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Monday, November 29, 2010

Updates

  • Reading is a bit slow, but hopefully work will be slightly slower in December, so I'll have more time to read! Actually reading multiple books at the moment for different purposes (all non-fiction, some ARC, some work related, some for husband and I to read together like books on cooking and finance). I'm definitely in a fiction mode, which doesn't help... So many books, so little time!
  • We still have a month to go till the end of the year (which will mark my 1 year anniversary as I started on Jan 1, 2010!) - already thinking about my favorite books this year, most disappointment books, what I plan to do for next year... 
  • All 3 kitties are doing great, getting along very well. Phew! Hopefully will have some pictures soon...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Book Review - Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn














Title: Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel In Letters
Author: Mark Dunn
Year: 2001
Page: 208
Genre: Fiction - Epistolary

New to me author? Yes
Read this author again? Probably!
Tearjerker? No
Where did it take place? US - fictional island Nollop
FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com):

Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram,* “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

* pangram: a sentence or phrase that includes all the letters of the alphabet



First Sentence:
Dear Cousin Tassie,
Thank you for the lovely postcards.
  
Why did I pick this book?
I have heard of this book before. I thought the title sounded interesting then and had no idea what it referred to. I remember I'd read the book description before but did not remember what it was about at all - I probably thought it was too boring and not something I was interested in. I'd totally forgotten this book until I read Bermudaonion's Weblog's review and it really sparked my interest!

My thoughts:
  • What a delightful, cute, and clever book! It totally not what I expected, and I am glad I read it. Though I don't love it.
  • NOTE - the review may have some spoilers - it's hard to talk about this book without talking about this book! 
  • I am a sucker for WITTY books - and this book fits the bill. We have all heard of A Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog - can you form another sentence using all 26 alphabets, but no more than 32 alphabets total? This was the challenge set forth in the book. How about being punished for using certain letters in spoken or written language, e.g. you cannot use D (and B and Q and L...) anymore? I don't think we really appreciate each alphabet until we can no longer use it! I can't help but think that when Dunn wrote this book, he must have used the "search" function a lot to make sure his story avoid using certain letters at different point of the story
  • This book was written in Epistolary style (in letters) - and I enjoyed reading books in this format
  • This book reminded me of Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows in many ways - I resisted to read both books in the beginning, thinking they are not something I'd like; both are written in letters format; I found both delightful (and it's not a word I use often, to describe books or otherwise); even the characters and atmosphere of the two books were similar somewhat.
  • There were some elements I didn't quite like though - the beginning was a little slow, and we didn't really get to know any of the characters too well 
  • I also don't quite understand why the book was titled Ella Minnow Pea? It is one of the main characters (but really not that big of a role since there are multiple characters and none of them really stood out). Anyone can share insight? I do like the subtitle "A Novel In Letters" - it really is, in 2 different ways! [NOTE - google is my friend - found out this possible explanation of the title).
  • I also don't quite get the cover design? There are several covers but none of them really reflect the story I don't think.
  • Not to get political, but this story definitely touched on how ridiculous some rules/laws could be, set by the government (or council or management or leadership or whatever). I don't typically like symbolic story too much, but this book wasn't too abstract
  • While it probably won't be a All Time Top 10 books, I quite enjoyed its cleverness and it was a fast read. It falls into the "I'm glad I read it" and "surprise" categories. I think it's just one of those books you just have to be in the right mood to read - I obviously didn't feel like reading it before, but perfect for what I wanted to read a couple of days ago (something light but still make me think)

     
    Rating: 4 Stars



     
    Have you read this book? 
    If you have, I would love to hear what you think! I'll link your review here if you wish!


    Challenges:
    100+ Reading

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    Book Review - Up From the Blue: A Novel by Susan Henderson














    Title: Up From the Blue: A Novel
    Author: Susan Henderson
    Year: 2010
    Page: 336
    Genre: Fiction - Family

    New to me author? Yes
    Read this author again? Possibly
    Tearjerker? No
    Where did it take place? US
    FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the Library

    Summary (from goodreads.com):
    Tillie Harris's life is in disarray—her husband is away on business, the boxes in her new home aren't unpacked, and the telephone isn't even connected yet. Though she's not due for another month, sudden labor pains force Tillie to reach out to her estranged father for help, a choice that means facing the painful memories she's been running from since she was a little girl.

    An extraordinary debut from a talented new voice, Up from the Blue untangles the year in Tillie's life that changed everything: 1975, the year her mother disappeared.


    First Sentence:
    It starts like a tingling at the top of my abdomen.  

    Why did I pick this book?
    Stephanie The Bookworm had a GREAT review (5/5!) of this book - I love that she said it is full of emotion and twists. I need some good reads right now so I picked this up from the library, even though I have a big stack already from the library... okay so some of you may not think it's a fun thing to read emotional books... but I much prefer an emotional one than a "light" read.

    My thoughts:
    • I am a bit torn about this book. It was a fast read, and I was able to finish it within my normal 2-3 days time frame. I do enjoy Henderson's writing, as it was quite engaging.
    • I did like the 8 years old Tillie (in 1975), even though she wasn't the best student. The story jumped between 1975 and 1991 when Tillie was pregnant. The majority of the book focused on Tillie's childhood. However, I felt like there was a gap between 1975 and 1991 that didn't really explain Tillie's behavior in 1991. She almost seemed like a different person. I didn't quite understand her attitude towards her dad in 1991, when back in 1975 she had finally had some insights about her mother (sorry can't really elaborate without spoilers). Sometimes the 8 years old Tillie almost seemed too mature and wise beyond her age, and then at 24 years old, she seemed to have gotten more immature
       
    • Tillie's friendship with Hope and Shirl also seemed a bit half-developed, especially Shirl's. It almost seemed like there were going to be some side-plots going on, but got forgotten. I did like Mr Woodman, Tillie's teacher who was quite understanding, and just the type of teacher we need more
       
    • I also thought there was another side-plot going on with Anne, Tillie's dad's secretary, as I thought she might play a bigger role but didn't
       
    • So apart from Tillie, all the other characters didn't really get to develop (especially the mother's story) and just felt a bit short. I also thought Tillie's love for her mother and brother was touching
    • The "Cootie" story about Tillie's parents was cute, and I wish it had gone into a bit deeper
    • I read a review that said this book, which some thought almost read like a memoir, was often compared to the Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. I have to say I much prefer The Glass Castle - there was more of a story, whereas this book was more character-driven. While I like Henderson's writing fine, there was just something about Walls' writing that really, really captivated you and drew you in. You laughed and cried with her, and admired how she turned out the way she did. I should go read her second book, Half Broke Horses. While I felt for Tillie and sympathized with her, I didn't laugh or cry with her.
    • Overall, not a bad debut. But I thought it could go a little deeper and let the characters developed a bit more. The adult Tillie part didn't add much to the story. Also the big twist of the story wasn't that realistic either... I guess I was just a bit disappointed that the story wasn't quite as depressing as I'd hoped... (you know, every so often you just want a sad story to have a good cry? And be grateful that you have a pretty good life after all?)

      Quote:
      "... and a notebook of poems that were better in my head than they are on paper." (p1)

      Who you want to be out in the world is hardly ever the same as who you need to be at home. (p242)

      Rating: 3 Stars



       
      Have you read this book? 
      If you have, I would love to hear what you think! I'll link your review here if you wish!


      Challenges:
      100+ Reading

      Sunday, November 14, 2010

      Book Review - Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America's Cheapest Family: Includes So Many Innovative Strategies You Won't Have to Cut Coupons by Steve & Annette Economides











      Title: Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America's Cheapest Family: Includes So Many Innovative Strategies You Won't Have to Cut Coupons
      Author: Steve Economides, Annette Economides
      Year: 2010
      Page: 217
      Genre: Non-Fiction - Finance

      New to me author? Yes
      Read this author again? Maybe
      Tearjerker? No
      Where did it take place? US
      FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

      Summary (from goodreads.com):
       
      America's Cheapest Family shows readers how to save up to $3,000 annually on groceries with their proven strategies, tips, tools, and tricks.

      The average American family spends 10 to 15 percent of its take-home pay on groceries. Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half gives them a sure-fire opportunity to reduce that number forever. With the proven plan in this book, the average family can save more than $3,000 a year on its grocery bill.

      "Can cutting coupons do that?" a consumer might ask. Of course, these money-saving experts teach coupon-clipping strategies, but they don't stop there. Readers learn how to plan their shopping to save big bucks, effectively store food and save cash, identify products that save time and money, beat the grocer at pricing games, and more!

      The Economides learned to deliver healthy, tasty food to their family of seven on $350 a month. In this authoritative manual, the average family can follow their lead and fill its grocery cart without emptying its wallet.

      First Sentence:
      Cut my grocery bill in half?
        
      Why did I pick this book?
      Well, who wouldn't want to know more about cutting the grocery bill in half! While we're doing "okay", I am always looking for more ways to save for the future.


      My thoughts:
      • There are some good tips there, but most of the tips aren't very new - e.g. check unit pricing, stock up when things are on sale and freeze them, use coupons, price check... their biggest tip is to go shopping once a month, and cook (and freeze) once a month. Husband and I don't like shopping much, so we tend to do one big trip a month, though he does go and stock up other things as needed (or if he sees them on sale) since there is a smaller grocery store on his way home from work. Since we don't have a chest freezer, it's difficult to do the things they suggest. Is it worth getting one? We need to think about it. Husband has been wanting one for a while, but I fear that we'd just put stuff in their and forget about it, then the food would get bad or have freezer burned - you need to be pretty organize and stay on top of things...
      • It's nice that they include other resources, e.g. the chapter on coupon, they includes links to other websites, and state some pro and con about such sites. I don't really coupon, when I come across one, I'll print it out... but then I usually forget to bring it with me, or that it expires before I get to do grocery shopping... 
      • I did learn a little bit of new info, e.g.:
        • (1) eggs - egg suppliers try to have the majority of their hens mature around the largest egg-consumption holidays (times when people do lots of baking such as Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas). At those times, with most of their chickens laying large or extra large eggs, they sometimes run short of medium eggs. Egg producers can exceed the USDA weights, so they often will substitute large eggs in the medium cartons - so we should check the size and weight of medium eggs to get more for the money at those times.
        • (2) pre-bagged vegetables, e.g. potato or carrots - weigh the bag, usually they weigh more than what the label said. If so, it's a better deal than getting it "loose" per pound.
        • (3) Sometimes, some brand name products do work better than generic products, so you end up using less. Their example was Dawn detergent - while it is more expansive than the others, their did a little experiment (not scientific by any means) and found out they used less than half. Husband and I love watching America's Test Kitchen, especially their product and taste test! And husband loves reading the Consumer Reports, so we try to buy something that gives the best value
      • Now, a lot of the "money saving" tips take time. So I guess my question is, is it worth spending the time to do this? Or is it going to make me more stressed to save a bit of money? I guess I won't know until I try and tally up the time spent and money saved... but with coupons, I found that a lot of time, I need to spend a lot of time to vett the offerings, and usually there are only 1 or 2 coupons I'd likely use (on products we'd buy regardless). Plus I don't want to have to go to several grocery stores to get different due to the time added and extra gas used... 
      • So, I think if you are already pretty savvy about cutting your grocery bills or being frugal, you won't get as much out of this book as someone who never pays much attention about their spending on food
      • You can also go to their website for more info: http://americascheapestfamily.com/
         
        Rating: 3.5 Stars



         
        Have you read this book? 
        If you have, I would love to hear what you think! I'll link your review here if you wish!


        Challenges:
        100+ Reading

        Book Review - Edge by Jeffery Deaver














        Title: Edge
        Author: Jeffery Deaver
        Year: 2010
        Page: 416
        Genre: Fiction - Murder / Mystery / Thriller / Suspense

        New to me author? No
        Read this author again? Yes
        Tearjerker? No
        Where did it take place? US
        FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

        Summary (from goodreads.com):
        Behind the well-known U.S. security organizations— the FBI and CIA among them—lies a heavily guarded, anonymous government agency dedicated to intelligence surveillance and to a highly specialized brand of citizen protection. 
         Shock waves of alarm ripple through the clandestine agency when Washington, D.C., police detective Ryan Kessler inexplicably becomes the target of Henry Loving, a seasoned, ruthless “lifter” hired to obtain information using whatever means necessary. While Loving is deft at torture, his expertise lies in getting an “edge” on his victim—leverage—usually by kidnapping or threatening family until the “primary” caves under pressure.

        The job of keeping the Kessler family alive falls to a man named Corte, a senior federal protection officer known as a “shepherd.” Uncompromising, relentlessly devoted to protecting those in his care and a passionate board game aficionado, he applies brilliant gaming strategy to his work. For Corte, the reappearance of Loving—the man who, six years earlier, had tortured and killed someone close to him—is also an opportunity to avenge his friend’s death. The assignment soon escalates into a fast-paced duel between Corte and Loving, a dangerous volley of wits and calculated risks.

        As he shepherds the Kesslers to a concealed safe house, Corte must anticipate Loving’s every step as the lifter moves in on his prey, and with the help of razor-sharp investigator Claire DuBois and his longtime ally, FBI agent Paul Fredericks, pinpoint which of Kessler’s seemingly insignificant cases has triggered Loving’s return. As the team digs deeper, each of the Kesslers comes under close scrutiny, and in captivity their family bonds are stretched to the breaking point—as the lifter draws near, Corte must ultimately choose between protecting his charges and exposing them to a killer in the name of long-awaited revenge.


        First Sentence:
        The man who wanted to kill the young woman sitting beside me was three-quarters of a mile behind us, as we drove through a pastoral setting of tobacco and cotton fields this humid morning. 
          
        Why did I pick this book?
        I have always enjoyed Jeffery Deaver's books, though I prefer his Lincoln Rhyme series (2nd is Kathryn Dance series) more than his stand-alone. I was very disappointed with the last stand alone book, The Bodies Left Behind (can't believe it was 2008 when I read it! Seemed like it wasn't that long ago...) Looking at my list of books I read, I also read another of his stand alone earlier in 2008, called Mistress of Justice, and I have NO recollection of that book! That's the primary reason of starting this blog, so I can refer back to the books I'd read, and what I thought of them. 

        My thoughts:
        • I am glad to say I like this better than the last two stand alone books he wrote! For those of you who like the cat-&-mouse type thrillers, you will probably enjoy this
        • Now, this book isn't perfect, and some may find the protagonist not very likable as he seems cold and detached - but I think it just showed that's the personality required to take such a job - to be a "shepherd," basically a bodyguard working for an unnamed U.S. government agency, charged with keeping witnesse safe from threats - as "lifter" go after these witnesses for information
        • There are lots of twists and turns, and some I could guess ahead of time (after you have read so many murder/mystery books, you knew it couldn't be that easy), and some I didn't. I did guess the final reason why the Kessler was targeted, but the real twist for me was the last chapter, titled "endgame", about some people related to the protagonist. Didn't see that one coming!
        • Another thing I didn't quite like is that, the protagonist is supposed to be very clever (he needed to outsmart the bad guys, and plot their next move!), but some choices he made weren't that quite smart in terms of tactics. But I supposed he wasn't perfect (and well, I couldn't do what he does in real life... so I shouldn't speak about how well or badly I would handle the same situation.)
        • I read an interview with Jeffery Deaver, and I thought it was quite interesting when he was asked if he preferred series or stand alones (full interview here:) "I have no preference really. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. With stand-alones, for instance, I can always imperil my main characters and risk killing them off (yes, I love messing with my readers' minds!), which I can't do with series. But I have to invent a whole world every time, whereas with series novels I know the characters, locations, institutions, etc. The real key is deciding which category is best for the story idea. For instance, the Lincoln Rhyme books are best for technical subjects, the Kathryn Dance for more psychological thrillers. The stand-alones let me experiment, often combining the two and trying out new forms (like the first-person in Edge). I think more people like series, so that's what I stick to most of the time."

          Quote:

          "You know, sometimes you can tell more about somebody from what he doesn't tell you than what he does." (p105)


           
          Rating: 4 Stars





           
          Have you read this book? 
          If you have, I would love to hear what you think! I'll link your review here if you wish!


          Challenges:
          100+ Reading

          Sunday, November 7, 2010

          GIVE AWAY - Girard's Salad Dressings (and review)

          A while back, I was contacted to see if I'd like to receive some Girard's Salad Dressings to try, as they had 3 new flavors - Apple Poppyseed, Creamy Balsamic, and Peach Mimosa. They were also going to send their signature flavor, Champagne.



















          Now, I have to admit, I am not a big salad person. I like having my vegetables cooked. But I'd like to try liking salad more (usually I like salad when it's with ranch which is not the most healthy dressing, or something sweet like strawberry vinaigrette). So I thought, what a great opportunity to try something different - the Peach Mimosa really intrigued me!

          Even though a review of the product was not required, I thought I would anyway because I want to share :)

          My favorite, which is not surprising, is definitely the Peach Mimosa. Bear in mind that I have a sweet tooth, and this dressing is more on the sweet side than on the vinegary side (I don't like thing too sour - a combination of sweet and sour is good, but not just sour). My husband, who prefers vinegary dressing, thinks it's not bad. It's a prefect summer dressing I think, especially if you can add some fruits like strawberries or blueberries in the salad! I would definitely buy this again.

          My second favorite is the Apple Poppyseed. I think it has an interesting combination of favor. I wasn't too sure of it at first, and it is a bit difficult to describe how it actually taste, but I like that it's a bit sweet and a bit savory. Husband also likes it okay, but thought he has had something similar before.

          Husband definitely prefers the Creamy Balsamic and Champagne. I don't hate them, and would use them in my salad, they just wouldn't be my first choice. But I still like them better than some other dressings.

          So overall, it was a fun trial, and I am very glad to have some more options than just ranch!

          Now, YOU have a chance to try them too (if you live in the US that is!) The Give Away includes ALL FOUR FLAVORS - of FULL SIZE Bottles! With the holidays coming up, wouldn't it be great to have all these different flavors for your guests to choose from?


          Details:
          • Up to 5 winners - each winner with receive a package of 4 bottles of Girard's Salad Dressings (1 flavor each - Apple Poppyseed, Creamy Balsamic, Peach Mimosa and Girard’s Signature Champagne)
          • US only
          • Tell me which flavor you most want to try and why!
          • Leave me your email (and I'll ask you for your mail address later, to be shared with Girard's so they can send you the package)
          • The FIRST FIVE people who responds first WIN!!!
          • Respond by 11/30/10!

          Book Review - The Door to December by Dean Koontz














          Title: The Door to December
          Author: Dean Koontz
          Year: 1985
          Page: 528
          Genre: Fiction - Horror

          New to me author? Yes
          Read this author again? Maybe...
          Tearjerker? No
          Where did it take place? US
          FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

          Summary (from goodreads.com):
          The #1 New York Times bestselling author delivers a truly suspenseful novel of a mother who must save her daughter from a threat she can hardly understand. What happened to nine-year-old Melanie during the six years she was subjected to terrifying experiments? And what is the unstoppable power that she can unleash from behind the "Door to December"? 


          First Sentence:
          As soon as she finished dressing, Laura went to the front door and was just in time to see the Los Angeles Police Department squad car pull to the curb in front of the house.  

          Why did I pick this book?
          Was in a reading rut. Very busy at work, so wanted to read something "fun" (but not chick lit) that won't require too much brain power - tried reading non-fiction, but just can't focus when I am too tired. Anyway, saw a thread on a forum where suggestions for scary books were made. I thought it may be fun to read a scary book (yeah I have a twisted sense of humor...) as I hadn't read any horror for a while, especially something that is chilling. There were two instances where I got scared after reading a book (1) after watching IT, I got scared turning the faucet on (okay that wasn't technically reading, but I did read the book later). (2) Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans by Malachi Martin (non-fiction). That was over 10 years ago so I am ready to read something scary again :) I had heard of Dean Koontz, but haven't read any of his books (if I did, it was a long time ago and I don't remember). I know he's often compared to Stephen King (I'd only read IT, but watched a few other movies and liked them, e.g. Misery, and other non-horror ones like Stand by Me and The Shawshank Redemption). This particular book was recommended on the forum, so I thought I'd give Koontz a try.

          My thoughts:
          • For a 528 pages book, I expected a lot of twists and turns and scary stuff
          • Truth is? I guessed the one twist within the first few chapters of the book, but just read on to see if I guessed it right, and I did. That spoiled the fun. I don't think I'm particular smart, but I think after reading many murder / mystery / suspense / thrillers type of book, even if this one is more of a 'horror' book, you tend to pick up the clues a bit easier
          • So I was disappointed as it got a bit too predictable. The premise is interesting, but the book could've been shorter
          • The characters are fine, feel indifferent about them really. But you do get a sense of who they are. In fact, when I was reading, I could imagine this being made into a B-grade tele-movie. 
          • Would I give Koontz a second chance? I did borrow another one of his books, False Memory, when I was browsing the library shelf while looking for this book. Will see if my mood feels like it. If you have read Koontz before, any recommendation? I don't mind that it has a bit of a paranormal edge. I used to read a lot of John Saul's books and really enjoyed them back then. Don't remember why I stopped... maybe time to pick one up again?
             
            Rating: 2 Stars



             
            Have you read this book? 
            If you have, I would love to hear what you think! I'll link your review here if you wish!


            Challenges:
            100+ Reading