Friday, November 21, 2014

Finishing the Series Reading Challenge 2015

I didn't join any challenges in 2014, but I decided to join one for 2015. It's the Finishing the Series Reading Challenge, and I really need it! There are several series that I've started and never finished. I figure this will be the push I need to get back to them.

I'm going with Level 4 (Expert series reader) - Complete 4 or more series.

Here are the series that I plan to finish in 2015:

Chaos Walking ~ one book left
Divergent ~ two books left (including Four)
Child 44 ~ one book left
The Giver Quartet - three books left

I will update my progress here throughout the year:

Chaos Walking: Monsters of Men ~ to be read
Divergent: Allegiant ~ to be read
Divergent: Four ~ to be read
Child 44: Agent 6 ~ to be read
Gathering Blue ~ to be read
Messenger ~ to be read
The Son ~ to be read

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Book Review: The Secret Place by Tana French

Chris Harper has been dead for a year when Holly Mackey shows up in the squad room holding a card with a photo of Chris on it with the caption I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM. Detective Stephen Moran has a history with Holly so she has brought him this card, which she found on a board at St. Kilda's boarding school. The board is called the "Secret Place" and is meant for the girls to post their secret worries and thoughts anonymously. Now it's time to figure out who put up the card so they can finally solve the case.

The Secret Place by Tana French is an amazing mystery that grabs hold of the reader and doesn't let go until the very end. I tend to be a slow reader, but I blew through this 450 page novel in just two days. I could not put it down. I sat up until 2:00 a.m. reading it until I literally couldn't keep my eyes open any longer. This was my first book by Tana French but it won't be my last, especially since I've seen several reviews by her fans saying this isn't her best work.

The book alternates chapters between the present day and the months leading up to the murder over a year ago. In the present day, Detective Moran, who works cold cases, has teamed up with Detective Antoinette Conway, who is in the murder squad. He's hoping to get a foot in the door of the murder squad, but Conway isn't looking to make friends. They head out to Kilda's to interview the students and investigate what really happened the night Chris Harper was killed.

The alternate chapters bring us into the world of Holly and her friends, who are extremely close, boarding in the same room and forming a very tight bond. Their rivals are another group of girls at the school, who also factor strongly into the storyline. One of my favorite parts of the book was the realistic way in which these girls all interacted and the relationships they formed with one another.

The mystery was also well-done. I thought I had figured out who the killer was several times before it was finally settled. French did a fabulous job keep the detectives, and the reader, on their toes trying to solve the case. The only negative thing I can say about the book is that I generally don't like when books are written in a certain dialect, and this one has tons of Irish vocabulary that I stumbled over for the first few chapters. But once I got used to it, I didn't really notice anymore and it no longer distracted me from the story.

Overall, The Secret Place is one of my favorite books of this year. If you're looking for an engaging mystery with characters that draw you into their world, I highly recommend it. It's the fifth book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, but it worked fine as a standalone novel.

My rating: 5/5

Connect with Tana French on her website or Facebook page.

This review was written based on a copy of The Secret Place that I received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Connect with me on social media ... because I'm too tired to blog

It's getting late and I'm getting tired. It's day 19 of NaBloPoMo. I was going to write a review today of The Secret Place by Tana French. I loved the book, so I want to write a good review. And I'm just too tired at this point.

Instead, I'm writing a quick post about how you can connect with on social media. Because I really don't have anything else in my mind at the moment! And I can't give in and not post. Not after 18 days straight. I apologize. But here you go. And hopefully someone will find this helpful.

I'm on Twitter @MyBookRetreat.
I'm on Facebook too!
I'm also on Goodreads, where I post all of my reviews.

I do have a Pinterest account, but I honestly don't use it much. You'll see I have boards for gifts for a 7 year old boy and a 4 year old girl. My kids are 10 and 7 now... But you're welcome to connect with me there. And maybe I'll start pinning stuff again. On a related note, I don't have the energy to find a picture to put on this blog, but I don't think it's very "pinnable" anyway.

Thank you to all of my followers, whether you visit me here or on one of the social channels. It's nice to get to know so many people, and I hope I've led you toward some great books!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review: Dangerous Denial by Amy Ray

The story begins at the end, with BK Hartshaw at the charity ball she organized staring down a gunman. Trevor Mayhew is there too. Both have secrets to conceal. The story then returns to the past, to the story of Trevor's parents, and then to that of BK and Trevor as children. Neither had the ideal childhood. Eventually their stories cross paths, and everything comes together at the charity ball.

Dangerous Denial by Amy Ray is a mystery that unfolds over time. We get to know not only BK and Trevor, but also their family members, especially Trevor's parents and grandmother who all have a significant impact on his life. The characters are interesting and most are fairly realistic, although a few are a bit over the top. I definitely sympathized with both BK and Trevor for what they went through during their childhoods, and hoped to see them happy in the end.

Unfortunately, the structure of the book took a lot away from the story for me. Ray switches between several different time periods, and between BK's story and Trevor's. I found the changes to be a bit too disjointed in this case. Most of the chapters were about Lenny and Trevor, and then there would be one stuck in between about BK. There were dates at the top of some chapters, and this helped a bit, but not quite enough.

Dangerous Denial does tell a good, suspenseful story if you don't mind a bit of jumping around. It's a quick read that held my interest through to the end, as I was anxious to figure out what was really going on at the ball. The ending was satisfying as well.

My Rating: 3/5

Visit the author's website

This review was written based on a copy of Dangerous Denial that I received from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Week in Review


Good morning. Another week gone in this fall season. It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is next week. Although, the weather has been unusually cold here, so it does feel like fall. I'm hoping we have a warm-up by the end of next week so we aren't freezing while putting up all of our Christmas decorations on Thanksgiving weekend!

I'm still working through National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), and I have managed to publish a blog each day. Over halfway done with this challenge!

Reviews and Blog Posts
I have been reading a lot this week! I finished Dangerous Denial by Amy Ray and will be publishing my review for the tour tomorrow. I also read and reviewed The Giver by Lois Lowry. And then I started reading The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad Book 5) by Tana French, and I'm almost done! It's a very long book but I couldn't put it down this weekend. I just kept reading it and am dying to finish it when I'm done working today!

Once I finish The Secret Place, I'll be picking up First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett.

Kids Reading
I finally gave in and let C read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. He flew through it and is just about done with Catching Fire too. I'm sure by next week, he will have finished the entire trilogy. In between, he also read the last two books in the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell.

What are you reading this week? It's Monday! is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, so hop over there if you'd like to see what others are reading too. You can also check out the younger version of It's Monday!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Book Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

Jonas lives in a community that values Sameness. Children are grouped by the year they are born and learn the same lessons, are taught the same rules of the community. When they become Twelves, they are considered adults and assigned a role, but Jonas does not receive an assignment. Instead, he is selected as the new Receiver of Memories. This is a mysterious role that is held by only one person in the community. His trainer is the previous Receiver, the only person who even knows what this role entails.

The Giver (Giver Quartet) by Lois Lowry is a very popular dystopian novel that was recently made into a film. My book club is reading it this month, so I finally took time to read it myself. The world that Lowry creates is similar to other dystopian stories in that the people are restricted by specific rules about behavior and their roles in the society are determined by the leaders. They are also sheltered from the reality of the past and the world outside of their own community. All of these rules are in place to protect the people.

Despite the similarities with other dystopian novels, The Giver has a unique storyline focusing on the memories of the long-lost past, the memories from the time before the community embraced the Sameness. I don't want to give a lot away to those who have not read this book yet, but I do want to say that I enjoyed the story and the characters. I especially liked the characters of Jonas and the previous Receiver of Memories. The way they deal with their uniqueness in a community in which everyone else is the same drew me in. I could feel what they were feeling, and I found their connection endearing.

The Giver would be an excellent introduction to the dystopian genre for older elementary and middle grade kids. There isn't much in the way of questionable content, and it's a fairly short book. It is also the first in a series, which I plan to continue. The ending of this one is rather open, so I'm curious to see where Lowry takes us in the future. I cannot say whether the future books in the series would also be appropriate for this younger audience, but this one definitely would.

My Rating: 4/5

Discussion questions about The Giver

This review was written based on a copy of The Giver that I purchased.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday Snapshot

Today's Saturday Snapshot photos are all about my Fall reading. Here are a few shots of the books I'll be reading through the end of the year, as well as some pictures of the Fall colors in my neighborhood. These were taken throughout the week, but most of the leaves are brown now. We have definitely gone past the peak.

Books to read in November & December

NetGalley books to read in November & December

 The view out my office window

The view from my front porch

Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review Ratings

As a book blogger, I have a rating system for my reviews. Most book bloggers do. Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble and other websites do as well. The problem with these ratings systems is that they're all a little different from one another. This makes it hard to really understand what each rating means.

I wanted to provide a little more insight into what my ratings mean here on my blog.

1/5 = I couldn't even finish it.
This is a rating that you won't see often, if at all. I tend to just not bother writing a review if I don't finish a book. But I leave this in my ratings list to bring more context to the other ratings. If a book does get 1/5, it means I did not finish it. I couldn't get through it and had to give up.
2/5 = I didn't like it.
A rating of 2/5 means I did actually finish the book, but struggled through it. In the end, I really didn't like it. It didn't hold my interest, or there were issues with the writing style, or I didn't like the characters at all. There could be a range of reasons why I didn't end up liking the book. You won't see this rating very often for books I'm given for review, because if I am struggling this much, I'll put it aside. Usually it's a book club book, which I am determined to finish even if I'm not enjoying it!

3/5 = It's a good book.
When I give a book a 3/5, that means that there were some redeeming qualities to it, and I did enjoy several aspects, it just wasn't great. A 3/5 does not mean that I didn't like it and wouldn't recommend it. Actually, I would probably recommend it to certain people depending on their tastes. Sometimes a book gets a 3/5 because of things that others might enjoy more than I do, like too many love scenes or too much fantasy. This is a book that's okay but it won't stay with me for the long term.

4/5=It's a great book!
This is one of the best ratings I could give a book. I reserve 4/5 for books that I really enjoyed reading from beginning to end. I liked the characters, the writing style, the flow of the story. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the genre in which it falls. It may have one or two aspects that I didn't like, maybe it was confusing at points or there's just a little too much gore.

5/5=It's one of my favorites!
I only have a few 5/5 each year. This rating is held for my favorites. Not only do I think it's a great book, but I absolutely loved reading it. I loved the characters and the storyline and the writing style and everything else about the book. I won't say that I'd read it again, because I don't reread books. But I would recommend this to most of my friends, as long as they like the genre.

Now that I've written these out, I realize that I've been rating books a bit higher than intended recently. I have rated a few books at 5/5 this year even though I wouldn't say they truly are favorites. I think they would fit more within the 4/5 rating. That's an interesting discovery that I will try to rectify as I continue into 2015.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Picture Book Month: Recent Releases

November is picture book month, and even though I have older kids now, we still read picture books. My 7 year old is particularly fond of them. What I've learned as they've gotten older is that there are picture books for kids of all ages, from simple stories meant to entertain toddlers to more complex and educational books for older kids.

We've recently read four picture books that were released this Fall, and I just had to share them.

First up is a picture book that doesn't actually have any pictures! The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak is a fabulous book that is quickly becoming popular. It is meant to be read aloud by an adult to a child, but my daughter has been reading it aloud to everyone who will listen. The premise is that the reader has to read whatever is written on the page, even if it's gibberish. It's quite funny and holds everyone's interest, despite the lack of pictures.

Another one that would make a great read-aloud is My Grandfather's Coat retold by Jim Aylesworth based on the Yiddish folksong "I Had a Little Overcoat." It's a simple story that flows like a folksong with rhyme and repetition. It tells the story of a man who made a coat for himself for his wedding, and as the years passed by and it frayed, "he snipped, and he clipped, and he stitched, and he sewed" to turn it into something else. Over and over he transforms this cloth into something new, with nothing going to waste.

The next two are examples of new picture books that would appeal to older children.

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis is about the invention of the Ferris wheel during the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. Readers learn what the World's Fair was and how George Ferris came up with a design that was meant to outshine the Eiffel Tower from the previous World's Fair. It shares how the wheel was created and the excitement of the first ride. I particularly enjoyed this one because I got a taste of this story in The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.

Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914 by John Hendrix a much deeper story about World War I. This is definitely for older kids. It's about a young English soldier in the trenches during the first Christmas of the war, in 1914. That year, the German and British soldiers stopped fighting and celebrated Christmas together. The book has a lot of detail at the beginning and the end about the war as a whole, too. But the story itself is focused on that one special day.

In 2011, we participated in a daily picture book challenge in which we read and reviewed picture books for every day of the month. Here are links to our reviews from that year. The books are older, but there are many good ones in these lists.

2011 Picture Book Month, Week 1
2011 Picture Book Month, Week 2
2011 Picture Book Month, Week 3
2011 Picture Book Month, Week 4
2011 Picture Book Month, Week 5

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge

Michelle at The Christmas Spirit is once again hosting a Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge. There are several levels of participation, so even if you just want to read one Christmas book this season, you can join in the fun!

I'm going with the Mistletoe level this year, which means I need to read 2-4 Christmas books from November 24 through January 6. I'm also joining the two additional levels: Fa La La La Films (watch Christmas movies) and Visions of Sugar Plums (read Christmas books with your kids). I know I'll be watching Christmas movies and reading books with the kids so I might as well get some credit for it!!

I'll use this post to share my books and movies throughout the challenge.

Mistletoe books:

Fa La La La Films:

Visions of Sugar Plums books:

In addition, I'm joining Michelle's Christmas Spirit Read-a-Thon, which takes place from November 24 - 30. I'll have a separate blog post that week where I'll update about my progress, since I'll be reading non-Christmas books that week, too.