Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reading Challenge Wrap Up: 2015 Edition

This year I participated in the Travel the World in Books Challenge: Choose Your Own Adventure, Snowflake & Spider silk's Bingo Challenge, along with my usual Goodreads Challenge. I managed to complete my goals for all of them, although it was a close one for the Goodreads Challenge- I finished my last book for that this morning.

Goodreads Challenge

2015 Reading Challenge

2015 Reading Challenge
Talitha has
completed her goal of reading 100 books in 2015!

Goal: 100 Books

Status: Completed! (100 Books)

Travel the World in Books Challenge

Goal: 15 Books, 5 Countries

Status: Completed! (16 Books, 11 Countries)

I'm renewing this Challenge for 2016, with the same goals I set for myself as last time. I wish I could do more, but I'm thinking of reducing my reading challenge this year, since I have a lot on my plate. So from now until January 1st, 2017 (I can't even think that far ahead!) my goal is 15 books set in 5 countries, again!

S & S Bingo Challenge

Goal: 13 Squares

Status: Goal Met and Exceeded! (20 Squares)

How did you fare with your reading challenges? Which challenges are you planning to participate in during 2016?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Holidays To All!

It's safe to assume that I will be busy with other things this holiday season, and also that I procrastinated and didn't schedule any posts. Therefore, if you hear from me before 2016, consider it a holiday miracle.

Happy Holidays, and Travel Safely!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

SFF: The 5 New To You Authors' Books You Want to Read in 2016

The Sunday Fun Five #43

Sunday Fun 5:
#38: The 5 Scary-Sounding Books You Want to Read
#39: The 5 Scary Movies You Want to Read the Book Version Of
#40: The 5 Books You Want to Read Before 2015 Ends
#41: The 5 Characters from Books You're Grateful For
#42: The 5 Bookish Charities Santa Claus Approves Of
#43: The 5 New To You Authors' Books You Want to Read in 2016
For the 3rd of January: #44: The 5 Literary Characters that Feel Like Your Old Friends

A Countdown of

The 5 New To You Authors' Books You Want to Read in 2016

5. Cormac McCarthy
the-pile/the-invisible-pile Count: 1
Quite simply, his name comes up a lot and I'm curious as to why- I've seen the movie version of The Road (I'm slightly obsessed with Viggo Mortensen movies) but I'd like to read the book too. Hopefully I didn't ruin it for myself.

4. Robin Hobb
the-pile/the-invisible-pile Count: 2
It's amazing, as Robin Hobb is one of the big names in fantasy, but somehow I've never gotten around to her works. I'm hoping this coming year, with my more relaxed reading challenges, I'll be able to get around to her stuff.

3. Octavia E. Butler
the-pile/the-invisible-pile Count: 3
I picked up this set of Lilith's Brood last year during Cyber Monday madness, but I still haven't gotten around to it yet, despite Octavia E. Butler being another one of those 'big names' in sci-fi. I'm hoping if I decide on participating in Vintage Sci-Fi Month I may get through one or two of these.

2. Barbara Hambly
the-pile/the-invisible-pile Count: 3
Barbara Hambly is another name I've heard around a lot while participating in my various fantasy genre Goodreads groups, and I also scooped up her trilogy during Cyber Monday deals last year. I've had some disappointments lately with some of the newer epic fantasy, so I'm considering reading more traditional style fantasy.

1. N.K. Jemisin
the-pile/the-invisible-pile Count: 2
N.K. Jemisin of the (likely many) newer fantasy authors I haven't tried yet, despite having two of her books, both of which I've heard good things about. I really want to read her books because... to be honest, the covers are so pretty and fantastic. That doesn't always equate to a good read, but I can often be coerced to read a book I'm already planning to read by the right cover.

Which new to you authors do you want to read in 2016? Have you read any of the authors I mentioned before?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

"The Island of Doctor Moreau" by H.G. Wells

Last December I read H.G. Wells's Invisible Man, so this December I thought I would try another of his books, and preferably not The War of the Worlds (because it bored me out of my 13 year old skull when I once tried to read it). I already knew most of the story behind this book due to watching a movie based off of it, but then again, I barely remembered that.

Usually, I'm not that intrigued by the beginning of most classics, but this one hooked me from the start. I have a penchant for liking island-based sci-fi and horror-esque tales, so that may have contributed to my speedy devouring of this book. Island settings are my kind of exotic, as I have never seen the ocean firsthand, and therefore I attribute all sorts of inherently mysterious traits to island settings, even if the author doesn't make them in any way mysterious.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'Ranked among the classic novels of the English language and the inspiration for several unforgettable movies, this early work of H. G. Wells was greeted in 1896 by howls of protest from reviewers, who found it horrifying and blasphemous. They wanted to know more about the wondrous possibilities of science shown in his first book, The Time Machine, not its potential for misuse and terror. In The Island of Dr. Moreau, a shipwrecked gentleman named Edward Prendick, stranded on a Pacific island lorded over by the notorious Dr. Moreau, confronts dark secrets, strange creatures, and a reason to run for his life.
'While this riveting tale was intended to be a commentary on evolution, divine creation, and the tension between human nature and culture, modern readers familiar with genetic engineering will marvel at Wells’s prediction of the ethical issues raised by producing “smarter” human beings or bringing back extinct species. These levels of interpretation add a richness to Prendick’s adventures on Dr. Moreau’s island of lost souls without distracting from what is still a rip-roaring good read.'

This is a book where you really don't have to like the characters to enjoy it. In fact, I harbored great dislike for most of the characters in the book (except the strange creatures) because it was clear they didn't know what they were doing- and they did it anyway. With some books, it's the plot that keeps you enthralled, and I would have to say that is the case with this one, as there are a lot of controversial things being done that I don't in any way endorse.

Beyond the characters and the setting, I enjoyed the way this book was written much more than The Invisible Man, even with a few gaffes in the writing that wouldn't get past a modern editor. Oddly enough, this was published a year before that other book, but I took more pleasure in reading this one (even though now that I look, the ratings are identical). I remember being more annoyed with The Invisible Man, but with this one I was definitely more repulsed- the subject matter is a lot different.

A favorite quote (that sums up the plot of the book):

What could it all mean? A locked enclosure on a lonely island, a notorious vivisector, and these crippled and distorted men?

    ~The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells, 25% Kindle Edition

The Island of Doctor Moreau is a place I don't believe I'd like to visit in real life. Honestly, if I ended up there, I'd be trying to swim home rather than risk spending the night. In that manner, this book has accomplished its purpose- to scare and be entertaining. Unfortunately, other than entertainment value, there were few points to add to its rating, other than quotability and the occasional 'big think' moment. If you want to take an adventure on a creepy island, I recommend this book, as long as you can withstand the content.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a great, albeit creepy, read.

Content: Ages 14+ for intensive animal abuse, medical misbehavior, and men playing God.

Page Count: 160 pages

Thursday, December 17, 2015

O.o.O.C.: "Autobiography of a Face" by Lucy Grealy

Out of Orbit Critiques are the reviews on books that stray outside my usual genres. Autobiography of a Face is pretty self-explanatory- it's an autobiography.

If you're like me, you look in the mirror a couple times a day to make sure you look half decent, especially when going out somewhere public. You may notice a few things 'wrong' with your face- a new pimple, dark shadows under your eyes, frown lines, crow's feet, but overall you feel content to go out and about without much thought (and without many people batting an eyelash about your appearance). Imagine for a second if that wasn't the case. If you went out and people stared at you because there was something very 'off' about your appearance. Imagine these appraisals happening in your formative years, when you're young enough to be hurt by it. That is the basis behind Autobiography of a Face.

As a preteen, I was intensely self-conscious about my appearance. Something about being the tallest chubby girl in the class (taller even than the boys) made me feel unfeminine, and therefore, unattractive. Add into that the fact that I was painfully shy at that point in my life towards anyone I didn't know, and that assumption was confirmed by my own negativity. But here's the thing- I wasn't unattractive, I just felt like it, and when the only seemingly positive traits for girls on television was beauty and grace (neither of which I felt I had), I developed an extremely negative self image. I tell you this because if you haven't grown up feeling 'ugly' you do miss out on some of the finer points of this memoir. If you take a look at the latest tabloids, you'll know appearances are one of modern society's obsessions, and if you don't feel you appear normal (normal being a euphemism for pretty) growing up, you miss out on the many more important things in life during that time.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'"I spent five years of my life being treated for cancer, but since then I've spent fifteen years being treated for nothing other than looking different from everyone else. It was the pain from that, from feeling ugly, that I always viewed as the great tragedy of my life. The fact that I had cancer seemed minor in comparison."
'At age nine, Lucy Grealy was diagnosed with a potentially terminal cancer. When she returned to school with a third of her jaw removed, she faced the cruel taunts of classmates. In this strikingly candid memoir, Grealy tells her story of great suffering and remarkable strength without sentimentality and with considerable wit. Vividly portraying the pain of peer rejection and the guilty pleasures of wanting to be special, Grealy captures with unique insight what it is like as a child and young adult to be torn between two warring impulses: to feel that more than anything else we want to be loved for who we are, while wishing desperately and secretly to be perfect.'

Normally with memoirs I feel a certain amount of detachment from the life of the writer- even if the book is written well, they've rarely experienced the same type of childhood/teenagehood I had hanging out in waiting rooms to be poked and prodded by doctors. Part of what attracted me to this book was that since the author had fought cancer, she'd have some of the same experiences as I did, albeit in a much more severe manner. I was right to suspect it would affect me more on that count, as Lucy had some nasty procedures and not the nicest doctors either. I can only imagine how I would feel in her shoes, but her writing does bring you there to a certain extent. Her home life was much more stable, but similar- her father couldn't bear to stay in hospitals with her much, while her mother was more stalwart in that regard. In short, I found her highly relatable, but I have things in common with her (not limited to her oldest brother's name).

I'm desperately trying not to put spoilers in this review, but at the same time, trust me when I say this book is one I wish I'd read as a teenager. There is too much emphasis on appearances in the world, even just in books. This autobiography review is difficult to write since it covers such a great topic that I could ramble on for days about, and yet at the same time chronicles the life of a girl who suffers judgement due to societal expectations of what beauty and normalcy are. It's safe to say this is one of those books that will linger with me instead of being forgotten.

A favorite quote:

I treated despair in terms of hierarchy: if there was a more important pain in the world, it meant my own was negated. I thought I simply had to accept the fact that I was ugly, and that to feel despair about it was simply wrong.
        ~Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, page 126 Kindle edition

Autobiography of a Face is simply the best autobiography I'll read this year. When I picked it up, I thought it would be good, but it turned out exceptional- something which I wasn't quite expecting. If you enjoy autobiographies that have a lot of food for thought and may not end in a storybook manner, I highly recommend Autobiography of a Face for your next read.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars for an autobiography that exceeds expectations!

Content: Ages 16+ for mentions of sexual activity, descriptions of medical procedures (not for those who dislike that sort of thing), and abuse.

Page Count: 256 pages

Sunday, December 13, 2015

NQAC: Biweekly Update #24: Near the Year's End Reading

You may notice I published a Confession on Saturday, only to do this post on Sunday (even though this is usually just a fill-in post). It turns out this post has me addicted- it's nice to be able to keep track of my reading, crafting, and book buying habits. I may end up changing the name and making it the regular counterpart to Sunday Fun Five, with Confessions as a sporadic whenever post.

Recent Acquisitions (or the Piling of the-Piles):

the-pile Additions:

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
I won this from the Travel the World in Books Readathon giveaway hosted by Mom's Small Victories (thanks, Tanya!)! I had wanted to read this before I saw the movie, but I couldn't find it for my version of a cheap price ($2.99 and under). Even though I've since seen the movie, I still want to read this one- it's among my top picks for 2016 reading.

Currently Reading:

Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His Own Body by Martin Pistorius
I was only going to read a little bit, and then I ended up reading half the book. It's kind of the same theme as the one I finished before it (Autobiography of a Face- see below), but I've wanted to read more memoirs lately and this one is very good so far.

Finished These Books:

I didn't read this edition, but this cover is magical
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Rating: 5 Stars
My second five star read of 2015, this one started out 'meh' and ended with my opinion completely changed. That doesn't happen that often.

Aesop's Fables by Aesop
Rating: 4 Stars
I read these as a kid, but it's clear that was an edited version. I don't remember as much violence in these fables as there actually was.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Rating: 3.5-4 Stars (haven't quite made up my mind)
This is the first book I've read about a giant insect as an adult. That's really all I have to say at this point.

My Man Jeeves (Jeeves #1) by P.G. Wodehouse
Rating: 5 Stars
I could have highlighted this entire book. It's funny, it's charming, and it's very human. I loved it.

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
Rating: 4.5 Stars
If you're one of those people with low self esteem, or you don't like the way you look, this is a good perspective book to read. As a girl, the author lost half her jaw during a battle with cancer, a battle she was lucky enough to win. Throughout the book, her views on her looks are redefined by people, and then she finally defines her own views on her face. This would be a difficult read if you absolutely can't stand descriptions of medical procedures, though, since she spends much of her life under the knife and then recovering.

In the Blogosphere:

Rose Red @ Goldilox and the Three Weres posts about her Best Books of 2015.

Wendy @ Musings of a Bookish Kitty reviews her Bookish Thoughts on A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton.

Innocent Smiley (the blog) is celebrating its second blogiversary!

Rachelle @ Fortified by Books is done with college! (I forgot to comment, but congrats, Rachelle!)

In keeping with the theme of milestones, there is now a Mini Bookworm at the Bookworm's Closet! And she even has a bookish name!

And if you're looking for more hand-picked book blog posts, head over to Blogger Shout-Outs!!! #49 - Bookish Neighborhoods, Boredom, & How to Cook a Book from Becca @ I'm Lost in Books. I found quite a few that piqued my interest.

In My Life:


Since I spend all my funds on books, I still have a good ol' Xbox 360, on which I'm playing Fallout New Vegas (for the first time). Back when the game originally came out, I couldn't find it anywhere for cheap, so I snagged it during a Cyber Monday-type deal. I don't do well with games where you shoot things, but I've gotten further on this one than I did with Fallout 3.

Loom Knitting:

The big scarf piece will be the back, the round is the collar.
Last year I knitted Keisha (my smallest dog) a sweater for a picture for my holiday card. After I finished it, I knew I'd like it in a more salmon/coral looking color since she looks her best in that sort of shade. I also tried Keisha's old sweater on my mom's friend's dog, and the dog loved it, so I let her have it (Keisha prefers her store bought sweater). Anyway, this was the yarn I found to suit Keisha's blonde hair, and I hope she'll like this one better than her last one. Keisha is pretty attached to her store bought sweater, though...

Keisha's Store Bought "Gator" Sweater

Another Early Christmas Gift:

My compact camera I've had since 2011 has been wonky lately, so I asked for a new camera for Christmas. It's hard to believe how nice a camera you can get for so little these days, but this one was a Cyber Monday deal at Target for the same price as my original camera (a Sony Cybershot 14MP). I'll still be using the Sony for some things, but the new one will be nice for taking non-spur-of-the-moment pictures. I've tied yarn on the lens cap so I will hopefully remember to take it off before I begin shooting.

Until next time,

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Confessions: The Perils of the Wrong Books or How I Got My Groove Back

Confessions of an Insomniac Book Devourer #18

It's almost the end of the year, but I have another true confession to make: over the past six months, I've had a serious case of doubting my own ratings.

This is something that's happened to me before when I use that treacherous "Compare Books" button on Goodreads with the Goodreads elite- I look at their ratings, their reviews, and think to myself, "Gosh, did I really rate that five stars? I really meant four." But in this case, it was the reverse: I'd read plenty of books this year, and only one had been a five star read for me- one.

In the vast realm of the internet, I often come across people who can give at least ten five star ratings to books a year. People who read less books than me, but seem more enthused about the books I was 'meh' about that I feel like something must be wrong with me. As I do take and change up medications used to ease my chronic pain, I began to wonder if my enthusiasm had been somehow sapped from me by a bunch of chemicals dumped into my system. I've always felt like a positive person, but nothing makes me feel less positive when I compare books with someone who has one hundred five star ratings to my twenty-some. Am I some weird ratings Scrooge? Do I actually not enjoy books as much as the average Joe, yet continue to flog myself with the hobby to feel like some brainiac?

About a week ago I began reading a bundle of classics. Usually, I try to go for books I see a deficit in reviews of on my blog, but since it's the end of the year I decided to read whatever I felt like to try and make it to 100 books. I started The Phantom of the Opera and felt kind of 'meh' about it from the beginning- it was okay, but nothing special. Halfway through I started liking it. By three quarters of the way through, I was prepared to rate it 4.5 stars. In the end, it earned its own 5 star rating with one scene. I felt like my status as a reader and enjoyer of books was suddenly redeemed.

As a blogger, I've been trying to keep up with the latest and greatest. If the majority of bloggers I follow say 'read this' I take their advice and galavant out to find said book. But here's the problem with that formula- I'm not them. We each have our own unique set of experiences that make us individuals, and if a group of individuals like a certain book, it doesn't mean I will. I have known that fact for a while now, but it seems more and more I forget that as I try to involve myself more with the blogging community. I pride myself on being a unique individual, and yet I was consuming a diet of books that were popular, trendy, and everything I am not.

In short, I have had a revival for my love of reading and confidence in my ratings. I just finished My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse and absolutely adored it- an instant five stars from me. I will still be reading popular, trendy books, but with less expectations of falling head over heels for them. I will continue to doubt my ratings occasionally, but I will know better than to judge my attitude and love of books based solely on them. And I won't be losing my reader groove any time soon.

TL;DR: I doubted myself due to my low star ratings, read books everyone else loved (but I didn't), and came to realize reader's opinions are as unique as snowflakes (perhaps even special ones).

Have you ever doubted your ratings? What renewed your confidence in them?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

"Local Girls" by Alice Hoffman

I didn't even need a bookmark for this one. In other words, I scarfed it down in one sitting, and I love that I wasn't the least bit tempted to set it aside- something that doesn't often happen with me, especially considering how many reading slumps I've been a party to this year. Being it was an Alice Hoffman novel, that didn't come as a surprise- I've never had trouble reading her books, unless I'm trying to read them more slowly in order to 'savor' them.

This book is told in a series of shorter stories about each of the main characters, hopping from one to the other with great efficiency. Many people may not like the style, as it also switches perspectives, but for a shorter read I found it a welcome change from the usual. Mind you, I've been bemoaning a fantasy book lately that does something similar, although it's hard to compare a 200 page magical realism book with a 600 page fantasy book that hasn't shown its progression/cohesion in the 200 pages I've read so far. Yet I digress- this book has a style I enjoy, despite its quirks.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'The New York Times Book Review has noted, "Alice Hoffman writes quite wonderfully about the magic in our lives, " and now she casts her spell over a Long Island neighborhood filled with dreamers and dreams. In a dazzling series of family portraits, Hoffman evokes the world of the Samuelsons, a family torn apart by tragedy and divorce in a world of bad judgment and fierce attachments, disappointments, and devotion.With rich, pure prose Hoffman charts the always unexpected progress of Gretel Samuelson from the time Gretel is a young girl already acquainted with betrayal and grief, until she finally leaves home. Gretel's sly, funny, knowing perspective is at the heart of this collection as she navigates through loyalty and loss with the help of an unforgettable trio of women: her best friend, Jill, her romance-addicted cousin Margot, and her mother, Franny, whose spiritual journey affects them all. Told in alternating voices, these stories work wonders. Funny and lyrical, disturbing and healing, each is a lesson of survival, a reminder of the ties of blood and the power of friendship. Jane Smiley has said that "a reader is in good hands with Alice Hoffman, " and once again in expert hands, her everyday life has been transformed into magic.'

Hoffman never ceases to draw me into her small enclaves, whether they happen to be small towns in Florida or a group of rebels fighting for their rights in Masada, and Local Girls is no exception. You get to know everyone who is a mainstay of the main characters' lives, to the point where it feels like you're reading a history or someone's diary (decidedly less dry). Then the magical realism comes into effect, spawning strange events that may deter your average reader- but not me. To me, fiction is so much more fun with a dash of unrealism.

A favorite quote:

Our mother always told us that people will surely reveal what they're made of, if you only give them the chance. What's deep inside always surfaces, no matter how hidden.
                           ~Local Girls by Alice Hoffman, approximately 25%

Local Girls was an easy book for me to enjoy. Not only was it written by one of my favorite authors, it also has the magical realism elements I often crave in plain old fiction. Despite randomly changing perspectives (first person to third person to some other characters), I was enthralled with the telling of this tale. I highly recommend it if you like Alice Hoffman's work, or hold magical realism in high esteem.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an excellent magical realism with wonky perspective changes!

Content: Ages 16+ for violence and sexual topics (and likely a swear word or two- I have the print version and couldn't helicopter highlight).

Page Count: 197 pages in my hardcover edition

Sunday, December 6, 2015

SFF: The 5 Bookish Charities Santa Claus Approves Of

The Sunday Fun Five #42

Sunday Fun 5:
#38: The 5 Scary-Sounding Books You Want to Read
#39: The 5 Scary Movies You Want to Read the Book Version Of
#40: The 5 Books You Want to Read Before 2015 Ends
#41: The 5 Characters from Books You're Grateful For
#42: The 5 Bookish Charities Santa Claus Approves Of
For the 20th of December: #43: The 5 New To You Authors' Books You Want to Read in 2016

A Countdown of

The 5 Bookish Charities Santa Claus Approves Of

With Random Holiday/Snow Gifs. You're Welcome.

5. Little Free Library
If you follow Book Riot, you should know about this program by now. People build tiny box-sized libraries for their yards, which can be used by anyone who wants the books available within. The hope is that those libraries will eventually become self sustaining, so their owners don't have to keep stocking them by themselves. I've considered building one myself, but since I have a territorial doggy it may be out of the cards.

4. Pajama Program (US)
From their page (link above):
"Pajama Program provides new pajamas and new books to children in need nationwide, many of whom are waiting to be adopted. These children live in group homes, shelters and temporary housing facilities and are shuffled often from one place to another."

3. Books For Soldiers (US) (Found Thanks to The Reading Wench- Now Fortified by Books)
This one is pretty self explanatory: it helps get books into the hands of soldiers overseas. I'd often wondered if there was a program like it out there, and I found out it does exist with help from Rachelle.

2. Book Aid International 
Starts libraries and brings books to various countries in Africa, people who will likely appreciate them more than my second cousins (who griped about getting a Barnes and Noble gift card from my grandmother). So if you have people who hate books who you'd rather not gift to this holiday season, consider a donation to Book Aid International instead.

1. Worldbuilders
This charity is bookish by boon of being started by one of my favorite authors, Patrick Rothfuss. To get people more interested in donating to Heifer International, he began hosting giveaways for bookish things for those who donated through his program. Now there are more options and many (MANY) bookish things to win. For a while you also vote on whether he should play Fallout 4 or Anything But/Write Book Three of the Kingkiller Chronicle with applicable donation. Yeah, he's a cool guy.

What are some of your favorite bookish charities? Have you ever given to charities in place of the usual holiday gifts?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

O.o.O.C.: "Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal" by Ben Macintyre

Out of Orbit Critiques are the reviews on books that stray outside my usual genres. Agent Zigzag is a nonfiction biography of Eddie Chapman.

I love a good antihero, and Agent Zigzag is the story of one real life antihero, so it wasn't a hard decision for me to snatch this up as a Kindle Daily Deal. I usually prefer autobiographies or memoirs to biographies, because then you have the actual impressions of that person in their own words (and not just what was written down), but I did feel like the author gets close to the truth of Eddie Chapman, even though Chapman himself is one slippery character.

If you go to read this with James Bond-type expectations, you will be sorely disappointed. Although Agent Zigzag does feature undercover action scenes, they aren't of the type you'd find in your typical spy movie. In other words, no evil masterminds will be dispatched before your very eyes, but there are massive operations of ingenious deception, so I wasn't disappointed. Think less James Bond and more Ocean's Eleven, but again with a bit less action- it's history, not Hollywood.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'Eddie Chapman was a charming criminal, a con man, and a philanderer. He was also one of the most remarkable double agents Britain has ever produced. Inside the traitor was a man of loyalty; inside the villain was a hero. The problem for Chapman, his spymasters, and his lovers was to know where one persona ended and the other began. Based on recently declassified files, Agent Zigzag tells Chapman’s full story for the first time. It’s a gripping tale of loyalty, love, treachery, espionage, and the thin and shifting line between fidelity and betrayal.'

Halfway through this I was determined not to stop reading, but it became difficult for me to read on, as you're introduced to many characters who get an entire paragraph of description, despite only being active characters in the book at one point/scene. I must say I really wouldn't like to be a biographer, since you are writing about real people and might feel pressure to include everyone in order to get it just right and do people forgotten to history justice by telling their stories, but at the same time... I likely skipped their fifty written words of fame, anyhow. They may have made up the machine that took down an evil mastermind, but I bought this to read Eddie Chapman's story, not theirs. Luckily, with some strategic skimming on my part, I was able to get past the minute details that clogged up the pace of this biography.

Throughout the book, your impressions of Eddie Chapman will change, sometimes by the chapter. Even though the author does his best to capture him from the flesh into print, you are still left with nagging questions as to who he really is beneath the charismatic exterior. In part, this is the magic ingredient to the book: if it were about anyone else, I would've likely given up halfway through. Eddie Chapman is the secret to the success of this biography, as it should be with any biography.

Agent Zigzag is a biography heavy on the history side and rife with detail, but one which nonetheless compels you to finish it. Those disinterested in books with excess detail I would warn off, as this book has a lot of it, even though the story finishes with flair. If you like histories on World War II and want to dabble in biographies, this would be an ideal book for you.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an excellent biography that has its dry spells.

Content: Ages 16+ for a womanizing conman who has a penchant for getting into trouble (violence and slight sexual misconduct- no rape).

Page Count: 384 pages

Thursday, December 3, 2015

"Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1)" by Ilona Andrews

Full Disclosure: I only read this book because it was written by Ilona Andrews. I wasn't terribly interested in the plot or the cover, but then again, when I picked up Magic Bites, I wasn't *that* into urban fantasy, either. Since I've become an Ilona Andrews fangirl, all their books are on my Amazon wishlist, and this one had a recent price plunge. Given I'm in a rather 'meh' book mood, I assumed it couldn't hurt to read something by some authors I stalk.

Although this isn't technically like Written in Red, it gave me the same impression from the start. We have a lone heroine who runs an inn for some mysterious characters (at this point, only one). When dogs in her neighborhood start getting killed off, she decides to take action, especially when the werewolf in her neighborhood won't get involved. So what's a normal human woman to do? Perhaps things aren't as they seem...

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is...different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, "normal" is a bit of a stretch for Dina.
'And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night....Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything.'

My favorite part of the book is... things aren't as they seem. I love that there's a bit of a mystery aspect to this book with regards to its paranormal content. More than that, there's plenty of snark to be had, an old sentient mansion (love that), and most importantly, a shih tzu. Why most importantly?

Tsuki and Torrie: Camping Canines
Back when Torrie was a freshly adopted beastie, we had another older dog named Tsuki, who was a shih tzu mix. I had adopted Tsuki when he was 15 (unbeknownst to my mother and I), and I was 16 at the time. It had come as a shock he was 15, and I made him promise me he would live a year. He lived to be a month shy of 18 years old. Shih tzus, for all their fluff, are tough little things- and I was glad to see that feature exhibited in Beast, the female shih tzu in Clean Sweep.

Beyond that, I just liked the way the characters interacted- Ilona Andrews is great at making me laugh and making characters come to life. Dina really doesn't want the help Sean wants to give her, but she gets it anyway. The mysterious killings kind of took a backseat to that, so in a way this book was character driven- not a bad thing, in my opinion.

Clean Sweep is an absolutely flipping adorable urban fantasy read. I finished it with a smile on my face- more than I can say for most of my reads, which sometimes leave me with mixed feelings. However, it was on the short side, and being a lover of longer books, I had wanted a little extra- a little extra I'll have to get whenever I get my hands on Sweep in Peace, the next book in the series. So if you like urban fantasy and don't mind some sci-fi crossover, I recommend you look no further than Clean Sweep.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for a read that brightened my day!

Content: Ages 16+ for violence.

Page Count: 235 pages

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Month in Review for November 2015: Reading Realistically During the Holidays

Backseat Barkers- Required for Every Major Road Trip
This year I had too high of expectations when it came to my Reading Challenge on Goodreads. Last year I read 105 books, and this year I thought it would be a total piece of cake to do that and a little extra (107 books). As it turns out, that was a major nope. This year was my first full year book blogging, with physical therapy for 3ish months to try and relieve my fibromyalgia (ha ha ha- didn't work that well), a change in meds (worked better than the therapy), a new obnoxious cat/medieval tyrant to boss me around, and then my mother tried to get me in on her motorhome DIY renovation (I helped... as much as I could). Then, to top it off, my grandma got ill, leading to long road trips which completely wiped me out mentally and physically. So it's no surprise I got behind with that challenge and have since set my goal to a more realistic (for me) 100 books. That means I will be trying to read 13 books this month, one that I just polished off this afternoon, leaving me 12 books for the rest of the month. I'm a bit apprehensive about it, as a perfectionist, but I think it's doable, as long as I read whatever I feel like and don't get caught in the trap of trying to finish a book I don't really feel like reading.

 Total Posts: 11
  Total Critiques: 5
    Adult Coloring Book: 1
    Out-of-Orbit: 1
    Paranormal Romance: 1
    Part of a Series: 3
    Sci-fi: 2

Most Popular Posts of November:
Month in Review for October 2015: Creepy Forests and How to Save a Life
"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy #1)" by Douglas Adams
NQAC: Biweekly Update #22: Taking Up Genealogy and a Crazy Lazy Cat
SFF: The 5 Books You Want to Read Before 2015 Ends
SFF: The 5 Characters from Books You're Grateful For
Querkles: A Fun Spin on Adult Coloring!
"Kutath (The Faded Sun #3)" by C.J. Cherryh

Pageviews for the Month: 1058
Comments: 10!

Reading Challenges Updates:

Snowflake and Spider Silk Bingo Challenge

Applicable Books:
From January:
Song of Blood and Stone (Earthsinger Chronicles #1) by L. Penelope (POC main character)
Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1) by Gail Carriger (New to me author)
Changeless (Parasol Protectorate #2) by Gail Carriger (2nd book in a series)
Blameless (Parasol Protectorate #3) by Gail Carriger (female author)
From February:
Unseen (Unborn #2) by Amber Lynn Natusch (published 2015)
Written in Red (The Others #1) by Anne Bishop (Urban Fantasy)
From March:
Stardust by Neil Gaiman (written before 2000- it was first published in 1998)
Anthem by Ayn Rand (Novella/Short Story)
Moxyland by Lauren Beukes (Dystopia)
From April:
The Princess Bride by William Goldman (Humorous SF/F)
"The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil #1)" by Soman Chainani (fairy tale retelling)
From May:
"Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley ("classic" SF/F)
From June:
"The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard #1)" by Scott Lynch (Heists and Cons)
From July:
From August:
"Kesrith (The Faded Sun #1)" by C.J. Cherryh (Non-Human Main Character)
"The Sleeping King" by Cindy Dees and Bill Flippin (Epic Fantasy)
From September:
"Shon'jir (The Faded Sun #2)" by C.J. Cherryh (space travel)
"The Golem and the Jinni" by Helene Wecker (debut author)
"The Martian" by Andy Weir (Audiobook- my first since 4th grade)
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy #1) by Douglas Adams (Aliens)
From October:
From November:

Goal: 13 Squares
As of Now: 20 Squares, plus the 'free' one

Goal Surpassed!

Travel the World in Books Challenge

Applicable Books:
The Dragon and the Pearl (Tang Dynasty #2) by Jeannie Lin (Set in China- unfortunately no real dragons, otherwise it would add to my other challenge as well)
Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben Macintyre (Set *mostly* in France)

Goal15 books, set in 5 different countries
As of Now: I've read 14 books, set in 10 different countries

One more book to go!

Reading Stats:

Books read this Month: 7

Book Stats:
Has a Diverse Main Character: 3
Doesn't Have a Diverse MC: 4
Female Main Character: 5
Male Main Character: 1
Pair and/or Group of Female/Male Main Characters: 0
 Fantasy Romance: 1
 Fauna/Flora Nonfiction: 1
 Paranormal Romance/UF: 2
 Historical Romance: 1
 Historical Biography: 1
 Urban Fantasy: 1
Published in 2015: 0
Published in 2000-2014: 6
Published in 1960s: 1
Self-Published, Small Press, or Other: 4
Traditionally Published: 3
Series Books: 5
Standalones: 2
Ebook Version: 6
Paper Version: 1
Favorite of the Month: Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews (obviously)
Least Favorite of the Month: Desert Bound (Cambio Springs #2) by Elizabeth Hunter (3 Stars- still a good read, just with parts that frustrated me)
From the-pile: 0
From the-invisible-pile: 5
Recently acquired: 2
Added to the-invisible-pile: 5
Books bought: 5
Pages Read in 2015 Thus Far (according to Goodreads): 25,883 pages

5 Stars: 0
4-4.5 Stars: 4
3-3.5 Stars: 3
2-2.5 Stars: 0

Author Stats (1 = 1 book read by x author):
Male: 2
Female: 4
Male/Female Team: 1
Diverse: 0
Not-so-Diverse: 7
Living: 7
Deceased: 0

Planning to Read This Holiday Season:

One book to finish off my Travel the World in Books Choose Your Own Adventure Challenge, but otherwise I'm putting no stipulations on myself. In other words, I'll be free range reading.

Upcoming Posts:

I expect to review Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1) by Ilona Andrews and Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre, although that claim is tentatively put. Nonetheless, expect some reviews floating into your feed!

Happy Reading!

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