Saturday, May 30, 2015

I Judge Books By Their Covers: "The Rosie Project"

Hello, my name is Lindsay, and I judge books by their covers.

Confession: I 
always judge books by their covers. A book's appearance -- from the artwork to the font to the colors to the texture to the weight and cut of the pages (I like the ragged-edged ones) -- is very important to me. And there are certain kinds of covers I like and certain ones I'd never pick up unless I was already planning to read the book. It's fascinating to see how covers change between editions -- hardcover and paperback, or U.S. and international -- and it's so fun to see who prefers what!

Yellow: paperback (what my copy looked like)
Red: hardcover
Blue: Canada
White: U.K.

Wow, this one's a real doozy! At a glance, these covers look pretty dissimilar, but they really do have quite a lot in common. The all use primary colors -- red, blue and yellow, plus black and white. They all have a heart or a bike or both. In fact, these four covers really complement each other!

So let's talk preferences. The only cover that really doesn't appeal to me right off the bat is the red cover, the original U.S. hardback edition. It's a bit too bland, I don't really care for the font, and I somehow feel like it gives the least indication of what the book is about (even though it has a heart and a bike).

The artwork on the Canadian and U.K. versions aren't very descriptive either (I think the yellow cover best depicts the story but it's a little too busy for me), but they're a lot more aesthetically appealing. I love the pretty blue color and the pop of the red bike on the Canadian cover, and how could I resist an eye-catching red lobster whose antennae form a cute little heart?! I really like the fonts on both these covers as well as the lime green of the author's name on the U.K. version. Both are clean, simple, cheerful and bright, and they'd both compel me to open the book and read the blurb. What a tough choice!

Winner: It's a close call, but I'm going with Canada!

Do tell: which cover do you like best?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Book Review: "The Fair Fight" by Anna Freeman

"The Fair Fight" by Anna Freeman
First published in
480 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short Of It:
This fascinating and unique historical fiction novel is about way more than just boxing. It was a bit over-lengthy, but it was still a really good read!

The Long Of It:
Pugilism -- the sport of boxing -- really doesn't bring to mind an image of a young woman in Georgian England, her dress hiked up to her knees, blood dripping down her face, her fist heading toward another woman's gut. But that's exactly what happens in "The Fair Fight," an engaging novel in which one of the stars is a female boxer.

This tale is set in late 1700s England and is told by three very different characters. Ruth -- our pugilist -- was born to a brothel-owner mother and an unknown father. Not pretty enough to be a working "miss" in the brothel, she finds an identity for herself in the brutal sport of boxing. George was brought up in a very different life, one of leisure, privilege and money. He's handsome, arrogant, self-absorbed and sorta cute in a dopey way. Stuck under the shadow of his best friend/male lover, he's constantly scheming to raise himself ever higher in the world. And Charlotte is the sister of George's significant other. Once a vibrant girl, she's now a meek, gloomy and smallpox-scarred young woman.

The fates of our three narrators -- who are just about as different as three people can be -- become intertwined because of a little incident that led to fisticuffs between Ruth and her sister at the brothel. Both Ruth and Charlotte are struggling to find their place in the world and escape the confines of their seemingly contrasting stations in life and you'll be cheering for them the whole way. You'll also be hoping the several antagonists get their due.

While this novel does indeed involve boxing, the title references much more than sport. "The Fair Fight" explores the dichotomy between rich and poor, and men and women. Any woman who wishes she could go back and live in a historic time period should read this book, because things are pretty damn awful for bottom-of-the-totem-pole Ruth and, in many ways, even worse for upper-class Charlotte. The way they're treated by men will disgust you. Freeman explores several other issues, too: love, loneliness, friendship, forgiveness, identity, and even karma.

The book shifts between the three storytellers throughout, and Freeman illustrates the vastly different lives our characters lead by repeating some of the same events in each narrative. It's a clever way to show us how much the worldview changes between economic class and gender. On top of that, the book is beautifully written, and I loved that Freeman managed to give each character a very distinct voice.

I highly enjoyed "The Fair Fight" and fully recommend it. Really, my only complaint about the work was that Freeman could have gotten her point across in 150 or so fewer pages. Other than the slightly draggy middle, this book was by turns fun, exciting, depressing, infuriating, sad and happy. If you're looking for a unique historical fiction novel, put "The Fair Fight" at the top of your list!

Monday, May 25, 2015

15 Books For Your Beach Bag

Aloha! Grab your flip-flops and your towel because the prompt for this week's Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and The Bookish is about beach reads!

beach collage
Couldn't resist sharing a handful of pictures from our trip back to Hawaii in March. One of these days I'll go through the hundreds of photos and do a whole blog post! So beautiful and peaceful and relaxing. Sigh...

A "beach" book should be light and easy, something that's absorbing and engrossing but can also handle lots of interruptions. I decided to do 10 books on my to-read list that I think would make great beach reads (and I also listed five books I've read within the last year that fit this bill). Now, normally this is where I'd start talking about how much I wish I were at the beach to read one of these selections, but I'm on vacation in New York City this week! I can't complain one single bit, so let's cut to the chase and get to the books!

Have you read any of these books? What books would you like to take to the beach? And while we're on the topic of beaches, what beach is your favorite? Mine is Barking Sands on Kauai.

Bonus: Here are five books I HAVE read that I can vouch for being awesome beach reads. In fact, I actually read "The Rosie Project" and "What Alice Forgot" on our trip to Hawaii in March!


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Book Review: "Still Alice" by Lisa Genova

"Still Alice" by Lisa Genova
First published in 2007
292 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short Of It:
Written by a neuroscientist, "Still Alice" is a powerful and heartbreaking look at early-onset Alzheimer's. It was a gripping read and definitely worth your time.

The Long Of It:
Alice Howland is only 50 years old, in prime physical shape and at the top of her career as a Harvard professor and researcher of cognitive psychology. She's the last person you'd expect to have a degenerative brain disease.

At first Alice thinks her occasional memory lapses and confusion are symptoms of menopause. But after she gets lost and disoriented only a few blocks from her own house, she decides it's time to get some answers -- and she receives the devastating diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's. To make matters even worse, she learns that her three children each have a 50% chance of developing the disease.

We follow Alice along this tragic journey as she tells her family, struggles to continue teaching her classes at Harvard, gets tangled up in a pair of underwear thinking it's a sports bra, leaves her BlackBerry in the microwave, forgets the names of everyday things like watches and cream cheese, and finally fails to recognize her own children with any regularity.

We feel her frustration, her anger, her fear and her loneliness, and we're embarrassed with her when she makes innumerable faux pas, eventually completely oblivious to these mishaps. On top of that is Alice's overarching loss of her sense of self as her illustrious career falls victim to the unforgiving disease.

"Still Alice" also examines Alzheimer's from the caregivers' standpoint, and we see the full range of reactions from Alice's family -- her husband (who's painted as a bit of a selfish jerk) and her three kids. There's denial, exasperation, frustration, pity, rage and sadness -- as well as patience, kindness and love. It's perhaps even more difficult to follow along with Alice's family as they cope with her diagnosis and worsening symptoms than it is to watch Alice's once-brilliant mind deteriorate.

While the writing is a bit clunky at times and could definitely be tightened up, "Still Alice" is a very worthwhile read that sheds light on a terrible and heartbreaking disease.

Quotable quote, when Alice realizes her co-workers are ostracizing her:
"Facing her meant facing her mental frailty and the unavoidable thought that, in the blink of an eye, it could happen to them. Facing her was scary." 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Book Review: "The Great Zoo of China" by Matthew Reilly

"The Great Zoo of China" by Matthew Reilly
First published in 2014
393 pages
My rating: 2 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short Of It:
Big disappointment. The writing was sub-par and the plot was a cliche "Jurassic Park" rip-off. And somehow a book about dragons -- dragons! -- actually managed to bore me. I did a lot of skimming.

The Long Of It:
I was totally intrigued by the premise of "The Great Zoo of China," which is about the unveiling of a gigantic and highly secret free-range zoo complex in China with some very special creatures on display -- dragons. Real live dragons in six different varieties, to be exact.

I went into this novel expecting it to resemble "Jurassic Park" in some ways, but Reilly didn't really bring much original material to the table. Just as you'd expect, a select group of VIPs are invited to tour the zoo before its opening, and things go horrifically wrong. Dragons revolt! People are eaten! And our main character must save the day! (I really don't think that's a spoiler, as one unfortunate scientist dies on page 4.)

Aside from the predictable plot (which, admittedly, did have one slight twist), I really struggled with the writing. It was so bland and repetitive. I also didn't like the overuse of italics or the exclamation points used at the end of sentences to signify action, which was odd to see outside of dialogue. And I was irritated by the author's constant need to point out that everything at the zoo was created, thought up or built somewhere else. I could continue to wax on about issues I had with the writing, but suffice it to say I didn't like it.

On top of that, the characterization was incredibly flat. We learn only the barest bones about our characters, and they really weren't all that interesting or likeable. I found myself hoping the dragons would slaughter them all! The author gives our main character a halfway intriguing backstory and then barely delves into it, and we know very little about the other characters.

And, while the plot was action-packed, that's all it was. Our characters race from disaster to disaster to disaster, barely escaping with their lives each time. Basically, that's all that happens in the entire book -- humans running from dragons and other bad humans. I wanted to learn so much more about the creation of the zoo, the dragons themselves, the science, on and on. But nope, "Great Zoo" reads like a really bad action film.

I had high hopes for this book, but it fell flat for me. The idea of a massive zoo filled with prehistoric fantastical creatures held so much promise, but this novel was just poorly executed. (Although somehow this book has 3.7 stars on Goodreads, so apparently some other readers liked it a lot more than I did.)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

I Judge Books By Their Covers #2

Hello, my name is Lindsay, and I judge books by their covers.

Welcome to the second edition of a new feature on the blog in which I'll talk about cover art! Confession: I always judge books by their covers. A book's appearance -- from the artwork to the font to the colors to the texture to the weight and cut of the pages (I like the ragged-edged ones) -- is very important to me. And there are certain kinds of covers I like and certain ones I'd never pick up unless I was already planning to read the book. It's fascinating to see how covers change between editions -- hardcover and paperback, or U.S. and international. I'm always discussing book covers with my co-workers at the library, so I thought it would be fun to share some beautiful -- and awful -- covers here!

(Here's my review of "Fiercombe Manor.")

Same book, two different titles and two vastly different covers. The book on the left is the U.S. edition and the one on the right is the U.K. edition. I really have no idea why on earth they have two different titles, but I can say that both the title and the cover of the U.K. edition -- "The Girl in the Photograph" -- tell you a lot more about the story.

It's interesting that, while the cover art is totally different, both have similar symmetry  -- a central image framed by angles, be they hedges or curtains. I do like the cozy-ish feeling that the U.S. cover conveys -- but Fiercombe Manor is not a cozy-ish place. It's creepy and full of dark secrets, and that's much better depicted in the U.K. cover's eerie, ghostly artwork. Both covers grab my eye, but seeing them next to each other I hands-down prefer the U.K. artwork. I like the colors, the font and the imagery better -- especially after having read the book and knowing the plot.

Which cover speaks to you? Have to read "Firecombe Manor"?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Floral Friday

April showers brought tons of May flowers to our yard and I thought I'd share some of the beautiful blooms on the blog today. I'm excited that our peonies are starting to bloom. They smell sooooo good, and I just love the huge, soft, full flowers. Peonies are one of my favorite flowers -- I actually wanted to have them for my wedding bouquet but they were crazy expensive, so I was thrilled to discover we inherited a row of pink and white peony bushes when we bought our house! (And, as fate would have it, those were my wedding colors. Guess it was meant to be!)

Enjoy the lovely flowers -- hope they brighten your day!


The white peonies are blooming and the pink ones (my favorite!) are almost there.


Lilacs! They smelled delicious. I wish I could share the amazing scent with you through the computer screen!

I love the shape of the iries. The ruffled petals are so pretty!


Do you see a trend here? The people who owned our house before us planted almost everything in white and purple. Booooring! Whenever I create my own garden, it's going to have every color under the rainbow! Still, I can't complain about all the gorgeous flowers they chose, even if they are a bit too monochromatic for my taste.

Happy (Floral) Friday!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Review: "A Darker Shade of Magic" by V.E. Schwab

"A Darker Shade of Magic" by V.E. Schwab
First published in 2015
398 pages
First in a trilogy
My rating: 4 out of 5

Image from Goodreads

The Short of It:
This was a fun, charming and quick read about magic and parallel universes that I'd fully recommend.

The Long of It:
"A Darker Shade of Magic" was a rollicking adventure featuring magic, multiple versions of London and a female pickpocket aspiring to be a pirate -- not to mention a sinister magic rock, power-hungry monarchs and battle of good versus evil.

There are four totally distinct worlds in existence, each with a city called London on the same spot on the same island. Kell hails from Red London -- vibrant and bright and prosperous, with humans' innate magic held in perfect balance. Kell is an Antari -- one of only two people with the power to travel between the Londons, tasked with delivering correspondence between the monarchs.

Lila Bard is from Grey London -- our London -- whose residents are oblivious to the existence of magic. She survives by picking the pockets of the rich and has dreams of captaining her own pirate ship -- or at the very least, escaping the drudgery of her daily life.

Lila feels like there has to be something more -- and she's right. On a night when things go horribly wrong for Kell, fate brings the two together. And Lila, who until that night knew nothing of the other Londons or magic, will play an integral role in helping Kell save the world from some very bad people and some very bad magic.

"A Darker Shade of Magic" was such a delightful and exciting read and it'll appeal to readers who like adventure stories or magic or even historical fiction with a twist (the story takes place in 1819).

My only complaint is that I wish there were more to the tale. Schwab typically writes young adult books and I feel like that showed here in the occasional lack of depth to the plot and characters. There were a few questions raised (like what happened in Kell's childhood, which someone has blocked from his memory with a spell) that I would have loved answers to, as well as more information about the four Londons and what happened when one of them was cut off from the rest. But this is just the first book in a trilogy and I'm looking forward to getting answers to these queries and seeing how Kell and Lila's story in this magical world (err, worlds) unfolds.

P.S. I love this book cover!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Book Review: "Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

"Etta and Otto and Russell and James" by Emma Hooper
First published in 2015
305 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short of It:
The cover of this novel and the plot summary gave me a skewed expectation of the story. I liked some parts but was disappointed in others, and I was left feeling unsure about the point of it all.

The Long of It:
I was so excited to read this book -- a tale about an 82-year-old woman who, having never seen the sea, decides to walk through the Canadian wilderness thousands of miles to get there. Along the way she's joined by a talking coyote. Sounds whimsical and charming, right?

But... it wasn't the cheerful and light-hearted book I expected. Instead, it had some rather deep themes -- though even after I closed the final page I didn't really understand what the point of the book was and I couldn't grasp exactly what the ending meant. It was all very vague and subtle.

The book is told from a few different perspectives -- Etta's and Otto's and Russell's (shocker!) -- and in two time periods, WWI and present-day. There are also letters mixed in, which I enjoyed. I liked the atmosphere of Gopherlands, Saskatchewan, where Etta is a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse and Otto is a teenager from a family of 17 and Russell is his best friend. And I liked that elderly Etta -- despite being afflicted with Alzheimer's -- decides to pursue her dream of visiting the ocean and does so in a Forrest Gump-style fashion. And I really liked James, the coyote.

Hooper's writing style is different, very spare -- and that means a lack of quote marks and some run-on sentences. After I got accustomed to Hooper's way with words I was cruising right along, expecting all the different stories and the random odds and ends to come together in the end... but they didn't. I had so many unanswered questions. And I was left with the feeling that Hooper meant to tackle some Big Ideas, but I'm kinda in the dark was to what it was all supposed to mean. Perhaps this is one of those books that some people get and some people don't, but unfortunately I was among the confused and vaguely disappointed.

Monday, May 11, 2015

10 Authors I'd Like To Meet (Dead or Alive!)

The prompt for Top Ten Tuesday over at The Broke and the Bookish this week is 10 Authors I'd Like to Meet. I've only met one author in my whole life -- and, granted, it was a good one -- Ann M. Martin, author of the Babysitter's Club books. My wonderful mom took me to see my hero in fifth grade and I'm still in possession of the Super Special she signed. I'd really like to meet more authors, but nobody I'd go to any trouble to see ever comes here to Dayton, and nobody at all came to Hawaii!

ann m martin
Here's me with Ann M. Martin, circa 1996.

On the surface this week's topic sounds similar to the recent prompt about all-time favorite authors (which I actually struggled with!) but really, there are tons of authors I'd like to meet who aren't necessarily absolute favorites. And... nobody ever said they had to be living!

Have you ever met an author? Did he or she live up to your expectations? What authors would you like to meet?

{J.K. Rowling}
I want to meet the woman behind my beloved Harry Potter series -- a woman who could somehow also write the dark and horribly depressing "A Casual Vacancy." I would really like to see what J.K. is like in person. Plus, really, what Potter fan wouldn't want to meet her?

{Janet Evanovich}
Other than a small handful of really old chick-lit and the new series she has with Lee Goldberg, I've read everything Janet has ever written. I wonder if she's just as spunky and fun as I feel like she is from reading her books. I'm really curious what Janet looks like in real life -- she's in her 70s but the jacket photos on all her more recent books would make you think she was in her early 40s!

{W. Bruce Cameron}
I actually DID have a chance to meet Cameron (he came to the Dayton area the Christmas before last) but I didn't go; in my defense I hadn't yet read any of his books. But now that I've got a couple of his works under my belt, I'm regretting my missed opportunity to meet a fellow dog-lover! (And he used to live in Colorado, my home state, and write columns for the Rocky Mountain News! Yay, Colorado! Yay, journalism!) Maybe he'll come back to Dayton when he releases his next book, "The Dog Master," in August. Fingers crossed!

{Tasha Alexander}
Tasha, who writes the Lady Emily mysteries, did make my favorite authors list the other week and I would absolutely love to meet her! I follow her on Facebook and she seems to be someone I would totally get along with in real life. Lady Emily's time period -- late 1800s England -- is one of my favorites to read about, and Tasha seems to love books, words, history and yummy food just as much as I do!

{Gillian Flynn}
Well, first off I recently learned that her name is pronounced with a hard G -- GILLian, not JILLian. So basically I've been saying that wrong for three years. Please tell me I'm not alone here?! Anyway, I would never turn down the chance to meet someone who looks so normal and stylish and pretty and nice -- and who could dream up the sick and twisted stuff that goes on in her books! She has got one hell of a creative mind and I envy her that. Also, I would love to know what kind of craziness she's going to release next!

{Pierce Brown}
Pierce was also on my favorite authors list a few weeks back, and I would totally love to meet him. I am just head over heels for his amazing Red Rising series. His writing is stunning, his creativity is massive. And I also have a crush on this good-looking, nerdy bookworm! (I follow him on Instagram and he seems really down-to-earth despite all that.) I feel like I would be nervous meeting him because I'm so fan-girly!

{Jane Austen}
I have never actually read a Jane Austen book (though I will one of these days, I promise!) but I have seen all the movies. It would be so interesting to talk to her about her time period and see what she would make of how much everything has changed. I bet she would be both thrilled and shocked at how different things are for women in the 21st century. I also wonder what she would make of everyone's obsession with Mr. Darcy (and which actor does she prefer in the movie versions?) as well as the crazy people who think they want to go back and live in Regency England.

{George Orwell}
Everyone should read "1984." If you haven't, go read it! It would be fascinating to meet someone with such a sharp mind and talk about all his adventures and viewpoints. I wonder if he'd be surprised to learn "1984" and "Animal Farm" are still required reading 65 years after his death? Probably not. I also wonder what he'd think of all the modern-day dystopias featuring government mind control that abound right now, like the Hunger Games and Divergent series (and even Red Rising, as mentioned above).

{F. Scott Fitzgerald}
I would, of course, want to travel back to the Roaring 20s to meet up with him. And I would definitely want to get his opinions on the newest movie version of "The Great Gatsby." Having never heard rap music before, what on earth would he think? (I do imagine he would like the casting of Leo as Gatsby. And I think he would appreciate the crazy apartment party scene, since I get the idea he did a lot of that sort of thing.)

{Mark Twain}
Every time I go to look up quotable quotes, there's Mark Twain. He had a way with words, an adventuresome spirit and created two fascinating little boys know as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Plus, he got to stand feet away from the lava lake at Hale'ma'uma'u Crater in what is now Volcanoes National Park -- where I got to go a couple times when we lived in Hawaii. Now, of course, visitors can't get anywhere near the edge of the crater and I would definitely want his first-hand account!


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Three Days in Dallas

A couple weeks ago I had an awesome little three-day getaway to visit my best friend Katie in Dallas. She works at the Dallas Zoo and I got an fantastic behind-the-scenes tour. And we ate delicious cupcakes from Sprinkles, a famous cupcakery, and visited Dinosaur Valley State Park. It was so fun to hang out my bestie and her adorable dog, Ruby -- neither of whom I get to see often enough!

Here's a picture from my zoo tour! That's me on the left, Katie on the right, and Katie's friend Shannon in the middle with the adorable penguin. It was so downy-soft!


Check out that tongue!

FullSizeRender (2)
Yum yum! We had a delicious meal of gourmet pizza and this tasty dessert pizza (topped with mascarpone and Nutella among other things) at a place called Cane Rosso.

FullSizeRender (5)
Sprinkles and its snazzy Cupcake ATM!

We just so happened to visit Sprinkles on its 10th anniversary, and in exchange for waiting in a rather lengthy line we got our cupcakes for free! I got a Cuban Coffee cupcake and it was amazing! Just thinking about that coffee frosting is making my mouth water.

On the last day of my trip we went to Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, about an hour and a half southwest of Dallas. The park is home to lots of fossilized dinosaur prints.



The Texas bluebonnets were in bloom and the fields of blue were stunning!

Here's Katie and Ruby.

These pretty reddish-orange flowers are known as Indian paintbrush.

More gorgeous bluebonnets.

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