already read the first five or six stories from The Time Traveler's Almanac over the last month or so and would love to settle in this winter and plow through the rest of it (winter pun intended). This should keep me busy for a while!

Do you have some science fiction you want to read this winter?

Here yesterday, today, and tomorrow,

Thursday, December 11, 2014

New Release: The Glass Sentence

I was seeing a lot of hype online for The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove so I got on the library hold list nice and early and then promptly forgot why I wanted to read the book. Luckily, I picked it up anyway and realized just why there was so much excitement about it. The world building was amazing, the story was exciting, and I can't wait for the second book in the trilogy.

Sophia Tims lives with her uncle Shadrack, a cartographer in a world where maps are incredibly important (and are still being drawn) because, a few generations earlier, something happened and the Earth split into many different time periods. Now, on the eve of the two of them setting out to try to find her missing explorer parents, Shadrack is abducted and Sophia must set off across a divided continent to follow her uncle's last clue.

Though 500 pages is long for a children's book, I sped through it and I assume that any child would too. The characters are vivid and complex, the villains are truly terrifying and there is so much more that I want to know about the world.

Checking the coordinates,

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

#amonthoffaves: A Year in Books Timeline

My Year in Books

Ransom Riggs at University Book Store, Bothell
In January, I read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and met the author, Ransom Riggs. He was super nice and interesting and had great shoes and socks. This month I also had my only DNF of the year, The Sea by John Banville.

In February, I read my first graphic novel of the year, Hope Larson and Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. I also finished up a reread/group read of The Woman in White for Wilkie in Winter. I loved it again!

In March, I hosted DWJ March for the third year in a row. This year was bittersweet as we read Diana's final book, The Islands of Chaldea. I read ten DWJs this month (twelve in the whole year). I also read The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters, first in what would surprisingly become one of my favorite trilogies of ever.

In April, I finally read The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander after having watched the movie at least a dozen times as a kid. I also finally read Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. I waited a long time because I was worried it wouldn't live up to the hype. I wasn't disappointed by either! I also had a great time with another spring Dewey's Read-a-thon.

In May, I read the short stories of Connie Willis. I enjoyed them so much that I decided to spend the summer reading more short story collections that were on my TBR shelf.

In June, I was surprised by how much fun I had reading This Other London: Adventures in the Overlooked City by John Rogers, tales of his walks around the city. I also worked on Moby Dick for a read-along but, alas, have yet to finish it. A book about whaling is not the ideal read for someone who studied marine biology. It made me sick to my stomach.

In July, I read more short stories. They led me into a bit of a slump, which I cured with the latest Jasper Fforde, The Eye of Zoltar.

In August, my joy in reading short stories was returned to me by Neil Gaiman (Smoke and Mirrors) and Diana Wynne Jones (Unexpected Magic).

In September, I kicked off the RIP Challenge with Twelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge. I read eight RIP books this month including a couple of my favorites of the year -- Constable & Toop, Murder on the Home Front, and The Supernatural Enhancements.

In October, it was Read-a-Thon time again, in which I enjoyed the two-volume graphic novel version of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. I ended up reading fourteen more RIP books this month.

In November, I reread (third time) Witch Week by DWJ for, well, Lory's Witch Week event. It was the first time I really connected with the book. Yay!

So far, I've spent December reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott as my last 100 Chapter Books Project read of the year. I finished a couple of days ago and am still processing my thoughts about it. The rest of the year is now for just-for-fun reading (and trying to reach some of those goals I set the other day).

I would love if you would share a highlight or two from your Year in Books!

Reliving the reads,