Monday, October 20, 2014

Top 10 New-ish Series I Want To Read

Hi and happy Tuesday! The prompt for this week's Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and The Bookish is the top 10 newer series on my to-read list. It sounded fun but was actually a bit challenging -- apparently most of the series on my radar have been around for quite a while. So this list is kind of stretching the definition of "new" -- I think at least one of the books was published in 2010!
1. The 5th Wave series by Rick Yancey
From the Goodreads summary:
After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one. Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors.
*I see this book everywhere, and one day I will get around to reading this popular YA series!

2. The Queen of the Tearling trilogy by Erika Johansen
From the Goodreads summary:
The Queen of the Tearling introduces readers to a world as fully imagined and terrifying as that of The Hunger Games, with characters as vivid and intriguing as those of The Game of Thrones, and a wholly original heroine. Combining thrilling action and twisting plot turns, it is a magnificent debut from the talented Erika Johansen.
*The first installment of this fantasy series just came out a couple months ago.

3. Kick Lannigan series by Chelsea Cain
From the Goodreads summary:
Kick Lannigan, 21, is a survivor. Abducted at age six in broad daylight, the police, the public, perhaps even her family assumed the worst had occurred. And then Kathleen Lannigan was found, alive, six years later...When two children in the Portland area go missing in the same month, Kick goes into a tailspin. Then an enigmatic man Bishop approaches her with a proposition: he is convinced Kick's experiences and expertise can be used to help rescue the abductees. Little does Kick know the case will lead directly into her terrifying past
*This is also a new series and it sounds like it features a badass heroine!

4. Tangled series by Emma Chase
From the Goodreads summary:
Tangled is not your mother’s romance novel. It is an outrageous, passionate, witty narrative about a man who knows a lot about women…just not as much as he thinks he knows.
*I discovered "Tangled" on Goodreads sometime in 2013 and it has rave reviews... but my library doesn't stock it and for the longest time no libraries in all of Ohio had it. I just checked again, and finally it's available from elsewhere in the state! It's strange that this book is so popular on Goodreads with 4.23 stars and over 50,000 ratings, but I've never seen it at the store (not that I've really actively looked) and it's not at the library. Huh.

5. Wool series by Hugh Howey
From the Goodreads summary:
Thousands of them have lived underground. They've lived there so long, there are only legends about people living anywhere else. Such a life requires rules. Strict rules. There are things that must not be discussed. Like going outside. Never mention you might like going outside.

5. Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant
From the Goodreads summary:
The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED. Now, twenty years after the Rising, bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives - the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will get out, even if it kills them.
*This is the third post-apocalyptic series on my list! Guess I need to get caught up on those!

6. Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor
From the Goodreads summary:
Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

8. Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones
From the Goodreads summary:
Charley Davidson is a part-time private investigator and full-time grim reaper. Meaning, she sees dead people. Really. And it's her job to convince them to "go into the light." But when these very dead people have died under less than ideal circumstances.

9. Amour et Chocolat series by Laura Florand
From the Goodreads summary:
Paris. Breathtakingly beautiful, the City of Light seduces the senses, its cobbled streets thrumming with possibility. For American Cade Corey, it's a dream come true, if only she can get one infuriating French chocolatier to sign on the dotted line...
*I discovered these books browsing Top Ten Tuesday lists one time. They seem cute and fun.

10. Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriager
From the Goodreads summary:
Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette. Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire--and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.
With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?
*A co-worker at the library recommended these YA steampunk novels and they sounds pretty interesting and different from what I'd normally pick up. And I do love the Victorian time period. Plus, one of my favorite authors, Deborah Harkness, gave the series a postive review!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Book Review: "What is Visible" by Kimberly Elkins

"What is Visible" by Kimberly Elkins
First published in 2014
307 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5

(image source 1, 2, 3)

If you had to give up one of your five senses, which would you choose? Can you imagine not being able to see, hear, smell or taste? Would life even be worth living if touch was your only way to experience the world? You'd be totally in the dark and dependent on others to tell you everything from a stain on your shirt to how babies are made to the color of your own hair -- and the information you receive would all be subjective and not necessarily accurate.

"What is Visible" is a novel based on the real life of Laura Bridgman, the little-known predecessor of Helen Keller in the mid-1800s. At just 2 years old, Laura lost four of her five senses to scarlet fever and a few years later went to live out her life at Boston's Perkins Institute with the famous Doctor Thomas Gridley Howe.

Laura learns to communicate masterfully through a method of fingers-on-palm hand signing. She knits and crochets and sews. And she's in possession of a brilliant, curious mind that is so often caged in and not allowed to expand. Before long, Laura is one of the most famous women in the nineteenth century, with people (including author Charles Dickens) traveling from far and wide to meet this amazing specimen so unlucky in circumstances.

The tale is told from the perspectives of not only Laura but Doctor Howe, the head of the Perkins Institute for the Blind and a leader in the field of phrenology (measuring skull shape and bumps to determine traits); Howe's wife, the poet Julia Ward Howe, composer of "Battle Hymn of the Republic"; and Sarah Wight, Laura's companion during her teen years. These additional characters helped bring context and atmosphere to the story as well as more drama and interest, but they were pretty much all unlikeable. Even Laura herself comes off as whiny, mean and obstinate, especially in her younger years, and it was hard to muster sympathy for our main character, despite her pitiful lot in life. Doctor Howe was the worst, written as a misogynistic, egotistical jerk whose real interest in Laura was as a religious experiment in his fight against Calvinism.

Another thing that bothered me was Laura's frequent use of words and phrases she'd have no context for, like "gnashing his teeth." She can't see or hear, so how can she really have any idea what constitutes "gnashing"? This was a small qualm, and obviously some artistic license must have been taken to make a readable first-person story, but it was a bit irritating.

I was glad to have learned of Laura Bridgman, a woman once known worldwide for the inspiration she provided but eventually eclipsed by the Perkins Institute's next "poster girl," Helen Keller. Her story is tragic and fascinating, and Elkins fills in the holes with fiction. But I felt the execution was lacking a bit and I wonder if I'd have gotten more enjoyment out of a biography of Laura over a novel about her life.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Exploring Ohio: Glen Helen Nature Preserve

What could be better than taking a meandering stroll through the woods, breathing crisp fall air, crunching on dried leaves, enjoying the stunning hues of fall foliage, all while being graced by some elusive Ohio sunshine? My parents were here for a few days earlier in the week and we had a great time exploring Glen Helen Nature Preserve in the nearby (wonderfully eccentric) village of Yellow Springs, Ohio.
This pretty little waterfall was the most picturesque sight we came across, though the entire area is pretty. Doesn't it just look lovely surrounded by fall leaves?
This is the Yellow Spring. It gets its name from the orange-y yellow coloring caused by iron. (Reminds me of that impossible-to-get-out red dirt that is everywhere in Hawaii!)
These bright leaves remind me of Mountain Dew!
Natural picture frames are the best! :)
I wish we'd discovered Glen Helen sooner, because it was possibly the prettiest, most scenic and relaxing place we've visited so far in Ohio -- and it's right down the road! I'd love to go back and see how it changes with the seasons. I imagine wildflowers in the summer and frozen waterfalls in the winter!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Top 10 Places Books Have Made Me Want to Travel + One I Already Visited

The prompt for this week's Top Ten Tuesday list from The Broke and the Bookish combines two of my favorite things in life -- reading and travel. Have you been inspired to visit a place because you read about it in a book? Well I certainly have, and it was tough to keep this list to just 10 11!
1. Antarctica
"Where'd You Go, Bernadette" by Maria Semple was a cute, quirky book that I thoroughly enjoyed, and it totally caused me to add "take Antarctica cruise" to my bucket list!
2. Oxford's Bodleian Library
I've read about this magical place in several different books, but most recently in Deborah Harkness' All Souls trilogy and Laurie R. King's Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell mysteries. And it was a filming location for the first two Harry Potter movies. I wonder if they're hiring!?
3. Santorini
This stunning island off the coast of Greece is always mentioned in Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily mysteries.
4. North Carolina beaches
Thanks to Nicholas Sparks, I'd love to visit some of these beaches. They seem so different from the beaches I've been to in Hawaii, Florida and Texas. Lots of people from Ohio vacation at the Outer Banks and I've heard good things. I hope we can take a trip there before we move from Ohio!
5. Paris
Food, food, Eiffel Tower, food. I absolutely must get myself an authentic French hot chocolate. And visit the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore. And so many other things. Some recent-ish Paris reads with a wonderful sense of atmosphere: "My Life in France" by Julia Child; "Anna and the French Kiss" by Stephanie Perkins; and "Paris in Love: A Memoir" by Eloisa James.
6. Bali
I didn't completely fall in love with "Eat, Pray, Love" but it sure did make me want to visit all the places in the book, especially Bali. This is where all those beautiful beachy pictures on your calendar come from, folks!
(image source)
7. Washington State/San Juan Islands
I've read lots of books that take place in Washington, from the Twilight series to Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove series and more. I'd love to visit Olympic National Park, the San Juan Islands and Seattle and take an killer whale-watching tour.

8. England
England, home of Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes and Jane Austen. There are so many bookish and historical things to do here and I know I'll have an amazing trip one day.

9. New York City
Oh, where to begin? I've read dozens and dozens of books set in NYC in all time periods and I can't wait to visit!
10. Charleston, South Carolina
I'd love to play Southern belle in Charleston after reading books like "South of Broad" by Pat Conroy and "Death by Darjeeling" by Laura Childs.
11. Julia Child's Kitchen
Whenever we get around to visiting Washington, D.C., I'll be sure to check out this exhibit at the Smithsonian. I loved Julia Child's autobiography, "My Life in France," as well as the movie "Julie and Julia." I have the "J&J" book and eventually I'll get around to reading it!

 And here's a place we visited because of a book:
(image source)
I loved this fantastic novel (review) about a young girl ripped away from her family and sent to the Kalaupapa leper quarantine colony on the Hawaiian island of Molokai in the late 1800s. We just so happened to be living in Hawaii at the time, so when we took a weekend trip to Molokai in 2011 I booked us a mule ride down the cliffs to Kalaupapa.
See that tiny village on the flat land? That's Kalaupapa, and the lepers exiled there were essentially stuck in that beautiful natural prison surrounded by the rough and dangerous Pacific Ocean and massive cliffs.
Steep, slick and muddy! Trust in your mule was essential to not freaking out!
(pali = cliff)
Reading "Molokai" before we visited Kalaupapa greatly enhanced my visit there, and seeing the setting in person brought the book even more vividly to life. Plus I learned a lot about leprosy, a disease I was barely familiar with before picking up "Molokai." I love novels that teach me something, and I love books with such rich atmosphere that they make me want to just pack up and get on a plane!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Book Review: "The Islands at the End of the World" by Austin Aslan

"The Islands at the End of the World" by Austin Aslan
First published in 2014
355 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5
Fulfills the sci-fi requirement for my Reading Outside the Box Challenge

(image source)

"The Islands at the End of the World" reminded me a lot of the end-of-the-world movie "2012" -- it started out strong and got progressively weirder and less believable.

Hawaii is a fantastic setting for a disaster novel. It's entirely plausible that the islands could lose communication with the rest of the world. And thousands of tourists would be stranded there. And it faces the threat of tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. I was super-excited to pick up this book because we lived in Hawaii for three wonderful years, and it's always fun to read about places you've been.

Unfortunately, I didn't really love "The Islands at the End of the World," the story of Leilani and her father and their quest to get from Oahu back to the Big Island as disaster befalls the planet. Leilani has epilepsy, and she and her father have just arrived in Honolulu for an experimental drug trial when things start to get strange -- namely, electronics stop working and a giant green cloud appears in the nigh sky and a tsunami pummels the eastern coast of the island chain.

With the power out, electronics fried, gasoline and fresh water in short supply and communication with the Mainland impossible, violence, looting and panic quickly become widespread. Leilani and her father race to find a way off Oahu so they can start making their way south to the Big Island, where her mom, brother and grandpa are hopefully still alive.

All that sounds interesting and totally was. It was definitely an action-packed adventure that had me turning pages at lightning speed. But I was not impressed by the big reveal -- when we finally find out the cause of the disaster. And everything that happens after that is dampened by our bizarre new knowledge of the Emerald Orchid, the green cloud behind all the problems. Things quickly took a turn for the unlikely and paved the way for some confusing plot holes.

I give this book props for causing me to spend an entire morning doing absolutely nothing but racing through pages -- and I really did enjoy the first two-thirds. But I wonder if I would have liked it much at all if it hadn't been set in Hawaii, one of my favorite places on earth and a locale that I'm extremely familiar with. The author is working on a sequel, but I doubt I'll pick it up. I'm sad to say this book started with a very promising premise that could have been executed much more skillfully.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Chicago/Lollpalooza 2014: Days 3-4

Ahh, Chicago. It was so fun looking back through these pictures (though tough to choose which ones to post from the gazillion that we took!). We had an awesome time and I'm so glad we experienced the craziness that is Lollapalooza and got to see some of the touristy sites.

You can see our first two days here (deep-dish pizza, The Bean, the Chicago Art Institute). Below is the rest of the adventure. We took a Chicago Architecture Foundation boat tour and went up to the 94th floor of the Hancock Building to see the stunning view. I really hope we'll be able to go back to Chicago before we move from Ohio. We definitely made the most of our limited time, but there's soooo much more to see and do and eat!
Couldn't resist a picture of the library! Too bad we didn't have time to go inside.
We all enjoyed our boat tour through the Chicago Architecture Foundation and I would highly recommend it. The boat ride was relaxing and educational and I learned a few interesting things about architecture, a subject I know next to nothing about. I would absolutely do another tour through the company. They have several to choose from and I'd love to do a walking tour.
Me, Andy and the Willis Tower.
People call these twin structures "the corncobs" but we learned on our tour that they were actually designed as flowers. I'm sure the architect wants to punch people in the face every time they liken his flowers to corn!
I love the gorgeous styling of that building just to the right of the clock tower. Beautiful!
Back at Lolla. Foster the People!
The next morning we did "Chicago 360" at the Hancock Building -- i.e. an elevator ride up 94 floors to check out the view. Too bad there was no zipline like in "Divergent." They should really look into adding that! We did do something called "The Tilt," where we stood on a platform that tipped 30 degrees outward from the side of the building so we were looking toward the ground. Pretty cool, but I was hoping for more of an adrenaline rush. Now, about that zipline...
Lake Michigan. Apparently this part is still pretty toxic, as is the river. Don't fall in, unless you want your skin to melt off!
More stunning architecture!
There's a water cannon that goes off every hour across the river! This was the view from our hotel, Swissotel.
Last day of Lolla! Exhausted, sore, muddy and devoid of all desire to be around other humans, but we survived! Thank you, gray Converse, for getting me through the weekend. I couldn't have done it without you!
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