Saturday, December 31, 2011

Favorite Reads in 2011

Favorite books in 2011! 
(Note - read in 2011, not necessarily published in 2011. Book titles linked to my reviews.)

Adult Fiction:
  1. Children of Paranoia (Children of Paranoia #1) by Trevor Shane - it's dystopian but not quite dystopian as it could happen right now. It's a thriller but not quite a thriller. But what it really is, is a love story.
  2. The Human Bobby by Gabe Rotter - the plot took me by surprise and I love a good twist!
  3. The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen - I wasn't into Magical Realism until I read this book. This was my first Sarah Addison Allen book, and I ended up reading all her 4 books this year, though the rest were just okay for me. I liked it better when the magic is possible and explainable (I know, it's contradictory to what magic is... but I have a logical mind...)
  4. Honorable mention: The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry - this book grew on me I think. I only gave it a 3.5 stars after I read it, but the story has staying power and I like that it doesn't have a typical ending.
  5. Honorable mention: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce #1) by Alan Bradley- while the plot isn't the best, the main protagonist is memorable! Flavia may be my favorite character in 2011! The other character would be John from I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells but this book didn't make it as a favorite for me.

Young Adult Fiction:
  1. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys - last book read in 2011 - just finished it an hour ago! Wow. I don't read a lot of YA, or historical fiction, but this is both, and it made me cry like a baby. Review to come!
  2. Divergent by Veronica Roth - YA Dytopian. I can't wait to read Book 2! Not quite as good as the Hunger Games, but I do like it. Review to come!
  3. Honorable mention: Matched (Matched #1) by Ally Condie - wasn't as action packed as Divergent, but I'll still read Book 2 (reserved!)

  1. Totto-Chan: The Little Girl At The Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi - this is kinda a re-read for me, and I don't re-read. I have read the Chinese version (originally written in Japanese) many, many times when I was much younger. The last time I read it was at least 10 years ago. This is the first time I read the English version, and it still has the same effect on me as it did before. This is one of my favorite reads ever, not just in 2011.
  2. Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan - Very inspiring!
  3. Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas - Food and business memoir, and I was inspired by Achatz's drive and creativity.
  4. Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff - not usually a history fan, but I was hooked to find out what happened! Also read this one together with husband and it was fun as we got to discuss the book along the way.
  5. Honorable mention: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua - Being Chinese, I could relate to some of it (lucky for me that I could not relate to ALL of it!)
  6. Honorable mention: A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Lee Dugard - Just couldn't imagine what she had to go through when she was imprisoned for so many years, not just a stolen life, but a lost childhood.
  7. Honorable mention: Maman's Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan - more food and memoir! I want to try out some of the recipes. Review to come!

Most disappointed books read in 2011:
  1. Left Neglected by Lisa Genova - not a bad book, but I had such high expectation since I loved Still Alice.  This book just didn't have the same impact on me and I didn't feel emotional like I did with Still Alice.
  2. Where She Went (If I Stay #2) by Gayle Forman - also not a bad read by itself, but I really liked the first book If I Stay (also an emotional read for me) but this one fell short.

Yes it'd be here...

Yes I'd do a best-of / end-of-year-recap post... but it is not ready yet because I am still trying to squeeze one last book in! I'm hoping I can finish tonight or tomorrow, but since we have a family event to go to tomorrow, I won't have time to post until later, or in 2012! :)

It has been interesting to read everyone's top list and stats! 

Here were my reading goals for 2011 - come back later to see how I did!

  1. Quality over quantity. If I can reach 100 books again for the 4th year in a row - fine. If not, I won't stress out much about it.
  2. Read approximately half fiction and half non-fiction
  3. Continue to blog every book, hopefully within a week
  4. Let's see if I can stick to doing BTT every week!
  5. Keep recommending books to others and encourage non-readers to discover the magic of books!
  6. As much as I love my local library, I should at least read 10 of my own books... there are 170+ waiting...
  7. Give audio books a try, while trying to exercise (bought an elliptical and have hardly used it... because I'd rather use the time to read instead... and I can't read it and use it at the same time. Perhaps audio books will help lower the opportunity cost)
  8. Read 5 books with husband - he prefers audio books and I prefer reading. So to spend more quality time together, maybe we'll pick a book and I'll read to him instead. We did one book together last year and it seemed to work quite well. Since English is not my first language, he can correct my pronunciation too. Kill multiple birds with one stone :)
  9. Read 5 books I won't normally choose. Even if I can't finish, at least give it a try.
  10. Just enjoy reading... it shouldn't be a chore

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What is Love...? Part 2

Yesterday I saw an older couple who walked arm-in-arm. So sweet.

It reminded me of this other older couple I met many years ago. I was working at a fast food court in college, and the grandpa ordered two coffees for himself and grandma. I asked if they'd want milk or sugar with it.

He replied, "Two sugars for me, none for her. She's sweet enough already!" Awwww.

Came across this post today. Yes I know it's tempting to just see the pictures without reading the story first (can't help it, I'm a photographer even if I am not actively taking photographs. Guess once a photographer, always a photographer?) but trust me, do read the story, then the pictures become even more meaningful and emotional.

Yes I got teary. Yes there is still love like this among us.

(source: here)

Monday, December 12, 2011

What is Love...?

Husband and I are really homebodies. Our typical day after work and on the weekend is pretty much the same every day - we're on our respective computers in our office, completed with the cat tree and where our 3 cats usually hang out.

He didn't go with me to Florida on my 3 days/2 nights trip. The last time we spent any nights apart was back in 2006 when I went to Mexico for 10 days with school. So it had been a while, even though we did the whole long distance relationship think from 1999-2004 (Minnesota/Illinois in the first year, then US/Australia the rest).

Anyway when I came back, he said he missed me... which was nice... until he said he was just bored without me there even though we were on the computers most of the time. Such a romantic isn't he! :p  I guess he missed my clicking keyboard or me giving him "the talk"...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book Review - Jane Was Here: A Novel by Sarah Kernochan

Title: Jane Was Here: A Novel
Author: Sarah Kernochan 
Year: 2011
Page: 318
Genre: Fiction

FTC Disclosure: A free copy from the Crazy Book Tours

Summary (from
A mysterious young woman called Jane appears in a small New England town. She claims a fragmentary memory of growing up in this place, yet she has never been here before in her life. Searching for an explanation, she arrives at the unthinkable: that she is somehow connected to a beautiful girl who disappeared from the town in 1853. Is she recalling a past life? Jane becomes convinced of it. As she presses onward to find out what happened in this town over 150 years ago, strange and alarming things begin happening to some of the town's inhabitants. A thunderhead of karmic justice gathers over the village as Jane's memories reawaken piece by piece. They carry her back in time to a long-buried secret, while the townspeople hurtle forward to a horrific event when past and present fatally collide.

First Sentence:

The night is pale, humid, with a few begrimed clouds.

My Thoughts:
  • I have been trying to limit the number of ARC or blog tours due to my schedule. However, I was attracted to this book based on the blurb - past life? Karma? Possibly reincarnation? Sounds very interesting!
  • I was intrigued in the beginning of the book, wondering who Jane was. However, I soon lost interest because there were a lot of characters introduced, and so the storyline became choppy. Also, I didn't really care about any of the characters, so there was no incentive for me to keep reading.
  • I read some other reviews on goodreads to see if I was missing out on the story. Some said they really like part 2 because there were all letters written in the past, and talked about the background. I know this sounds silly, but this part of the book was all written in italic, and it was just very difficult for me read text in italic. If it was just a page or two, that might have been okay, but we're talking about 50 pages here. To me, font, font size, font style is all part of the reading experience so that just deterred me from trying further.
  • I think this story might be better told in movies. With the visuals, the plot might not be as jarring or jumping around so much. Later on I read that the author is a screenwriter / director, so I wonder if that's why I thought her writing style is better suited to that. 
  • There are lots of good reviews out there though. In fact, don't forget to check out the tour! So far only one other tour post is written (as I'm 2nd on the tour) and it's VERY positive, so I really think it's just me.  Unfortunately this one is just not for me. While I do prefer plot driven to character driven novels, I do have to at least feel something for at least one character.

Overall Rating:

0 Star. Did not finish. Just not my style. But check out the blog tours as I am very picky on what I read! So it's probably just me, and not the book.

The scheduled tour stops:
12/11/2011  --  Psychotic State Book Reviews
12/12/2011  --  Mental Foodie
12/13/2011  --  Tiffany's Bookshelf
12/14/2011  --  Book of Secrets
12/15/2011  --  Endlessly Bookish
12/16/2011  --  Sinnful Books
12/18/2011  --  Proud Book Nerd
12/19/2011  --  True Book Addict/Castle Macabre
12/21/2011  --  WV Stitcher
12/23/2011  --  Reader Girls

A little bit about Sarah Kernochan:

Sarah Kernochan received early acclaim for her Academy Award winning documentary Marjoe. She then recorded two albums for RCA as a singer-songwriter. In 1977, her first novel Dry Hustle was published. Returning to film, she scripted the the film Nine and ½ Weeks, Impromptu, Sommersby, What Lies Beneath and All I Wanna Do, which she also directed. She received a second Academy Award in 2002 for her short documentary Thoth. 2010 brought the re-issue of Dry Hustle as an ebook, and a third album of songs. 2011 brings us to Jane Was Here; Sarah’s first love and teenage ambition – a novel about reincarnation.

All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.


My old computer had a virus (plus it was an old computer), so I got a new computer not long ago, and finally everything was set up the way I liked it (esp since the new one has Window7, the old one had XP, so was still learning the differences).

Then my computer acted up last night and my techy husband had to reformat the hard drive and reinstall window because he couldn't fix whatever the problem was. So now I have to re-set everything and it's frustrating! It'd prob be a while before I can have it set up the way I like it again sigh.

I was also in Florida for 3 days for a conference earlier and was I sad to leave the perfect weather to come back to the cold! I did manage to finish one full book this week (instead of graphic novel, verse YA book, "scrapbook", Chinese books...) so that's an improvement as the last full length book I read was 3 weeks ago!

Will be posting a book review tomorrow as it's a blog tour...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Wham Bam Book Reviews - Did Not Finish

I like what Tales of Whimsy did with her Wham Bam reviews (see here). Thought I'd try it for my Did Not Finish books - would help me catch up sooner!

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

Another book club pick.  I was turned off by the Introduction section of the book - the author sounded arrogant and self-centered. I read the first couple of chapters and while the first chapter wasn't bad, it just didn't hold my interest. Some paragraphs were VERY long, and yet some pages were filled with just single line dialogs. If I didn't read the Introduction (which was long), I might have actually read a few more chapters of the book. In this case, first impression definitely made a difference, and it wasn't a good one.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline 

I know there were many good reviews of this book as many readers could reminiscent the 80s culture. While it started off interesting and I wanted to find out what happened, the 80s references were too much for me. I didn't grow up in the western world in the 80s (despite Hong Kong had quite a bit of western influences since it was a British colony) and I wasn't into gaming at all (I only played Prince of Persia and Breakout for a little bit), so I couldn't really relate or be nostalgic about it. I did like the main protagonist's voice, but just was not interested in the content. There were quite a few footnotes which were distracting. Also, if this was set in 2044 (33 years in the future), would people still be blogging or emailing and using laptop? Maybe people would still blog or email, but somehow I doubt laptop would still be in use...

Mirror Image (Daniel Rinaldi Mystery) by Dennis Palumbo

Found this while browsing the library. I thought I'd be interested in this one because the main protagonist, Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, was a psychologist who consulted with the Pittsburgh Police. But I had to stop around p82 - I didn't hate him, but he didn't grow on me and I just didn't really care what happened to him. Many characters were introduced but that was just it - no development. Granted, I didn't read that many pages but it was only 250 pages long so I'd already read 1/3 of it. It was actually the first in a series but it read as though you should already know who the characters were. Most reviews were good though and said it had good twists... but I was impatient.

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
I was intrigued by the premise of this novel - "What if—whoosh, right now, with no explanation—a number of us simply vanished?  Would some of us collapse? Would others of us go on, one foot in front of the other, as we did before the world turned upside down?" I stopped about 60 pages because I got bored. It seemed to speak in a monotone. I also didn't really care about the characters I read so far... and the people who joined the cult after the Rapture all took up smoking even if they were totally against it before? It just didn't seem to make sense. I decided to checkout some 1 Star Goodreads review to see why people didn't like it, and to see if it was worthwhile to continue reading. I found a review that confirmed where I think the book was going, so I decided it's not worth my time... That's too bad, great premise, but not the execution style I like.

Best Kept Secret: A Novel by Amy Hatvany

Many reviews said this book read very real, even though this was fiction. I found that the author was a recovering alcoholic, so this was based on her own experience. It started off well, I could understand her guilt and pretense and avoidance, her love for her child, the fall out with the husband, and her relationship with her mother. However, I read about 1/3 of it and still nothing much happened... if you had follow my blog for a while, you know I prefer plot-driven than character-driven novel. I appreciate good characters, but I still need SOMETHING to happen instead of just their feelings and all. Also the story went back and forth between pre- and post- rehab without any clear indication of where the story time line was, and it got a bit confusing.

3 Cats

Not their latest pic, but still want to post a picture of the 3 of them together :)

From L to R (adopted in order):

Kunik - thought to be Scottish fold, about 3 now? He was 1.5-2 years old when we got him. He really reminded me of this Japanese cat Maru (see blog) - they have similar markings and expression, though Kunik doesn't like boxes as much as Maru does. And Kunik is skinnier. We named him Kunik because he has a flatish face, but he still wanted to give us Eskimo kisses (nose-to-nose) and Kunik is the official term for Eskimo kisses. Sometimes I called him Kunnie.

Tallulah - about 3.5-4 years old now. We got her 2 weeks after we got Kunik but Kunik was missing his kitty friends at the foster mum's home. When we played cat videos on the computer, Kunik would try to find those kitties! They get along fine, but Kunik loves to play chase and wrestle, and Tallulah would only play for 5 seconds then she'd get annoyed... she's a lap cat, and loves food and neck scratches. When I thought saw her video from her foster mum, I thought she looked like a little wolf. But after we got her, she's more of a princess/diva lol. So I had to come up with a girly name for her.

Sesame - he was about 5 months old when we got him, so he's about 1.5 years old now and still act like a kitten! He's a Siamese -mixed. We got him 3 months after we got Kunik... we didn't plan to adopt a 3rd cat, but since Kunik really wanted a playmate, so we decided to try one more time, and luckily it worked as they love to play together. He definitley has the youngest-kid-I'm-a-spoiled-brat syndrome lol. He has a high pitch meow that sounds more like "eh?" (maybe he's actually Canadian instead of Thai?) and he loves to tilt his head to the side and looks at you all cute so you can't get mad at him even though he's the naughtiest. He's probably the smartest too. One of his toys fell behind a bookshelf from the top shelf (that has an open back), and some how he knew the toy was hidden behind the books so he pulled the books out of the bottom shelf to find the toy! The picture was taken when we first got him. He still looked very similar but with a bigger, rounder head now lol. And also he had more gray on his face and body.