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!

Living With a Book Addict: Attending a Book Signing

20130218_182027Yes, I’m back.  I know it’s been only month since my last “Living With a Book Addict” installment, but I’ve just recently attended a book signing with Kim and I thought it would be pertinent to fill you all in on how it went and what my experience was like.  I try to keep these posts lighthearted and quasi-comical, and I’ll continue in that vein today but I also want to comment later on the coolness factor of book signings as well.  So, here’s a brief synopsis:

The always-awesome R.J. Julia in Madison, CT was hosting the last leg of the Breathless Reads Tour held by Penguin (the publisher, not the animal).  After this stop, the group was heading up to Canada, I believe, to finish up the tour.  We had the pleasure of meeting five authors, who were as follows: Fiona Paul (Venom), Morgan Rhodes (Falling Kingdoms), Elizabeth Richards (Black City), Jessica Spotswood (Born Wicked), and finally Beth Revis with Shades of Earth, which both Kim and Sam reviewed here.  The authors read passages from their works, took questions from the moderator and audience, and singed copies at the conclusion of the event.

I’ll be honest, as all of these books were classified as young adult books, I was fairly certain that I would be the oldest person there besides the authors.  I did perhaps hold out hope that I could pass as one of their fathers or family members to better hide amongst the crowd.  However, this was not necessary as not only was I not the oldest there, but there was one other guy there as well!  He too had a significant other with him, so I’m not sure if he was a voluntary attendee, but he did ask a question and seemed to be enjoying himself.  All joking aside, I had a lot of fun learning from all the authors and seeing how their creative processes differed from each other.  It was enlightening to hear about works that inspired them to become writers themselves, and learn more about what they intend on writing in the future.  I even got my very own copy of Falling Kingdoms signed!  I shall read it with pride.

So, to conclude, I’m definitely glad that Kim found out about this book signing.  It’s great to know the “behind the scenes” of a particular work, and it was great to meet all of the authors that came out for the tour.  Look out for my review of Falling Kingdoms in the future!  Have you been to a book signing before?  What was it like?  Let me know in the comments below!

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 and Sam Review Shades of Earth (Across the Universe Trilogy #3) by Beth Revis

shadesI get REALLY nervous when I start reading the first book in a trilogy.  Not because I think it’ll be bad, but because I’ve had the luck where I get sucked in by the first two books, read the third, and find myself incredibly disappointed.  This happened to me with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games ( 1, 2, 3), Tessa Dare’s Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy, and Lauren Royal’s Flower Trilogy just to name a few.  Now this isn’t to say that I’ve had bad luck with ALL trilogies, I had just enough of the above experience happen to cause a nervousness when an author announces a trilogy.

When I first heard about the Across the Universe trilogy by Beth Revis I’ll admit I was excited at the prospect of a dystopic sci-fi adventure in space.  When I finished Across the Universe and A Million Suns my nervousness hit an all time high.  A Million Suns had blown book one out of the water for me.  I was so impressed with the new heights that Revis had taken Amy and Elder to, that I knew she had set an unattainable (in my eyes) precedent that book three just would not be able to reach.  Now that I’ve read book three, I’m happy to say that Revis has proven me wrong.  I’ve asked fellow staffer Sam to join me today to discuss Shades of Earth, book three in the Across the Universe trilogy.  I hope you’ll join our discussion below!

From Goodreads:

Amy and Elder have finally left the oppressive walls of the spaceship Godspeed behind. They’re ready to start life afresh–to build a home–on Centauri-Earth, the planet that Amy has traveled 25 trillion miles across the universe to experience.

But this new Earth isn’t the paradise Amy had been hoping for. There are giant pterodactyl-like birds, purple flowers with mind-numbing toxins, and mysterious, unexplained ruins that hold more secrets than their stone walls first let on. The biggest secret of all? Godspeed’s former passengers aren’t alone on this planet. And if they’re going to stay, they’ll have to fight.

Amy and Elder must race to discover who–or what–else is out there if they are to have any hope of saving their struggling colony and building a future together. They will have to look inward to the very core of what makes them human on this, their most harrowing journey yet. Because if the colony collapses? Then everything they have sacrificed–friends, family, life on Earth–will have been for nothing.

Kim: I am so (x 100) impressed with Shades of Earth.  I think it’s the most beautifully written of the three and the most mature.  I don’t say mature as a bad thing (like risqué content), I say mature because we see Amy and Elder in these massively responsible roles, with the weight of a new society on their shoulders.  The people of Godspeed look to them to help transition them from “space folk” to “Earth folk.”  Not only is this massive transition happening, but people are going missing, strange animals are popping up, people are having weird reactions to the natural fauna, etc.  Throughout all of this they must deal with their own personal relationship and how it fits into their new lives.

Sam: My biggest problem with trilogies is that they tend to be a major letdown by the third book. However, like Kim, I was very impressed and satisfied with Shades of Earth. What I really enjoyed about the writing was that Revis stays true to herself as a science fiction writer. She didn’t disappoint with her beautifully crafted alien planet. Every detail that she included was purposeful and painted a clear picture of a world unknown.

Kim: I have to agree with your statement about the alien planet being beautifully crafted.  Revis’ descriptions of the flowers, the mountains, the lake, etc were exquisitely detailed.  The world visually came to life right before my eyes.  I especially liked the first rainstorm and how all the Godspeed folk thought the sky was exploding.  Their responses to things that we as “Earth folk” just “know” was humorous but also eye-opening.  It made me think, gee, if I had never been outside before how would I react to rain, snow, thunder, or lightening?  Not only was the world beautifully crafted, but the characters were too.

Sam: I was the most taken by Elder’s evolution. In this book he becomes a true leader in his own right, the one that all of his people needed and that I as a reader really wanted him to be. In the previous installments we see him training to be a leader, then trying desperately to actually be one without much guidance. When Amy shows up in his life, all of his thinking starts to change. By book 3 we see him taking what he’s learned from his leadership training and fusing it with what he now knows to be true. This book is the first time that we see Elder making his own decisions without someone prompting him. I like that way that his people seem to follow him, not just because he’s the Eldest, but because he has finally earned the title. He can hold his own now and his merit as a leader is clearest when we realize all of the sacrifices he is willing to make for those who love and respect him. I think that’s what I love most about this character.

Kim:  Ditto to everything Sam said about Elder.  I think that I’ve seen him evolve so much in the past two books and Amy so little, that I expected Amy’s transformation to take center stage in Shades of Earth.  Revis does an incredible job of maturing Amy.  Amy has seemed super selfish at times in the past two books (and in the beginning of Shades of Earth).  Here, dealing with all she is forced to, she begins to see things in a new light and begins thinking of how much she’s grown, changed, and learned.  At one point her father (now unfrozen) asks her what she’s learned during her time awake in space.  Her response (below) definitely shows a new, mature Amy.

I learned that life is so, so fragile. I learned that you can know someone for just days and never forget the impression he left on you. I learned that art can be beautiful and sad at the same time. I learned that if someone loves you, he’ll wait for you to love him back. I learned that how much you want something doesn’t determine whether you get it or not, that “no” might not be enough, that life isn’t fair, that my parents can’t save me, that maybe no one can.

I think that Amy’s transformation is due in part to two things. 1. She sees how much Elder has taken responsibility for and tries to emulate him. 2. The way her parents treat her when they wake up definitely impacts her future behavior   Her parents just continue to treat her like a spoiled brat and ignore the changes she knows have personally happened.  When her parents refuse to see the changes she’s made, that’s when I think she realizes that maybe those changes aren’t so visible after all.  Maybe she needs to work on herself just a bit more.

Sam: One theme that really resonated with me was the idea that no one is ever completely trustworthy. No matter how much Amy tries to find someone who she can confide in and really rely on, they always seem to let her down. Even Elder keeps certain truths from her in an effort to protect her. The one character who seemed to be the most likely to betray Amy and Elder, was Orion. Yet, in the end, it was his knowledge and wisdom that helped them discover the truth about Centauri Earth.

Kim: I have to agree here.  It’s the old adage of don’t judge a book by its cover.  Orion is definitely the one in A Million Suns that you just wanted to smack by the end.  The scavenger hunt (while awesome as a plot device) was so frustrating for Amy and Elder.  Orion refuses to cooperate and just help.  I found it interesting that he always made you earn the knowledge he had.  Every time I think about him, I think that he would have made a horrible Eldest.  Had he truly cared about the people on Godspeed he would have shared all the knowledge he had, instead of slinking around everywhere making Elder and Amy search for clues.  And even when they did figure out what the clues meant, he still wouldn’t be upfront. (Can you tell he frustrates me!?!)

Sam: “To be a Jedi is to face the truth, and choose. Give off light or give off darkness. Be a candle, or the night.” I am not going to go so far as to say that Orion is Yoda in this book, however, I think that Elder never would have made the choices he did if Orion had simply told him what was happening below Godspeed. I think that he had to lead Elder on that scavenger hunt, to uncover the truth. As a good leader, Elder had to choose. Be the candle to lead them all to the unknown, or, like so many Eldests before him, be the night that kept them “safe” in the shadows. Perhaps he would have been a horrible Eldest, but I think he was a pretty decent if not slimy mentor.

Kim: Damn. You’re good.

Sam: I was disappointed in the way that Amy’s parents, particularly her father, couldn’t see how much she had grown and changed. He didn’t take the time to see that she was an equal in terms of leadership capabilities. As Kim mentioned before, Amy has matured a lot on this voyage. She has completely transformed into such an intelligent woman. I think her father didn’t know quite how to handle that.

Kim: Yes! Amy’s dad was THE WORST.  When he’s initially unfrozen and finds out that Amy’s been awake for a few months he freaks. Instead of taking a few minutes and letting her catch him up on what’s been going on, he delegates her to a corner to just sit quietly.  He refuses to accept that his daughter and her teenage boyfriend could have any knowledge or authority that could help him.  He was extremely nazi-like to be honest.  I get that he just woke up after being frozen for hundreds of years, but have some faith in your daughter.  His complete dismissal of anything she said from beginning to end of the novel really irked me.  And his attitude toward Elder? COMPLETELY uncalled for.  He deserves everything he got.

Amy’s mom on the other hand seems incredibly naive.  She can’t even fathom that Amy’s father is hiding things from her and the others.  At times she reminded me of a battered woman.  Her husband’s word was law and there was no disputing it.  She focused on her research and Amy, two things that served to be the beginning foundation towards her “new” life.

Sam: I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know what it was about Elder that bothered dad so much, given the company that he was keeping. Also, mom. I think Kim said it all. She was so absorbed in her research that she couldn’t see anything that was going on around her, and there was A LOT to take in. This family just doesn’t really stand a chance for getting back together. They’ve moved so far away from each other even though they had been just inches from one another for hundreds of years.

The elephant in the room is of course, Chris. From the moment he waltzed up behind Amy’s Dad and totally stepped into Elder’s territory, I did not like him. He did NOTHING to try to redeem himself throughout the story, and in the end turned out to be even worse than I wanted to imagine. So what if he has big blue eyes, Amy! This is not the man who helped you survive for three months without any family, or protected you from ridicule, or loved you for you. This is just some guy your father is obsessed with because he’s some kind of super soldier tech guy.

To her credit, Amy does figure this out eventually. But it took far too long if you ask me. I was not a fan of her whole “what if Elder wasn’t the last guy on Earth” routine.

Kim: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.  I found myself getting so angry with Amy at multiple sections of this book. My biggest yelling out loud moment? The time she leaves Elder’s house and goes for a stroll with Chris and kisses him. WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU, YOU BIG HUSSY? Elder has protected you, saved you, trusted you, shared himself with you, and basically (in essentials) given his life to you. Do you disregard the value of his love so much that you can just turn your back on him and go for midnight strolls with anyone giving you attention!? Jeez.

Sam: Absolutely! The other part, and I still don’t know how I feel about it, is that Elder just lets it go. He spies on them, gives her space, but never once makes her feel bad about blatantly flirting with Chris, sometimes RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM. On the one hand I respect Elder for letting her be her own woman and trusting Amy that much. On the other hand, come on… stand up for yourself, Elder!

Kim: This is just another example of why Elder is the better guy.  He never tries to force Amy to make a decision to be or not to be with him.  I find it interesting that the people of Godspeed had no religious belief.  Interesting, because Elder has a lot of faith that things will be ok and will work themselves out.  He lets Amy have her space and do what she wants with it, knowing that his love is the strongest and will win.

Sam: I wasn’t going to go for the religious belief stuff, but since you mention it 🙂 I really loved that Amy’s faith was so strong in this series. There were so many references to her cross and her faith in something more. I think that it was that faith that helped her stay strong and really gave her something to latch on to. In this series, Revis asks these characters to have a lot of faith in things unseen. Planets and people far away. I think that Amy was better prepared to handle the faith in something unknown because of her religion. As for the people of Godspeed, I found that in the absence of religion they put all of their faith in the “Eldest” system. The Eldest was the one person who was going to make choices and decisions for them all, he was the one they looked to when they weren’t sure of their fate.

Kim: Exactly! The “Eldest” of the time became their deity and the one they looked to for guidance and leadership.  Their faith didn’t have to follow a sight unseen rule as Amy’s did.  I actually think that theirs might have been a more difficult road to follow.  If something happened that wasn’t to their benefit or how they wanted it to be, they could directly go to their “deity” and complain and wish it wasn’t so.  They could tangibly make their “deity” change things for their benefit or their detriment.  If the Eldest didn’t change it for you, the road stopped. No matter how much you “prayed” on it, it wouldn’t change. I believe that this in essence is a more difficult faith to have, because your life (and the control to change it) is completely out of your hands.

Sam: Earlier we talked about Orion’s little scavenger hunt for Elder and Amy. In that he gave them clues to try to find a deeper meaning, to uncover the truth about what was really going on with Godspeed and Centauri Earth. Ever since Revis released the title of this third book, Shades of Earth, I’ve felt a little like Elder. I am a VERY BIG fan of the Beatles so I noticed right away that the lyric wasn’t quite right. It’s meant to be “shades of life.” Why would she just go for it with the Beatles lyric in the first two and then change it up for the last book? Now, maybe there’s nothing to it, but maybe, just maybe it means something.

This whole series really centers around what it means to be alive, really living. Amy can’t really cope with life on Godspeed. To her it is too confining. She can’t run. Can’t feel the real sun on her face or the real rain on her skin. In that way, it is just a shadow of a life. For Elder, he can’t really cope with being the only one his age, groomed for his position as Eldest. His life without a true companion and confidante is a shadow of a life that he desperately wants. So there are the dark shades of their lives.

But, what about the light parts? First, Amy’s bright red hair. A color so vibrant that all at once it makes Elder come to life and he has to know her, to unfreeze her and see such a color for himself up close. Next, the adventure. A shade of life that both terrifies and excites them. Finally, their love for each other. All of these elements combined create the canvas of a life so bright, yet dark that it seems to mirror one of Harley’s haunting yet beautiful paintings. The shades of their life together. The life that they are going to create here on Centauri Earth, which is merely a different shade of the same planet they left behind.

Kim:  Fellow readers, there you have it.  Sam couldn’t have said it any better.  The Across the Universe trilogy is filled with amazing imagery, exquisite characters, thrilling plots, and above all else, depth.  Beth Revis may have written these books with the young adult crowd in mind, but she has written with such vitality that she’s hooked the adult crowd too.  This trilogy defies convention and refuses to be boxed in for a certain genre or age group.  Sam and I both highly recommend it.  There is so much more within these novels than what meets the eye.  Give them a shot and see what you make of them.

Kim’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Sam’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

This is my first completed review for the Color Coded Challenge

Shades of Earth by Beth Revis
Razorbill (2013)
Hardcover: 369 pages
ISBN: 9781595143990

New Year; New Challenges, the Third

This is my third New Year; New Challenges post and I have to tell you, I still get excited writing them.  Just knowing that I’m beginning another 365 day period of challenging myself to read an ass-ton of books excites me.  Since I completed the 110 books I set as my goal for 2012, I’ve decided to stick with tradition and add another 10 books to my goal for 2013.  Therefore, my starting goal for this year will be 120 books!  In case you missed all of the reading challenges I’ve signed up for (on top of my overall goal), you can click here to view my progress.

Here’s what I’m looking forward to reading (in no particular order) in 2013:

  1. The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen
  2. Shades of Earth by Beth Revis
  3. Sever by Lauren DeStefano
  4. Lord of Darkness by Elizabeth Hoyt
  5. Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris
  6. Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare
  7. The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz

I know that this is a bit of a short list, but I’m hoping that as the year progresses, more new and exciting books will be announced from my favorite authors.  2012 was a great year for both new books and additions to series that I already loved, so I’m hoping that 2013 will be just as fun, if not more so!

As always, I encourage you to try your own reading challenges!  My biggest piece of advice is to start small.  There is nothing wrong with saying that you want to read 10 books this year.  Make a small goal, meet that goal, then increase it!  Tell me about your own goals, as well as the books you’re excited about reading, below.