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!

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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 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

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?

The January Roundup!

Guys, my life was so boring this past January.  I have no idea why I was only able to finish seven books.  The only big thing that really happened to me was transferring jobs.  I moved from my company’s accounting department to their sales and operations department.  It’s a happy transfer for me, as I’ve been with my current company for five years.  I’m looking forward to all the new challenges my new position will hold!  On top of training for my new position I’ve been training the person taking over my finance responsibilities.  All this coupled with putting away Christmas decorations, our bowling league starting, and just organizing life for the new year has left me fairly tired at night.

IMG_20130126_151407I will share with you quickly that Todd and I went to NYC last month to meet up with our college roommates Kate and Marc, as well as staff blogger Adam.  We did a trip to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to see Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Munch’s pastel version of The Scream.  It was absolutely extraordinary to finally be able to see Starry Night in person.  It’s been my favorite painting for as long as I can remember, yet it’s taken me this long to see it (crazy, I know).

As for my reading pace, I’m two books behind where I should be for the year.  I’m confident I’ll be able to pick up the pace in February.  My top reads of January are a tie between Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and Shades of Earth by Beth Revis.

Looking ahead, I’m working on reviews of The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory, Dragonfly in Amber (the second book in the Outlander series) by Diana Gabaldon, and some joint reviews with my buddy Kelly from Reading With Analysis.  Todd’s working on Targets of Revenge by Jeffrey S. Stephens and Breaking Barriers by Peter Altschul.  Jess has a review of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn posting next week and Sam’s working on a review of The Bracelet by Roberta Gately.  We’re keeping busy and reading lots of books to share with you.

Let us know how your January shaped up!

Kim’s Review of Outlander (Outlander #1) by Diana Gabaldon

outlanderPride and Prejudice has been my favorite novel since I read it for the first time over a decade ago.  In that time period the ONLY book to produce a hero that could come close to Fitzwilliam Darcy was Persuasion.  Captain Frederick Wentworth and Darcy were, in my opinion, the epitome of what you wanted in a man.  They both were strong, confident men who were able to admit they were wrong and change for their lady loves.  Come on ladies, who wouldn’t want a man like them?  Fast forward to last month when I was on Twitter and saw an infographic that allowed readers to select their favorite male literary hero.  Maybe it’s just me being arrogant, but I thought Darcy had it in the bag.  I clicked on the link, and to my great surprise the name that popped as the winner was James Fraser.  I immediately did a Google search to figure out what book he was from.  Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, was the response I got, and thus began my journey to figure out how this Scottish Highlander could possibly beat out the love of my life, Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Claire Randall is a combat nurse back from World War II in 1945.  Married before the war began, Claire is separated from her husband during the war and is finally reunited with him after hostilities are over.  Out on their second honeymoon in Scotland, Claire falls through a portal that transports her to the year 1743.  Once there she must find a way to become part of the past until she can return to the future.  Her journey is filled with a forced marriage, an attempted burning at the stake, claims of witchcraft and prostitution, and countless other atrocities.  The silver lining in this, however, is her forced marriage to a Scottish Highlander named Jamie Fraser.  He pledges to protect her, body and soul, and in many instances, does.  Will she ever be able to tell him where she really comes from?  Will they ever be able to figure out a way to get her back to the present?  With her growing feelings for Jamie, will she even want to go?

Let me start out by saying: JAMIE FRASER. OH MY GOD.  I totally “get” how women ranked him higher than Darcy!  He’s mysterious, funny, kind-hearted, at times arrogantly confident, strong, and devastating.  There are times you want to smack him for his cockiness, and other times you want to hug him for the brutality that he’s had to face.  In short, he is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever read.

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 clansman 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?  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.  But when placed into a story where it’s truly indicative of the way people acted, I can accept it as “historically relevant.”  Do you agree?

Now, on to Gabaldon’s writing style.  At times the book got a little wordy, but by and large it created a world that you can’t help but  become mesmerized by.  Jamie’s revelations near the end of the book about what happened to him in prison are probably some of the darkest and most heart wrenching scenes I’ve ever read.  His vulnerability as he is telling Claire of his pain and shame is both awe-inspiring and deeply depressing.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt as deeply for a character as I did for Jamie in that scene.

A word of caution: there is a rape scene in the novel, and as I’ve stated in other book reviews in the past, I feel that this should be noted somewhere.  You never know what a reader has gone through in his/her own life and what a scene like that (explicit or not), could trigger for them.

In all, I think this work is incredibly multidimensional.  It fits in so many genre “boxes” that you can’t help but identify with it.  It is heartwarming, touching, and a beautiful piece.  I urge all of you to see for yourself how great of a work Gabaldon has created.  Maybe Jamie will rate as high on your list of male heroes as he now does on mine?

5 out of 5 Stars

This is my second completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

This is my first completed review for the Book to Movie Challenge

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Random House Publishing (2004)
eBook: 818 pages
ISBN: 9780440335160