Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Top 10 Books I've Read So Far In 2015

Top Ten Books I've Read So Far in 2015
(Feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish)

I've gone a tad bit crazy tracking my reading this year.  There's this here blog, which is always helpful when I completely space on what a book is about.  There is my Goodreads account which never seems to be accurate despite my best attempts.  And there is a Google spreadsheet that I track book titles, genres, copyright dates, page numbers, and general feelings.

According to my Google spreadsheet, I have read a ridiculous amount of graphic novels this year.  Not a bad thing, but just interesting.  But over the last few months my reading has exploded, and I have read some exceptional books.  Nothing like a book that sticks with you after days and days to get you out of a reading funk.  So here my ten favorite books so far in 2015.

What's on your list?

1) The Martian by Andy Weir

2) Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

3) Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson

4) Avalon by Mindee Arnett

5) The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

6) Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen

7) The Naturals by Jennifer Lynne Barnes

8) A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

10) As You Wish by Cary Elwes

Monday, June 29, 2015

Saint Anything

Author: Sarah Dessen
Info: Viking Juvenile, copyright 2015, 417 pages

Peyton, Sydney's charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion's share of their parents' attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton's increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

~Goodreads Description

I firmly believe that Sarah Dessen should release a book every summer.  While I know that that is unreasonable, her books just put me in the summer mood...even when they are set in other seasons...which doesn't happen often, but it happens.  It just so happens that I read this gem on a Carolina beach in one day because that's just how I read Sarah Dessen.  This is all coming around to the fact that I love Sarah Dessen, and after years of dreaming about one day meeting her, I have now met her twice.  She is a joy.  A kind, thoughtful, southern joy.

Oddly, this story is not set at the beach.  Which was okay.  Instead there was a mysterious carousel hidden deep in the woods which is just as cool as a tiny beach town.  Sydney is invisible.  Or least she thinks she is compared to her older, charismatic brother who has a penchant for trouble.  When his latest night of debauchery lands him in jail, Sydney decides to start fresh at a new school, far away from the legacy her brother left in his wake.

And for the first time, Sydney discovers a family of friends who see her, and appreciate her, for exactly who she is.  She is a strong, funny, intelligent girl who shines brighter than she ever though possible.  To top off this wonderful story is the adorable pizza parlor that I now want to visit desperately.  A pizza parlor where they only play bluegrass.  Heaven I tell you, heaven.

Sarah Dessen is a storyteller.  Her books are sweet and complicated.  Messy and hopefully.  Heartwarming and heart wrenching.  As well as she writes romances, it's the friendships she gets right.  Here's to fierce female characters who aren't jealous or spiteful.  They're just friends, loyal to the end and willing to lay in front of your bedroom door all through the night to make sure your brother's creepy friend from rehab doesn't try anything.  There are girls who put themselves out there and boys who are perfect but are good and kind.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Beginning of Everything

Author: Robyn Schneider
Info: Katherine Tegen, copyright 2013, 335 pages

Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: in one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra’s knee, his athletic career, and his social life.

No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met, achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures.

But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: if one’s singular tragedy has already hit and everything after it has mattered quite a bit, what happens when more misfortune strikes?

~Goodreads Description

Julia over at Stylish in the Stacks gushed about this book.  In fact she devoted an entire week blog posts to this particular title (and enviously got to interview the author a few weeks back).  This is always dangerous for a reader.  You go in with expectations.  If Julia loved it, well surely I will love it.

That cloud hung over my head while I was reading...and it didn't help that it was "assigned reading."  The first fifty pages were hard.  "You should be liking this more," the voice in my head kept chanting.      And then I started to fall in love with the characters.  It wasn't immediate.  The beginning of the story is quite the kicker, but I didn't feel attached to anyone right out the door.  Like most good relationships, it took time.  I started to figure out who Ezra was and what he was struggling with.  I started to see him change as he found himself far away from the world he knew and introduced into a strange one full of very intense debate teams and wild hotel parties.  I got to know and adore Cassidy with the mysterious sadness brewing just underneath the surface.  Both so quick witted and fast talking that anyone would thrive in their presence.

This is a story about loss and new beginnings.  It's a story about meeting old friends and appreciating that you don't have to be who you thought you were or destined to become.  It's a story about endings, goodbyes, heartache, and the journey.  It's a very well-written contemporary fiction novel, and Robyn Schneider is a unique, welcoming voice.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Library GrabBag: How to Be Batman

My library likes to come up with its own themes for Summer Reading.  Over the past eight years, we've travelled back in time, gone on adventures to fantastical lands, and relaxed on the beach.  This year we decided to embrace the Pinterest life with a DIY summer.

DIY program is super easy to come by and we filled our summer programming calendar with some fun and exciting events for teens...including one of my favorite:  how to be Batman.

Batman is kind of a celebrity in my Teen Room.  On any given day you will hear at least three different boys acting, talking, and glaring as if they were the caped crusader.  While I thought the Dark Knight movies rocked, I can only take so much of the Christian Bale Batman rasp.  But we embraced it, because that's what our teens like, and had a little fun along the way.

This was a drop in program.  Activities could be completed in about a half hour to forty-five minutes, and the program ran from 1-3pm with over thirty teens in attendance.

Activity 1) The Batman Climb
While not many of the teens had actually seen Adam West's Batman, we couldn't ignore the hilarious awesomeness that started it all.  With a rope on a door knob, and a camera turned just so, our teens practiced "climbing" up the sides of walls.

Activity 2) Devouring Your Villain
Batman has many enemies, but we devoured one of them at the event with "Two-Face" pretzels, pretzels dipped into two colors of candy melt.  Every program goes better with a snack anyway.

Activity 3) Target Practice
We all know Batman likes his gadgets, especially his bat claw thingamajig.  But it's not usefully unless he has great aim, so teens practiced their shot with nerf guns and balloons.

Activity 4) Perfecting the Logo
The city of Gotham calls for help with his logo projected into the sky.  Teens practiced drawing the logo to get it right.

Activity 5) "I am Batman"
The voice.  The oh so annoying voice was embraced.  Teens recorded their best Batman impersonations reading a variety of Batman quotes.

Activity 6) Embracing the Bat
Bruce Wayne had to come to terms with his fear of bats, our teens did too.  No, we did not stick them in a cave full of the nighttime predators.  They made origami bats (which would also make great "throwing stars".

Activity 7) Designing the Look
And finally, the masked vigilante must decorate his or her mask.

Here's a link to the Pinterest Board we started in case you're interested.  Have you done any other great Batman activities at your library?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Martian

Author: Andy Weir
Info: Crown, copyright 2014, 384 pages

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

~Goodreads Description

Whoa!  I mean really!  This book was fantastic, hands down the best book I've read this year.  And guess what people...it's another adult book!  I know, right?!  I only read one last year and this year I've hit three.  Huzzah!

So Mark Watney is an astronaut traveling to Mars, which is apparently quite the ordeal.  It's not like you just decide to go to Mars and then go.  There is training and prep work and equipment is sent ahead of time and more training.  It takes time.  His crew lands on the planet, all is well, until it isn't.  Wicked winds force the crew to abandon the mission, but Mark Watney, believed to be dead, is left behind.  This might sound bad, but thank goodness it was Mark.  Not only is he a super genius and incredibly inventive, but he also has the best kind of sense of humor and the ability to keep his wits about him stranded, alone, on a planet that wants to kill him.

This book is science.  Cover to cover is stock full of science.  I'm not really a science girl, so I'll admit that I was a little intimidated diving in.  But as cool as the science turns out to be, understanding is not ABSOLUTELY necessary.  Sure, it's important, but I read one review that compared The Martian to Apollo 13 when the engineers have to fit a round peg into a square box.  You know what has to happen and you can follow whether it's happening or not despite not having a clue how.

It's the humor that makes this book truly fantastic.  I liked Mark.  Really, really liked him.  And from the first moment I was rooting for him.  I was nervous, antsy, and kind of moody not knowing if he would survive not he lonely planet.  This man kept his wits about him, and I have no idea how.  And to think that Matt Damon is playing Mark in the movie (brilliant casting) despite his lack of composer in Interstellar.   The supporting cast was equally fantastic, both in space and on Earth.  A planet holding their breaths for one man, and geniuses working together to get him home.

The Martian is intense and stayed with me long after I finished reading.  It's been a couple of weeks since I finished, and I still find myself thinking about Mark, his journey, and the genius of Andy Weir to infuse something serious with just the right amount of humor.

Read this book.  It's fantastic.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My Favorite Top Ten Topics

My Ten Favorite Top Ten Topics We've Ever Done 
In The Past 4 Years
(Feature hosted by the Broke and the Bookish)

I liked this topic!  I'll admit that I don't often go back and read what I've written, but this gave me the perfect excuse.  It was fun to see how my writing has developed and my feelings on books, life, and, well, whatnot has changed.  And it reminded me how fun this journey has been.  I didn't except to still be blogging three years and almost 650 posts later.  

For a girl who loves lists (because this girl TOTALLY loves making lists :), the Top Ten Tuesdays make blogging fun.

Happy reading!

1) Favorite quotes from books - May 8, 2012
    Inspiring quotes from books - April 14, 2015
I love compiling and keeping quotes!  I am constantly in awe of how some authors can put words together in a simple sentence in a way that makes you feel, think, and question.

2) Authors on reality TV - May 15, 2012
This was just a weird question, and I thoroughly enjoyed considering it...even if I only made it half way :)

3) Favorite book settings - July 24, 2012
You can't tell me you've never sat around and wondered what it would be like to live in a particular fictional place.  My heart is in Narnia, but what I wouldn't give for the chance to walk through the Night Circus or explore Hogwarts.

4) Bookish Memories - February 5, 2013
Loved going back and reading this list in particular, and then thinking of all the moments since that I would add, like hosting a Mad Hatter Tea Party at my library, or making John Green cry, or that wonderful weekend where I met so many authors in Charleston.  It's amazing where books will lead you.

I'm pretty sure I did this one again not that long ago, but with each new book that moves me and changes me, I always wish I could reread and discover again as if it was the first time.

6) Favorite beginnings/endings - July 30, 2013
What a great topic.  Some books get you right from the start, others know exactly what to say at the very end.

7) Character names I love - October 22, 2013
Because if I ever have a child, God willing, one day, they will more than likely end up with a literary name :)

8) Books that will make you swoon - February 11, 2014
I am a hopeless romantic who likes a little swoon.

I haven't really accomplished any of these yet :)  But it's just been a year, so there's still time.

10) Favorite movies - May 27, 2014
      Bing worthy TV shows  - January 201, 2015
While my love of books runs deep, my love of TV and movies is very close behind.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Station Eleven

Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Info: Knopf, copyright 2014, 336 pages

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear.  Given Chaudhary, a paparazzp-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid.  A child actress named Kirsten Raymond watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead.  That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread.  Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty.  As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all.  A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

~Goodreads Description

An adult book, people!  Go Emily (she writes after giving herself a a high-five)!  I've been wanting to read this one for what feels like forever.  There's just something a traveling symphony and Shakespeare company traversing the wild after a plague destroys almost the entire world.  Sounds happy, doesn't it!

Writing a summary is a bit difficult because there's a lot going on in this book!  The author starts out right before the plague hits, but then jumps back and forth in time (before the plague and after the plague) in the lives of several different characters.  There's Arthur, the actor and playboy who never seems content.  Kirsten, the young girl without a family who must live with the horrors she has seen and done, and Jeevan, who at first seems destined to die almost immediately but finds a courage and strength he didn't know he had.  What's really cool is watching all of the characters lives intertwine during different times in their lives.

This is definitely a dystopia.  It's dark and gritty and honestly quite depressing, but like most dystopias, there are glimmers of hope and the fortitude of the human spirit sprinkled throughout.  Emily St. John Mandel does an excellent job juggling all of their lives.  At times it felt like certain characters were going to slip through the cracks (especially Jeevan), but she picks them up and finds an interesting way to bring them back into the story.

This isn't really a fast-paced novel.  It's not built around adventure and tense moments.  Instead it's a slow journey, much like the traveling symphonies, through time and wilderness.  I highly recommend this title and will hopefully one day have the opportunity to check out more from Emily St. John Mandel.

Friday, June 19, 2015

June #Teen Talk - Talking Books and Newsies

It's another #TeenTalk time at Greenwood Public Library.  For this video, Jessica and I talked movies, books, and a great way to totally annoy our teen population :)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Graphic Novel Round-Up

It's that time again!  Here are a few titles I read with the last round-up.  I'm eager to start the stack that I have at home now!  Over vacation my brother settled into Y: The Last Man, and I think I got him hooked on Brian K. Vaughn.  I also got to have a great conversation with another graphic novel enthusiast who hooked me up with some new titles!  Any good ones you think I should add to my reading list?

Author: Steven T. Seagle
Info: First Second, copyright 2013, 128 pages

Tex Marx works hard at his career as a quantum physicist.  But lately the demands of his job have begun to overwhelm him.  Then Ted makes a startling discovery: his wife's father once knew Einstein and claims that Einstein entrusted to him a final, devastating secret - a  secret even more profound and shattering than the work that led to the first atom bombs.  If Ted can convince his father-in-law to tell him what Einstein had to say, his job will be safe.  But does he dare revea Einstein's most dangerous secret to those who might exploit it?

~Goodreads Description

My second Steven Seagle graphic novel and a great recommendation from a graphic novel-loving patron.  Tex is a prodigy who is afraid he has passed his peak.  He works at a company that expects big ideas, and he hasn't had a big idea in quite awhile.  When he discovers that his father-in-law once met Albert Einstein, he's desperate to learn all of the man's secrets.  This is a story of convenience (what are the odds that a prodigy physicists would marry someone who knew Einstein?) but a good story none-the-less.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal
Author: G. Willow Wilson
Info: Marvel, copyright 2014, 120 pages

Ms. Marvel Vol. 2: Generation Why
Info: Marvel, copyright 2015, 136 pages

Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City - until she's suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts.  But who truly is the new Ms. Marvel?  Teenager?  Muslim?  Inhuman?  Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm!  When Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them, as well.  Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts?  Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to bear?  Kamila has no idea, either.  But she's coming' for you, Jersey?

~Goodreads Description

Who is the inventor, and what does he want with the all-new Ms. Marvel and all her friends?  Maybe Wolverine can help!  Kamala may be fingerling out when her favorite (okay maybe Top Five) super hero shows up, but that won't stop her from protecting her hometown.  Then, Kamala crosses path with Inhumanity for the first time - by meeting the royal dog, Lockjaw!  Every girl wants a puppy, but this one may be too much of a handful, even for a super hero with embiggening powers.  But why is Lockjaw really with Kamala?  As Ms. Marvel discovers more about her past, the Inventor continues to threaten her future.

~Goodreads Description

Kamala is pretty awesome.  She's a feisty teenager who has found herself in an extraordinary situation.  She's a super hero.  Now she just needs to figure out how to sneak out of the house without getting caught by her parents.  Kamala is a pretty kick-but muslim crime fighter who isn't afraid to put herself out there and wear a ridiculous costume.  I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for the next volume.

Green Arrow: Year One
Author: Andy Diggle
Info: DC Comics, copyright 2008, 160 pages

The definitive tale of how Oliver Queen became Green Arrow!  Queen is frivolous playboy with little care of any one or anything, apparently even himself.  but when he's double-crossed and marooned on a jungle island, he finds that he does care about something: justice!

~Goodreads Description

My parents fell in love with the TV show but knowing NOTHING about this particular hero, I felt I need to read a little something before binge-watching this summer :)  So far, I kind of like Oliver Queen.  This particular origin story doesn't paint a great picture of him, but despite his spoiled rich kid ways, he's got a lot of heart underneath.  I think it's safe to start watching.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Of Mice and Men

Author: John Steinbeck
Info: Penguin Books, copyright 1937 (published 2002), 103 pages

The tragic story of the complex bond between migrant laborers in Central California.  They are George Milton and Lennie Small, itinerant ranch hands who dream of one day owning a small farm.  George acts as a father figure to Lennie, who is a very large, simple-minded man, calming him and helping to rein in his immense physical strength.

~Goodreads Description

A classic!  I read a classic!  Not one I had anticipated reading this year, but by golly I read it just the same.  Okay.  It was kind of assigned reading.  I had to step in for someone for a staff-led book club and thank goodness this was a short one.  I'm not sure how I managed to make it through18.5 years of school without ever having read this extremely tragic tale.  Better late than never I suppose.

I was, of course, familiar with the story before picking up the book.I've never seen the movie, but it's been parodied enough in pop culture that I knew what was coming.  It doesn't make it any less heartbreaking at the end.  And not just because of George's hard choice.  It's heartbreaking in its loneliness and the loss of dreams.

What impressed me most is the completeness of a story in only one-hundred pages.  It didn't rush.  It was just...concise I suppose.  There was backstory, there was character development, there was scene setting, and there was plot.  It was all there and revealed in a timely manner.  And it didn't read like a short story.  I never felt like I had been dropped into the middle of the plot.  I was starting a new beginning with George and Lennie, and I saw it through to the tragic end.

So yeah.  I read a classic, and I'm really glad it was for a book club because the discussion really helped me fully appreciate the time and setting in which the story took place.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Top Ten Books On My TBR For Summer 2015

Top Ten Books On My TBR for Summer 2015
(Feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish)

It would appear that most of the books on this list are assigned reading...but that's okay, because I selfish only took books with me on vacation that I picked out for myself.  There is now, however, some catching up to do :)

What's on your summer reading list?  Is there a Summer Reading program at your local library that you've signed up for?  If you have no idea, you should totally check and see!

1) Polaris by Mindee Arnett

2) At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

3) Killer Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

4) Half Bad by Sally Green

5) Low Vol. 1: The Delirium of Hope by Rick Remender

6) All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

7) Fake ID by Lamar Giles

8) The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick

9) Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

10) Slated by Teri Terry

Happy reading!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Letting Go on the Isle of Palms

While you're reading this on Monday, I'm writing it on Friday, sitting in a comfy chair that looks out on the ocean.  Vacation is coming to an end and to be honest, I'm not quite ready to get back to "real life".  Coming from a family of campers, we have spent the week in luxury, relaxing in a condo, taking naps by the pool, and playing in the surf.  It was a very relaxing week and one I know I will appreciate years to come remembering how the whole family was together.

Have you ever had that moment on vacation when you vow to change things back home when you return to regularly scheduled program?  You promise that you will slow down a little more, enjoy the moment, not allow yourself to get so tense and stressed.  I'm going to leave work on time.  And I'm going to take more walks.  And I'm going to laugh more.

I feel like I've had that moment all week.  I have the strong desire to adopt a minimalist lifestyle, get rid of what I don't need, turn the TV off, and enjoy what's happening around me just a little more.  Life is in the experience, not the stuff we accumulate. I only write this in hopes that I'll remember, or when life gets overwhelming or lonely or too-preoccupied, I can come back to this post and think, "hey...do you remember that relaxing week on the Isle of Palms, one of the most awesome beach towns in the country, when you let go of your worries, put your phone down, and just enjoyed yourself?"  That can be life.

(Maybe I read a little too much this week.  Sarah Dessen always makes me think and ponder and dream.  Review of Saint Anything to come :)

So here's to vacation and the small reminder to just live and enjoy.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Vacation Bound

A family trip to the beach awaits!  I can almost smell the salty ocean air and feel the sand between my toes.  And it's not like I've been daydreaming about low country shrimp and grits for the last couple of months or anything.  

Hopefully I'll have several reviews when I get back, and maybe a fun story or two :)  Enjoy your week, and I'll see you again refreshed and tan!

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