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Friday Fun! (Reflections and Looking Forward)

December 31, 2010 11 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  Today is the last day of 2010, and it feels to me like it just flew by, in spite of everything that happened during it.

As far as this blog goes, 2010 was my first full year of blogging.  I really think I’ve solidified what I want my blog to be and look like this year.  My layout and sidebars really reflect who I am, and I think I’ve finally got a solid style going for my reviews as well as weekly schedules.  I hope you guys think so too!  In 2011, I’m hosting my first reading challenge (sign up here!) and now that I’m out of grad school, I expect my non-review posts to be slightly less librarianship focused.  But you never know.

On a personal note, 2010 was the first year I lived entirely in one place since I was 15 years old.  It’s been kind of amazing, and I’m loving having the feeling of having roots somewhere.  As my first full year living in Boston, I’ve been able to fully experience all the thrills of living in such a historic, academic city.  I enjoy every aspect of it–even the ones I complain about.  I love it that I can eat any variety of foods pretty much anytime I want.  I can’t get over the fact that I can get a veggie burger at pretty much every single pub.  I learned how to ride my bike in city traffic and experienced the joy of riding to the park to spend the day on the grass reading while others read, toss a football around, or play volleyball, and cap the day off with a walk to get some bubble tea.  I discovered local independent bookstores and their fabulous used book basements that have killed my tbr pile.  I went to a free Dharma and meditation session for the first time and found out how awesome it is to be quiet in a roomful of people.  I’ve had the bonding experience of struggling with public transit on rainy days and in blizzards.  A recent immigrant who barely spoke English once shared her umbrella with me when waiting for the bus, and it was the highlight of my day.  I tried container gardening for the first time and encountered the community of urban environmentalists.  So many new experiences in so little time.

This year also saw the end of my first real relationship.  It’s been sad and a struggle for me, but I view the entire relationship from beginning to end to now as a wonderful experience, and I wouldn’t undo it for anything in the world.  My only regrets are some of the mistakes I made, but how else can we grow and learn?  Now that I know what a relationship *can* be, I’m working on being ok being alone until the next one comes along.

This year also saw me complete my Masters of Library and Information Science!  The last two weeks have been the first time since I was….what?  Four years old?  That I haven’t been a student.  I’m thoroughly enjoying having time to myself to do more of what I’d like to do.  I’m nervous about the next step of my career–hunting for a higher paying job with the blessings of my current employer–, but I’m also thrilled to see where I end up.  Part of me still can’t believe that I’m a white collar, highly educated, young professional living in a city.  Someone pinch me!

I also hope in 2011 to really get down to business with my writing.  I want to finish at least one novel, hopefully two, and start shopping them around to publishers.  I have faith in my writing, and it’s time to start acting on it.

Don’t worry; this blog won’t suffer.  It’s so closely tied to my favorite hobby of reading that I have a hard time imagining ever not blogging again.  I’m looking forward to 2011.  I’m eager.  I will strive for my goals and take everything life throws at me.  Anytime I start to struggle or feel down, I just remember how shocked and proud 14 year old me would be of 24 year old me, and I smile.  I can’t wait to see what 2011 brings.  Everything is a learning experience, and I truly feel that I am beating down more and more demons as I get older.  Bring it on, 2011.  I’m ready, and I’m not afraid.

 

2010 Reading Summary

December 30, 2010 20 comments

Given that tomorrow is the last day of the 2010, and I’m fairly certain I won’t be finishing any more books by then; it’s time for the annual books read over the course of the year post!

Last year, I read a grand total of 52 books.  This year?  Oh, that number went up.  :-)

Total Books Read: 70
Average Books Per Month: 5.833
Month Most Read: April with 10 (I….have no idea why?  I think that may have been the month I discovered the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series, actually. That would explain it).
Month Least Read: Tie between February and September with 3 each.  (Those were both heavy grad school months.  That explains that).
Fiction: 63
Nonfiction: 7
Formats:
–traditional print: 44
–eBook: 12
–graphic novel: 8
–audiobook: 6
Genres (some books count in multiple genres):
–scifi:19 (The winner for the second year running!)
–humorous: 14
–contemporary: 13 (This was out of left field. I blame Scott Pilgrim. Again).
–dystopian: 10
–YA: 10
–horror: 9 (I read far less horror than I thought I did).
–paranormal: 9
–romance: 9
–classic: 7
–historic: 7
–memoir: 5
–realistic: 4
–fantasy: 3
–mystery: 3
–poetry: 1
–thriller: 1
Vampires vs. Zombies vs. Aliens vs. Demons:
–aliens: 8 (Pretty surprised by this, but I guess I shouldn’t be given the scifi count).
–vampires: 7
–demons: 5
–zombies: 2 (Saddened by this. Need. More. Zombies!)
5 Star Reads (15 of them!):
Alien Tango by Gini Koch, review
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, review
Battle Royale Ultimate Edition Volume 1 by Koushun Takami, review
The Buddha and The Borderline: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder Through Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Buddhism, and Online Dating by Kiera Van Gelder, review
Cold Comfort Farm Stella Gibbons, review
The Dark Tower by Stephen King, review
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, review
House of Stairs by William Sleator, review
I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells, review
Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue, review
Scott Pilgrim Volume 6: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O’Malley, review
A Tale of Two Demon Slayers by Angie Fox, review
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, review
Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy, review
The World Inside by Robert Silverberg, review
Read and Reviewed on This Blog: 69

Overall, this was definitely a much stronger reading and blogging year!  My total books read went up by 18 books.  That’s pretty drastic!  I’ve also broadened what types of formats I read in.  I started out the year trying audiobooks, but switched half-way through the year to eBooks.  At the beginning of the year, I didn’t like eBooks, but I have to say I enjoy them now.  I especially enjoy them for those books you know you’ll only read once for fun.  It’s kind of like paying for a movie ticket.  I do wish I’d hit at least 10 graphic novels.  I’ll have to work on that next year!  I enjoy the format, but they’re expensive.  Since my local branch of the public library has reopened, I may take advantage of it for those.  I also really need to read more zombie books since I enjoy the movies so much.  Overall, though, I’m really happy!  My reading amount has increased, and it’s also become more varied.  Stay tuned for my reading goals for 2011 post!  Any suggestions for my 2011 reading?

Book Review: Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, With Recipes by Elizabeth Bard

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Woman holding a reusable bag over her shoulder.Summary:
Elizabeth has always been drawn to museums and the Old World, so when she’s doing her graduate work in London and meets Gwendal, a Frenchman, she jumps right into dating him.  Gradually she falls for not just Gwendal, but Paris in general, especially the food.  This memoir tells about her falling in love and the process of becoming an expat in France through the lens of food.

Review:
This memoir starts out strong.  Who doesn’t enjoy a good real life love story?  Paris sounds incredibly romantic and appealing to anyone who enjoys open food markets, museums, and the big city charm of small spaces.  Two things held me back from really enjoying the book though.

First, as a vegetarian, I really didn’t appreciate the incredibly long and frequent sections describing eating meat, cooking meat, how awesome meat is, etc…  Where Elizabeth describes her future husband, Gwendal, telling her “I love you” for the first time over a piece of bloody meat, I was thoroughly distracted by the poor, dead, bleeding animal.  I could not identify with Elizabeth at all in these frequent sections.  How can she claim to be a romantic at heart yet have so much of her life revolve around eating innocent creatures?  I wound up skimming a lot.

Granted, I know readers who enjoy eating meat themselves won’t be bothered by these passages, but I am fairly certain they’ll be irritated by the change of tone of voice partway through the narrative.  From telling us about how lucky she is to be living this life in Paris, Elizabeth suddenly changes into a bit of a pity party.  Poor Elizabeth, living in Paris with a man who loves her, cooking food for him every day, giving tours of the Louvre.  This isn’t how she imagined her life would work out.  Um….ok.  I’d suggest Elizabeth try reading some memoirs of true struggles such as The Glass Castle and get back to us.

Overall, the scenes of real Paris life are interesting and enjoyable, but the frequent scenes featuring bloody meat and Elizabeth’s pity party really detract from the book.  If you are a meat eater yourself and a foodie, you’ll probably enjoy this memoir anyway.  I’d advise others to stay away.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Alien Tango by Gini Koch (Series, #2)

December 27, 2010 7 comments

Man carrying a woman holding a gun over alligators.Summary:
Kitty Katt only learned about the existence of aliens on Earth five short months ago.  Incredibly hot aliens who wear Armani as a uniform and can run at hyperspeed.  Now she’s the head of a special American government division working with the A-Cs to keep Earth safe from the extra-terrestrial threat of superbugs.  Plus she has a hot A-C boyfriend, Jeff, who gives her the best sex of her life.  Their new routine gets interrupted though when the team gets sent to Florida on a routine mission that quickly turns abnormal.  Can the team figure out the threat at Kennedy Space Center?  Just as important, will Jeff’s family accept that he’s dating a human?

Review:
I actually received a Kindle copy of this book for free as part of its promotion, so I was unaware that it’s the second book in a series until I was a couple of chapters in.  Thankfully, the paranormal romance genre tends to take a few moments to remind the reader of what’s going on in the plot, so I wasn’t lost for too long.

Kitty Katt is the ideal paranormal romance heroine.  She’s simultaneously strong and girly.  She can kick major ass but also just wants to be held when the action is all over.  Best of all, her wit and snark line up exactly with mine.  I found her hilarious and would love to be her best friend.  Or be her.  In any case, she is 100% not annoying, which is not easy to pull off in the paranormal romance world.  I want to visit Kitty again and again, which is kind of the point of paranormal romance series, yes?  I kind of think of them as modern day serial stories.

I also really enjoy the alien angle.  I fully admit I rolled my eyes at the fact that the aliens only wear Armani, but in that “this world is ridiculous but I love it” way, not in the annoyed way.  The aliens tend to either be imageers or empaths.  I’m a bit unclear as to what the imageers can do.  I think that’s because I missed the first book.  Kitty’s boyfriend, however, is an empath, which means he almost always knows what emotion she’s feeling.  Talk about your dream guy.  It’s a fun new angle as opposed to the over-done vampires and shapeshifters.

The plot is full of action and sex.  It’s fast-paced with always one or the other going on.  The sex scenes are believable, in spite of the alien factor, and very modern.  Kitty is a gal who understands how things work in the bedroom but is also able to shoot a gun and outwit terrorists.  The combination of well-written modern day sex scenes and exciting action sequences make for an intensely enjoyable read.

Overall, Alien Tango is the ideal paranormal romance.  It puts something new into the mix–aliens–and features a heroine who is strong, modern, yet still retains some of her femininity.  I highly recommend this series to all who enjoy a good paranormal romance and also to lovers of scifi who won’t mind some hot sex scenes tossed in.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

Buy It

Previous Books in Series:
Touched by an Alien

Friday Fun! (Holiday Swap)

December 24, 2010 4 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  This year I get to have Christmas Eve off since Christmas falls on a Saturday.  Yay!  I am writing this blog post sitting on my couch with a snoring kitty on my lap listening to decidedly not holiday themed music.  Hehe.  My dad is coming to visit me this weekend for the holiday.  He should be arriving in a few hours.  I already cleaned all the things! so now I get to just relax, blog, and read.

I was really excited to discover my book blogger holiday swap present on my front porch this morning!  What excellent timing!  I was also thrilled to see it came all the way from California.  It was like receiving a box of warm sunshine.  Val of Truth Be Told really went all out.  I was surprised to see so many presents to unwrap when I opened the box. :-)

So many presents!

Because I have almost zero patience or capability to delay gratification, I decided to open them right away. :-)

I’m really touched and surprised to see how well Val understands what I like from just my blog and info I put in on the form.

Such wonderful presents!

The Scars bookmark really touched me, as it’s a book on self-injuring, and you all know how much I advocate for mental illnesses.  The necklace is truly lovely and really has a California feel to it.  I was just saying to some of my friends that I really need acquire more necklaces, so that was good timing.  The card from a local museum near Val is truly lovely too!  It’s definitely going to make it to my fridge.  The actual squeeing came when I unwrapped the books, of course though.  The Monstrumologist has been on my wishlist *forever*.  I’ve never even heard of Vegan on the Cheap (hard to find a veg cookbook I haven’t heard of), and it looks so amazing!  All the recipes sound amazing and most of them cost $1 to $2 per serving.  Such thoughtful presents!

Thanks a bunch, Val! You made my first holiday swap experience really awesome. :-)

Happy holiday weekend everyone!

Movie Review: The Tourist (2010)

December 21, 2010 2 comments

Man and woman's faces above Venice.Summary:
The Scotland Yard is watching Elise Ward in the hopes that her ex-boyfriend, Alexander, who owes millions of pounds of back taxes, will contact her.  They get their chance when he does, telling her to come to Venice and choose a random tourist of his height and build to trick the cops into thinking is him.  The cops don’t fall for it, but unfortunately the mobster Alexander stole billions of pounds from does.

Review:
I’ve been a fan of Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp since I can remember, so that pretty much is the entire reason why I went to go see this film.  Unfortunately, I have to say, Angelina and Johnny are starting to show their age.  For a film largely based on youth-filled action and passion, this is a bit distracting.  Although I enjoyed the old-fashioned storyline, I think I would have enjoyed it better with younger casting.  I’m not ageist, but when a storyline is so youthfully oriented, the casting should match.

The storyline itself is thoroughly engaging and refreshing.  It’s a romcom in the style of Cary Grant classics like Bringing Up Baby.  There’s a bunch of slightly over the top but still believable action.  It doesn’t rely on idiocy of the main characters or klutziness to move the story along.  It’s over-the-top enough to be engaging and escapist, but still believable instead of laughable.

There are enough plot twists to keep it engaging, and the cinematography strikes the proper balance between clear action-filled shots, quieter romantic scenes, and the more technical scenes of Scotland Yard observing the whole situation.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable film that unfortunately suffers from miscasting.  Hopefully romcoms coming out of Hollywood will continue moving in this direction anyway.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: I saw this in theaters.

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Book Review: Arizona Free by Doug Martin

December 20, 2010 2 comments

Glowing timerSummary:
Three white collar schmucks sign up for a classic pyramid scheme selling energy drinks known as DINAmite.  Gradually, they start noticing disturbing changes in the consumers of the energy drinks and find themselves pulled into the world of a nefarious plot to change humanity as we know it.

Review:
Not in years have I read a book I disliked this much.  I generally try to find at least one redeeming quality when reviewing a book, remembering that not everyone likes what I enjoy, but honestly.  This book is terrible, and I have zero idea how it managed to get published in the first place.  The publisher’s website doesn’t give very much information on how and why they choose books to publish, so no answers to that particular question were found there.  Anyway.  On to why this is the first book ever to receive one star here on Opinions of a Wolf.

First, there’s the writing.  I felt like I had landed back in beginner’s creative writing in high school and had been assigned the worst writer’s short story to critique.  It abounds with showing, not telling.  The dialogue is painfully fake sounding.  Most of the characters are completely unmemorable, and the few that managed to put some image into my brain were simply charicatures lacking any dimensions at all.

I’ve read books before that struggled with sophomoric writing but that at least showed potential through a strong, uniquely imagined plot.  There is none of that here.  The plot changes its mind so many times throughout that I honestly have no idea what actually happened in the end.  I’m completely baffled.  You can’t throw that many surprises at a reader without offering some modicum of explanation or elaboration.  The characters are simply straight up told “This is happening now,” and they go along with it.

Of course writing and plot are the core of what makes a good book, so it’s bad enough this book fails on both of those already, but it’s topped off with a nice icing of homophobia and womanizing.  The characters and the narrator repeatedly make slams against gay people.  One of the characters, Catherine, plays tennis with a lesbian, who yet again is a characature who speaks in the most fake Russian accent ever.  This lesbian tennis player is interested in Catherine, and this of course grosses out everyone in the story, including Catherine.  Also, the lesbian is turned into a hulk-like villain, complete with horns.  I was so disgusted by the homophobia that I almost stopped reading the book, but I refuse to write reviews of books I didn’t finish, and frankly, I wanted a bad review of this homophobic piece of trash out there.

Bottom line, I can’t recommend it to anyone.  It’s completely made up of bad writing, terrible plot structure, and rampant homophobia.

1 out of 5 stars

Source: Free copy via LibraryThing‘s EarlyReviewers program

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Friday Fun! (Creepy Sprouts Guy)

December 17, 2010 9 comments

Hello my lovely readers and welcome to the new readers who found me through the Mental Illness Awareness Reading Challenge I’m hosting for 2011!

When you take the same public transit to work every day at the same time, you start to get to know the people on your route.  Generally, not through actual names, but you recognize them and their behaviors, and if you’re an Amanda, you start to give them appropriate nick-names.  Stargate Chick. (She wears an SG-1 patch on her jacket. No, I am not kidding). Hot Scrubs Guy (Um, nuff said?)  Fast-talking Latinas (They always talk to each other really excitedly in Spanish, and I am *dying* to know what they talk about every morning).  The most interesting by far though is Creepy Sprouts Guy.

Creepy Sprouts Guy wasn’t always on my route, and I didn’t notice him when he first appeared.  One day I got on the bus and spotted an empty aisle seat in one of those two seat sections.  I walked toward it and just as I was about to sit, I realized that the guy sitting in the window seat had one of those boxes of sprouts in his lap.  But it was open.  And he was eating them.  By the handful.  Without even thinking I went from ass about to sit to ass quickly standing up and walked to the back of the bus and stood holding the bar.  I wondered if I was over-reacting.  I mean, it’s not that odd to eat sprouts directly from the container on the bus, is it?  Wait.  I couldn’t even think that with a straight face.  I mean, you’re not even supposed to eat on the bus, let alone eat sprouts straight from the container.  Maybe he was running late, and it was the only thing in his fridge, I attempted to rationalize.  A couple stops later, I noticed an older gentleman coming onto the bus.  He headed for the empty seat next to Creepy Sprouts Guy and did the exact same start to sit but then change to standing mid-sit move that I had done a couple of stops earlier.  Clearly the creep-factor was not just impacting me.  By the time we got to my stop, the bus was almost entirely full and still not a single person was willing to sit next to Creepy Sprouts Guy.

The next day I got on the bus and saw the same guy.  And people?  He was eating sprouts. Again!  Intrigued now, I’ve been quietly sneaking glances at him every day.  He’ll put his sprouts in the seat next to him and just grab them by the handful, eating while staring out the window or reading a book.  He’s freakishly skinny.  Like, I can see his collarbones and wrist bones through his winter clothing skinny.  I want to walk up to him, grab the sprouts, and inform him that maybe a bagel would be a better breakfast choice.  He’ll deliberately move his sprouts away if he sees someone needing a seat, but no one will sit next to him.  I can’t explain just what is so creepy about the sprouts eating.  It might be the way he does it.  Slowly.  Deliberately.  As if he’s eating the best cake in the world and the rest of us are clearly stupid for not partaking in it as well.

Then, as if he wasn’t already odd enough, in recent weeks right when our bus gets to a certain bridge, he pulls out one of those old-school combs with the wide-set teeth and combs his hair that’s so blond it’s almost white.  This wouldn’t be so odd, but he has a really short haircut, and the hair clearly doesn’t need to be combed.  He’ll give a few slow, deliberate motions as we cross the bridge, then as soon as we’re over the bridge, he puts the comb away and goes back to eating his sprouts.

My confusion and fascination over his behavior is reaching the point where I just might have to attempt to strike up a conversation with him.  Although I have yet to think up an opener besides, “Morning! Nice day for a bunch of sprouts, eh?”

Mental Illness Advocacy (MIA) Reading Challenge 2011

December 16, 2010 30 comments

About the Challenge:
I decided to start hosting the Mental Illness Advocacy (MIA) Reading Challenge in 2011 in an effort to raise awareness, knowledge, and acceptance of mental illness. Reading, both fiction and nonfiction, is an excellent way to broaden one’s horizons and expose one to new ideas and ways of thinking and being. Many reading challenges already exist in the book blogging community to address racism, sexism, and homophobia, but I could not find any to address the stigma faced by those suffering from mental illness. In spite of mental illnesses being recognized by the scientific community as diseases just like physical ones, many still think those suffering from one are at fault for their own suffering. I hope reading and reviewing books featuring characters struggling to deal with mental illness, whether their own or another person’s, will help remove the stigma faced on a daily basis by those with a mental illness. They already have to struggle with an illness; they shouldn’t have to face a stigma too.

Challenge Levels:
Acquainted–4 books
Aware–8 books
Advocate–12 books

Rules:

  • Books read for the challenge must address mental illness in some way.  If it’s fiction, a character has a mental illness.  It can also be non-fiction ranging from self-help books to academic books on the topic.
  • No book read for the challenge may demonize the mentally ill.  They certainly can be presented as 3-dimensional, flawed characters, but absolutely not demonized or presented as “crazy” etc…  That goes against the purpose of this challenge.
  • Books you read for this challenge can be counted for other challenges as well.
  • Be sure to point out what mental illness or illnesses are addressed in the book in your review of the book.  If you use LibraryThing or GoodReads in lieu of blogging, please just note it in the tags on the book or in the comment stating you’ve completed the book.

Reading Suggestions and Review Links:
Check out the official MIA Reading Challenge page to find reading suggestions.  Also use the comments section on that page to post links to your reviews.

Sign Up:
Sign up by commenting in the comments section below with a link to your official sign-up post!  If you don’t blog but use LibraryThing or GoodReads, you can still participate!  Just note that in your comment.

Spread the Word:
Help get the word out on the challenge!  Blog, tweet, facebook, email, whatever you can think of to do about it!  Please feel free to grab the image above to post on your blog as well.  This is a fun way to address an important cause.  :-)

Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

December 15, 2010 3 comments

Boy and girl sitting in front of the Eiffel tower.Summary:
Anna Oliphant’s dad totally sold out and started writing crappy books that for some reason became incredibly popular.  Now he’s insisting that she spend her senior year at a boarding school–School of America in Paris.  Anna knows she should be enjoying her year abroad, after all, it is Paris!  But she can’t help but miss her friends and family at home.  She slowly starts to find her own new circle of friends and discover the wonderful things in Paris…..and to realize that she may be falling for one of her friends.  A boy who is decidedly off-limits for multiple reasons.

Review:
Perkins takes a typical YA storyline–teenage girl sent away to boarding school, complete with teen angst–and puts just the right amount of her own twists and flavors in it to make for a delightful, unique read.  I enjoyed this as an adult, but I’m sure 15 year old me would have been in love with it, re-reading it, and sighing over the main interest St. Clair.

The setting of Paris is delightful.  Perkins captures the binary of excitement and trepidation at being in another country for the first time enough so that Anna is realistic but not annoying.  Similarly, all of the characters act like actual human beings.  They are neither perfect nor evil.  They are simply doing their best to figure out how to function in the world.  I appreciated this, and I’d imagine teen readers would too.  Similarly, Perkins describes Paris in such a way that I wanted to move there instantaneously myself if for no other reason than the descriptions of the bread and eating meals in cemeteries.  This is what it should be to be young.  Angst combined with first-time glorious experiences.

Perkins manages to be both subtly funny:

“Huh?” I have such a way with words.  I should write epic poetry or jingles for cat food commercials. (Location 1054-1058)

And perfectly capture what it is to be an adolescent female:

It makes me dizzy. It smells like freshly scrubbed boy.  It smells like him.  (Location 3100-3104

This is what an ideal YA book should be.  Realistic about what young people face, but also about who young people are.  Holding out hope that they can become good people, and they can learn and grow and overcome their mistakes.  I highly recommend it to teen girls, as well as to adult women who still enjoy YA.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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