Dec 21, 2014

2014: The Year in Review

As usual I'm amazed at how quickly the months roll by and before I know it, I'm saying good-bye to the year and thinking back on the books that occupied my time. Though I didn't read as many books this year as last, I did read more books for my own pleasure rather than ARCs and that was very satisfying to me. There were so many great books released this year and I tried my best to get my hands on many of them. There is one book I started last year and didn't get it finished and that was THE GOLDFINCH by .  The reason I didn't finish doesn't have anything to do with the quality of the book/writing. I have no doubt I will return to it early in the new year because I'm sure I'm going to love it.

There were also some really great movies released this year that were based on books I've read. Though I don't go to the theater, I did manage to see a couple OnDemand and I have a whole list yet to be seen. I'm way behind in watching these movies but I enjoy watching them in the comfort of my own living room. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, THE GIVER and UNBROKEN,  which opens Christmas Day.

There were a few big changes in my reading this past year due to the progression of my eye disease.  I relied on audio books more than ever this year, but thankfully, I've grown very attached to audios and I'm enjoying them more and more. The other big change in my reading this year is that I don't think I read any actual paper books. The ebook is my best friend and even though I miss the smells and the feel of a real book in my hands, the ebook has been a savior to me. My Kindle is like an appendage to my body. I go nowhere without it. That being said, I do understand why some people loathe the ereader but for people like me, they are a life saver.

I read several non-fiction and health related books this year as well.  I also started reading a series by suspense/thriller writer Karin Slaughter this year. The Will Trent series is a spin-off of her Grant County series. The first book, TRIPTYCH, was so intense and kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. It was a great way to start off a series! I'm now on book three and I'm anxious to continue with it.

I thought I'd put together a few lists to summarize the books I read this year..

TOP 5 BOOKS: (In no particular order)




BOOK(S) THAT UNDERWHELMED ME:

  • A FARM DIES ONCE A YEAR by Arlo Crawford (Non-Fiction)
  • LABOR DAY by Joyce Maynard (I think I'd enjoy the movie better)

FAVORITE AUDIO BOOK:

  • Fiction: THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir
  • Non-Fiction: STILL FOOLIN' 'EM by Billy Crystal
MOST POPULAR BLOG POST:


  • This really surprised me - the two most visited posts didn't have anything to do with fiction books. I did a review of JJ Smith's 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse and then after I completed the cleanse, I posted my results and those two posts were each visited over 1,800 times! I knew that book was special when I finished reading it and I've seen all the recognition JJ Smith has gotten for her knowledge in healthy eating and I couldn't be happier for her.  If you're looking to try a cleanse this year, I would skip all those juice cleanses and try this green smoothie cleanse. Its a smart, healthy way to rid your body of toxins and a proven weight-loss program.  I won't lie to you - it was TOUGH! But it did teach me a whole lot and I lost 12 pounds in 10 days. I'm glad so many other people could benefit from my experience. 


FAVORITE CATCH PHRASE FROM A BOOK:

  • Oh Calamity! - from BIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty.
This has certainly been a year of great books, even though I didn't get to many that I wanted to and I'm very excited to see what next year brings. More on that next Sunday when I post about goals I have for 2015. Thank you for visiting Southern Girl Reads and Happy Holidays to you all! 

Dec 15, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (Unabridged Audio Version)

One of my favorite types of books to read are books about books and book people. THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY is just that kind of book and more.  Like the title indicates, it is the story of A.J. Fikry's life. A quiet life he lives on Alice Island, off the coast of Massachusetts where he owns a bookstore in the center of the small town. A widower, A.J. keeps mostly to himself and since his wife, Nicole, died in a tragic car accident shortly before the story begins he's become even more withdrawn and even grumpy. He's pleasant enough to his customers but his heart just doesn't seem to be in it any longer.

A.J. Fikry is basically a book snob who thinks Literary Fiction is the only worthwhile genre. He's very set in his ways and doesn't see that changing. That is until two important things happen to him within hours of each other. After a night of self-medicating with alcohol, he awakes the next morning to find that someone has stolen his most prozed possession. A very rare and valuable collection of Edgar Allan Poe's poems.  He always kept it locked in a temperature-controlled glass case in his apartment above the bookstore. He vaguely remembers opening the case in his drunken stupor the previous night - but it is now gone. He literally runs down the street to the local police station to report his theft. Upon returning to the store he is stunned to see that someone has left a baby in his bookstore with a note attached.  The note, apparently written by the child's mother, indicates her inability to care for the child any longer and her wish that Maya be raised around books and by book people for various reasons.   From that moment on, A.J. Fikry's life has new purpose and changes begin to happen that even Fikry himself could not have imagined.

MY THOUGHTS:

There were a lot of things I liked about this book. but mostlly it was the many book references and wittiness in the dialogue, especially between A.J. and Amelia, the book seller that made me smile while reading. You can only have that with people who 'get' your personality so I liked and appreciated those exchanges.  The characters were fantastic and I loved getting to know each of them and how they fit into A.J.'s life.  I also liked that Gabrielle Zevin managed to keep the surprises coming throughout the book. The transformation of A.J. and the friendships he developed were heartwarming and uplifting. He evolved from being a detached, lonely man to a contented man with friends, love and happiness in his life. I thoroughly enjoyed reading A.J.'s story and I also thought it had an ending perfectly suited to the story.

AUDIO REVIEW:

The narrator of this audio book was the highly acclaimed Scott Brick. Though he has narrated  many bestsellers, this is only the second audio I've heard him perform, the first being Harlan Coban's SIX YEARS. He has a very distinct voice and method in which he reads, which makes him instantly recognizable.  He is a dramatic narrator, which can be a bit distracting at first, however I felt his voice was absolutely perfect for this book. It suited A.J. Fikry's personality to a tea.

I would highly recommend this book, in any form, to other lovers of books and book people. Its a story that will absorb you quickly and you will get lost in it. If you're in a place where you're not quite sure what you want to read next, you should read THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY. It will be a great choice.

THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author:  Gabrielle Zevin
Narrator: Scott Brick
Publisher: HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books
Published:  April 2014
Length:  7 hrs 2 mins

Dec 3, 2014

Still Foolin' 'Em by Billy Crystal (Unabridged Audio Version)

Admittedly I don't read many memoirs but I do enjoy them, though nowadays it seems everybody is writing their memoirs, even people who've only been alive half as long as I have been. Let's face it, what could you possibly have done in 25 years that warrants a book written about it? OK, maybe I'm too critical about that, but I am very selective on whose memoir I read.

When it comes to Billy Crystal though, I didn't have to think twice.  I've been a fan of his from way back.  He's always seemed to me to be a regular guy who doesn't put on airs and even though he's had a hugely successful career, keeps a low profile and he's managed to stay married to the love of his life for over 40 years.  I respect that.

STILL FOOLIN' 'EM (Where I've Been, Where I'm Going and Where the Hell Are My Keys) is Billy reflecting on his life now that he's 65 years old and sharing what's important to him. I'll say right off the bat the best part about this audio is that Billy, himself, narrates it.  Another great thing is that several of the chapters are read in front of a live audience! During those chapters there is some unexpected moments that are really funny when he interacts with the audience.

I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the real Billy Crystal through his stories and was fascinated by the friendships he made in his early years. One thing is made clear: Billy treasures his friendships almost as much as he treasures his family. Crystal also discusses what its like for him getting older. One of the first things he talks about is turning 50 and having to get his first colonoscopy. Though it was very funny, I was nervous because I was actually scheduled to have my first one done the next week! But Billy reminds you that everyone gets older - the thing is you have to take it in stride and be able to laugh about things.  I was also touched by how sentimental he is.  He is a big collector of sentimental things. I totally relate to this probably because both Billy and I are Pisces which are borderline hoarders. We will hold on to anything if it has a memory attached to it. That is just one of the many qualities I found endearing about this comic.

Its well known that Billy had a long and close friendship with the late great Robin Williams.  Williams is mentioned many times throughout the book but it was especially moving when Billy talked about how they met and the friendship they developed through the years. This book was released shortly before Robin's death, so Crystal could not know that his friend would be gone soon after writing those words.  I had a lump in my throat listening to the affection in his voice for his dear friend.  I'll be honest, tears were present during those moments for me.

If you're looking for an audio book, either for yourself or as a gift to someone this holiday season, I'd put this one at the top of your list. I literally laughed out loud, especially during the live audience readings.  I'm so glad I 'read' this memoir. Its one of the best I've ever read.

STILL FOOLIN' 'EM Where I've Been, Where I'm Going and Where the Hell Are My Keys?)
Unabridged Audio Version
Author: Billy Crystal
Narrator: Billy Crystal
Publisher:  Macmillan Audio
Published: Sept 13, 2014
Length: 8 hrs 6 mins

Nov 26, 2014

WWW Wednesday (11.26.14)



W...W...W... Wednesdays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. It allows us to share what books are and have been in our lives recently.Anyone can participate -  just answer these 3 simple questions:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you'll be reading next?


Here's my answers:

  • What am I currently reading?  I've got a few books going right now. One is A BETTER PLACE by Barbara Hall, who is also the Executive Producer of the new CBS drama Madam Secretary. I also just started Stephen King's A GOOD MARRIAGE. I saw the movie trailer and I instantly wanted to read it.  I'm also listening to Billy Crystal's STILL FOOLIN' 'EM, which is a memoir about his life. It is laugh out loud funny!
  • What did you recently finish reading? I just finished listening to BIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty.  My review is here if you'd like to read it. 
  • What are you planning to read next?  I want to re-read GARDEN SPELLS by Sarah Addison Allen before FIRST FROST comes out in January. I also want to read BLISS HOUSE by Laura Benedict. The next audiobook I plan to listen to is THE SILENT SISTER by Diane Chamberlain. 

Nov 23, 2014

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (Unabridged Audio Version)

I first discovered Liane Moriarty with the release of her hugely successful THE HUSBAND'S SECRET, almost two years ago.  I really enjoyed that book and felt it deserved all of the accolades it received. Moriarty has an interesting way of telling a story that keeps the reader almost in the loop but not quite fully. I appreciate that in her writing because I don't want to know everything right up front. I enjoy peeling back the layers of the characters and story as I read.

BIG LITTLE LIES centers around the parents of Pirriwee Public School's students, and their connected relationships, both past and present. Right away the reader learns there are definite cliques in this group of parents.  One of the ring-leaders is Madeline, a plain-spoken, opinionated mom who speaks her mind, especially when she's defending her friends. Jane is new to Pirriwee, is quiet and keeps to herself. Madeline and Jane meet each other on the way to their children's first grade orientation and Madeline takes an instant liking to Jane and assigns herself the task of filling her in on the who's who and what's what at Pirriwee Public. Celeste is another of Madeline's friends and her twin boys are also in the class. On the outside, Celeste appears to have it all. She's gorgeous, smart and married to a handsome and very successful Perry. When Celeste walks into a room, everyone takes notice, yet Celeste seems not to even notice.

On the day of the orientation, one of the little girls claims that Jane's son, Ziggy, hurt her and though there was no evidence either way of what actually happened, Ziggy was branded a bully and was shunned by much of the class and Jane was singled out as well.  Though Madeline and Celeste stood by their new friend, tensions rose as the months went by until things came to a tragic head at the annual trivia night that resulted in a shocking death.

MY THOUGHTS:

Let me say right off that even though the reader is aware that there is a death involved in the story, Moriarty tells the story so that the victim is a mystery until almost the very end.  The book actually opens with police interrogations of the parents who had attended the trivia night fundraiser. In a style we have come to expect from her, the story is built in sections, not giving away all of the details, but leading the reader down her masterful storytelling path until everything builds to its dramatic crescendo near the end of teh book.  By this time, the reader is familiar with all of the characters, their flaws and their secrets. Littered between chapters are excerpts from the police investigation, giving insight to what many of the characters are thinking.

Along with the great storytelling, another great thing about this book is that it is so current and relevant in today's society. There are so many issues touched upon in this story: bullying, domestic abuse, single parenthood, and sexual assault to name a few. There is so much hiding just beneath the surface of these characters yet they appear normal, and in some cases, envied by others. This story serves as a reminder that even the most beautiful, most confident, and even the most successful people may have things going on in their personal lives that would never be suspected.

I chose to listen to this novel and I really enjoyed it. Caroline Lee did an amazing job with the narration and made all of the players seem so real and easy to distinguish between.  I also really enjoyed the Australian dialect and locale of Moriarty's novels. I was fully absorbed into this audio and time flew when I was listening. I was even surprised by the ending of the book because I didn't know who had been killed until Ms. Moriarty wanted me to know. She has mastered the art of surprise even in a book that many of the details are known from the beginning. That is what I like most about her writing.

The bottom line for me is, this is a really good story with dynamic characters and issues that are real and easy to identify with. I've now read two of Moriarty's novels, one on Kindle and now this audio and I can say that I enjoyed both of them immensely.  In my opinion, you can't go wrong either way.

BIG LITTLE LIES (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Liane Moriarty
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: July 29, 2014
Length: 16 Hrs

Aug 26, 2014

The Martian by Andy Weir (Unabridged Audio Version)

If you would've told me awhile back that I was going to read a sci-fi book about an astronaut on Mars  and that I would absolutely love that book, I would've told you you were crazy. But that's exactly what happened with Andy Weir's novel, THE MARTIAN.

About the Book: 
(From Amazon)

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 and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and 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—and 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?


My Thoughts:

I've already indicated that I was completely surprised that I enjoyed this book so much.  But let me be clear, its simply because I don't typically read books about space, astronauts or anything science fiction related.  I was totally out of my comfort zone here and I couldn't be happier that I took that leap.  I did choose the audio version for those reasons and I'll get into that part of my review in a bit, but first, I need to talk about the story, writing and characters. 

The story, to my own surprise, was brilliant. The concept of an astronaut left for dead on Mars and how he fights to not only survive but to get back to Earth was so original and fascinating that I was hooked from the very beginning.  After reading some reviews, I was a little worried I would get tired of all the scientific jargon but that didn't happen with my experience. Maybe if I'd been reading the book version I might have skimmed over those parts but there were such great nuggets in those passages that I'm glad I didn't miss.  The technical research that must've went into the writing of this book was enormous and Andy Weir gets major kudos for that alone. 

I liked the way Weir presented this novel both as log entries and from a third party perspective for all of the other characters working to get Mark home. The story moved along so smoothly and without any lulls whatsoever for me. I was totally engaged from start to finish. 

The characters were so diverse and each of their personalities were easily identifiable as I listened on. Of course, my favorite character was Mark Watney. What a character! Weir gave him such an great sense of humor and never-give-up attitude. I especially loved his snarkiness and funny way of explaining things when he wrote in his log entries. What I loved most was that he was able to make fun of himself.  I laughed out loud many, many times while listening to this book and it was Mark's personality that made that happen. 

AUDIO REVIEW:

This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite audiobooks I've ever listened to. Ever. I totally enjoyed the story, the characters and the narration  was perfectly done by R.C. Bray. He brought this character to life in grand fashion and I loved his interpretation.  Let me be clear, there is a lot of scientific terms laced throughout the book and if you think you'd get bogged down by it then I highly recommend the audio version. You will have a wonderful listening experience and hopefully you'll love it as much as I did. 

THE BOTTOM LINE . . .

is that I was completely and totally entertained by this book. I'm also really looking forward to the film version due out next year. Ridley Scott is said to be directing and the word is that Matt Damon will be playing the role of Mark Watney. I think that's a great choice! 

THE MARTIAN (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Andy Weir
Publisher:  Podium Publishing
Published: March 23, 2014
Length: 10 hrs 53 mins
The Bottom Line: I LOVED IT!!!



Aug 14, 2014

That Night by Chevy Stevens

In her latest novel, THAT NIGHT, best-selling author Chevy Stevens tells the story of Toni Murphy, who at eighteen, along with her boyfriend Ryan, were convicted of murdering her sixteen year-old sister, Nicole. Now, after they both have served their sentences and have been released from prison, they try to adjust to life on the outside, separately. Toni is doing everything  by the book, making sure she doesn't get sent back by violating her strict probationary rules. Toni and Ryan have always claimed they were innocent but the eveidence against them was too convincing, leaving almost no one believing them. Toni's own mother doesn't believe her and even her father, whom she's always had a good relationship seems to doubt her innocence but tries not to show it.

While Toni works to get her life back and follow the rules, Ryan is angry and determined to prove who the real killers are.  He starts digging up the past and soon attracts the attention of the group of girls that used to make Toni's life miserable when they was all in high school. The terms of Toni's parole are clear: no contact with Ryan or any witnesses involved in her case. But when it becomes clear that following the rules isn't working, Toni feels she has no other choice than to turn the tables and show the world she did not murder her own sister.

My Thoughts:

This is my second Chevy Stevens novel, after reading STILL MISSING a few years ago. I have to say, I liked this book better. I am not one to shy away from dark storylines, however the content in STILL MISSING was so raw and disturbing and I was surprised by my own reaction. With THAT NIGHT, the story is also tragic but at least I wasn't thinking about it at night while I slept.  The beginning of the book was a bit slow but not slow enough that it kept me from wanting to read it. I knew it would pick up and it certainly did just that. I liked the characters of Toni and Ryan and felt bad for them that no one understood them or even wanted to believe them. The first part of the book is all about bullying and the consequences of those actions. There's also a fair amount of prison scenes in this book but I felt it wasn't too much so that it overshadowed the story. I've read that some reviewers felt it was too much 'Orange is the New Black' for them but I didn't feel that way at all. Toni spent over fifteen years in prison and that time shaped her personality and I felt Ms. Stevens did a great job of depicting that along with  the relationships she developed while in there, whether they were good relationships or bad.

Toni is the one telling the story and the book reads exactly like that. She's an ex-con who grew up behind bars and therefore, she's a bit rough around the edges and it certainly comes across in the way she tells her story. This is not a book written in perfect grammar, but its for a very good reason.  I've read a few reviews where this bothered some readers but I feel it gave the story an authenticity, especially because it was Toni herself who was telling the story..

The bottom line is that I did enjoy this book and though it didn't pack a lot of surprises for me, it did captivate my attention. It was a quick read and part of what kept me turning the pages so quickly was that I was anxious to see if Toni and Ryan would get their justice.

THAT NIGHT by Chevy Stevens (@ChevyStevens)
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Published:  June 2014
Length: 381 pp
Source: Galley copy sent by the publisher