Jan 25, 2015

The Sunday Salon: Audios, Readsthons and a Great Find!

Welcome to the Sunday Salon - a great place where we share our bookish thoughts.  Today I'll be talking about my week in review, including a first time National Readathon and a great findI stumbled upon!

With Spring just around the corner, I'm already excited about eating lighter in the warmer weather so I was very excited when I found a cookbook in the Kindle Monthly Deals called 200 SALADS available for just .99! (Originally published in 2012) I love all sorts of salads - fruit, veggie, pasta - you name it and this book certainly has a bunch that I plan to try. The fruit salads especially had my mouth watering. For the price, I just couldn't pass it up! That was my 'find' for the week.

As you may have heard, yesterday was National Readathon Day and there was a readathon taking place from noon to 4 pm. There were basically no rules and was open to anyone. You could follow other readers' progress on social media using the hashtag #timetoread. The book I chose for that time was ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr, however, it was an audio and not a print copy. So here's my question: That still counts, right? Its a fairly long audiobook and I was at the beginning and I thought it would be a great way to put a big dent in it and get me going with the story. I ended up reading for almost three and a half hours and I was pretty happy with that. Sometimes its hard for me to set aside a certain block of time for a readathon when other non-readers in my life stop by or call and need help with something. I feel bad saying, 'Sorry, I'm in a readathon right now and I don't have time for you.' They just wouldn't understand that, so I had to stop several times within that four hour window, but I did make good progress anyway. So far, I'm enjoying the story. Books about the German occupation of France during WWII have really captured my attention, so I'm hopeful I'll like this one.

I also posted my review of a debut novel I received last week from Putnam Books called LILLIAN ON LIFE by Alison Jean Lester. it was a quick read and very different from anything I've read in a long time. It really is a unique book and worth your time in checking out. You can catch my review here, if you like.

As for this coming week, I'll be spending more time on my audio and also getting started with DARK PLACES, an older book by Gillian Flynn. I've heard its really good and I've been trying to make time for it the last few weeks, but I've just been struggling to find time to read. In fact, that is what I'll be reading later today. I'm hoping to get some uninterrupted time with it.

So tell me, what books will be occupying your time in the week ahead?

Jan 24, 2015

LILLIAN ON LIFE by Alison Jean Lester

I was sent a request to review this debut novel just days before it was published. What made me say yes was the unique concept and the approach the author took in telling Lillian's story. It didn't sound like any other novel I'd read and I was very curious about it. I was also impressed by the author's own experiences living in exciting places like Singapore and France and was curious to see how she would translate those experiences into her writing. Basically, this was a no-brainer for me.

The book begins with Lillian, a worldly, attractive, single woman of fifty-seven, waking and leaving her bed as her married lover, Michael, still lay sleeping.  As she quietly sips her morning coffee, she starts reflecting on how a girl from Missouri came to live a large part of her life in Europe, having many loves but never marrying, and ends up living alone in New York with yet another man who is committed to someone else sleeping in her bed.

My Thoughts

There are many words that come to mind when describing this debut novel:  Powerful; different;  insightful; blunt; sad. And I must include another word:  risky.  I have to admire Alison Jean Lester for presenting a character and a story that is so exposed and personal yet so deliberate.   This is not your average novel with sweeping details of the protagonist's life from day to day in storybook fashion. This is a straight-forward, no holds barred account of Lillian's life as seen through her own older and wiser eyes and mind. It reads more like a personal journal with deep secrets, regrets and confessions.  At times it made me feel as if I were spying on her most private thoughts.

Each short chapter focuses on a variety of topics, such as fate, first-time sex, doing the right thing, among many others, which gradually take the reader through her life's experiences.  Some are heartbreaking, some very poignant and even funny. Since Lester doesn't dwell on descriptive details, the chapters are short and gets her message across directly.

I immediately liked Lillian and I think most people will. Her honesty and vulnerability is what made her endearing to me. She especially tugged at my heart strings when she spoke about her strained relationship with her mother and her totally opposite, loving relationship with her Poppa.

The bottom line is that I really liked this book. It was exactly what I needed to get me out of the slump I'd found myself in for the last several weeks. If you're looking for something different and refreshing, this is your book! Special thanks to Stephanie Hargadon at Putnam for providing me with my review copy via NetGalley.

Author: Alison Jean Lester
Publisher: Putnam Adult
Published January 13, 2015
Length: 241 pp

Jan 18, 2015

The Sunday Salon: Getting Back in the Groove

Welcome to the Sunday Salon, a great place to talk about books, or other stuff going on in your life. Today, I'm talking about books. I'd mentioned in a previous post that I've been having a bit of trouble getting going with my reading lately. Lots of books I want to read, just having trouble actually starting them.  But this week, I think I finally crossed over that ditch in the road. not only did I start a new book that I'm halfway through already, but I even posted a review last week! Progress!

Monday I received an email offering an ARC of a debut novel that was coming out the very next day. I really enjoy debut authors and this is not a long book so figured it would be a great choice to get me jump-started. The book is LILLIAN ON LIFE and it's written by Alison Jean Lester. Its not exactly a novel, but more like a collection of compressed chapters revealing the life of Lillian, an older woman who is reflecting back on her unconventional, sometimes wild life, which she has lived both abroad and here in America. Its a very easy to read book that, so far, I'm enjoying. Lillian is brutally honest with a wry sense of humor, which gives me the feeling that I'm sneaking a peek into someone's private journal. I find it to be an interesting read and one that will probably get a lot of attention. It was released just this last Tuesday. In fact, it is featured today in the Washington Post. I'll be finishing it up either later today, or if the football playoffs are good, maybe tomorrow, and I'll post my thoughts later in the week. (I'm on a roll!)

The review I posted last week was THE SILENT SISTER by Diane Chamberlain, who is becoming an author I really like. This novel is about a young woman who returns to her family home in North Carolina to settle her father's estate after his death and while there uncovers evidence that he had been harboring secrets about their family for years. Also that the sister she, and everyone else, thought had committed suicide twenty years ago was probably alive and living under an assumed name.  If you like, you can read my complete review of the unabridged audio version here.

There's a new book I ran across this week over at Beth Fish Reads (click the link to read her review) that has really intrigued me. It called DESCENT by Tim Johnston. Its a mystery/thriller and I think its going to be an 'it' book this year. That's just what I gather from all the hoopla I've been hearing. I plan to read it next month if all goes according to plan.

Well,that's it for me today so now I'm off to make a hot pot of Mexican chili since we've got another cold front coming in later today. Yes, we do have real cold fronts in Central Florida! Later, I'll be reading some more of Lillian and watching the games. Have yourself a wonderful Sunday and thanks for visiting!

Jan 15, 2015

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain (Unabridged Audio Version)

This is a story about family and the secrets that lie just beneath the surface.  Riley is twenty-seven and the youngest of three children in the MacPherson family. She has an older brother, Danny, whom she used to be close with when they were kids, and an even older sister, Lisa, who committed suicide when Riley was just two years old. She has virtually no memory of Lisa aside from a few photos and the violin that she played masterfully.

After losing her mother several years earlier, her father has now also passed, so Riley has returned to her childhood home in New Bern, North Carolina to settle his affairs. Danny is of no help since he's made it clear he doesn't want anything to do with the family home, its contents or even any memories, for that matter. Faced with this daunting task, Riley is anxious to get it sorted out as quickly as possible but along the way she uncovers information that makes her question everything she ever knew about her own family. The most shocking being that Lisa didn't commit suicide at all and that she may actually be alive and living under a different name.


...On the Story: 
This is the second book of Diane Chamberlain's that I've read, the first being NECESSARY LIES last year, which captivated me. I can now say the same for THE SILENT SISTER. What I liked about this story is that it was not only about family, but it also held a mystery. Though Chamberlain clues the reader in to a point, there are still many things we learn the same time Riley does.  I felt it was a well thought out plot and one that was believable.  It was also very well paced and kept my attention all the way through. Like the story, the characters were real and believable as well. I felt connected to Riley with everything she was going through.  That being said, the only character I didn't fully connect with was her brother, Danny. For all his anger and resentment, I felt that the character could've been developed a bit more.  Even though parts of the story were told in flashbacks it wasn't overdone but necessary in order to reveal a major part of the story. (Over the last year or so I've grown tired of storylines traveling back and forth through time)

...On the Audio:  The narrator, Susan Bennett, did a great job interpreting the story. She also recently narrated  A LONG TIME GONE by Karen White. I recognized her voice immediately.  This audio was over 11 hours long but it seemed to go quickly probably because Ms. Bennett's voice was so easy to listen to.  Though I really enjoyed the audio, I think I would like the print version just as much.

Interestingly, I've seen this book listed as 'Riley MacPherson, Book 1' which would indicate the beginning of a series, so I'll be watching for information on that. Diane Chamberlain has become an author that I automatically put on my TBR list. Her stories have deep Southern roots, interesting family dynamics and usually include some sort of mystery or buried secrets, which are very enticing to me. The bottom line is I would recommend this book in either format and I also think it would be a good selection for book club.      

THE SILENT SISTER (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Diane Chamberlain
Narrator:  Susan Bennett
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Published: Oct 7, 2014
Series:  Riley MacPherson Book 1
Length: 11hrs 39mins

Jan 11, 2015

The Sunday Salon: Confession Time

Welcome to the Sunday Salon, a place where we can discuss bookish, or not-so-bookish things. I'm getting a late start today because I didn't think I had anything earth shattering to contribute as I haven't got a lot of reading done. But after reading a blog post at Still Unfinished, I realized maybe I did have something to say after all. (Thanks Bryan!)

His post about the pressures of blogging, reviewing and reading was a breath of fresh air to me and I found myself relating to much of what he said. If you haven't read it yet, I encourage you to stop by. There's some great conversations happening there right now.

So taking inspiration from Bryan and his advice to write my own post, here are some of my thoughts on the subject that he so eloquently spoke about:

On Blogging: I have stopped pressuring myself to keep up with other bloggers and readers like I did when I first began blogging. You can drive yourself crazy doing that.  I also believed I had to read all of the newest releases and post my thoughts as quickly as possible to stay relevant. But all that did was deter me from why I started reading and blogging in the first place: My love of books and sharing them with other book lovers. I have eclectic taste in books but there are certain genres I don't care for at all, so I stay away from them - even if that means I'm not in the 'cool' crowd.  I've never been one to read the most mainstream books just because they're on the Hot List somewhere. For instance, I've never read a Harry Potter book! (I know...gasp!) Nor have I read any of the Twilight Saga or even Fifty Shades of Grey, but that's a whole other topic!

You know how as you get older you care less and less what people think? Well, not to sound like a snob or anything, but that's kind of how I feel about my blogging, reviewing and reading. There's no way I could possibly keep up with all of the people I see on social media, so why should I drive myself nuts trying to? I read and blog because I enjoy it. Its not my job, I don't HAVE to do it - its purely for my pleasure. I know many of you feel the same way.

On Reading: Another thing about me is that I'm not a fast reader. Never have been. I enjoy taking my time with a book, especially a well written book and enjoying the writers' craft. For instance, when I read The Book Thief, I would re-read whole sections because the writing took my breath away! I wonder: If you're reading fast do you miss certain things? I once read a book with a friend.(It was one of Stieg Larrson's books) and I read so much slower than my friend that I struggled to keep up with her and it was constantly on my mind while I read, that I gave up and just read at my own pace. Afterward, I felt there were some moments in the book she didn't recall the way I did.

My slow reading pace is also one reason I don't do challenges. The other is I like to pick my next book pertaining to the mood I'm in, which can change on a dime.  I'm all over the map with what books I want to read so keeping to a particular genre or theme wouldn't work for me. Plus, its the whole pressure to keep up thing again.

On Reviewing: Many of the books I read have been out for years and I used to feel no one would be interested in those reviews but I've realized that's just not true. I do enjoy writing reviews and I write one for every book I read. I don't always follow a format and sometimes I just start them off like a conversation but one thing I NEVER do in a review is reveal any spoilers! I am adamant about that. I talk about the book and its characters in a way that if you haven't yet read it, I'm not going to ruin anything for you. That is a pet-peeve of mine. I take great care in avoiding spoilers and I know my readers appreciate that.

As for today, the reason I didn't think I had anything to share is because I've been having a hard time getting started with a book lately. I've chosen a few books I have a genuine interest in but I'm having trouble getting started. I know this is a terrible way to start the year, so I'm hoping it will soon pass. One reason may be that the lenses in my glasses need to be updated. Luckily I have an appointment with the eye doctor Wednesday and will be ordering new ones! I'm hoping my reading will pick up once I get my new glasses. I'm also suffering from some double-vision which makes reading a bit difficult to say the least!

So for today, I'll be flapped out in my comfy chair watching the NFL playoffs and hopefully getting started with DARK PLACES by Gillian Flynn. A friend of mine read this awhile back and said it was really good. Supposedly its being made into either a movie or a TV series later this year.

Thanks for stopping by today! Do you feel any pressures regarding reading, blogging or reviewing? Don't forget to visit Still Unfinished and join that conversation!

Jan 6, 2015

Teaser Tuesday (Jan. 6)

Today I'm participating in one of my favorite memes. Teaser Tuesday is hosted weekly by MizB at Should Be Reading. The rules are simple:

  • Open your current book to a random page
  • Choose 2 teaser sentences to share
  • Do NOT include any spoilers
  • List the title, author and page number of the book your teasers are from
My Teasers:

I was not a lovable child, and I'd grown into a deeply unlovable adult.  Draw a picture of my soul, and it'd be a scribble with fangs. 

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
Page One

Stop by Should Be Reading to see who else is playing along today - its a great way to get a glimpse into some really good books that other readers are enjoying! Anyone can play! 

Jan 4, 2015

[TSS] Goals for the New Year

Welcome to 2015!  This week I'll be celebrating my blogoversary here at Southern Girl Reads! Tuesday, January 6 will mark my 7th anniversary and I'm very excited to continue sharing more great books and stories with all of you! I also want to thank the many readers of SGR over the last 9 years and let you know how much your continued support and interaction means to me. I'm ready and anxious to see where this year takes me, both in my personal and reading/blogging life!

One area that I worked hard on last year that had a profoundly positive effect on me was the decision to take better care of myself.  I didn't focus on daily workouts and exercise regimes as I did just changing the way I eat and think about food. I actually didn't do a lot of exercise but I still managed to lose weight and, most importantly, I learned how to be smart about food.  I must say that after reading JJ Smith's 10 DAY \GREEN SMOOTHIE CLEANSE, it stated that it would change the way I think about food and, honestly, I thought, OK, sure... but it really did do that for me! I'm planning to incorporate the recipes from that book into my daily life and let it give me a boost whenever I need it.  I really have to get back on track because I have basically no will power when it comes to holiday foods. I'm so glad they are behind me and now I can return my focus to eating healthy. This unseasonably warm weather we've been having has also helped me get away from the normal winter comfort foods that I tend to rely on in the cold months. I've actually been eating salads lately and they've tasted very refreshing.

As far as my reading life goes, I want to explore more short stories this year. I've never spent a lot of time with them and I think I'm cheating myself out of some great writing. Because of my love for Southern Fiction, I'm especially looking forward to some classic Flannery O'Connor, Joan Williams,.and maybe even some Faulkner. I recently came across an article on Flavorwire.com (April 2014) outlining 20 great southern short stories and I plan to use that as a reference point.

 With that said, I don't plan to focus solely on southern short stories. The beauty of shorts is that they don't occupy all of your time! I also want to continue with Karin Slaughter's crime thriller series, Will Trent and also Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series. THE GOLDFINCH is a book I started last year and for whatever reason, set it aside. I'm planning to pick that book up this month and get through it. I do think it'll be worth the time in reading.

Audio books have become a huge part of my reading over the last two years and I find I enjoy them more than I ever thought I would. They are so convenient and as long as I like the narrator, I'm all in! The first audio book I'll be starting this year is ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr.  Over the last few years, I've become interested in stories focused around the German  Occupation of France in WWII and it's effect on the people of both countries, especially the younger generation. The reviews for this audio book are fantastic.  It sounds like something I will get totally lost in. I'm very excited about it.

I'd love for you to share your goals for 2015 and I hope you'll come back often and see how mine are coming. I'd also like to wish everyone a great new year filled with happiness, health and great books!