Thursday, December 31, 2009

BTT: 2009 In Review

I haven't participated in Booking Through Thursday for the longest time. But today is the last day of the year and I want to end the year right :) by participating in the last edition of a meme that I actually enjoy very much.

It’s the last day of the year, and you know what that means … nostalgia and looking back.

What were your favorite books of the year? (Books that were new to you in 2009, if not necessarily published this year.)

I have read many good books this year but they were mostly older ones or titles reissued by publishers. The order in which I present them to you is alphabetical by author, not a ranking, because I couldn't quite decide which of these books were the absolute best.

1. Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier

2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

3. To Serve Them All My Days by R.F. Delderfield

4. Behold, Here's Poison by Georgette Heyer

5. The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham

6. Follow Me by Joanna Scott

7. Lucky by Alice Sebold

8. The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner

Also, since we're on a subject of picking the best of the best I need to mention two more things:

My three favorite authors this year are Daphne du Maurier, Georgette Heyer and R. F. Delderfield. Also, my favorite publisher is Sourcebooks, Inc. It is thanks to their idea of reissuing the books of these fantastic writers that I got a chance to read them.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Suspense & Thriller Challenge Completed & Fall Into Reading 2009 sort of...

I am very happy to announce that I did indeed finish 2009 Suspense & Thriller Challenge hosted by J. Kaye. I think this was one of the most interesting and challenging ones since we had to read 12 books and each one f them had to be in a different thriller category. I had a heck of a time trying to match the titles with categories and have to admit not all of them did I manage to match. But here's the list:

1. A Suitable Vengeance by Elizabeth George (murder mystery) - I am a fan of Ms. George and enjoyed this one thoroughly.

2. Deadly Decisions by Kathy Reichs (forensic thriller) - definitely a forensic thriller but I hope that as the series progresses I will find the books more interesting.

3. Slip & Fall by Nick Santora (legal thriller) - even though I don't generally like legal thrillers, I was pleasantly surprised by this one.

4. An Unsuitable Job For a Woman by P.D. James (private detective thriller) - not P.D. James's best

5. Friend of the Devil by Peter Robinson (romantic thriller) - not much romance in there, but I enjoyed the book and will be reading more in the series

6. A Matter of Roses by David Manuel (cozy mystery) - nice, cozy mystery taking place in Cape Cod. Strong religious themes though, which I personally don't mind (even like actually) but others might not appreciate so much

7. The Reincarnationist by M.J. Rose (action thriller) - didn't like it at all

8. The Case Has Altered by Martha Grimes (serial killer thriller) - another series that I will be reading more of

9. Firestorm by Iris Johansen ( erotic thriller) - a complete miss as far as category goes, nothing remotely erotic about this book ( I guess I had a misconception that since it was written by Nora Roberts, it would be erotic)

10. Nightwalker by Heather Graham (paranormal thriller) - I like this author a lot and will be reading more of her books

11. Vital Signs by Robin Cook (medical thriller) - I didn't like the writing, scattered all over the place and very unbelievable characters ( I will read more books by Mr. Cook to see if his writing improves before I say that maybe he should stick with medicine)

12. The Mosaic Crimes by Giulio Leoni (literary thriller) - the only literary thing about this thriller was the character of Dante Alghieri. The book did have a potential to be quite catching but I just couldn't get myself become involved with the story.

I am however very disappointed to say that as of December 20th, I managed to finish 19 books out of the 20 I set as a goal for Fall Into Reading 2009 Challenge hosted by Callapidder Days. Therefore, technically I did not complete this challenge on time. I still had a lot of fun and it helped me get through all those books I thought I would never get through this year. I will simply make a shorter list next year :).

1. Trail of Crumbs by Kim Sunee

2. Silverstein & Me by Merv Gold

3. The Book Shopper. A Life in Review by Murray Browne

4. Nightwalker by Heather Graham

5. Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

6. The Tudor Rose by Margaret Campbell Barnes

7. Across the Endless River by Thad Carhart

8. Traveling With Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd & Ann Kidd Taylor

9. No Wind of Blame by Georgette Heyer

10. Vital Signs by Robin Cook

11. 20 Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

12. The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

13. The Mosaic Crimes by Giulio Leoni

14. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James

15. The Fourth Hand by John Irving

16. A Flickering Light by Jane Kirkpatrick

17. Soulstice by Simon Holt

18. The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson

19. A Circle of Souls by Preetham Grandhi

I have to say that there were many good reads on this list and it's very hard for me to pick only one best book. Nightwalker, Alice I Have Been and No Wind of Blame would probably be the top three even though they each are a different genre (paranormal/romantic thriller, historical fiction & cozy, whodunit mystery respectively).

It's much easier to point to the most disappointing books. A Trail of Crumbs takes the cake in this category, closely followed by The Elephant Keeper. They were both the most disappointing because I expected a lot more from the books (considering the hype and reviews I read beforehand).

That's that for this year's summaries. I don't think I'll be able to squeeze another post before 2010. I am still working on one more 2009 challenge. It's the LT's 999 reading challenge and I am 2 books away from completing it but the organizers are really lenient and it will be okay to finish in the beginning of 2010.

Monday, December 28, 2009

2010 Challenges - All-In-One Version

Because I will be joining quite a few challenges for 2010, I figured that putting most of them (the ones I haven't officially signed up for yet) in one post will save a lot of boring reading time for my blog visitors :). It is also a nice way for me to keep them in one place when I want to update the title list. Here they come:

I. Anne from Royal Reviews is quite a challenge queen this year and the following challenges are all hosted by Royal Reviews.

Challenge Guidelines:

1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.

2. There are four levels:

-- Curious – Read 3 Fantasy Fiction novels.

-- Fascinated – Read 6 Fantasy Fiction novels.

-- Addicted – Read 12 Fantasy Fiction novels.

-- Obsessed – Read 20 Fantasy Fiction novels.

3. Any book format counts.

4. You can list your books in advance or just put them in a wrap up post. If you list them, feel free to change them as the mood takes you.

5. Challenge begins January 1st thru December, 2010. Only books started on January 1st count towards this challenge.

I am going to be cautious and sign up for the Curious level. Fantasy is a genre I enjoy but I also want to try and read more of other genres in 2010.


I enjoyed this challenge this year (it was hosted by J. Kaye) and I am definitely signing up for it in 2010. I listen to audio books while driving and I might as well make a challenge out of it.

Challenge Guidelines:

1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.
--Non-Bloggers: Include your information in the comment section.

2. There are four levels:

-- Curious – Listen to 3 Audio Books.

--Fascinated – Listen to 6 Audio Books.

--Addicted – Listen to 12 Audio Books.

-- Obsessed– Listen to 20 Audio Books.

3. Audio books only.

4. You can list your books in advance or just put them in a wrap up post. If you list them, feel free to change them as the mood takes you.

5. Challenge begins January 1st thru December, 2010. Only books started on January 1st count towards this challenge.

This time I am going with Addicted :O

1. Trace by Patricia Cornwell

One of my goals for 2010 is to read more series and this is a perfect challenge for me.

Challenge Guidelines:

1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.
--Non-Bloggers: Include your information in the comment section.

2. There are four levels:

-- Curious – Read 3 novels that are first in a series.

-- Fascinated – Read 6 novels that are first in a series.

-- Addicted – Read 12 novels that are first in a series.

-- Obsessed – Read 20 novels that are first in a series.

3. Any genre counts.

4. You can list your books in advance or just put them in a wrap up post. If you list them, feel free to change them as the mood takes you.

5. Challenge begins January 1st thru December, 2010. Only books started on January 1st count towards this challenge.

I am picking the Fascinated level because I am certain of six series I want to start but not sure of twelve.

1. The Devil You Know by Mike Carey ( Felix Castor series)

Since I am doing 1st in a series, I might as well do 2nd in a series :). The guidelines are pretty much the same with the exception that instead of the first book in a series, you have to read the second book in a series. I am also going to shoot for the Fascinated level.


II. Robin from My Two Blessings is hosting the Mind Voyages challenge and created a separate blog just for this challenge which I think is a great idea. It is a fantasy/sci-fi reading challenge and there are many different voyages to pick from. I decided to go for a Moon Voyage and see what Hugo winners have to offer.

The Rules are simple:

  1. The challenge will run from January 1, 2010 through December 31, 2010.
  2. Participants may join at any time.
  3. All forms of books are acceptable including e-books, audio books, etc.
  4. Re-reads are acceptable as long as they are read after January 1, 2010.
  5. Books may overlap other challenges.
  6. Create an entry post linking to this blog.
  7. You don't have to decide before hand what you will be reading.
  8. Come back and sign up with Mr. Linky in the "I'm participating post" below this post.
  9. You don't have a blog to participate.

III. Last but not least, I am of course joining J. Kaye's 2010 100+ Reading Challenge. I did it this year and I had a lot of fun. Mostly, this challenge motivated me to read over a hundred books which I had never done before in my life. I hope to keep up with this new habit of reading so many books and that's why I am signing up.

The rules are quite simple. here's a shortened version:

1. The goal is to read 100 or more books. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.

--Non-Bloggers: Post your list of books in the comment section of the wrap-up post. To learn how to sign up without having a blog, click here.

2. Audio, Re-reads, eBooks, YA, Manga, Graphic Novels, Library books, Novellas, Young Reader, Nonfiction – as long as the book has an ISBN or equivalent or can be purchased as such, the book counts.

All forms of books are acceptable including e-books, audio books, etc.

Re-reads are acceptable as long as they are read after January 1, 2010.

Books may overlap other challenges.

You don't have to decide before hand what you will be reading.

I will be creating a Google Doc for all my books read in 2010, instead of a post listing all the titles. This way if you really want to know what I will have read by the end of 2010, you can just click on the link :)

I know that there are more challenges in the blogosphere and I will most likely be joining a few of them. For now however, these are enough.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Virtual Advent Tour 2009 -Christmas Eve Dinner

I was so excited about the Virtual Advent Tour that when I joined I asked to post twice, not once during the advent. In my first post I wrote about what advent meant to me when I was a kid. Today, on Christmas Eve, I will write about how my family celebrates this very special day.

Ever since I can remember, Christmas Eve has always been just as important as Christmas Day. The Christmas Eve dinner is to us what Thanksgiving dinner is to most of Americans, the time for the whole family to get together, to give thanks for the passing year's blessings and to also pray for what the next year's bringing.

Yes, you read that right, I mentioned last year and new year. That's because, as I mentioned in my first Advent Tour post, my family observed the laws of Roman Catholic church and Christmas Eve ends the liturgical year and begins the new year.

This very special night is full of anticipation, happiness and joyous thoughts as we wait for the birth of Jesus, the Savior. All day long everyone gets involved in preparing the house for the big dinner which usually takes place where the oldest family member lives. In my case, it was the house of my maternal grandparents and my grandma was the person in charge.

Let's concentrate on what we have for dinner first. There always have to be 12 dishes and the only meat allowed is fish. Everything else is non-meat. The tradition is for everyone to at least try, if not eat the full plates, every single dish or food that's served, because they all have a purpose. For instance, we eat a little bit of garlic to be outspoken for the next year or peas and cabbage for the strength (usually physical health). There is also no alcohol drinking until the Christmas Day. The thing that I have always thought to be the most important is that there is always an extra seat, with extra plate reserved for whoever might wonder in on this special night, a hungry, homeless person, someone who is lonely, a lost wanderer or maybe even a ghost of a family member who passed away and didn't find his/her way to the other world yet.

When do we start the dinner, you might ask? Usually the children go outside and wait for the first star to appear in the sky. It is a symbol of the Bethlehem Star that led the Three Wise Men to the manger where Jesus was born. When the star is up the kids all run back to the house yelling with excitement that it's time to start the dinner. I remember that it was very very exciting for me to stand outside and look up in the sky. Believe it or not, I don't ever remember a Christmas Eve where there was no star.

We all start the dinner with prayer, we then share Holy Wafer with one another wishing everyone all the best for the next year. It always very touching for me because no matter what the disagreements might have been throughout the year, on that one night we put them all away and try to start anew with only good wishes in our hearts.

The most exciting thing for me had always been the time after dinner when only children were allowed to go outside in a barn or stable (my grandparents were farmers and had all kinds of animals, sheep, cows, pigs, chickens) and listen to the animals try to speak in human tongue. We never did catch the animal do just that :) but we were children & children never give up nor disbelieve, so no matter that on one Christmas Eve we didn't hear animals talk because we would always return every year having faith that because the whole night was magical we might get lucky that time. Just because we didn't witness it, didn't mean it wasn't happening.

Last but not least, because I grew up in times where there was little to no money and really not much to buy in the stores either, even if one did have money (communism and socialism in Poland ended when I was 12 years old, so I remember a lot from that horrible time), there were no presents under the Christmas tree. And it was completely fine with the children, because we grew up truly believing that Christmas is not about the presents at all. As kids, we never felt at a disadvantage because we got no presents. Christmas Eve was a special, magical night filled with joy and happiness.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Perfect snow day!!! by Karolina Morawski

I have never done this before but I just read the story my 10-year-old baby girl wrote and decided to post it on my blog because I'm soooo proud of her. This piece posted below is exactly how she wrote it, no edits on my side :). Enjoy!

Today when my step-dad Mark and I went outside there was about 2-3 feet of snow!!!!!!!! It was the coolest thing ever, as long as I lived there has never never been that much snow. So while Mark was cleaning out the driveway I was getting stuck in the snow, but eventually I got out. When I was out there I was thinking to myself (outloud) if only today was CHRISTMAS that'd be AM A Z I NG you know what I mean. Like, I mean really what kid wouldn't want presents and snow fun on the same day.

Then Mark brought out our boxer dog
Daisy. It was so cute she got stuck in the snow and when she came out she had a white snow mask on her face. As much as we wanted her to stay out she was shivering so she had to go back inside.Soon after that Mark and I were having a snow fight and I accidentally got snow on my teeth and my teeth are very sensitive to hot and cold. So I rested for a while and then went back outside.

My dog Daisy in the snow. How cute!!!

After that we all went inside for some Hot Chocolate. You don't know how many layers I had on. After we all got into our regular clothes our snow clothes needed to be dried. So we waited for them to be done in that time we ate and watched the MMA(wrestling). Once they got dried I couldn't wait to go back outside in that WINTER WONDERLAND !!!

Once we went outside my mom went outside too and she took pictures of Mark,
Daisy, and Me. Yep Daisy too and even cuter the second time. This time she actually wanted to go outside. Thats how we got that picture of Daisy up there. After that I was pretending I was a winter fairy. I thought I was doing pretty good but then I had to help Mark shovel the driveway. In a couple minutes his friend Rob came to help clean our lawn my grandparents lawn and a lot of other peoples lawns. I guess thats the end.

Made by


Friday, December 18, 2009

What's In a Name 2 & What's In a Name 3

I have completed another challenge for 2009. What's In a Name 2 was a lot of fun, especially putting the titles together. Finding appropriate books was a challenge in itself. Here's what I read:

1. The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale ('profession' in the title)

2. Nightwalker by Heather Graham (time of day)

3. Father Melancholy's Daughter by Gail Godwin (a relative)

4. The Fourth Hand by John Irving (a body part)

5. House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III (a building)

6. The Plague by Albert Camus (a medical condition)

The two books I enjoyed the most were Nightwalker and Father Melancholy's Daughter. Both authors were new to me and I am certain to read a lot more from them. Ms. Graham is the one I will read when I need a paranormal mystery fix and Ms. Godwin will be my companion when I need to read something deep. a little bit sad and always with food for thought.

The most disappointing books was House of Sand and Fog. I had heard so many wonderful things about it before I read the book and I think that my expectations might have been too high. Whatever the reason, the book certainly didn't live up to the hype it got in my opinion. For the first half it dragged too much and the ending felt somehow unfulfilling.

Because I liked this challenge so much, I of course decided to sign up for What's In a Name 3. It is hosted by Beth F. from Beth Fish Reads and even has its own blog.

Here are the rules:

Between January 1 and December 31, 2010, read one book in each of the following categories:

A book with a
food in the title

A book with a
body of water in the title

A book with a
title(queen, president) in the title

A book with a
plant in the title

A book with a
place name(city, country) in the title - Andean Express by Juan de Recacoechea

A book with a
music term in the title

Other things to consider:

Books may be any form (audio, print, e-book).

Books may overlap other challenges.

Books may not overlap categories; you need a different book for each category.

Creativity for matching the categories is allowed.

You do not have to make a list of books before hand.

You do not have to read through the categories in any particular order.

There will be a single prize at the end of the challenge. Readers who complete the challenge and write up a wrap-up post (or wrap-up comment) are eligible. I'll figure out a way to make it international.

I do not have the list ready yet but will put it here once I figure out the titles. The rules are pretty easy and from what I understand, it will be a very popular challenge in 2010.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2-in-1: Nightwalker & The Elephant Keeper

1. Nightwalker by Heather Graham *

This was my first encounter with Ms. Graham's writing. All I knew about her was that she wrote in a few different genres, including romance and thriller. Nightwalker is a paranormal thriller, taking place in Las Vegas. Jessy Sparhawk, part Native American, cares for her beloved grandfather while living paycheck to paycheck. One day she decides to try her luck gambling as she is really desperate for money. When she's done playing the biggest shock is yet to come. A body of a dead man with a knife in his back falls right on Jessy. Private detective, Dillon Wolf, is accidentally right in the same place and he takes it upon himself to figure out what exactly happened, not realizing that Jessy will be playing an important role in the whole investigation. Of course, it doesn't hurt that she is a stunning woman. Where's the paranormal, you ask? Ha! Mr. Wolf is part Native American as well and he is also a nightwalker, a person who sees and is visited by ghosts. One of these ghosts will help him solve the mystery that turns out to be a lot more than just a dead body in a casino. And it's a mystery that will cost lives.

Thanks to Nightwalker I fell under Heather Graham's spell. It's a great thriller for cold winter days when you really don't feel like doing anything but curling up with an engaging story that will keep you occupied enough to forget about an ugly day outside. The author wove the plot so skillfully that I literally couldn't put the book away and as a result I read it in one day. Thank goodness I was sick in bed and had an excuse to do nothing but read. The thing that really got me to liking Ms. Graham's style was that the romance part was tasteful and that the character of Jessy was not predictable at all and for once I got a heroine who acted the way I imagine real life people act. No such cliches as saying 'no' when you mean 'yes', or being superficially coquettish. I have to be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Jessy and Dillon were such likable characters. Every element in Nightwalker was blended nicely (romance, thriller & paranormal) so I didn't feel overwhelmed or confused about what the story was really about. I am definitely stocking up more of Heather Graham's books for next year.

2. The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson **

I am usually not a big fan of books with animals as main characters. I decided to break away from this pattern and read The Elephant Keeper, especially that the description mentioned it to be 'a magical adventure'. The novel is set in 18th century England and the story is told by Tom Page, a keeper of two elephants he named Timothy and Jenny. By pure accident, Tom found himself to be their main caregiver since the day they arrived in England. The elephants were still pretty much babies and on the verge of dying. However, under the careful eye of Tom and his undivided attention, Timothy and Jenny survived. And Tom's life took an unexpected turn as he falls in love with the two animals and slowly but surely removes himself from the world of people.

Sounds interesting, doesn't it? Well, it was okay in the beginning even though the style of writing (Tom's weird grammar with author's attempt to use the language as it may have been used in the times the story was set) took some getting used to. It also took me a while to get interested in the story of raising two elephants, the way Tom recounts his life as elephant keeper seemed emotionally distant to me and therefore I couldn't quite believe that he was all that devoted to Timothy and Jenny. But still, there was something in the story (probably the novelty of reading about elephants) that kept me going. Unfortunately, when I got about half-way through, the relationship between Tom Page and his female elephant, Jenny became just plain weird to me. I don't want to spoil anything for those of you who might want to read it but when a man starts talking to an animal and receives answers and the conversations take on an intimate character, and when that same man starts having sexually suggestive dreams featuring the animal I have to start questioning the sanity of the whole novel. Which by the way, was not pitched as a fantasy but historical fiction. I did finish The Elephant Keeper because when I am already half done with a book I go on until the end, but it left me feeling slightly put off.

* I received Nightwalker as an autographed copy from the author during the BEA'09 signing.

** I won The Elephant Keeper from Library Thing Early Reviewer program of which I am a member.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Time to be honest.

I have been honored with this award by two wonderful girls whose blogs are quite different but equally interesting and really worth reading: Teddyree from The Eclectic Reader & Sharazad from The Dangerous Pages Review.

The award is for those bloggers who write from the heart. The rules are to pass it along to seven bloggers and then list 10 honest things about myself.

Here's who I'm giving it to:

1. Blodeuedd from Book girl of Mur-y-Castell

2. April from Cafe of Dreams

6. Aarti from B O O K L U S T

7. Dorte from DJs krimiblog

The hardest part is coming. It's time to fess up:

1. Despite loving my current country (United States), I do still miss Poland and get homesick.

2. I am a loner and prefer my own company to the company of other people.

3. About two years ago, I got rid of all my credit cards (I had too many & it got me in trouble) and have been using cash only since.

4. I don't like watching movies, 99% of the time I wait for DVD editions and then borrow them from library if for some ungodly reason I want to watch any. I don't spend money on movies.

5. I absolutely hate exercising, especially jogging.

6. I don't like cooking and avoid it as much as possible even though it has been suggested to me as a therapeutic activity. Cooking does not interest me in any way.

7. I also don't like shopping for clothes. I know exactly what size I am and what I want, so when I go to the store I head straight for what's needed, take it to the register and I'm gone.

8. The point above is partially due to my fear of crowds. I get panicky and anxious with too many people around me.

9. I love summer and hot weather. The hotter, the better. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't mind if there were no seasons at all (no snow ever is fine by me).

10. I suck at math and am in fact so horrible at it that my ten-year-old daughter can't get any help from me as far as math homework goes (yes, 5th grade math is too much for me).

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

I will tell you a secret. Up until Alice I Have Been appeared on the horizon, I had no idea that there really was a girl named Alice and that Lewis Carroll (Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) had known her in real life before he decided to write Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I also didn't know that Mr. Dodgson was a photographer who primarily took pictures of young girls. I guess it's just one more example of why reading is so important and how it's never too late to learn something new. When the opportunity to read Melanie Benjamin's fictionalized story about Alice Pleasance Lidell presented itself, I took it and ran with it.

Alice I Have Been is a novel recounting the life of real Alice as it might have been. It is told by Alice herself, who is now eighty eight years old with a baggage of experiences that shaped her whole life. The author takes us through the childhood years when Alice, together with her two sisters lived in Oxford in the second half of 19th century. Alice was a wild, nonconformist child who preferred spending afternoons with beloved Mr. Dodgson to sitting quietly and learning the etiquette of young girls. Alice's childhood is privileged and mostly happy until things get out of control, until tragedy strikes and one life comes to an end as another begins. We accompany Alice on her real adventures as she innocently contends with her older sister Ina for the affection of Mr. Dodgson, as she is being loved and courted by a member of royal family, and as she finally gets to live away from her critical mother and from the illusion of dubious fame as Alice in Wonderland.

This a picture of Alice taken by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll when Alice was seven years old.

I really had mixed feelings while reading the book. I admit, I was caught under the spell of Ms. Benjamin's writing. I think she truly captured the life Alice may have lived, at least I didn't once question it and that's about as much as you can do in judging the authenticity in historical fiction. Most of the characters were real, most of events in Alice's life were also real and by the end of the book I felt that real Alice had a lot richer life than what Lewis Carroll imagined for her. What caused me to feel ambivalent in the end was that my image of Lewis Carroll as this innocent, lovable almost Santa Claus-like person crumbled and I wasn't ready for that. There appeared to be some gossip of a scandal concerning young Miss Alice and Mr. Dodgson and looking at the photographs taken by him, I have to say that there is indeed some impropriety in them. I don't want to come out and say that Lewis Carroll was a pedophile, but there certainly seemed to be more to his love of children than I originally thought. But that's really nothing to do with the author's talent. I think that Melanie did a great job by subtly portraying this relationship between a girl and an adult that might or might not have had any sexual undertones.

The second half of the book and second half of Alice's life is what I enjoyed the most. It was the most emotional for me and I could really sympathize with this young girl and then a wife and a mother just trying to get away from forever being Alice in Wonderland and to build a life in which she is known, loved and respected as a real woman and not a child from a story. I even caught myself admiring this strong character and wondering if that's who she really was. Life didn't spare Alice misery, tears and tragedy but life was also good to her in many ways. She emerged from a scandal and from a broken heart as a different woman who knew what she wanted and how to be finally happy. It was truly an adventure to read Alice I Have Been where many emotions were evoked and that's what I think makes for a story worth reading.

I have received this review copy of Alice I Have Been from the Shelf Awareness program.

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin will be published in January 2010 by Bantam Dell Publishing Group.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

2-in-1 : The Book Shopper & Tattoo Machine

In this edition of 2-in-1 I will be writing about two memoirs. But the genre is pretty much all these two books have in common.

1. The Book Shopper. A Life in Review by Murray Browne *

I acquired this book while chatting with Mr. Paul Dry whom I met at Book Expo America 2009. I am mentioning this fact first because Mr. Dry is a publisher and his company, Paul Dry Books, Inc put out The Book Shopper and also because he was probably one of the nicest, most courteous people I met there. I felt Mr. Dry was genuinely interested in what I had to say and we really had a nice, intelligent chat. On that premise I accepted Murray Browne's book with a promise of reading it and further sharing my thoughts about it on my blog.

The Book Shopper is pretty much a short, to the point memoir of one person who loves books (not just reading them) and even though he is hesitant to call himself a true bibliophile, Mr. Browne's life pretty much revolves around books. The book's title is self-explanatory because it is mostly reflective of what we'll find inside: the author's experiences and knowledge concerning shopping for books in all kinds of places. Mr. Browne mentions bits and pieces of his 'other' private life but mainly he wants us, readers, to maybe learn something from his adventures in book shopping and to share our mutual love for books.

I honestly enjoyed myself reading The Book Shopper. It is a quick and easy read but filled with passion for books. And because I have this passion, I also like and feel connected to anyone who wants to write about it and does it exponentially better than I would. Even though I didn't necessarily agree with Mr. Browne's book choices (yes, there is a list of books he recommends), I was pleasantly surprised at the accuracy of some of his observations about bookstores, about people who love books and about people who work in used bookstores. It was a lot of fun to read
this witty recounting of one person's journey through the world of book shopping and if you are looking for something light but intelligent to read, this might be the book.

2. Tattoo Machine. Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life in Ink by Jeff Johnson **

This is a memoir about...surprise, surprise...tattoos. Jeff Johnson is a tattoo artist (or a tattooer) who decided to put his experiences in tattoo world on paper. I wanted to read the book because I have a tattoo and even though it's the only one I ever will have (that's right, getting tattoos is not addictive and a person can live with just one), I am fascinated by them. Jeff Johnson tells a story of what tattoo artists really think of us, peons wanting to have one and how his life revolved around tattoo shops, pranks, drugs, sex and all the cliches one might expect from someone who does tattoos.

The book was okay. That's it. I did smirk here and there but I was mostly left dissatisfied and felt at times outright offended by Mr. Johnson. His attitude of 'I'm better than you are because I am a tattoo artist' really grated on my nerves. As you probably can tell from the last sentence in the previous paragraph, I was being intentionally snarky. Truth be told, if you want to read about the world of tattooing from the insider, you may want to read this one but I would recommend perusing the library instead of a bookstore. The content is from time to time quite interesting, some incidents from Mr. Johnson's life funny but I mostly had a feeling that the author felt lost himself while writing the book, because it felt disjointed at times, there were chapters or fragments within a chapter for which I couldn't quite I understand the reason. They mostly felt like 'fillers' just to meet the word requirements. Anyway, it's not a horrible book, it is readable but because of the tone of superiority, I took it personally and feel mostly negative about it.

* I received this book from the publisher for review.

** I won this book through GoodReads giveaway program.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Virtual Advent Tour 2009 - for kids, it's presents' time twice this month.

Today in Poland, children wake up to presents from St. Nicholas (Święty Mikołaj). I am writing about this particular country because I am a native of it and have only been living in the U.S for 8 years. I figured I would talk about two aspects of Advent and Christmas that are near & dear to me: tradition and religion.

Growing up, the best time of the year (right after summer vacation, of course) was always the whole month of December. I was raised in a devout Roman Catholic family and it had always been evident in how we celebrated holidays. And trust me we, kids had a lot of fun despite what some might think when 'devout Catholic' is mentioned. Anyway, here's the layout of what we did during the advent.
It all begins on November 30th when we celebrate the St. Andrew's day (Andrzejki - un'djeykee). It is the last day before the advent and the last day before Christmas to dance, drink (yes, adults have some crazy parties then), fool around and just be simply crazy. There is also a lot of pagan mystique in a form of fortune-telling, esp. regarding love, marriage and relationships (it's no surprise that pagan practices are used in Catholic traditions and to be honest with you I, together with other children, had always known that Polish tradition had a lot of pagan elements in it from the times before we had become a Christian country). For instance, people melt wax and pour it into cold water to see the shadows the melted wax makes on the walls - different shapes mean different things for the future and a lot of times it's just fun trying to figure out what your future holds. Anyway, I am digressing. St. Andrew's day, or rather night, is the time of celebration and fun because on December 1st the advent begins and lasts for 24 days, until first day of Christmas (the strike of midnight to be precise). Advent is the time of calm, quiet days when we would spend a lot of time praying and anticipating the birth of Jesus. Admittedly, it may seem a little strict for people who have never practiced it but it really wasn't overly so for us kids. We couldn't play any loud music, there were no parties, no dancing, no major celebrations such as weddings, christenings and such. It sometimes did seem a little tough but it made the celebration of Christmas that much more festive and happier.

The only little break for children is December 6th, Mikołajki (meekowaykee) - St. Nicholas' Day. This is the day (more specifically night of Dec. 5 & 6) when Santa Claus comes to children and leaves them presents under pillows, under beds or somewhere hidden. I remember this day to be tons of fun even though we didn't really get crazy gifts kids do nowadays (no Wii's, laptop computers and such). But as children we were on our best behavior for about three months prior to the St. Nicholas day because we truly believed that otherwise we would get coal or a rod instead of a present.
Today I am a mom, I live in a different country, different culture and I do not celebrate Mikołajki. My daughter is fully Americanized and even though she does speak Polish and I know she would love to get gifts twice this month, the whole thing just wouldn't have the same charm mainly because we (I mean my closest family) are not such orthodox Catholics. We do continue the Christmas Eve tradition though but I will talk about this one in another post (on Dec. 24).

For more talk about holidays, please visit Melissa @ Book Nut, Chris @ Stuff As Dreams Are Made On & Stephanie @ Stephanie's Confessions of a Bookaholic.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Show Me 5 Saturday

Ali from That's a Novel Idea has this cool meme which I decided to peruse when I am too lazy to write an actual review or simply don't think I have enough ideas to share about a book to create a cohesive post. Mind you, this will not have anything to do with the quality of the book.

Each Saturday You will post the answer to these questions. The number indicates the number of answers you will provide.

1. Book you read and/or reviewed this week

2. Words that describe the book

3. Settings where it took place or characters you met

4. Things you liked and/or disliked about it

5. Stars or less for your rating

1. The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale.

2. Women's Fiction

3. a) a Mormon wife and mother of four children, Becky;

b) her incredibly understanding and loving husband, Mike

c) a Hollywood celebrity and a British hearthrob, Felix Callahan

4. a) I liked Mike and wish that majority of husbands were that understanding in regards to their wives' friendships with very, very handsome male actors who used to be innocent secret crushes before having become so close;

b) I liked that Becky was really devoted to her marriage, loved her family and truly did appreciate how lucky and blessed she was being married to her true love and having four healthy, wonderful children;

c) I disliked the complete improbability and complete absurdity of the whole premise, I just couldn't make myself treat the book more seriously than as a simple chick lit;

d) I disliked the fact that I couldn't identify myself with any aspect of Becky's life despite being a mother and a wife myself; Becky is a picture-perfect of a housewife, loves baking pies, is a wonderful understanding mother who never loses control or goes temporarily insane; Becky pretty much is an ideal housewife and it made me feel a little guilty that I never was or will be anywhere near this model.

5. I would give it 3 stars if I were a rating kind of person.

Friday, December 4, 2009

My blogiversary giveaways results & some ponderings on blogging.

The giveaways ended, the anniversary has come and gone (time does fly pretty quickly) and soon it's time for Christmas tree, presents and such. The important ponderings I mentioned in the title concern my blogging of course (what else?). You all know (or most of you at least) how there are always some stumbling blocks in our 'blogging career'. There were for me in the past year, more than I care to list. The fear of failing kept me going through the tough times, my newly found deep interest in blogging helped me most of the time. I did catch myself noticing how easy it would be to just forget about the whole book blogging thing several times in the past year. I would get sick, not post for two weeks and then get thoughts of 'why even bother' kind. Or, I would just have emotional issues to work through and those emotional issues would drain all the energy and passion for anything out of me. I noticed that this type of funk was the most dangerous for me and I had to be on constant vigil to know when it was happening and not let it get in the way of my blogging to the point where I could give up and not look back. As the full year of blogging was coming around I was very close again to asking myself this horrid, dreaded question, " What is the point of blogging?". But then when I posted about my first anniversary, I got comments like this:

I wanted to say Congratulations, Lilly! That is so exciting! It is a big milestone in this world of blog here one day, blog gone the next. You should feel very proud of your accomplishment. Mine is coming up in January. I can't believe it! You seem to me like you have been blogging so much longer than I have. You are so good at it!

from Rebecca who has a quite awesome blog, Lost In Books, I might add.

or like this:

I just wanted to say Happy Blogiversary and I'm so happy to have met you!

from sweet, sweet Dar, the owner of lovely Peeking Between the Pages

or like this:

Woohoo Lilly, Happy 1st Blogoversary!!! It has been an absolute pleasure visiting your blog the past year!

from Teddyree, the most life-loving girl I ever had the pleasure to meet whose blog, The Eclectic Reader, is equally lovely.

And then there are congratulations and best wishes coming from my (may I say) personal blogging gurus, J. Kaye and Beth F. who have been there pretty much from the very beginning.

And Anna from Diary of an Eccentric, Amy from House of Seven Tails, and many many more wonderful bloggers who share the passion for reading with me.

This is what makes it all better, what gives what I do here meaning and real quality. All the wonderful, motivated, funny, inspirational people I had the honor to meet online in this blogging world. I simply wouldn't have the heart in the end to not only say goodbye to book blogging but to all of the girls I have met and look forward to what they write daily and the prospect of meeting many more of fellow bookaholics. How can I say no to that? I can't.

I thank you all for visiting my blog throughout the year and stopping by to congratulate me (trust me, I read every single comment) and I hope my life will not get in the way too much next year.

Whew, let's move on to what you really want to know. I have chosen the winners of all three giveaways.

The winner of my romance giveaway is:

Blodeuedd from Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell!!!

The winner of the thrillers' giveaway is:

Carol M.!!!

The winner of the sci-fi giveaway is:


The winners have been notified by email and I have received the responses to the first two giveaways. However, I still haven't heard from winner n0. 3 (sci-fi) and I hope that I will withing the next two days. If not, then on Monday I will choose another winner.

Okay, this is it. No more rumblings of my demented mind for today.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Chunkster Challenge 2009 & J. Kaye's 100+ Reading Challenge completed

I am slowly but surely getting nearer to my goal of completing the challenges I signed up for in 2009. I know that I will not be finishing Ban On Spending Challenge hosted by wonderful Drey. I have way too many books to practice the restraint in buying any new ones until the books I own are read. However, I decided to just make my own little challenge out of it and simply try and see how many books of my own I can read next year as opposed to the ones I buy and get as review copies.

Let's move on to the challenge I did manage to complete:

I. Chunkster Challenge 2009 hosted by Dana. I really liked this challenge and I am very sad to say that Dana will not be hosting it in 2010 due to many things that have happened in her personal life. I read her post, it almost broke my heart how much this girl had to go through and I hope and wish that 2010 will be the best year yet for Dana. I signed up for the Mor-book-ly Obese option and read 14 chunksters (which were 450 pages or more).

1.The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber (466 pages)

2.The Book Thief by Markus Zusak(553 pages)

3.Gauntlet by Richard Aaron (488 pages)

4.The Hellfire Club by Peter Straub (463 PAGES)

5.Wizard by Trade by Jim Butcher (598 Pages)

6. The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham (490 pages) -

7. The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis (509 pages)

8. The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins (626 pages)

9. The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory (514 pages) -

10. Labyrinth by Kate Mosse (487 pages)

11. Annette Vallon by James Tipton (480 pages)

12. God is an Englishman by R.F. Delderfield ( 634)

13. The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner (563 pages)

14. To Serve Them All My Days by R. F. Delderfield (594 pages)

My two most favorite authors were Wallace Stegner and R.F. Delderfield. Their books were the ones that left the biggest impression on me and my mood and I am glad I discovered them as they definitely are making their way towards my all-time favorite authors list.

The book I disliked was The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory. This title brought the number of Gregory's books I read to three and with it I begin to think that maybe Ms. Gregory is a kind of a one-trick pony for me. I really enjoyed her The Other Boleyn Girl, I was somewhat disappointed by the Queen's Fool and there was just absolutely nothing for me in The Boleyn Inheritance.

II. J. Kaye's 100+ Reading Challenge

I have also managed to complete J.Kaye's 100+ Reading Challenge. As of today, I have read 101 books and obviously I will read more before the end of the year but the official challenge is completed. All I have to say is I am very astonished and proud of myself. I had never thought that I would manage to read more than 30 books in a year before I started blogging and signed up for this challenge. It is therefore a great accomplishment for me that I read over one hundred books in one year. I decided to not post the whole list here but to provide you with a link to my Google Doc if you wish to peek into what books I read this year.

Lilly's 101 books read for J. Kaye's 100+ Reading Challenge

I reviewed only about 60 titles from the list. My goal as far this blog is concerned was never to review every book I read but only the ones I had to (ARC, review copies) or the ones I felt strongest about (positive or negative). There are no links to reviews on the list. It would be a lot of work and besides, writing monthly wrap up posts had to have some reason behind it, didn't it? My Monthly Reads will have direct links to all the books I reviewed so if you are interested in what I thought about a certain title that would be a place to start. There are also many other useful tools that all other bloggers employ as well, i.e. 'the search' box, all labels where you can click on reviews, a particular genre or even an author's name.

Anyway, I enjoyed this wonderful challenge and will definitely be signing up for 2010 even though I highly doubt that with a newborn in the house I'll have enough time to even read half that amount.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

2009 Virtual Advent Tour

Kailana from The Written Word and Marg from Reading Adventures put together another round of Virtual Advent Tour. The gist of it is:

Each day anyone who wants to participate takes turns sharing a treat with our friends here in blogland. For example it could be something about your family traditions, recipes, your country's holiday traditions, or a favourite Christmas memory, movie, book, song...anything you like. Even if you don't celebrate Christmas we would like to hear about what your family does during the holiday season, whether it be celebrating Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or whatever it is that you do during this time.

I found out about this event from BethFishReads' post "Getting Involved In The Blogging Community" about all the holiday events going around the blogosphere. The post is a lot of help and a fantastic tool that makes it possible for bloggers to know about all kinds neat December happenings.

I didn't get a chance to participate in it last year but I am very happy and excited to make up for it this year. So happy in fact that I will be posting twice, on Dec. 6th & Dec. 24th. I think that the tour is a grand idea and will be impatiently waiting to read evrybody else's posts because the whole world, each family's traditions are full of wonders and I like to know as much about it as possible. Somehow I feel this knowledge will make me richer and I can maybe even incorporate some of it into my own.

The tour is going on from December 1st to December 24th and there are tons of bloggers participating. If you are as excited and curious about holidays in other homes, you can find a list and dates of all bloggers writing about their own traditions right here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Weekly Geeks: Top Ten

Weekly Geeks asks us today:

For the second year in a row, we're asking book bloggers to help put together a top 10 list of books published in 2009.

I encourage you to read the whole post Jackie wrote because it is very interesting and it talks about the originator of Weekly Geeks, our dear Dewey. It also explains in details how the Top Ten list should be put together. It is pretty much made out of the best books we have read published in 2009 (no re-issues). When I first read it I actually thought I would not be able to come up with 10 titles deserving the spot of the best ones. I did however, quite easily too.

One thing I would like you all to keep in mind is that some of these titles, while on the top published-in-2009 list, would probably not make it on the top ten books read in 2009. But they are still great books worth your time and attention.

Finally just to give you some perspective and a bigger picture: in 2009 I read a total of 52 books published in 2009, therefore the ten I put together beat 42 other contenders.

And now, taa daaa (meaning, the list)*:

1. A Child's Journey Out of Autism by Leeann Whiffen - memoir

2. The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham - historical fiction

3. BoneMan's Daughters by Ted Dekker - thriller

4. Afraid by Jack Kilborn - horror

5. Finding Grace by Donna VanLiere - inspirational memoir

6. A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal - memoir

7. Follow Me by Joanna Scott - contemporary American fiction

8. Worst Nightmares by Shane Briant - horror/thriller

9. Traveling With Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd & Ann Kidd Taylor - memoir

10. A Circle of Souls by Preetham Grandhi - thriller

* The books are listed in order I read them

Friday, November 20, 2009

First Anniversary Giveaway No. 3

For the last giveaway I am offering two Sci-Fi titles and again both books will go to one winner. I am very happy with the response so far and thank you all who left me warm and encouraging comments regarding my blogiversary. It was very heartwarming to read them all. And now the books:

1. Hyperion by Dan Simmons


On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope--and a terrible secret. And one may hold the
fate of humanity in his hands.

2. Titan by Stephen Baxter


Humankind's greatest—and last—adventure!

Possible signs of organic life have been found on Titan, Saturn's largest moon. A group of visionaries led by NASA's Paula Benacerraf plan a daring one-way mission that will cost them everything. Taking nearly a decade, the billion-mile voyage includes a "slingshot" transit of Venus, a catastrophic solar storm, and a constant struggle to keep the ship and crew functioning. But it is on the icy surface of Titan itself that the true adventure begins. In the orange methane slush the astronauts will discover the secret of life's origins and reach for a human destiny beyond their wildest dreams.

Giveaway rules:

1. All three titles are one prize for one (1) winner.

2. The giveaway will last until November 30th so some lucky person will get a nice Christmas present.

3. Because I appreciate all of you, the giveaway is open to all countries, all over the world.

4. All you have to do is just leave me a comment with your email address if I can't contact you any other way.

Good luck to you all!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

First Anniversary Giveaway No. 2

As promised, today I have a 'thrilling' giveaway in lieu of my blog's first birthday. Below are the three books descriptions and the whole bounty will go to one winner.

1. A Simple Plan by Scott Smith

From Publishers Weekly:

Once one accepts the bizarre premise of Smith's astonishingly adept, ingeniously plotted debut thriller, the book fulfills every expectation of a novel of suspense, leading the reader on a wild exploration of the banality of evil. Indeed, it is difficult to believe that a tyro writer could have produced so controlled and assured a narrative. When Hank Mitchell, his obese, feckless brother Jacob and Jacob's
smarmy friend Lou accidentally find a wrecked
small plane and its dead pilot in the woods near their small Ohio town, they decide not to tell the authorities about the $4.4 million stuffed into a duffel bag. Instead, they agree to hide the money and later divide it among themselves. The "simple plan'' sets in motion a spiral of blackmail, betrayal and multiple murder which Smith manipulates with consummate skill, increasing the tension exponentially with plot twists that are inevitable and unpredictable at the same time. In choosing to make his protagonist an ordinary middle-class man -- Hank is an accountant in a feed and grain store -- Smith demonstrates the eerie ease with which the mundane can descend to the unthinkable. Hank commits the first murder to protect his brother and their secret; he eerily rationalizes the ensuing coldblooded deeds while remaining outwardly normal, hardly an obvious psychopath. Smith's imagination never palls; the writing peaks in a gory liquor store scene that's worthy of comparison to Stephen King at his best.

2. On the Fifth Day by A. J. Hartley

From Publishers Weekly:

In Hartley's newest, disgraced English teacher Thomas Knight confronts a church conspiracy of silence surrounding the death of his brother, Father Edward Knight, while on a research trip in the Philippines. Looking to make sense of it all, Thomas's search leads him from Italy to Japan to the site of his brother's death, all the while narrowly escaping agents of unknown origin who seem hellbent on stopping him. With the distinction between friends and enemies becoming more fluid all the time, Knight falls in with his ex-wife at the State Department, a priestly colleague of his brother's and a murderous biologist to discover a secret that threatens, yes, the very foundations of Christianity. Not only is Hartley's novel well paced, with enough twists and turns to keep most thriller fans satisfied, he avoids the missteps of most attempts to cash in on the Da Vinci Codezeitgeist by focusing on the faithful rather than freewheeling conspiracies; his is a welcome take that considers thoughtfully, if at times clumsily, issues of belief and doubt. Though the action occasionally snags on some repetitive character details, this slam-bang title is a very fun, surprisingly satisfying read.

3. The Killing Ground by Jack Higgins

From Publishers Weekly:

After almost two score books, many of them bestsellers, Higgins ("Without Mercy") knows how to fire up a thriller. In the first half-dozen pages, he establishes his London locale; reintroduces recurring lead Sean Dillon, the colorful former IRA man turned British intelligence antiterrorism op; has Sean shoot a smalltime hood's ear off; and intimates there are much bigger fish to fry beyond the hood's Russian employer. The real villain is a Muslim extremist of the al-Qaeda variety: Hussein Rashid, aka the Hammer of God, and one of the most successful assassins alive, with 27 certified kills of American and British soldiers and Iraqi politicians. Hussein has his sights set on Charles Ferguson, head of British intelligence. It's a longstanding grudge, complicated by the recent kidnapping of Hussein's promised bride, his 13-year-old cousin Sara, who was earlier kidnapped by Hussein himself. The proceedings are complicated; it helps if the reader is a veteran of this long-running series. But it's all pure Higgins: almost every shot hits square between the eyes, and all the characters are hard lads indeed.

Giveaway rules:

1. All three titles are one prize for one (1) winner.

2. The giveaway will last until November 30th so some lucky person will get a nice Christmas present.

3. Because I appreciate all of you, the giveaway is open to all countries, all over the world.

4. All you have to do is just leave me a comment with your email address if I can't contact you any other way.

Good luck to you all and remember to come back tomorrow for a Science-fiction giveaway.