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)


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


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

  • 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. 


  • 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.


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.


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.


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. 


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. 


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

Jul 25, 2014

The Results Are In! The 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse by JJ Smith

I've already posted about this book a few weeks ago before I started my own cleanse and I am here now to give my complete review of the book and to share my results.  Previously, I mentioned how easy the cleanse was to understand and what a great job JJ Smith did of explaining the process and laying everything out. Now that I've made it through the 10 days I can also testify to how tasty the green smoothies are. I do have my favorites: Day 3, 6, 7 and 9. Since there is a different smoothie recipe for each day, there is no chance of getting bored with them.

As far as the cleanse itself, I was very surprised that I rarely suffered from a headache. I've done a detox before and had terrible headaches that lasted for days but that was not the case here. I am a die-hard coffee drinker and I was expecting the worst but thankfully the worst never happened. I did drink 1 - 2 cups of Chinese herbal detox tea each morning but it was decaf. I would have to say that not having a headache was the biggest surprise of all of this detox cleanse.

Because I snacked on raw veggies and small handfuls of unsalted nuts that provided me with protein, I never felt like I was starving myself and I never went to bed miserable like I had anticipated. Since I was eating every 3 to 4 hours, whether it be a smoothie or a healthy snack, my stomach was never totally empty. For me, the evening times were the hardest. So I would save my peanuts for that time or I would have an apple, which is great for increasing blood flow, so I never felt sluggish. And if you feel the full cleanse is too much for you, you can do the modified cleanse where you drink smoothies for 2 meals and them have a sensible dinner of chicken or fish with a salad or veggies. The modified cleanse is the best way to maintain your weight loss after you've finished the full cleanse. JJ Smith has done such extensive research for this cleanse that she thought of everything. Each smoothie serving is a complete meal source providing all of the nutrients your body needs to function properly.

Now, with all that being said, I'm not trying to say that I never missed eating or wanted real food during this 10 day period. Honestly, this was one of the hardest things I've ever done. My problem is I love food and I love eating! I know it was helpful that I did not participate in any social functions or gatherings while on the cleanse. I did spend the day with one of my friends once but I packed up my smoothie and my snacks and water and took them with me. And my friend was sweet enough to wait until I was not there before she started grilling the meat that she was making for her family later that night. I really appreciated that even though I told her it wasn't necessary.

One of the keys to a successful cleanse like this is to drink a lot of water. In this case, I drank 64 oz per day. It sounds like a lot but that is key if you are trying to remove toxins from your body, not to mention it helps in the weight loss aspect as well. I drank water constantly throughout the day and even kept a bottle on my nightstand during the night. I also drank an 8 oz glass of water before each smoothie and also first thing in the morning. As a result of all that water, I noticed a difference in my skin and my nails grew very fast as well.

Another thing I noticed is that I began sleeping better. I used to never sleep through the night and would often sleep with the TV on but I actually didn't need the constant drone of the TV to keep me asleep. Since I've completed the cleanse, I am still sleeping better than I have in a while. Probably because I am still being very picky as to what I put in my body, but more on that later.

As for my results, I am very pleased with the outcome. I lost a total of 11 pounds and 5 inches in my waist. The shorts that used to be uncomfortably tight and unwearable are now slipping on easily and are not uncomfortable at all. People have noticed that my waistline is smaller and even my neck is thinner. On top of all that, I feel great! I forgot to take my morning dose of blood pressure medicine the other day and normally I would have felt a shortness of breath or heavy beating of my heart, but I felt perfectly fine all day as long as I didn't over-exert myself. And yes, I did take my nightly dose of meds. I'm not crazy enough to think I can quit taking my BP meds but it was a relief to not feel bad when I'd forgotten them that morning and wasn't home to take my pill. I go to the doctor every 4 months for him to check my liver and kidneys and after this cleanse I am sure my lab report is going to be glowing. In fact, I go to the doctor on August 12 and I'm anxious to hear what my doctor has to say.

The bottom line is that I've learned so much from JJ Smith and her green smoothie cleanse and I plan to use that knowledge to continue living a healthier lifestyle. I'm still not eating red meat, sugar and pasta and I don't plan to for awhile. I really don't miss the sugar at all and I am not a soda drinker so that is an easy one for me. My downfall is coffee but I've cut myself back to one cup per day. I plan to still drink smoothies sometimes when I feel I've over-indulged and to get some good nutrients. They are so easy to make and the truth is they taste really good.  I plan to use them, along with daily exercise, to hopefully continue to lose at least 1 or 2 pounds a week.

The 10 Day Green Smoothie Cleanse was a positive experience for me and one that was definitely worth the hard work. And remember, I lost those 11 pounds without working out. I would never recommend a cleanse unless I had tried it myself and really believe in it. If you decide to do this cleanse/detox, I highly recommend reading this book ENTIRELY before you start. Its a quick read with tons of important information that is necessary for a healthy cleanse. Will I ever do it again? I'd have to say Yes, I would.

Author: JJ Smith (@jjsmithonline)
Publisher: Atria Books
Published: February 2014
Length: 192 pp
Source: Purchased

Jul 23, 2014

A Long Time Gone by Karen White (Unabridged Audio Version)

A LONG TIME GONE is the multi-generational story of the Walker women of Indian Mound, Mississippi. This sweeping and emotional story focuses on Vivien, Carol Lynne, and Adelaide Walker, who each grew up in a different time but faced many of the same obstacles in life. Their story is steeped in rich history that is plagued by deep family secrets and is told in the first person by each of these troubled women. Vivien in current day, and Carol Lynne and Adelaide from the past.

After being gone from home for several years, Vivien returns to her family home in Indian Mound to try to piece back together a life that has not worked out for her, no matter how far she tried to run. Coming off a painful divorce and having nothing to show for the years she's been gone, she is reluctant and nervous to face the people she hurt when she left without ever looking back. She's especially not looking forward to seeing her mother, Carol Lynne, who was rarely around while Vivien was growing up, causing deep hurt and resentment in Vivien's soul.   Carol Lynne's story is told through diary entries and follows her life as she drifted from place to place from the sixties until the early 2000's when she finally returned home for good. Her's is a sad and lonely story that desperately needs to be told before its too late. Adelaide's story is the most riveting and emotional story of all and begins in the 1920's.

Vivien arrives home to see the sheriff and a few other people gathered in the back yard where a downed cypress tree lies and crime scene tape has cordoned off the area.  As she approaches she sees a shallow grave containing skeletal remains. Suddenly her arrival home is not the only news of the day. The mystery of whose remains they are and who buried them there is what drives this intricately woven novel.

My Thoughts On the Story:

It didn't take me long to get caught up in the story since Vivien's return coincided with the discovery of the body buried in the yard.  The awkwardness of her return is present but takes a back seat to the mystery of the identity of the bones and how they ended up there.  Vivien and her family assure the Sheriff they will do all they can to help shed light on who it might be by revisiting family history.

My favorite character was Adelaide with her innocence and hope for a beautiful future in a troubling time, yet White doesn't actually reveal who Adelaide actually is until much later in the book. The Walker women all have one thing in common, or at least they think they do. Each of them believes their mothers abandoned them, either by choice or circumstance. In Vivien's case this fact has had a huge impact on her life and the choices she's made. Because of that, she comes across as a hard person to get to know but once she let her guard down, I really liked her. My least favorite character was Carol Lynne, though she is the most misunderstood out of all of the Walker women.

The story was very well-plotted, though at times I wished it would pick up a bit. But even with that said, I never got bored with it. There are many different stories being told from different times but each one is easy to follow and none of them get overshadowed. They are all very relevant and important to the main plot.  If you don't mind the time-jumping you will probably really like this book because the characters are so well connected to each other. Vivien is who keeps the connection strong and has the most to gain from digging into her family's history and that's why its such a well-rounded story, though its not my favorite Karen White novel.

My Thoughts On the Audio Performance:

There are three different narrators in this audio and they all did a fine job. At first I felt Vivien sounded a little flat but as I continued to listen, I gained an appreciation of the different people's voices she also interpreted while telling Vivien's story, both female and male, and I think she did an outstanding job. I believe hers was the most difficult of the three. The narrator of Adelaide also did several different characters and did them all very well. Carol Lynne's story, being told through diary entries was the most straight-forward and I felt her lazy and laid back way of talking slowed the story down a bit. The bottom line is that I'm glad I chose to listen to this book and I would recommend it highly as your next audio.

A LONG TIME GONE (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Karen White
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: June 2014
Length: 17 hrs 3 mins


Jul 14, 2014

A Farm Dies Once a Year by Arlo Crawford

The summer he was thirty-one, Arlo Crawford returned home for the summer harvest at New Morning Farm—seventy-five acres tucked in a hollow in south-central Pennsylvania where his parents had been growing organic vegetables for almost forty years.
Like many summers before, Arlo returned to the family farm's familiar rhythms—rise, eat, bend, pick, sort, sweat, sleep. But this time he was also there to change his direction, like his father years ago. In the 1970s, well before the explosion of the farm-to-table and slow food movement, Arlo's father, Jim, left behind law school and Vietnam, and decided to give farming a try. Arlo's return also prompts a reexamination of a past tragedy: the murder of a neighboring farmer twenty years before. A chronicle of one full season on a farm, with all its small triumphs and inevitable setbacks, A Farm Dies Once a Year is a meditation on work—the true nature of it, and on taking pride in it—and a son's reckoning with a father's legacy. Above all, it is a striking portrait of how one man builds, sows, and harvests his way into a new understanding of the risks necessary to a life well-lived. (Synopsis provided by Amazon)

My Thoughts:

When I was contacted about receiving a review copy of this book I wasn't familiar with it but after reading the description, I was immediately interested. Being raised on our family's little farm with our large garden, chickens and various barnyard animals with corn and wheat fields all around us instilled in me deep appreciation for the life of a farmer.  So, its easy to understand why I would want to read Arlo Crawford's book. 

I found Arlo's story and his memories of growing up on New Morning Farm interesting and even though in the beginning I felt he didn't appreciate the hard work his parents and the hired workers did, I did change my mind about that. His parents were so dedicated to the work they did, especially his dad, Jim. Though believe  Arlo didn't reach his full appreciation and understanding until this trip back to the farm.

This is an uncomplicated book about a simple way of life though a very hard and rewarding way of life. Along with stories of farm life is a memory Arlo shares about his father's friend and fellow farmer, Bert, being murdered on his own farm by a man known around town as being a mean drunk. That story, being told throughout the book, brings it to a different level and sets an emotional tone.  

This book would be enjoyed by anyone who likes gardening, working with vegetables and fruits, and those who have a fondness for farmer's markets.  Summertime is the best time to read this book since we are in the height of the growing season.  A FARM DIES ONCE A YEAR reminds us how important our farmers, their land and the items they produce are so important to our economy and our culture. Its a book that will leave you smiling when you finish it. 

Author: Arlo Crawford
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co
Published: April 2014
Length:  272 pp

Jul 13, 2014

[TSS] Progress Report: The 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse

Well, I've reached the halfway mark in my 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse and thought I'd share with you how it is going.  First I'll talk about the smoothies, since that is the basis for the whole cleanse. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how tasty these smoothies are. There is a specific recipe for each of the 10 days and so far I haven't had one that I didn't like. I do have my favorites, like the Apple Berry from Day 3. So you know exactly what goes into a smoothie, I'm sharing the recipe with you below. And don't worry, you don't need any special or expensive blender. I'm using my regular-sized Hamilton Beach 400 watt blender that I've had for years and it is working great!


1 handful spring mix greens
2 handfuls spinach
2 cups water
11/2 cups frozen blueberries
1 banana, peeled
1 apple, cored and quarterd
1 packet Stevia
2 Tbsp ground flax seed
(Optional) 1 scoop of plant-based protein powder

Blend greens and water first, then add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth and creamy

That's it! Its very simple to do. I peel my bananas, put them in a freezer bag and throw them in the freezer. That helps make the smoothie cold and that is the way I prefer mine. All of the frozen fruit helps with this as well. I even keep my seedless grapes in the freezer. The best part is that you only have to blend smoothies first thing in the morning because each batch makes your entire day's meals. They make 3 12oz. servings. I drink mine out of a frozen mug also. 

The flaxseeds are already ground so you don't even notice them. They are a great source of fiber and they are a 'good fat' source and very important to the detox process. The protein powder I use is 100 soy. It will help give you energy, keeps your metabolism going and makes you feel full. 

Along with drinking 64 oz. of water daily, you are encouraged to snack throughout the day so you don't go more than 2-3 hours without eating, because that's when your body starts storing fat. Some pproved snacks are: carrots, celery, apples, hard-boiled eggs, and unsalted nuts. I love raw green beans and cauliflower so I eat those as well. I can honestly say I have not gone to bed hungry one time. I am hungry in the morning, but once I've had my cup of herbal Detox tea, I prepare my smoothies for the day and after that first sip, my hunger pains diminish quickly. I drink water all day long and before you know it Its time for my next smoothie. I've done other detoxes and I've gotten pretty bad headaches but I have only had a slight headache a few times. All in all, this detox has been a positive experience. 

Along with detoxing your body of all the free radicals and toxins, you also get the benefit of weight-loss. This is the perfect detox to jump-start your diet. Once I have completed this cleanse, I am anxious to stick to healthy foods and stay away from the things that make my body sluggish. I will be eating high protein meals (chicken or fish) with veggies and salad instead of heavy starches and pastas. I'm working hard to get my body healthy and I plan to keep it up even after the cleanse. I have my check-up with my doctor next month and I can't wait to see what my numbers look like for my kidneys and liver as well as my weight loss. I'm sure he will be pleased with me.  

I'll be posting again once I've finished the last five days and I will then report my total weight loss. I weighed myself this morning and I'll just say that I am COMPLETELY satisfied with how its going! I'm losing weight, feeling good and even sleeping through the night, which is a problem for me. 

I hope this information is useful to some of you, especially if you're looking for a healthy cleanse to try. I'm only halfway through but I can tell you that this one delivers everything it promises! And I'm learning so much about my body and nutrition and I have JJ Smith to thank for that! 

Jul 8, 2014

The 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse by JJ Smith

As a rule, I am not a fan of cleanses. There are so many versions out there and I've always been skeptical of them, mainly because I am of the belief that your body needs a wide variety of nutrients to function healthily and by removing certain types of foods all together you can actually do your body more harm than good. That's why I surprised myself when after seeing JJ Smith on The Steve Harvey Show and listening to her explain her Green Smoothie Cleanse, I immediately downloaded her book and began reading. Right away I was more than intrigued. As a nutritionist and professional weight loss coach, Smith is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about health and nutrition. JJ's theory behind this cleanse is that it is the perfect way to jump start a healthy diet and that most people lose 10 to 15 pounds during the 10 days of the cleanse.

Very soon after I began reading I had already made up my mind that I was going to try this cleanse. The first step I took was reading the book from cover to cover.   This is very important because in it she outlines how the cleanse works, what you can expect and how to maintain and incorporate this lifestyle change into your daily routine once you've completed the 10 day cleanse.  The information included is so easy to grasp and even has links to websites if you are looking for further research.

JJ Smith describes in detail the basis for this cleanse and how it works to eliminate toxins from your body so that when you do start eating healthy, you are starting with a clean slate. This cleanse will rid your body of all of the unhealthy things you've previously put into your body. She explains it in terms that are very easy to understand. She is also available on Facebook and Twitter to help with encouragement or any questions you may have. The fact that she is very approachable in that way only shows her commitment to this program and that she believes in it, as do her thousands of supporters.

Two other great things about The 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse book is that Smith includes a shopping list of items you will need for the first 5 days and then another list for the remaining 5 days. Its important to have all of your ingredients ahead of time so you're not running out the store or running out of an item and skipping it. These recipes are strictly tailored for the maximum benefit of the cleanse and should not be changed. This brings me to the other great thing included in this book. Not only does she tell you exactly what smoothie to make for each day, there are over 100 other smoothie recipes for future use. Those are perfect for maintaining your health and allowing variety which is very important. If you give your body the same thing day after day, it gets smart to that and will start storing it as fat and the benefit of a healthy meal plan will be lost. Variety is very important in any meal plan when trying to lose weight.

I'll be starting my cleanse on Wednesday, july 9 and finishing on the 19th. I'll be posting daily blogs of my experiences while on the cleanse here at Southern Girl Reads. I hope you'll visit often during that time and check out my progress. At the end of the 10 days I'll give my personal assessment of the cleanse itself and post my results: weight lost, inches lost etc. Though I'm excited about this journey, I'm also a little nervous. I'm really going to miss my coffee every morning but I'm totally dedicated and ready to do this! Wish me luck!


Jul 6, 2014

[TSS] Summer Reading Overload

One thing is fur sure: There is no shortage of great books out there this summer to choose from. Personally I find myself a bit overwhelmed by all the great titles available. Currently I've got three books going, including one audiobook, but I don't seem to be making much progress with any of them. Instead I keep adding books to my reader! In my defense, I have been sick for over a week and just haven't felt much like reading (or doing anything else for that matter). But my TBR pile is growing like the weeds in my yard after endless days of rain.

One of the books I'm reading is THE GOLDFINCH, a Pulitzer Prize winner, but I'm plodding along slowly with it. Not that its not a good book, its just....very wordy. Does that make sense to anyone? I also have Chevy Stevens' new thriller, THAT NIGHT, but I haven't actually started it yet because I have my eye on A BETTER PLACE, a new release, by Barbara Hall that I'm expecting to receive any day now. (Hall is the writer and executive producer of a new show coming on CBS this fall called MADAME SECRETARY).  I'm also reading a non-fiction book, A FARM DIES ONCE A YEAR but I've set it aside because I just don't care much for the narrator. Being raised on a farm in the Midwest, I have a lot of respect for that life and I feel he takes it for granted and doesn't appreciate it, but I'm hopeful that is going to change as I keep reading.  I really need to pick that one back up again because I think its going to be a good one. The audiobook I'm listening to now is Karen White's A LONG TIME GONE. Its very engrossing and I'm enjoying it but secretly I'm anxious to finish it because my next audiobook, THE MARTIAN, keeps nagging at me. I've heard some great things about this book and I'm told the audio is a real treat. 

Along with these new books, there are some older ones I thought I'd get to this summer but at the rate I'm going, that may not happen. The days are flying by so fast. This is the fastest summer I can remember. They're even showing Back To School ads on TV already! What's that about? I know for a fact my teacher friends aren't happy about that! 

I know there are worst things than having too many great books to read but my summer reading goals are biting the dust. Are you having a similar situation? Or are you on track with your summer reading list? Share with me what books you're anxious to read - I'd love to know!  

Jun 19, 2014

The Vacationers by Emma Straub (Audio Review)

(This review contains no Spoilers!)
Emma Straub's new novel, THE VACATIONERS, is a quirky, enjoyable read that though it has a good amount of family angst and problems, was not at all full of knuckle-biting, full on drama. The story centers around a Manhattan family, the Posts, and their two-week vacation in Mallorca, an island off the coast of Spain. On the trip are Franny and Jim Post, their daugher Sylvia, who just graduated from high school, her older brother Bobby and his girlfriend Carmen who live together in Florida. Also on the trip is Franny's close friend Charles and his husband Lawrence. They'll be staying in a house owned by one of Charles' friends.

Early on we learn there is something going on with Franny and Jim's 30-something year marriage, but that isn't divulged right away. Hints are dropped and conclusions are made by the reader. Sylvia, the only child still living at home, knows what's happening and just wants to start her new college life in the fall. Bobby and Carmen don't know what the trouble with his parents is but they do have a hidden agenda for coming on this trip with Carmen being the driving force and Bobby feeling very uncomfortable about it. Charles and Lawrence are at a point where they are ready for the next step in their lives but it brings a lot of uncertainty and they aren't quite yet ready to tell anyone, even Charles' best friend, Franny, who thinks Charles tells her EVERYTHING. With all of these diverse personalities and complicated issues, this family vacation is full of surprises and realizations. Hopefully they can all get through it.

My Thoughts:
I was looking for something a little different when I chose this book. I wanted an entertaining summer read that was fun but also had a good story. The Twitter-verse was buzzing about Emma Straub and her new book and I was looking for my next audiobook. After sampling the narration, I knew this was exactly what I was looking for.

The Post family, though flawed, is a great family. One thing I liked right away was that the story was told by different family members, giving a broad knowledge of all their personalities and their perceptions. My favorite was Sylvia in all of her young, sometimes naive knowledge, and the innocence of not yet living life on her own yet. Honestly, I liked all of the characters and they liked each other, though there were some issues.

The Posts were in beautiful Mallorca for two weeks so Straub broke down the chapters by days. There was a different chapter for each day and I thought that was a great idea for the theme of this book. There wa such great ebb and glow with this novel. I literally breezed right through it in a matter of a few days. The house in Mallorca sounded so fabulous, I just wanted to be transported there so badly, I think I lived vicariously through them.

I've never read anything else by Emma Straub but I can easily say that I did like her writing style. Listening to this book was was much like sitting down with a group of friends and chatting. I'm positive that the printed version would be a quick, easy-flowing page turner. Her writing is not complicated its straitforward and to the point.

This character-driven story was full of complicated issues and conflicting personalities but I was pleasantly surprised their weren't more actual arguments. These are mature, intelligent charterers and even when punches were being thrown, it wasn't awful, just surprising, like 'Wow! I can't believe he actually did it!' I really enjoyed this story and the people in it and because its only 301 printed pages, I think its a great book for summer and I think its going to be a big hit this season.


As you well  know, narration can make or break an audiobook and for me, Kristin Sieh did an awesome job. To be honest, at first I wasn't sure, but soon her somewhat raspy voice won me over. I thought it was especially conducive to Sylvia's character, though she did an amazing job with all of them, even the minor characters with thick accents. Ms. Sieh completely pulled me in and made me forget I was being read to and put me right into the story. That is the mark of a great narrator!

Overall, I think THE VACATIONERS would be a great book to take on your summer vacation or to the beach. Its fun, light and a little quirky but underneath all that is a meaningful story about family, change, and the bonds of love that keep people connected.  

THE VACATIONERS (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Emma Straub (@emmastraub)
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: May 29, 2014
Length: 6 Hrs 39 Mins
Printed Length: 301 pp

Jun 13, 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (Audio Review)

Sue Monk Kidd's latest novel is set in Charleston, South Carolina from early to mid 1800's. Its a richly told story about two sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, and Sarah's slave girl, Handful.  The story begins when Sarah was just a young girl and Nina hadn't been born yet. Though Sarah had reached the age to acquire a slave girl to attend to her daily needs, Sarah was never quite comfortable with this arrangement. As she grew older, she became more unsettled by it and she even attempted to buy Handful from her mother and father in order to free her, an offer her parents flatly refused. Though Sarah and Handful were never what you would call friends, there was a silent understanding between them that was as close to a friendship that they were able to have.

In her twenties, still unmarried and living at home, Sarah became more and more convinced that slavery should be abolished, which caused obvious problems for the family. Eventually, she made the decision to leave her family home and move to Philadelphia to live with a Quaker family she had met some years before. Since Sarah had secretly taught Handful to read when she was younger, Sarah was able to keep in touch with Handful over the years. Soon, Nina, too, had become active in the fight against slavery and she joined her sister.

Though Handful was enslaved, she dreamed of the day she would be able to buy her freedom and finally live the life she felt she deserved. She sewed quilts and clothing to sell and saved every penny to put towards her freedom. Many miles north, Sarah and Nina did their part in spreading the word about the injustices of slavery, along with the rights of women to have a voice. Though their lives were completely different, Handful and Sarah were fighting the same battle, which was very costly in different ways for each of them.

My Thoughts:

I was automatically drawn to this novel for two reasons: the obvious one is my love of Southern Fiction and the other is that I'm a huge Sue Monk Kidd fan! Oh, and another reason is that it takes place in Charleston, South Carolina.

The story moved along nicely through the years without becoming slow. I also liked how the chapters alternated between Handful and Sarah's perspectives. Slavery is not a roses and sunshine subject and it it could have easily grown tedious or depressing, but SMK didn't allow that to happen. Not once did I get bored or want to move on already. I felt it was perfectly paced and highlighted the most significant events.  I also appreciated the historical fiction element as notable events were incorporated and made the story even more genuine.

I didn't realize until after finishing and listening to the author's notes that Sarah and Angelina Grimke were actually real people and their story was true - save for the addition of the character of Handful. SMK became aware of the sisters while visiting a museum and was so intrigued by them that she decided to write a story around the two remarkable women. Knowing that just made the book even better for me.


There isn't much I need to say about the narrative performance other than to say it was FLAWLESS! Both Jenna Lamia (Sarah) and Adepero Oduye (Handful), were fantastic in their interpretations of these characters. This audio ranks right up with some of the best I've ever heard. I highly recommend the audio version if you are looking for a new listen. You will not regret choosing it.

THE INVENTION OF WINGS (Unabridged Version)
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: January 7, 2014
Length: 13 hrs 46 mins
Print Length: 386 pp

Jun 3, 2014

Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews

In SAVE THE DATE, Mary Kay Andrews introduces another original character living in Savannah. This time its Cara Kryzik, a florist originally from Ohio. Cara stumbled into owning her own flower shop when the previous owner, and Cara's boss, became ill and practically gave the business to Cara. The place definitely needed some TLC but Cara was up to the challenge and before long, she was the proud owner of Bloomers. Unfortunately, Cara borrowed a bit of money from her military father to get things rolling and now, many months later, he was breathing down her neck for the payback of his investment. The He didn't miss an opportunity to let Cara know how he felt about her business acumen, or lack there of, in his opinion.   With her father threatening to pull his financial support, forcing her to move back to Ohio to live with him, Cara is more determined than ever to make this little venture of hers work. She believes her prayers have been answered when she is hired to not only do the flowers but basically plan the entire wedding of one of the wealthiest families around. With the money she'll earn she can make some much needed repairs to the shop and repay her father's loan.  The only problem is, the lawyer bride couldn't seem to care less about the wedding plans as she's a workaholic and the overbearing stepmother of the bride is best buddies with a very successful, high-profile florist who recently took up residence in Savannah and is watching Cara's every move. Trying not to feel intimidated, Cara vows to make this wedding the the event of the season.

 As if she doesn't have enough to worry about, her trusted employee, Bert, starts acting strangely and ends up quitting and her ex-husband starts lurking around. On top of all that, she meets Jack, a man she initially hates, then loves, then doesn't know what to make of him. Is he just another man who wants to control her? It seems the only one in her life who doesn't question her at all is Poppy, her beloved seven month-old puppy.

My Thoughts:

I am so pleased to say I loved this book. MKA is so good at developing interesting, original characters and Cara was a welcome addition to the previous Savannah residents she's already created in her earlier novels. Cara is another strong female character who I liked instantly. She's somebody you'd like to sip a glass of wine with. The supporting characters were equally as entertaining. Reading MKA's books always makes me long for a trip to that lovely city. It was interesting that the protagonist, although living in Savannah, wasn't a Southerner at all. I liked the idea of Cara being a transplant and how much she appreciated the old beauty of the city and made it her home.

The story itself was fun and kept my attention the whole way through. SAVE THE DATE is high on my list of Andrews' books. I also liked the mention of Bebe Loudermilk, one of her earliest characters. Mentioning that Cara would be doing the flowers for Bebe's wedding gave a sense of familiarity, after all, Savannah is a small town.

Also present in the book is the clever wit that we've come to expect in MKA's books. Even in a dire situation she can bring out some humor. But its not a forced sense of humor, its the natural way she writes and it makes me feel like I'm visiting old friends. That's what I love about Mary Kay Andrews. I will forever be a fan.

I'd like to thank Meg Walker at Tandem Literary: Publicity & Marketing and John Karle at St. Martin's Press  for providing me an advance digital copy so I could brag about how much I enjoyed it today, the publication day! If you enjoy entertaining characters in a genuine southern setting you shouldn't miss this new release. It's the perfect summer read, no matter where you live!

Author: Mary Kay Andrews (@mkayandrews)
Publisher: St. Martins Press
Publish Date: June 3, 2014
Source: Publisher

May 16, 2014

Review: Fractured by Karin Slaughter (Will Trent #2)

In this second installment of the Will Trent series by the incredibly talented Karin Slaughter, we are back in Atlanta investigating the brutal murder of one teenage girl and the apparent abduction of another. When Abigail Campano comes home from an afternoon of playing tennis to find her affluent Ansley Park home broken into, her mind instantly goes to Emma, her 16 year-old daughter. When she reaches the top of the stairs and looks down the hallway leading to Emma's room, she sees the small, crumpled body laying at the feet of a man leaning over her with a knife. Abigail's protective mother mode, along with her adrenaline, kicks in and she lunges for the intruder and literally strangles him with her bare hands, using her fingers to gouge his eyes out at the same time.

Agent Will Trent, with the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, is called to the scene to assist the Atlanta Police Department in its investigation. When Will arrives, he soon starts noticing things about the crime scene that just don't add up. A few hours into the investigation, it becomes clear that the APD has made a pivotal error in assessing the crime scene, in turn, wasting valuable time. As a result, the GBI takes over the case which does nothing to sooth the friction between the two law enforcement agencies.

For this case, Agent Trent is assigned a partner, which is something new for him. Faith Mitchell, a detective with the APD is as surprised as Will but they attempt to put their personal feelings aside and get to work on the case. Both Faith and Will have connections to the case, though both are reluctant to divulge the connections. With the life of a young girl hanging in the balance they have a suspect in their sights but proving his involvement becomes tedious and difficult. As the hours tick by, the hope of finding their victim alive wanes as they try to put all of the pieces together before its too late.

My Thoughts:

A few months ago when I read the first book in this series, I was riveted and I am happy to say I felt similarly about this one. FRACTURED is not as violent as TRIPTYCH, the first book, but it was equally as heart-pounding. I didn't miss the gruesomeness of the first book, and it showed me that Karen Slaughter can give the same thrills without all of the shock and horror she showed previously. That said, I'm sure there will be other books in this series that will have more violence but it won't keep me from reading them at all. Her restraint in this book spotlights her talent as a great suspense writer.

On another note, I liked the introduction of Detective Faith Mitchell as a new character and I feel like she brought a dimension to the story that worked very well. I hope to see more of her in the future. From the very beginning, I have appreciated KS's writing style. There's not many writers that can really take me by surprise the way she does in her stories.  Its one of the things I love most about her writing. I've also noticed that my vocabulary is growing by leaps and bounds since I began reading her books. I've started highlighting all the new words I discover as I read just to keep track. These are words I've never heard before such as: fulcrum, spurious, misogyny and shemales to name just a few.  As a lover of words, this is a bonus for me.  

The next book in the series is UNDONE and it brings in the main character of her Grant County Series, Sarah Linton. I've not read that series though I do have the first book, BLINDSIGHTED, and I am planning to read it as well.  I'm really looking forward to continuing with the Will Trent books as I've developed a passion for crime/suspense fiction. I know these books have been out for awhile, but its never to late to get started. Karin Slaughter is a writer that I enjoy so much and though it may take me some time to get caught up, I am going to enjoy every book along the way.

FRACTURED (Will Trent #2) 
Author: Karin Slaughter
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Sold By: Random House, LLC
Published:  July 2008
Length: 400 pp

May 6, 2014

Review: The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert

The Memory Garden
Author: Mary Rickert
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date: May 6, 2014
ISBN: 1402297122 (ISBN13: 9781402297120)
Length: 304 pp

Nan Singer hasn't seen her two childhood best friends, Ruthie and Mavis, in sixty years. She always thought they'd be close their whole lives but a tragedy involving their other friend Eve and the secrets surrounding that tragedy drove a wedge between the girls and they all went their separate ways.

Now an old woman, Nan has been raising Bay, the baby she found in a box on her front steps fourteen years ago. Nan is used to people leaving shoes on her porch for her unusual shoe garden, but never did she ever think someone would leave a baby. Bay is fourteen now and Nan is afraid the secrets from her past are about to be unearthed and with no one else to care for Bay, she reluctantly reaches out to her old friends in the hopes they will be willing to help out.

Nan is not the only one in the big old house keeping secrets. Bay notices someone lurking in the woods  surrounding their garden but is keeping if from Nan.  Bay has always heard the whispers around town that Nan is a witch and Bay has never believed it, but she is beginning to wonder if they are right.  She's noticed herNana has been very stressed ever since she announced these old friends were coming to visit. Once Mavis and Ruthie arrive, things get even weirder. Though Bay would like to know what is really going on, Bay is too afraid to find out what it is and just wants everything to get back to normal, whatever that is.

My Thoughts:

When I read the synopsis for this book, my curiosity was automatically piqued because I do enjoy magical realism and I felt this was right up that alley. There are several aspects of the book that give it great potential for a mysterious, magical story, but I have to say I had difficulty connecting to them, especially in the beginning. I loved the idea of the peculiar shoe garden and how at the beginning of each chapter Rickert included a description and meaning of a flower that was incorporated into that chapter. I felt that was a cute idea and it helped tie the garden into the story.

There is a lot going on in this story and it was difficult for me to follow, especially in the beginning. I believe the author wanted to build up to a big reveal and keep referring to the secrets that were being kept and wanted to keep the reader guessing, but I found myself getting confused and having to go back and re-read pages to make sure I was getting it right. That is the main reason I had difficulty connecting.  At 33% done, I was growing frustrated because I felt the story was just not taking off. Finally at around 55 or 60%, I started connecting and got into the story. Typically, I will give up on a book by that time, but I really wanted to love this book so I kept reading. I am happy to say that I enjoyed the book from that point on.  Eventually the confusion began to clear, I knew who I was dealing with and I finally grasped the idea the author had. I am sorry it took me so long to get there, but at least I did and I can even say that I liked the ending of the book very much.

After finishing the book and thinking back on what I'd just read, the ending and the message it conveyed, I started appreciating Rickert's vision of what she wanted to do with this book. THE MEMORY GARDEN is a book about friendship, secrets, loyalty, regret and forgiveness. Once you finish reading, its for the reader to sit back and decide which characters were real and which characters were not. If you haven't read it, you may not understand that last comment, but that's OK. I'm not going to ger more specific than that because I always try not to give anything away in my reviews. You'll have to read it and see for yourself.

The bottom line for me is that even though I had a rough start with this one, I am glad I stuck with it and I will try more of Ricker's work in the future.

May 1, 2014

The Giver (The Giver Quartet, Book 1) by Lois Lowry

I don't typically read many dystopian books but I felt I couldn't put off reading THE GIVER any longer, especially with all of the talk about the movie coming out.  Recently, I saw an interview that Meryl Streep was doing about the movie version she had just finished filming. She was saying what a fan she was of Lois Lowery and how great she felt the movie was going to be. I knew then I had to read this book before I see the movie.

This futuristic, dystopian story of life in an extremely uniformed and controlled culture is a very intriguing and unique story. I'm really glad I took the time for it. I chose the audio version because I already had three print books going at the time. I'll get to the performance part of this post in a minute.

THE GIVER is a story of community of people who live in a society of sameness.  There is no pain, no war or hunger. Everyone is equal in this future world. Every aspect of their life is uniformly planned out. Each year there is a ceremony for the children turning twelve years old that is attended by the Community and at that time it is revealed what job you are assigned and you begin training for that role that you will carry out for the rest of your life.

For Jonas, it is time for his Ceremony of Twelve and he is given a very special assignment - one that is not given out each year. He is to train with The Giver, who holds all the truths and memories of their people. It is considered the highest honor to be given the title of Receiver. As Jonas begins to understand what the Giver has sacrificed for the Community and the truth behind their seemingly perfect existences, an inner struggle begins to emerge.  Jonas has to decide if he will fulfill his obligation or stand up for what he believes in knowing what he has learned from The Giver.

My Thought:

This is such a simple story that is also incredible. I really didn't know what to expect with this book but I was quickly awed by the sheer oneness of this society. Lois Lowry writes about this with such perfection, you can't help but believe it. The story is so original and so simply told. There are no bad people in this story. All the people are good, even though some of the rituals they have seem cold and heartless. They simply do not know anything else.

I chose the audio version because of time management and though the narrator, actor Ron Rifkin, did a good job, he was a noisy narrator. By that I mean, I could hear him take his breaths with almost every sentence, many times I could hear him swallow or open his mouth. Its kind of hard to explain and may sound odd to you. I listen to a lot of audios and I've never come across this before. That said, I think he did a good job with the narration and once I got used to it, it didn't distract me from the story, though it was very noticable so I thought I'd mention it.

The recommended age group for this book is ten and up. It would be a great book for parents to read with their kids. There's a lot to be taken away from this story and it would generate some good discussions along the way. Now that I've read it, I'm even more anxious for the movie to come out. I read the other day that along with Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges will play The Giver (a perfect choice IMO), and Taylor Swift even has a role in it as Rosemary. There are four books total in this series that Lowry began writing in 1993. For more information on Lois Lowry and the many other books and series she's written, visit Fantastic Fiction

Here is the official movie trailer. You Must check it out!

THE GIVER by Lois Lowry (Unabridged Audio)
Author: Lois Lowry
Narrator: Ron Rifkin
Publisher: Listening Library
Published: Audio - 2003
Length: 4 Hrs 41 Mins