New Year; New Challenges, Episode IV

January 1, 2014. The official start of yet another year’s 100 book reading challenge. This year my goal will be 130 books. Every year that I’ve been successful in reading 100 books I tack on another 10 for the following year. (2011 = 100 books, 2012 = 110 books, 2013 = 120 books, etc.) I’m always giddy with anticipation for the new year’s challenge to start. Seeing my book counter reset to 0 again motivates me like nothing else. You can keep track of what I’m reading throughout the year by viewing my book list page here!

In no particular order, here are some of the titles I’m looking forward to reading in 2014:

  1. The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley
  2. The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen
  3. Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare
  4. Full Steam Ahead by Karen Witemeyer
  5. Written In My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
  6. The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien

I’m sure that as the year unfolds I’ll be continually adding to this list. After all, I am a book addict and I can never have enough books to read.

So readers, what are you looking forward to reading this year? Share some titles with me below!

2013 – A Year In Review

fireworksIt’s totally cliché, but where the hell has this year gone? With today being the very last day of 2013 I figured I’d do a quick “Year in Review” post to talk about my progress with reading challenges and also to discuss my favorite books of the year!

Quick rundown on how I did with my reading challenges: I successfully read 120 books this year. In fact, as of the time of writing this post I am at 199 books for the year! (WOOT!) You can see all the books I’ve read with links to their reviews here. Now, a bit of bad news. I utterly failed (for the second year in a row) the audio book challenge. I didn’t listen to 1 audio book this year (read: pathetic.) I also didn’t do so great with the Book to Movie challenge either, with only 2 out of 12 read. Now, to the good news: I completed 78% of the Color Coded Challenge, or 7 out of 9 reads. I actually had a blast doing this challenge. You don’t realize how many books use colors in their titles until you do a challenge like this! Additionally, I unsurprisingly completed the Historical Fiction Challenge as well as the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary challenge with no trouble at all.

And now for the difficult part: Picking my favorite reads of 2013.

  1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  2. The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley (look for my review next week!!!)
  3. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  4. The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers/Making It Last by Ruthie Knox
  5. Beauty and the Billionaire by Jessica Clare
  6. Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson
  7. Death in the Floating City by Tasha Alexander/Easy by Tammara Webber
  8. Shades of Earth by Beth Revis
  9. Twice Tempted by Jeaniene Frost
  10. The Secret of Ella and Micha/The Forever of Ella and Micha by Jessica Sorensen

Having read almost 200 books this year, choosing 10 (really 12) of my favorites almost killed me. So, in the effort of easing my conscience I’m giving you some of my runners-up (in no particular order)!

  1. Pride, Prejudice, and the Perfect Match by Marilyn Brant
  2. The Edelstein Trilogie by Kersin Gier (Book one, two, & three)
  3. The Westfield Wolves/Regency Vampyre Series by Lydia Dare
  4. Return to Longbourn by Shannon Winslow
  5. The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen
  6. Losing It by Cora Carmack
  7. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  8. Bittersweet by Noelle Adams

This was hands down the hardest year yet to pick my favorite books. When you read almost 200 books in a year I guess that should be expected, no?

Ok, the burden is being passed to you. What did you love reading this year?!? Please let us know below. And finally, enjoy the rest of your New Year’s Day, hopefully with a great book. See you in 2014!

Kim’s Review of Drums of Autumn (Outlander #4) by Diana Gabaldon

doadgFour books in and The Outlander Series has quickly become one of (if not my favorite) book series. Each book refuses to be boxed in to any specific genre, allowing Diana Gabaldon to continually exceed her reader’s expectations. In Drums of Autumn, the fourth in the series, we find Jamie and Claire beginning to settle in mid 1760s America, while their daughter Brianna and her historian friend Roger continue to unravel their feelings for each other in the late 1960s.

From Goodreads:

It began at an ancient Scottish stone circle. There, a doorway, open to a select few, leads into the past—or the grave. Dr. Claire Randall survived the extraordinary passage, not once but twice.

Her first trip swept her into the arms of Jamie Fraser, an eighteenth-century Scot whose love for her became a legend—a tale of tragic passion that ended with her return to the present to bear his child. Her second journey, two decades later, brought them together again in the American colonies. But Claire had left someone behind in the twentieth century—their daughter, Brianna….

Now Brianna has made a disturbing discovery that sends her to the circle of stones and a terrifying leap into the unknown. In search of her mother and the father she has never met, she is risking her own future to try to change history … and to save their lives. But as Brianna plunges into an uncharted wilderness, a heartbreaking encounter may strand her forever in the past … or root her in the place she should be, where her heart and soul belong….

With every Outlander book Jamie Fraser takes another piece of my heart and claims it as his. I never thought I’d ever utter those words for anyone other than Fitzwilliam Darcy, but Jamie is my favorite character that has ever been written. Every book gives us another sliver of the enigma that is Jamie Fraser. His strengths, his weaknesses. The depths of his love for Claire, for his family. He truly is the very best of men.

While the events of the book moved a little slow for me at first, the last 600 pages really flew by. Within each Outlander book I’ve found that there is a chapter that just suddenly clicks. Once that click happens the pages and story fly by faster than you realize. For the last 680 pages I didn’t even move from my chair. I became so enthralled by this story and the twists and turns Gabaldon was taking me on. The more thorough introductions to Roger and Brianna were welcome (and surprising) additions as well.

I’ve been told that the series jumps the shark a bit beyond Drums of Autumn, but I’m determined to continue. After all, who doesn’t want more Jamie Fraser?

4 out of 5 Stars

This is my twenty-fourth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon
Random House Publishing (2004)
eBook: 928 pages
ISBN: 9780440335177

What Are You Reading This November?

With Thanksgiving approaching in a little over a week, I figured I’d publish a quick “What Are You Reading?” post! I’ll be traveling with Todd out to Ohio to spend the holidays with his mom’s side of the family.  We have a 12 hour drive out, so you can be sure I’ll be getting my read on.

So what’s on the agenda to read during the trip? First up is book three in Jessica Sorensen’s The Secret series (my reviews on the first two books, The Secret of Ella and Micha & The Forever of Ella and Micha, can be found by clicking on their titles.)  Also on the list is Jane Odiwe’s newest release, Project Darcy.  I’ve been a fan of Odiwe’s Austenesque novels for a while now, so I’m looking forward to adding this title to my completed reads list for the Pride and Prejudice reading challenge I’ve been taking part in.  My most recent of her reads was Searching for Captain Wentworth).  And last, but certainly not least, is Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon.  Drums of Autumn is the fourth book in her Outlander series (see reviews for book one, two, & three.)  My goal of reading one a month didn’t exactly pan out so well, huh…..

wayrnAnyway, I’m sure I’ll read more than just these three over the holiday, but they have my top priority.  How about the rest of you? Any special Thanksgiving plans/books you’re planning on reading?  Share them in the comments below!

Kim’s Review of The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel by Diana Gabaldon, Illustrated by Hoang Nguyen

theexileSo 2013 has turned into the year of the Outlander series for me.  I’ve made it through three of the main novels (Outlander, Dragonfly in Amberand Voyagerand am moving on to Gabaldon’s Lord John spin-off series before starting book four in the series, Drums of Autumn.  With all that being said, imagine my surprise when Todd and I went into our local Barnes & Noble and found an Outlander graphic novel in the bargain bin!! For $4 I got to be the lucky new parent of The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel.  Never has a person been more excited about a bargain than this one right here. 

The Exile is the first 1/3 of Outlander but told from Jamie’s perspective.  I won’t regurgitate the plot of Outlander myself, I’ll let Goodreads do it for me!

After too long an absence, Jamie Fraser is coming home to Scotland—but not without great trepidation. Though his beloved godfather, Murtagh, promised Jamie’s late parents he’d watch over their brash son, making good on that vow will be no easy task. There’s already a fat bounty on the young exile’s head, courtesy of Captain Black Jack Randall, the sadistic British officer who’s crossed paths—and swords—with Jamie in the past. And in the court of the mighty MacKenzie clan, Jamie is a pawn in the power struggle between his uncles: aging chieftain Colum, who demands his nephew’s loyalty—or his life—and Dougal, war chieftain of Clan MacKenzie, who’d sooner see Jamie put to the sword than anointed Colum’s heir.

And then there is Claire Randall—mysterious, beautiful, and strong-willed, who appears in Jamie’s life to stir his  compassion . . . and arouse his desire. 
 
But even as Jamie’s heart draws him to Claire, Murtagh is certain she’s been sent by the Old Ones, and Captain Randall accuses her of being a spy. Claire clearly has something to hide, though Jamie can’t believe she could pose him any danger. Still, he knows she is torn between two choices—a life with him, and whatever it is that draws her thoughts so often elsewhere. 

So I knew going into this that I would already love the story Gabaldon was telling.  Jamie and Claire’s story is truly one of my favorites…..ever. Like Darcy and Elizabeth level love.  Therefore I was incredibly surprised to see how weakly their story translated over into a graphic novel.  As I sit here writing this I’m not sure where the graphic novel fell short.  The illustrations I thought were perfectly suited for the story.  Nguyen is a wonderful artist and captured the imagery of the story magnificently.  It’s possible that because the Outlander book is so detailed and long and the graphic novel so much shorter, that description and story embellishment went missing.  The eBook of Outlander I read was 800+ pages while this graphic novel was 224.  That’s a small amount of pages/illustrations to translate nearly 300 pages of text to.

While it’s not sharing anything new to us plot-wise as readers, it was fun to get inside Jamie’s head for a short period of time.  To get his perspective on the speed and depth in which he fell in love with Claire adds a new dimension to their love.   I’ll admit, it was also great to see how far Murtagh was willing to go with his fierce loyalty to Jamie.  I think fans of the Outlander series will ultimately have the same response that I’ve had to this graphic novel: it’s ok.

3 out of 5 stars

This is my eleventh completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge.

The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel by Diana Gabaldon, Illustrated by Hoang Nguyen
Random House (2010)
Hardcover: 224 pages
ISBN: 9780345505385

The March Roundup!

Well folks, the first quarter of the year is over.  Wasn’t it just January 1st?  With the first quarter over I feel the need to evaluate where I am on my reading goal.  I need to read 10 books a month to stay on pace for the overall goal of 120 books read.  At the end of March my year-to-date total was 43 books, 13 books ahead of schedule!!  (The 24 books I finished reading in March went a long way in pushing me over the mark).  You can see a full listing of everything I’ve read so far with links to their reviews here.

Completed favors

Now that March is over I can tell you what really kept me so busy in February!  My mother turned sixty on March 20th and as such my family threw a surprise party for her at the beginning of March! (She’s too smart to have done it any closer to her actual birthday).  Anyway, her birthday falls on the first day of spring so we decided on a “spring” theme for the party.  I’m still shocked that my sister, aunts, and father were able to pull it off without her finding out.  Anyway, back to the planning!  As the crafty sister, I was placed in charge of the centerpieces, favors, and cake!  Working off the spring theme I bought different colored ceramic birds, Spanish moss, and cellophane bags to make birds in nests for each guest to take home.  I really need to pat myself on the back. They came out great and everyone loved them!  Also, sticking with the spring idea I got these awesome colored flower pots to put fresh flowers in for each of the tables.  Unfortunately, that wound up turning into a disaster because the pots were wider than I thought and the flowers were all over the place and ::sigh:: it was a mess.  I wound up having to stuff wet paper towels into the pots with the flowers to prop them up and keep them hydrated.  It was all worth it though just to see the shocked look on my mom’s face.

Surprised mom!

Surprised mom!

I don’t think anything can beat that face. Seriously.  Anyway, we kept busy the rest of the month with visits to my cousin’s house in upstate New York as well as a trip to the vet for Belle and Sebastian.  Our bowling league also finished up the last Thursday of the month and I can happily say I killed it this year!  I finished as the highest scoring female bowler in our league with a high score of 181 (WOO-HOO)!

On the reading front I read a wide variety of genres last month.  Time-traveling, historical fiction, mysteries, romances, graphic novels, and even a few paranormal ones! I definitely covered the entire spectrum this month, and I’m proud to say that I enjoyed every minute!  It’s not every month that I get to be this productive, and I’m happy that I was able to accomplish so many goals in such a short amount of time.   It’s difficult to come up with a top read of the month having read so many different genres, but if I was being forced to pick one I’d have to pick Voyager by Diana Gabaldon.  I quite simply cannot put her Outlander series down.  I have so many reviews forthcoming for all the great books I read in March. I have to say there are not many losers in the bunch.  It was hands down a month full of reading surprises!

Looking forward to April, I can tell you I’m part of a few blog tours for new releases from Michelle Diener (author of In A Treacherous Courtand M.J. Rose (author of  The Book of Lost Fragrances). Todd’s currently reading Resurrection Express by Stephen Romano and How To Plant A Body by Terri Ann Armstrong. Adam’s working on his review of Game of the Gods by E.J Dabel, the second book in Dabel’s Pantheons series. Sam’s review for Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason is going to be posted on the blog in the next few days.  Once that’s posted she’s moving on to Firebrand by Gillian Philip and The Rose Throne by Mette Ivie Harrison.  Jess is reading a biography about Sylvia Plath entitled Mad Girl’s Love Song.  Charlie’s working on an interview with Paul Cornell, author of London Falling and writer for Doctor Who!  And Christine is reading Under the Same Stars by Tim Lott and Over the Rainbow by Paul Pickering.  The staff is doing a fantastic job at keeping this blog well-rounded and full of book selections for all genres and all readers.  My thanks and praise goes out to them!

Well folks, that’s March in a nutshell.

Until next time, happy reading!

Kim’s Review of Voyager (Outlander #3) by Diana Gabaldon

10987As most of you know by now, I’ve been working my way through the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon and enjoying them thoroughly.   You can see my review of Outlander (book 1) here and Dragonfly In Amber (book two) here.  Actually, “enjoying thoroughly” is a bit of an understatement; I love this series!  As I mentioned in my review of Dragonfly In Amber, there is quite a cliffhanger ending, so I was excited to move on to the next book in the series, Voyager, to see what happens to Jamie and Claire!

I’ve been sticking with the Goodreads plot summaries for this series, as there is too much that I could let slip! Plus with all the time-traveling elements I’m pretty sure I’d just confuse you with all I wanted to tell you! SO, once again, from Goodreads:

Their passionate encounter happened long ago by whatever measurement Claire Randall took. Two decades before, she had traveled back in time and into the arms of a gallant eighteenth-century Scot named Jamie Fraser. Then she returned to her own century to bear his child, believing him dead in the tragic battle of Culloden. Yet his memory has never lessened its hold on her… and her body still cries out for him in her dreams.

Then Claire discovers that Jamie survived. Torn between returning to him and staying with their daughter in her own era, Claire must choose her destiny. And as time and space come full circle, she must find the courage to face the passion and pain awaiting her…the deadly intrigues raging in a divided Scotland… and the daring voyage into the dark unknown that can reunite or forever doom her timeless love.

After the cliffhanger that ended Dragonfly in Amber I wasn’t sure my heart could take any more.  I needed a period of emotional mourning, stability, and recovery before I could pick up my shattered heart, begin book three, and risk it shattering all over again.  I can honestly say that the Outlander Series has taken me on a deep and tumultuous emotional journey that I’ve never felt with any other book/series I’ve read.  Sure I’ve had emotional reactions to books before, but I’ve never reacted quite the way I have with this series.  Voyager was no less of a riotous journey, but it’s told with such beauty and passion that you gladly go back for the laughter, tears, heartache, and smiles that Gabaldon’s prose brings.

As much as I love Jamie and Claire and their timeless love story, much praise has to be reigned on Gabaldon for all of the other intriguing things she adds into her novels.  In Voyager we’re given a glimpse into slave plantations and slave markets of the Caribbean in the late 1700’s.  We’re also given a lesson in Chinese culture and the deep seeded racism that existed for the Chinese people in Scotland and the surrounding countries.  There is a great depth to her works; depth that is obviously and meticulously well researched and presented in a way that adds to the plot as well as opens the eyes of the readers to what life was like back in the day.  Gabaldon pulls no punches in presenting what she finds.  All of it is not pleasant and I love that she doesn’t try to sugarcoat it and make it pleasing to read.  She respects history and for that I bow down to her.

With all this being said, it’s no wonder I keep going back for more in this series.  Every time I think Gabaldon won’t get any better, she blows away my expectations.  I can’t wait to see what she’ll do next in the series with Drums of Autumn, the fourth installment, especially considering that it takes place in my home country, America.  Look out for my review coming soon!

5 out of 5 stars

This is my tenth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge.

Voyager by Diana Gabaldon
Random House (2004)
eBook: 1044 pages
ISBN: 9780440335153

Kim’s Review of Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon

dragonfly2bin2bamber2bmodernAs I stated in my review of the first book in the Outlander series, I never thought someone would replace Darcy as the leading man in my life.  That was before I met Jamie Fraser.  Then everything changed.  After reading Outlander I finally found out what all the fuss was about.  I needed more.  Jamie has everything I could ever ask for, and the story of Jamie and Claire kept me captivated from the get go.  So, where do we go from here?  On to book two: Dragonfly in Amber.

As the plot is fairly complex and involves time travel, I’ll let Goodreads do the talking here:

For twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland’s majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones … about a love that transcends the boundaries of time … and about James Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his….

Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire’s spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart … in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising … and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves….

I think the most important thing to say about this series is how multi-dimensional it is, not only on a genre level, but on an emotional level.  On a genre level, this is more than just a series about Jamie and Claire’s love, it’s about political upheaval in Scotland, witchcraft and women’s rights, honor, integrity, standing up for what you believe in, and accepting the repercussions of being/doing wrong.  This is a historical fiction novel at heart, but it’s also an adventure novel, a romance novel, and a science fiction novel.  There’s so much passion in Gabaldon’s writing and storytelling that it becomes difficult to find a place to begin speaking about why these books are so amazing.  I’ll admit, the book did move a bit slower than the first in the series, but there were a good number of surprises sprinkled throughout the plot that made the book seem fresh and intriguing.  That cliffhanger at the end?  Utter perfection.  Another integral part of this book (and this series in general) is how Gabaldon is able to manipulate the reader’s emotions.  It’s like an abusive relationship: she rips out your heart with amazingly heart-wrenching scenes and then puts it back together by restoring your faith in her characters, only to then repeat the cycle all over again!  Her ability to elicit such strong emotion in her readers is one of the reasons why she is such a phenomenal writer.  I strongly urge you to not only read this book, but the series as a whole.  I’ve heard amazing things about book three, Voyager, which I’ll be sure to finish in the coming weeks.  Look out for my review!

4 out of 5 stars

This is my fifth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

This is my third completed review for the Color Coded Challenge

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
Random House (2001)
Paperback 752 pages
ISBN: 9780385335973

 

What Are You Reading This February?

February has kicked off to a great start!  I’ve already completed five books for the month, with another 4 in progress.  I’m in process of finishing Sever (the third book in The Chemical Garden trilogy) by Lauren DeStefano, Dragonfly in Amber (the second in the Outlander series) by Diana Gabaldon, Heading out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick (this is my left over book from January) and Sons and Daughters (a Pride and Prejudice sequel) by Karen Wasylowski.  Upon finishing these four books I plan on beginning the audio version of Invisible Murder by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis.  I was lucky enough to get to meet them at a book signing they did in the US back in the fall and I’ve been dying to listen to this book.  Now it’s your turn! Tell me what’s currently got you hooked in the comments section below!

febbooks

Further Thinking With Kim: Abuse in Historical Fiction Novels

Credit: RainGarden Source: http://raingarden.deviantart.com/art/Glass-Lucent-Heart-74527789?q=boost%3Apopular%20broken%20glass&qo=100

Credit: RainGarden (Source)

So I’ve been wanting to get my own series on the blog for a while now, but haven’t had any good ideas on topics to discuss etc.  I’ve primarily stuck with writing book reviews but have recently been looking at novels in a much more critical light.  As such I’ve found a plethora of topics that I want to discuss with other book addicts.  The first subject I thought to discuss was something that came to light when I was reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Here’s my review).

In my review of Outlander I wrote the following:

At times Jamie and the other men of the period are barbaric, but when you look at the time period (the 1700’s) it’s historically accurate.  There is one scene in the book where Jamie whips Claire for disobeying him and putting his clansmen in extreme danger.  While I don’t agree with the beating, his explanation of why he did it (it’s expected by his clansmen for retribution due to the danger they’ve been placed in) makes sense.  Even Claire understands and accepts it (and she’s a modern woman!)  Jamie is extremely remorseful over the entire incident and agrees to make a pact to Claire that he’d never do it again, regardless of the traditions he lives by.  This brought a question to my mind: are we able to accept abuses of women when placed into the context of the past?

I wanted to delve further into this line of thinking.  If I read a book that took place in contemporary times there would be NO WAY IN HELL that I’d accept abuse as a viable plot point. (Unless the story was ABOUT abuse)  But when placed into a story where it’s truly indicative of the way people acted, I can accept it as “historically relevant.” Am I an anti-feminist for accepting abuse as part of a historical fiction novel’s plot?

On top of that I pose the greater question: when is the cutoff?  If we say that we can respect and understand how abuse of women is “historically relevant” in some books, when do we say that it’s not ok in others?  I’m not naive enough to think that abuse of women doesn’t exist anymore.  It does, and unfortunately probably always will.  I just think that it’s not as in your face now as it might have been in the 1700 and 1800’s.  Women have so many more rights now and places to escape from battered marriages and relationships.  With the invention of the internet it’s easy to find resources to help.  Therefore, although it is still a problem today, I think it’s also interesting to look back on these historical works and mull over these questions.  What we learn from them can be applied to the future, where hopefully soon these abuses will cease to exist.

So in closing, I ask:

A. Do you agree about accepting abuse of women as “historically relevant” in certain instances?

B. What are some books you’ve read that you accepted/rejected abuse as plot points?