October 31, 2013

October's Reading Recap

I don't ordinarily do monthly reading recaps, but since I've been too busy for weekly reading recaps, I thought I'd give it a go this month. Not that I have nearly as much reading to report as I had hoped, but that's what happens when you stress so badly over finding a "frugal" wedding venue- you don't get much else done!

(On a side note: I literally spent 8 hours straight, 3 days in a row searching online for a good place within budget; while I did find some promising places, I am still not even close to feeling confident booking anything. So the search continues. And my eyes burn!).

In October I finished 4 books . . .

 photo 18329313_zpsd2707798.jpg photo 16055475_zpscccbfc85.jpg photo 9961796_zps6ce3e2bf.jpg photo 11870085_zpsb55521ae.jpg
I had high hopes of reading The Grimm Diaries and posting reviews today and tomorrow what with the whole dark, spooky theme coinciding with Halloween and all. But I started them and the writing didn't click for me. The stories seem very interesting, but I wanted to edit as I read and I just couldn't get through them. Maybe I will revisit them again someday.

I was going to list all of the books I purchased in October, but thanks to the One Dollar Book Store I discovered last month across the street from my house, that list is really long! I bought so many books probably didn't even spend $20! All are in great condition, too! It's seriously my heaven! 

My Reading Goal Standings . . .
  • I am only 4 books away from my 2013 Reading Challenge of 50 books, but I hope to actually read 55 to significantly top last year. 
  • I have NOT been keeping in line with my fall TBR list at all! Shame on me, but I knew it would happen. I hope to start November off with Allegiant and Catching Fire at least.

Important Reading Notes . . . 

Thanks to this post from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, I bought a few Kindle books on Amazon today for only $1.40 each!! Including Eleanor and Park and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell! Get on that sale!!! Here's a more complete list!

October 25, 2013

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Everything about this moment is wrong. I'm supposed to be dressed in something glamorous and unique. We're supposed to be in a crowded room, his breath is supposed to catch when he sees me. I'll be laughing and he'll be drawn toward me as if by magnetic force. And I'll be surprised but uninterested to see him. [...] And I'll leave with my dignity restored, and Cricket will leave agonizing that he didn't go for me when he had the chance.
-from Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

 photo 9961796_zps6ce3e2bf.jpg
If you haven't read anything by Stephanie Perkins, I suggest you change that as quickly as possible. Lola and the Boy Next Door, a companion novel to Perkins' Anna and the French Kiss, is a bright, witty and in-depth exploration of the many facets of first love. Lola Nolan is as colorful as you get: her passion is outside-the-box fashion, she lives in San Francisco with her two gay dads and she's dating a hot indie rocker, Max. But when Cricket, the first boy who broke Lola's heart, moves back into the house next door, the color drains from Lola's life and she's forced to face her past. This book takes a strong look at identity while also amply exploring communication and familial relationships.

I think Lola and the Boy Next Door is the defining book that made me accept and appreciate companion novels. I am always so disappointed when I learn a book is a companion and not a sequel; case in point: the Graceling series. But in all instances where I've read a companion novel, I have loved it as much as its predecessor. In Lola and the Boy Next Door, Anna and St. Clair work at the same movie theater in San Francisco as Lola and are very present in the storyline; I think that makes Lola the best companion novel I have ever read because older characters are often present.

Similarly ever-present is Stephanie Perkins ability to create likable characters that feel like real people and always keep the story moving forward. I loved Lola, teeneaged-Danielle identified with her so much! I appreciate that Perkins characters are not perfect which make readers able to relate to them. Lola (much like Anna) toes the line of right-and-wrong and Perkins isn't afraid for her characters to feel their way through this line in order to write a fulfilling coming-of-age story. Without spoiling anything, at the climax of the story I really felt like I knew what Lola was experiencing, which is a testament to the storyline and the characters. The way Perkins poignantly describes fundamental experiences of growing up hit me hard. 

Furthermore, I enjoyed that Lola's dads are gay and that her family history is really complicated (again, teenaged-Danielle identified with this so much!). The way in which Lola's dads are written, it's not a "thing" it's just life, which was so refreshing! Instead of it being a huge commentary on same-sex relationships, it was treated with normalcy. I loved the modern family that Perkins crafted with two loving parents who gave Lola everything any teen girl needs: unconditional love, discipline, and boundaries with enough room to grow.

While I could write for hours about what I love about this book, I'll just mention one more thing: the setting of San Francisco! I understand that I was completely biased being that I've visited the city a lot in the past few years, but this book refers to so many real life places that it made me giddy! I'm familiar enough with San Francisco that I recognized almost every place Lola referenced; I've eaten pizza at Blondie's, I've bought a cookie at Hot Cookie, I've walked by The Castro sign and all around Lola's neighborhood. It was so much fun reading all of these references and feeling like I was inside the story. Consequently, it made me even more excited to visit Paris so that I could map out Anna and St. Clair's adventures! Who knew books could be decent travel guides?

The only flaw I found with this book was in Max; when Max and Lola are together, I understand his appeal enough to reconcile that they make a good pair. But when Lola and Cricket interacted I just couldn't understand why she would stick around with Max. Max was not written with enough appeal for me to "get" him. Although, maybe that's part of the story: that when you're seventeen you don't have to have a reason to date anyone, there are just too many feels to focus. I was easily able to suspend my feelings of indifference, but I wished I wanted to love Max more.

(Oh, and I hated the name Cricket. I'm sorry, I'm probably in the minority. But I hated that as a name.)

In writing reviews for over a year now I'm learning a lot about myself as a reader, especially what makes me love or not love a book. One marker that I measure a book by is its ability to make me feel like I'm not alone in maneuvering through any given experience; when a story hits you at your core because the author articulates something you weren't able to explain in your own words. Lola and the Boy Next Door is a perfect example of a book that articulates the collective feelings of what it meant for me to be a teenager. For that alone it has become one of my favorite books.

Bottom Line: If you've ever been a teenaged girl, read this after you finish Anna and the French Kiss! While you wouldn't know it from my review, I liked Anna a little bit better, but this book was still a fast favorite! 5/5 stars

October 21, 2013

Monday's Reading Recap

I'm finally getting back into the swing of things now that being engaged isn't so new and wedding planning is a little more manageable (that is a blatant lie, I will not relax until a day is booked that I feel good about financially and emotionally!). Thank goodness for books in times like these, they take me out of reality and calm me down (a little). ;) May all my problems be so small though!

Since my Last Update I Finished Reading: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins and  Wedding Feng Shui by Laura Lau and Theordora Lau

 photo 9961796_zps6ce3e2bf.jpg photo 8881603_zps6b369d75.jpg

This Week I'm Planning to Read: The Grimm Diaries Prequels by Cameron Jace and (hopefully) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. However, with Allegiant coming out this week, that may trump everything!

 photo 17225161_zpsb72a3cc1.jpg photo 11870085_zps08e16c9f.jpg

This Week I'm Sharing a Review For: Saltwater Kisses by Kristen Lake, but I might change it to Lola and the Boy Next Door to keep with my Stephanie Perkins theme!

  photo 18073140_zps77851950.jpg

What are you reading this week? 

October 18, 2013

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

          I wish my parents had offered me the choice: 'Would you like to spend your senior year in Atlanta or Paris?'
          Who knows? Maybe I would have picked Paris. 
          What my parents never considered is that I just wanted a choice.
-from Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

 photo 6936382_zps41bdf6e0.jpg
After reading so much hype over Anna and the French Kiss on every other book blog, I decided to give Stephanie Perkins' debut novel a read. I admit that all of the love for this novel made me somewhat resistant; I don't know where that attitude comes from, but I seem to think I'm just not going to get what all the hype is about. I'm pleased to report that I was wrong and Anna and the French Kiss was everything others raved about and then some.

In this brightly narrated novel, Anna Oliphant is shipped off to boarding school in Paris at the command of her well-to-do famous novelist father. While she is resistant to being uprooted and sent to another country alone, Anna also seems to be pretty open-minded and is fortunate to make new friends immediately. One new friend, Etienne St. Clair, is a gorgeous guy who seems particularly (and platonically) interested in befriending Anna; the only thing wrong with Anna's new crush- he has a girlfriend. This novel follows Anna through her senior year at the School of America in Paris, chronicling her crush on St. Clair and lessons learned about friendship, love and stepping outside of her comfort zone.

There are dozens of great things about this novel, but they wouldn't mean anything without the characters that Perkins has crafted. From Anna to St. Clair and everyone in between, each character is flawed but likable with their own personal baggage and personality. I especially loved the angsty Rashmi and how likable she was underneath her abrasive exterior. Because the characters are flawed the reader is better able to relate to them and feel what they are going through, namely Anna. Throughout the book Anna goes through a range of emotions and I felt everything she was feeling (even when I saw something coming) because of how realistic she is written. I really cared for Anna as a character (and missed her when I finished reading).

I'm always happy to read a novel that is appropriate for younger readers because I get to imagine how I would have felt reading it at a younger age and it helps me recommend books to age groups that might not be eager readers. For Anna and the French Kiss I wish I would have had this to read early in high school. While at times I was worried the content might get more adult than I feel is appropriate for grades 9-10, it never made the leap and that made me trust Stephanie Perkins as an author so much. The reason I back this book as a great read for early high school is because of the lessons Anna learns throughout; lessons about crushes and love, friendship and trust, but most importantly stepping outside of your comfort zone; a lesson I could have used when I was in high school! Furthermore, instead of being an unrealistic love-at-first-sight story, Anna learns about and befriends St. Clair in a more organic way that should be a lesson to all emotionally-charged teen girls. Because Anna is capable of making smart choices despite being emotionally vulnerable she makes for a positive role model and reinforces the idea that teens are good and smart, despite what society implies.

I know I can get on my moral soapbox more often than not when it comes to adolescent and teen content, but that's why I loved this book so much. It was wholesome without beating the reader over the head with preconceived notions of how teen crushes and/or love is supposed to be handled. While being an easy, accessible and enjoyable book to read, Anna and the French Kiss is surprisingly in depth emotionally. I can't wait to read the companion novel, Lola and the Boy Next Door. If it's half as enjoyable as Anna, I will be satisfied!

Bottom Line: If you're a girl who has ever had a crush on a boy, I highly recommend you read this now! 5/5 stars

October 16, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday on Wednesday: Books I Was Forced to Read

I'm so behind, guys! In reading, in posting, in life in general!! Thank goodness my reviews are scheduled up to Christmas because otherwise I would really be failing! I wasn't going to participate in this week's Top 10 Tuesday, but I've read so many great ones that it's inspired me to post a day late!

 photo 3_zps0221d9be.jpg photo game-of-thones-book-cover_zpsadbd3626.jpg photo 10210_zps2d472daa.jpg 

1. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling - I remember the little boys I used to babysit when I was in high school were obsessed with the Harry Potter series when it first came out, so I always looked at it as a kid thing. That all changed when I met my friend Jesse in college and he forced me to give Harry Potter a chance. That series changed my reading life! I came to truly appreciate authors who are able to bridge the gap between children and adult literature and this remains a true marker of a great author in my opinion.

2. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin / {my review} - I love reading books that have been adapted to film or television, so these books have intrigued me since the HBO series premiered. But it took probably two years of my friend Taylore begging, pleading, almost threatening me to read it until I caved. I am SO glad that I did! This past summer this series occupied almost ALL of my time, but it was so well worth every minute of it. If you think you'd like A Song of Ice and Fire but you've been putting it off, let me force you to tackle it right now!

3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte -  I could list dozens of books that I was forced to read in school and loved, but I'm only going to feature my top 3. Jane Eyre unleashed my love for Victorian literature and for that I am truly grateful! I was forced to read this and do a project in Dr. Dalley's 19th Century Novel course, and it really helped me love, appreciate (and not fear!) Victorian novels especially. I definitely need to re-read this one soon.

 photo 438930_zps18c544ec.jpg photo 68538_zpsd7bc4530.jpg photo 8306857_zps1275bb67.jpg

4. Upon the Head of a Goat by Aranka Siegal - Another book I was "forced" to read in college, this is a Holocaust-era memoir written for school aged children (junior high and high school). I have always enjoyed learning from Holocaust memoirs, but obviously they are difficult to read. This one is deep without being traumatic; Siegal chronicles her time leading up to imprisonment in a concentration camp which helps children (and adults) discuss and understand prejudice, family, faith, and many other themes Siegal's story explores without facing the horrific realities head on. Similar to what I said about J. K. Rowling, Aranka Siegal writes a book aimed at children that will capture the attention of adults; she is one of my all-time favorite authors.

5. Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn -I added a Comparative Religion degree last minute in college because religion is so interesting to me. I was forced to read this in my Christianity class and it's the story about a Protestant couple who converted to Catholicism. Being a Catholic who "converted" to Protestant Christianity (I put it in quotations because I don't really consider it a conversion so much as a culture change), this book really hit home for me and helped me to better appreciate my Catholic upbringing. I am so glad I was forced to read it!

6. Divergent by Veronica Roth / {my review} - I voluntarily read The Hunger Games, which is one of my favorite series ever, no matter how cliche that sounds. But after I finished that series, I was harassed repeatedly to read the Divergent series. Of course, I didn't read it right away, but I wish that I had! I can't wait for the final book in the series to come out next week! It's almost here!

 photo 15991924_zps827b451a.jpg photo 6936382_zps41bdf6e0.jpg photo 73385_zpsd1bb5199.jpg photo 12022765_zpsa1b3ae17.jpg

7.  The Chupacabra by Stephen Randel / {my review} -The Chupacabra was a book I was asked to read for a book tour so I wasn't really forced per se. It didn't really seem like something I would be interested in, but it was a book that encouraged me to explore genres outside my comfort zone. I am so glad that I was asked to read this book because it was hilarious, well built and wildly entertaining!

8. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins - Another book that I wasn't "forced" to read in any way other than peer pressure, I am so glad that I finally did read this one. What a beautifully refreshing and fun book!! If you haven't picked it up, I highly suggest that you do! My review will be up on Friday and I'm in the middle of the companion Lola and the Boy Next Door!

9. A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux {my review} - This book is infamous in my family because long before Amazon and e-books, my mom used to make me help her look for it in used book stores for YEARS. I'm not sure if Barnes and Noble was an option, but it became a sort of tradition for us. To this day I still hunt for it, even though I own the e-book. Eventually we did find the book at a garage sale, I think; so after years of hunting, I was basically forced to read it once we had it in hand. As far as Fabio-era romance novels go, this is the best one out there! Very cute, interesting and not over-the-top with romance or sex! They really should make a movie adaptation already!

10. When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle {my review} - I was forced to read this book because it's the debut novel of a friend of my mom's friend. My mom and I each purchased a copy the week it was released so obviously I needed to read it to show my support. I'm so glad that I did! Serle tells the story of Rosaline, the girl Romeo ditched for Juliet, in modern times. The narrative is quirky and fun and the perspective is so refreshing after years of seeing Romeo and Juliet adapted a thousand different ways!

What books would you like to force me to read?!

October 11, 2013

Sage's Book Tour: The Color Pink by Parker Paige

  photo ColorPink_zpsaa2032ab.jpg

I like that John is a thinker because I am a thinker, too. We are compatible on every conceivable level, and though nothing is ever promised to any of us, I am sure hoping for a happy ending.
-from The Color Pink by Parker Paige

 photo 18329313_zpsd2707798.jpg
I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Synopsis: Can wearing the color pink attract true love? That is the question Summer Jones intends to answer.

In her early thirties, Summer Jones thought that she had found the perfect man, the man she planned to marry until she learned that he still had feelings for his first love. Now, at age thirty-five, Summer is ready to fall in love again. After she hears that wearing the color pink can attract true love, she sets out to do just that--and attracts more than just true love.

Follow Summer as she journeys into the world of color magic and find out how she uses that magic to help her choose between one man from her past and another man who is destined to become her future.

This romantic drama serves up something fun and sexy, proving that the road to love can be paved with many painful lessons and memorable moments. It’s a story about paying attention to your past so that you don’t always have to repeat it.

Review: This story of Summer Jones' search for love is something most women can relate to, especially if you've chosen to read a romance novel; however, The Color Pink just didn't resonate with me as a reader or a woman and I had a difficult time supporting Summer after all of the terrible choices she makes throughout the book.

Initially I thought this book was British because the dialogue is so stuffy (no offense to Brit lit, it's just a cultural style thing); once I was introduced to the fact that it takes place in Chicago I was thoroughly confused. There is no fluidity to the way the characters speak making everything they say unrealistic and trite in addition to being repetitive. This made it difficult for me to connect with the characters, especially given that I found nothing redeeming about them to begin with. Summer is so shallow and self-absorbed that I found it impossible to root for her happy ending. I think she may be believable if she were in her early twenties learning about relationships, but being in her mid-thirties I have no doubt why she's so unhappy because she never accepts what she has and always wants what she can't have. In short, Summer is every stereotype that give women a bad name and I just couldn't get behind her.

The supporting characters were equally disappointing: I never liked John, who is as equally bipolar emotionally as Summer; Overall I felt that they truly belong together. I wished the author would have made me understand as a reader why Summer found him so enchanting. The only thing I could find that she loved about him is that he's attractive and good in bed; those observations only support my feelings of Summer being shallow and vapid. On the other hand, Morgan is so nice that he's absolutely creepy. I would be more afraid to date him than John if I were Summer! And finally, Sarah Jane, Summer's best friend, is probably the worst fictional best friend I have ever met; she's clearly irritated with Summer as evidenced by the way she always talks to her with such condescension and judgement. Although, who can blame her? If I had to listen to Summer wax on and on about her poor choices in love I would probably respond with nothing but negative energy myself.

This was a really easy read and I wanted to like it, especially because the color feng shui theme was intriguing, but I just couldn't connect with it at all. Perhaps if this were written as a short story I might have appreciated it more, but there are just too many disjointed, repetitive scenes about an unhappy single girl who refuses to learn from her mistakes to satisfy me. This might be a great read for many, but it just didn't click for me.

Bottom Line: If you're a die-hard romance lover, you might like this more than I did, but I can't get behind a protagonist as weak as Summer Jones. 2/2 stars.

October 9, 2013

Winner! Winner!

  photo birthdaygiveaway_zps7805f487.jpg

 Sorry this is late, but I've got a winner..... drumroll please.....

Congratulations to Ann who won The Book Barn Birthday Giveaway!! Thanks so much for following The Book Barn on Twitter, Ann!! I'll be emailing you shortly! And thank you to EVERYONE who participated in this giveaway!

Next year I hope to have an even bigger celebration and I hope you'll stick around for another year of great books and discussions!!

October 4, 2013

Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield

I knew I would have to relearn how to listen to music, and that some of the music we'd loved together I'd never be able to hear again, Every time I started to cry, I remembered how Renee used to say real life was a bad country song, except bad country songs are believable and real life isn't.
-from Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield

 photo db16e660-141f-45f7-97af-20265d5426e0_zpsf904fc80.jpg

What rock have I been living under that has shielded be from Rob Sheffield for so long? I grew up loving music, occasionally reading Rolling Stone, going to concerts, and loving to read. So how is it that I have overlooked this talented writer for so long? My friend Frances told me that I actually did have a discussion with her back in 2004 about Sheffield's positive review of Gwen Stefani's Love Angel Music Baby, but why I didn't continue to love, support and worship his writing is a mystery!

Frances wanted to go to Rob Sheffield's reading at Book Soup in July for his new book, Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love and Karaoke. Since I'm always game for an adventure in LA, especially one that's book related, I joined her. The reading was great, Rob was incredibly funny and down to earth, and we even got to meet him! Can you believe he's almost as old as my parents because I can't!

  photo null_zps39b3a923.jpg

You can't go to a book reading and not buy a book, but I was encouraged to start at the beginning, with Rob's first book, Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss One Song at a Time. This book is basically a memorial to Rob's first wife, Renee, who died unexpectedly of a pulmonary embolism in 1997. Through mix tapes created by both Rob, Renee and friends, Sheffield chronicles the years leading up to meeting Renee, their first years of marriage and his experience of grief after her death.

I'm not always a fan of non-fiction books; I'm very hit or miss with memoirs and autobiographies, so I was worried that this would be a slow read for me. However, Sheffield's voice and the flow of his prose are so fluid and articulate that it's rather, well... musical! Each chapter is titled after a mix tape and the song list for each respective mix tape is listed as well. Each mix brings back memories for Sheffield that he expounds upon those memories as he tells a story that most people can relate to in some way.

The first few chapters I loved because I was learning how much I enjoyed reading this book. Then the reader is introduced to Renee, and knowing how her story ultimately ends, I drank in every word about her. But the part of this book that shot it into 5-Star-Mode was the way Sheffield is able to articulate his grief. I cannot even imagine writing this, much less living through it. Sheffield is transparent and human, two qualities that are especially impressive given the vulnerable nature of grief. I laughed, I cried, I felt everything a great book is supposed to make me feel. I truly enjoyed reading Rob's story and it made me appreciate him not only as a writer, but as a human being.

One of my favorite things Sheffield does in this book is draw parallels to music and his life using the emotional connection and experience of music. I especially loved the chapter revolving around Kurt Cobain's death. Sheffield relates to Cobain's stress over the responsibilities of being a husband and father and examines the idea of death amongst spouses. While I've never paid particular attention to his music, I had never looked at Kurt Cobain this way, had never recognized his stress over his responsibilities. I love how Sheffield identified with this and expressed himself in relation to his wife's death.

The only part of this book that is frustrating is that while I love music, I don't have nearly as vast of a knowledge as Sheffield, so many of his references were completely lost on me. I almost took a star away for this because his depth of knowledge has a way of isolating the reader to a degree. However, he praises Hanson multiple times, so I felt generous. ;) On the flip side, this book helped me pay better attention to music so that I could come to appreciate songs the way Rob and Renee did together. I highly recommend reading this when you have access to YouTube because I found myself listening to songs I wasn't familiar with to better connect with the story.

Now it's time to go buy Rob Sheffield's other books!! :)

Bottom Line: If you love music, this is a must read!! If you love good memoirs/auto-biographies, I also highly recommend this one. I kind of think almost anyone between 20 and 50 would enjoy this book though, at least if you have any appreciation for popular music. 5/5 stars for a memoir.

October 1, 2013

Happy Birthday to The Book Barn!

  photo 223449436_9c9be36c24_zps6be09388.jpg

A year ago today I started this blog because book reviews were taking over my personal blog. I began posting two book reviews each week, but narrowed it down to one because I wanted to commit myself to reviewing every single week and one review a week was a fair goal. I am so pleased to say that I succeeded in blogging at least once a week for an entire year! That's 71 book reviews posted to date! I don't think I've ever stuck with such a commitment where I was the only one to hold myself accountable.

 photo birthdaygiveaway_zps7805f487.jpg

Of course with birthdays comes presents, and I'm happy to give one away to you wonderful readers! I'm raffling off a book bag filled with some of my favorite books, old classics and one book I haven't yet read, plus a bunch of other book-related goodies (including my absolute favorite Last Line bookmarks!)! I might even add some other stuff! There are lots of ways to win, so I hope you'll enter and spread the word!! Here's all the swag one lucky reader will win:
 photo giveaway_zpsc48fbf41.jpg

* She's Come Undone is very gently worn but the spine is not broken.

This contest is shippable only within the United States and is open to anyone 13 and older!
Contest ends at midnight on Monday, October 8! You have one week to win! :)

Thanks for celebrating with me and good luck!!