Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Top Ten Reads for 2013

I am here!  Survived finals and retail Christmas; now I have a few days off and plan on relaxing with my sweetie and making a list of all the things I have to do before school starts again in a few weeks.  But in the meantime, I have compiled my favorite ten reads of the past year.  This was really hard to do; I had to whittle it down from twenty.  I'm glad that's a problem; it means I read some really good stuff!  So….without further ado…here are my favorite reads of the past year, starting with #10:

#10  A brilliant, funny, whimsical novel

#9 Not kidding--this was really good, with a whiz-bang ending!

#8  A serial killer jumps through time in Chicago.  Creepy and clever.

#7 First in a series about a medieval woman with a healing touch.

#6 Someone is killing cops in 1889 London.  Victorian murder and forensics.

#5 Amazing historical novel that tells the tale
of  intertwined families. 

#4 First in a mystery series--forensic archaeologist
helps solves murders in England.

#3 Loved this!  Paranormal, serial killer, and a touch
of romance all combine to make this one you should read.

#2 Meet Frederick and Jetta and their great American dream.
Absolutely wonderful historical novel!
 And finally……my absolute favorite read of 2013:

#1 Life After Life by Kate Atkinson!  Woohoo!!  I read this way back in February and it set the bar extremely high for this year.  It has stayed with me all year, firmly set at "the best book I've read so far this year" status.  If you haven't read this, pick it up.  It's out in paperback in January 2014.  Meet Ursula Todd, her amazing, wonderfully realized family, and her many many "lives".  Yes, Ursula lives, dies, lives, dies over and over from 1910 through World War 2 in England.  And every time she pops back, in the same spot where she died, she makes a slight change that sets her path on a different route.  Just go with it, be patient, and accept the fact that she keeps living and dying.  It is so amazing you will not be able to put it down.  I cannot tell you how much I love this book.  It is funny, heartbreaking, and thoughtful, and I don't know how the heck Kate Atkinson wrote it, but she did, and she has a permanent place as a favorite author of mine.  

So there it is, folks.  Looking at my list, I see I have a bit of a blood thirsty bent to my reading this year and less of a fun, romantic liking.  I'm not sure what caused this look to the dark side, but I suspect grieving all year for my sister has something to do with it.  I didn't want to read fun and happy.  I don't know what this next year holds as far as reading patterns, but I know I'll be reading some of my favorite authors:  Sarah Addison Allen, Alice Hoffman, and Paula Brackston.  And….I'm pretty sure I'll be dipping into some massive tomes, too.  

What are you looking forward to reading in 2014?  I love the start of a new year; so many possibilities that I am giddy with anticipation.

So on that note, I'm off to read!  Have a wonderful New Year!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Finals Finished and a Great Book Review: The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey

I'm pretty happy I managed to survive my first semester at grad school.  It was messy, stressful, and tear-inducing, but I learned quite a lot and look forward to starting a new semester in January armed with more wisdom and better time management skills.  

But…I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey from Penguin and in between finishing up the semester and working, I've been reading it and loving every drama that unfolded.  Anyone who's interested in English history, particularly World War I and the aristocracy, will want to pick this book up and dive into the saga of the Rutland family.

John, the 9th Duke of Rutland, had a few things in his life that determined the path he would take before dying alone amongst the family archives in 1940:  the death of his older brother as a young boy, and an interfering mother who could write letters like a machine.  

Catherine Bailey first came upon the intriguing story of John and the Rutland family while looking through the archives at Belvoir Castle, the Rutland family estate.  She was interested in writing about the soldiers from the area who had fought in World War 1.  It was a big deal for her to be given access to these archives; the five rooms they occupied has been closed off to everyone since John, the 9th Duke of Rutland, had died in 1940.  John had spent the last years of his life (he died relatively young of pneumonia) working on the family history, and amassing archives that were priceless.  Not only did he organize the family history, but he collected other written treasures of English history that went back to the 11th century.  His work creating these archives is just amazing and became his life's obsession.

While Catherine was looking through the archives, she found a few peculiar things missing:  family correspondence from three particular times:  months in 1894, months in 1908, and a five-month period in 1915, when John was involved in World War 1.  Not one bit of information was found for these three time frames.  Catherine came to the conclusion that only John could have removed the letters from the family archives. But why?  Her search and tenacity are amazing, as she uncovers family secrets that haunted John all his life, and shaped the man he became.  Family intrigue, a manipulating mother, a father who was on the brink of financial ruin, and an uncle that John adored all come alive in the letters Catherine finds in the archives.  

This is a really entertaining book, and of course the photos in the book put each person's face in your mind as you read the letters they wrote each other through the years.  It really is hard to believe that the machinations that occurred were not made up fiction, but really happened.  Violet Rutland (John's mother) is one character you won't soon forget.  

Fans of Downton Abbey, World War 1, and anyone who enjoys a bit of history will find this book intriguing and a bit sad, too.  It's available in a few weeks, in paperback.  It would make a great read on a winter's night.  

Rating:  8/10 for readability and a fascinating story researched by Catherine Bailey.  

Available in paperback and e-book.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Reached My Reading Goal and Other Stuff

source: source:christmas
The past few months have been a challenge for me in terms of reading whatever and whenever I want.  Starting school again in August severely curtailed my reading habits and I can confirm I've become a crabbier person because of this very reason.  Reading is my form of relaxation and meditation, and when the world is too much, I have to retreat and read!  

Well, the world has been overwhelming, going to school and work both full-time.  And now that Christmas is here, I'm in my final week of classes, with one take home final due on December 20th.  And being a manager at a bookstore means working extra hours before Christmas day.  I am running on coffee and the sugar from all the cookies people have gifted me this week.  Tired is such an overused word for me, but let me just say I'm beyond tired.  Stumbling around and misplacing things has become a regular occurrence!  I don't think I can have a coherent conversation with anyone anymore.

So, I am taking the next few weeks off on this blog to finish my semester of school and get through retail Christmas season #23.  Yep.  23 years of retail is enough to exhaust anyone.  This is why I'm going back to school.  I'd like to enjoy Christmas again.  

I'll be posting my favorite top ten reads for 2013 after Christmas, and before the New Year.  And I have planned many blissful hours of reading before I start school again in January.  Oh, I can't wait to see what's in store for 2014.  I've already got a huge list of 'must reads' compiled.  I'll be revealing that list soon, too.  

Have a wonderful Christmas.  I hope everyone receives at least one good book to read over the holiday season.  I've already purchased 6 new books (thanks to employee appreciation days) and downloaded heaps from Edelweiss onto my Nook.  I'll be a busy gal lounging around and reading.  Now all I need is a good blizzard!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte

These books are so much fun to read!  City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte (actually authors Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch) is the follow up to last year's City of Dark Magic.  You do need to read City of Dark Magic first or the second novel won't make much sense.  

In City of Lost Dreams, Sarah Watson finds herself traveling to Vienna to meet with a specialist, hoping to find a cure for her friend Pollina, a young piano virtuoso.  Pollina is slowly dying and Sarah and friends are frantic to find a cure.  

But Vienna is just as mysterious as Prague was in City of Dark Magic, and Sarah is soon entangled in a mystery surrounding a missing doctor, two brothers desperate to keep their family home, and murder.  Throw in Nico, a four-hundred year old dwarf and Sarah's love, Max, and it's a madcap adventure set in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  

Flyte's first novel concentrated a lot on Sarah and Max's irresistible sexual chemistry; this novel is more about Pollina and her otherworldly ability to write music and sense the magic surrounding her.  We get to know the characters and what drives them.  Nico especially is one character that develops into a favorite, and Sarah discovers some important talents she never knew she possessed.  

I would recommend these novels to anyone who wants to read a fantastical adventure that combines history, alchemy, and music, but isn't science fiction.  There's also a great love story that keeps evolving and has you cheering for Sarah and Max.  I can't wait to read another adventure by Magnus Flyte.

Rating:  8/10 for a sequel that is even better than the first novel.  Vienna as a character makes this one a hard to put down read!

Available in paperback and e-book.