Books are cheaper than heroin, but they DO add up....

Amy, Carrie, Chanin and Sarah buy (and read and review) their own stuff. They've been known to shop around from dealer to dealer looking for the best price. If you're interested in slipping them something to try out, just contact us.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown and Ron Burgundy

The premise of this story is pretty simple.  Three grown sisters find themselves living in their childhood home with their parents for various reasons.  While they deal with one another and their mother's health crisis, they must ultimately confront the issues that brought them home.  They're sisters, but they're not necessarily friends.
That's me, Carrie, and Amy at our last family gathering. OK, fine it's not.  You can tell it's not us because we don't smoke.  (It's an image from  Approaching Shakespeare. )

Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia Andreas look alike but are so dissimilar in personality that it's difficult to reconcile they have the same parents.  Rose is the practical, pragmatic academic.  She followed in her father's footsteps (her minor rebellion being a love of mathematics rather than The Bard, as her father is a Shakespeare scholar and marked all three of his daughters with Shakespearean names) and chose to become a professor.  She is in close contact and close proximity with her parents.  She loves the small college town (somewhere in Ohio) where she and her sisters were raised, and where her parents still reside.  She loves the known; the people, the paths, the daily life.  So when her fiance throws her a curve ball in the form of a trans-Atlantic move in the midst of her mother's fight with breast cancer, Rose retreats home to help and to retreat.  It isn't until her sisters arrive unexpectedly that she is forced to admit that she might need to analyze her choices.

Bianca (Bean) is running from a very different life that she made in New York City.  She fled her hometown and all that she knew as soon as possible after college.  She has been living in NYC for years with a good job, and yet there was a hole there she couldn't fill no matter how many men she seduced or shoes she bought.  Her lifestyle gets her fired though, and she finds herself in debt and suffering from a deeply troubled conscience.  She shows up at home to nurse her wounds and form a plan so she can eventually leave her home again.  But though she understands that she did things the wrong way before, she can't stop herself from making some of the same mistakes and seeking to find fulfillment in the wrong way again.  It is finally realizing that she can be a part of her family without having to define herself in the negatives of her sisters (she is NOT practical like Rose, she is NOT charismatic like Cordelia) and rather the positives of herself (she IS smart, she IS good at other things besides dressing well), that allows her to start healing.  Being at home with her sisters lets her open up and look more closely at what lies beneath her polished and perfectly manicured exterior.

Cordelia is the youngest and is the freest of spirit.  She's been living the life of a nomad up until the point that some of her father's (all Shakespeare quotes, of course) letters catch up to her.  Through the outdated letters, she learns that Rose is engaged to be married and that her mother is sick.  Two good reasons to find her way back to her hometown and family.  And then there's the little matter of realizing she's pregnant.  With no other secure place to turn, she finds her way home.  There she reconciles that she may have until now allowed life to happen to her, and if she is to be a mother she will have to become the master of her life and the life of her child.  She is scared to tell her family and scared to look closely at her life and choices.  She doesn't feel suffocated at home like Bianca, but she doesn't need the familiarity like Rose.  She needs to find stability and the courage to grow up. And she needs to figure out what it is she wants so she can go about making that happen.  No small task, to be sure.

Totally us.
The book is an entertaining, mostly easy read.  Obviously, there's quite a bit of Shakespeare, but I don't think anyone will mind.  I mean, he did have a way with words and whatnot.  Probably the most interesting part of the book, was the voice in which it was written.  It's as if the three weird (weird here meaning supernatural in a sense, like the witches in Macbeth) sisters have an overriding communal voice.  It's not written as the voice of any one sister, but rather like all three sisters share an omniscient viewpoint even when the story line follows one sister individually.  It's a unique way to tell a story and I liked it, after I figured out there wasn't some never-before-discussed fourth sister writing this down.  While the book is about sisters, I think anyone who has siblings can relate to the family dynamic that moves the storylines along.  As for me and my sisters, they'll be none of that double, double, toil and trouble nonsense.  I mean, we've read the book so we would never make the same mistakes, right?

And! As if that review wasn't entertainment enough! Let me present to you, Ron Burgundy (getting ready to give the world a sequel, in case you hadn't heard), letting the people of ESPN know they're doomed.  Which is what a lot of people thought early on in the network's life.  Don't believe me? Read the book (or at least the review).

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

Don't use too much energy.
Be happy!
Wanna hear something a little crazy?  That smiley face over there ==>
 is enough to convince you to keep your energy use lower than your neighbor's.  For real.

Want to figure out how to do the responsible thing with your next pay raise and put the money into a retirement plan or savings account?  Ask your employee to start a Save More Tomorrow program where the money is automatically deposited.  They work like a charm. Also, for real.

Both of these revelations are found in Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein.  Thaler and Sunstein recommend that choice architects (anyone responsible for making choices available, whether it's human resources staff, the government, or the people who set up a cafeteria line) structure options according to paternal libertarianism.  The idea IS to provide choices instead of limiting choices or making decisions for other people, but to structure or arrange the choices so that the "good" choice, the best choice for the choosers, is easily accessible and painless.

Here's an example I've already referenced: Save More Tomorrow programs.  Most companies recognize that it is in their employees best interests to save money for retirement.  Yet, most of us are miserable at saving because we already spend all the money we make.  How could we squeeze out enough from our monthly budgets to allow for retirement savings?  What would we willingly give up? Saving today is hard, but saving more tomorrow is much easier.  If companies want to encourage employees to save money in 401ks or IRAs, they simply need to set up a program that allows employees to designate that part (or all) of future raises will automatically go into a retirement account.  That way no one needs to make any adjustments to their current budgets.  The temptation of spending the money is also removed because the savings are deposited separately at the same time as the rest of the the paycheck. Most employees will keep doing this for as long as they work for that employer.  By giving us choices, but making sure to include an easy and mostly painless option to do the right thing, employers can practice paternal libertarianism.

Another almost frightening example is the influence of the smiley face on energy consumption.   Utility companies know that transparent displays of consumption can convince high users of energy to lower their consumption, so if your power bill shows you that you use noticeably more power than your neighbors you'll try and reign in your energy use.  Unfortunately, transparent displays of consumption have the opposite effect on low users of energy.  If your power bill shows that you use less energy than your neighbors do, you'll ramp up your usage.  Apparently, that information works as a cue that you could be using more UNLESS the power company provides another cue, the smiley face, to encourage you to keep your consumption low.

Crazy, isn't it? That the littlest, most innocuous cue could have that much influence?  Nudge is full of examples of how little changes in the way choices are presented alters which option is chosen.  It's a fascinating read, and despite the academic backgrounds of the authors (both are University of Chicago faculty) it's an easy read, too.  I recommend it.  It can change the way you make your own decisions and they way you set up options for others.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo

I will be the first to admit that I have a horrible memory.  If you tell me something today it is very likely I will not even remember talking to you tomorrow.  Scary, I know.  And it's even more true with books.  I can read a book, really like it, recommend it to friends, but then forget what it is about in less than a week.  This happens in most all cases except with the book Heaven is For Real. This is one book I remember vividly and it's not just because there is a cute little boy on the front cover.  This book knocked my socks off.

Heaven is For Real recounts the story of Burpo's son, Colton, and his recollection of when he entered heaven. Colton, then age four, slipped into a coma while undergoing surgery to combat a near-fatal illness.  More than four months after his surgery and miraculous recovery, Colton started to recount his time in heaven.  Little bit, by little bit, Colton volunteered information about things he saw, heard and experienced while "sitting on Jesus' lap."  Totally unprovoked, little Colton told his parents things he had no way of knowing.  He told of meeting his unborn sister (his mom had miscarried years before but had never told Colton), someone who claimed he was he great-grandfather "Pop", but younger and without glasses, and about how he saw his dad praying in a tiny room in the hospital and his mom crying and talking on the phone in the waiting room while he was undergoing surgery.  The story is told by the father but uses mostly Colton's words and child-like details.  I think it is for that reason I can still remember almost the entire book. Well, that and the fact that it was easy to read and very, very, emotional.

I am sure I looked like a mess over the two days it took me to read this book.  I either had my mouth open in utter amazement at the images from heaven Colton was describing to his parents or I was in full-on ugly cry mode.  There really was no middle ground.  The book has sold over 2.5 million copies and it is easy to see why.  It is written in a very simplistic and easy to read manner.  To me, it was a parent telling a story about a very scary, emotional and then enlightening time in his life with a smattering of toddler all mixed in.  I could relate to that.  In some ways, it was even fun.  I could not wait to hear more about heaven and what it is like for my loved ones that are there right now.  To hear heaven described by an innocent four-year-old was even more special.   Some critics have written that they read this book with a fine tooth comb, trying to find something at fault with it.  Surely, they thought, this was too good to be true.  Not at all, in my estimation.  As am parent, I read this book and was reminded that every day we have with our children is a gift.  As a Christian, I read this book and was reminded of His love, comfort and promise.  But most of all, I read this book and was thankful that heaven really is for real. 

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Monday, March 19, 2012

11/22/63 by Stephen King

If I seem a bit tired, it's because I've been doing a bit of time travel as of late. First, I got stuck in a loop in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children which I reviewed over on our little sister blog BeTween Books. Then Mr. King sent me back in time to save President Kennedy. That's a lot of space-time continuum frequent flier miles. 

This book is huge: 800 some pages to be not-so-exact. There's a ton of research that went into the writing of this, but none of it gets in the way of the story. Books upon books upon books have been written, researched, fabricated, and debunked on the subject of Kennedy's assassination and all the possible conspiracy theories. This is not a book about the history of that day so much as a story of some key players in that moment. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself, because that doesn't even come until the second part of the book. Jake is a high school English teacher who also teaches some GED English classes. He becomes close to one particular student, a custodian at the high school, when an essay assignment reveals a family tragedy from Halloween of 1958. When Jake takes the custodian out for a celebratory dinner at a local diner, Jake's life gets more complicated.

 The diner owner, Al, has discovered that his storeroom contains a "rabbit hole"; a staircase to September 9, 1958. Al has been using the rabbit hole to gather information and create a plan to right what he considers the biggest wrong in the history of the US (post 1958 that is), which is Kennedy's assassination. What Al has learned during his trips back is that every time is a re-set - so whatever you do in a previous trip like saving a life is undone if you go back into the rabbit hole later - and though you may live in the rabbit hole for years, and you yourself will age for that amount of time spent in the past, you will only be gone from the present for two minutes. He was planning to save Kennedy himself but Al's health has other ideas. He is in the end stages of lung cancer and so he takes a chance and asks Jake to not only believe his story of time travel, but to take up his mission as well.

 What follows is Jake's story. The story of how he went down the rabbit hole and saved a girl from a stray bullet and a hunter from a lifetime of remorse. The story of how he stopped a man apart from destroying what he had a hand in creating. The story of how he traveled the US in a by-gone era, making friends and enemies along the way. The story of how he became a part of a community and fell in love. The story of how he stopped a man from shooting three times from a corner window in a book depository. The story of how the past does not want to be changed.  And the story of how he had to decide if it was worth it. In my opinion all 800 plus pages of this story are worth it.

Photo of John F. KennedyI'd love to get into a discussion about how I feel we often idolize those cut down in their primes; whether they were famous or not. And how what would have been their greatness is the easiest argument to make because time has made it impossible to prove you wrong. There were so many parallels between the political situation during the time frame of the book and what we are experiencing now. Many people, like Al, use that day as a demarcation line - a watershed - that will be used as the reference for "before" and "after." But the truth of the matter is, we do not know what would have happened if Camelot had not been ended early. Maybe President Kennedy would not have been able to avoid scandal, maybe he would have reconsidered his stands on equal rights, maybe he would have compromised or maybe he would have been everything everyone was hoping and more. But the discussion about Kennedy (or anyone else lost too early) would ultimately end the same way. We can never know what would have been due to what did happen. Unless, of course, we find a rabbit hole.  Even then....rabbit holes can be tricky.
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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Kill Switch by Neal Baer & Jonathan Greene

These guys aren't in the book,
but Meloni did offer his praises.
So it turns out that all kinds of storytelling are not equal.

Which you probably already knew.

But Kill Switch makes that apparent, in my opinion.  Others may disagree.  And, actually, they did on Amazon, so take this review with a grain of salt and remember that YMMV (your mileage may vary).  Kill Switch was written by Neal Baer (producer and showrunner for Law & Order: SVU) and Jonathan Greene (producer and writer for the same).  I've always been really fond of L&O:SVU, and I was excited to see that two of the people responsible for the show had written a book.  It's their first book, and I think it shows. I also think it's likely that at least one of the authors is related to Charles Dickens, because "Holy unlikely intertwining plot lines, Batman", there's a lot going on here.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Kill Switch is the story of a forensic psychologist, Claire Waters, and her first case in a new fellowship program.   She quickly decides that her new patient has ties to a string of unsolved murders that Detective Nick Lawler is trying to solve.  The two of them get off to a rocky start, but they eventually work well together.  Claire has some serious baggage, and Nick has a BIG secret and his own complicated backstory, so they characters are flawed.  They're still likable, and if the story had been a straightforward police procedural or psychological thriller, I would have been happy with it.  Based on the characters alone I would have probably given the book a high three or low four on a five-star scale.

If only.

Alas, in solving the original string of murders, Nick and Claire also solve the decades old crime that is responsible for Claire's baggage.  In that process, the entire book takes a super-secret-spy-government-defense-contractor-bio-warfare twist.  The plot zigs, and it zags, and then it twists again!  There's internal conflict (with both main characters) AND multiple external conflicts. At some point, I figured either Mme. Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities or the Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files was going to show up.  Again, "Holy unlikely intertwining plot lines, Batman!" It was almost like two TV producers were afraid that absent the moving pictures and tension-building soundtracks of television they couldn't maintain a sense of suspense without adding multiple layers to the story.

Still, I did like Claire and Nick, so I would read another book with these characters.  In sticking with my first allusion to a five-star scale, I would give Kill Switch a low three.  It's not a bad book, it's just a lot of plot to get through. Pin It

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma

Germs are bad. Book
fair germs are the worst.
Twice a year, I volunteer at the book fair at my daughter's school.  It's a full week of practicing my money counting skills (have you ever counted out $14.50 in pennies and nickels?  Because I have.), aggressive use of hand sanitzer, and helping youngsters understand that their money would be better spent on an actual book and not on a Justin Bieber poster.  But really, what it boils down to is I get to sit for five days straight and be surrounded by books.  (Yes, some of my mom besties are there sucking down coffee and diet soda with me but it is really all about the books). 

Last month, between classes of second graders and the recess rush I found The Reading Promise in the "section where all the moms and teachers shop."  It is a true story about a young girl and her father that make a promise to read togther (he reads outloud to her for at least 10 minutes) every night for 100 nights.  It seems daunting, yet they persevere.  Once they reach their goal Alice, an 11-year-old, suggests they go for something bigger...1000 nights.  As a single dad and elementary school librarian, her father Jim excitedly agrees.  To make a long story very short, "The Streak" continues until she is 18 and goes off to college.  To be exact, the streak continues for 3,218 nights.  That is 3,218 nights of reading regardless of the circumstances.  Nothing stood in the way...not laryngitis, hours of high school homework or even prom.  It's a story of their shared committment to reading but more importantly to each other.

I loved it.  At times I thought both the father and daughter were a bit TOO dependent on each other as well as a little too dependent on this streak.   I wanted them to enjoy each other more outside of the reading each night, but since it was a healthy dependency (she still went on dates and was in school plays) I could overlook their sometimes abundant closeness. 

And while some critics found the fact that Alice would sit close to her dad and lay in the crook of his arm when he read to her to be more disturbing the older she got, I found it refreshing.  Why shouldn't a daughter want to sit next to her dad while he reads to her?  In fact, I believe that if more young girls had healthy relationships with their fathers during their adolescent and teen years they would be saving themselves from some UNhealthy relationships in the future. 

Not only did this book make me miss my dad more, it solidified in me the importance of reading to my children.  I read to my kids two, three and sometimes four times a day when they were infants and toddlers.  Now that they are school-aged I sometimes forget that they still need to be read to.  If nothing else, it is dedicated time carved into each day where they can have my undivided attention. My only problem is that my children have very different tastes in reading (do they make an atlas/Harry Potter/weather encyclopdia type book?). I need to find one if they do.

The coolest part of this book are the last few pages.  There is where you can find a list of all of the books Alice and her dad read during "The Streak."  I find it to be an outstanding resource and really enjoyed seeing how many of them I had read, were read to me, or that I have read to my children. 

The next time you're at the library or the book store, pick up a copy of The Reading Promise.  And then maybe some hand sanitizer, too.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Shack by Wm. Paul Young

I read this book and wrote the review (in a book journal I keep) about two and a half years ago.  I know this book has been read by many of you, but I thought I would post this while I finish up about three different books.  That way I can think about the other books and hear from you about this particular book as well.  I will say, that I'm never sure I "get" what I'm supposed to "get" from books written with obvious religious purpose.  That does not mean I don't like them, but there's always a Doubting Sarah voice in my head telling me that better people understand the book on a deeper level.  It's a small voice and I don't like her, but she pops up every once in awhile.  With this particular book, I had a hard time separating my mothering emotions from the rest of the story (I was pregnant with my second at the time I read this).  I always wonder if the child is frightened in situations such as this, or situations of abuse, and if they're able to feel God's love around them despite the fear.  And then I can't think about anything else and I end up crying in an airport and wishing I could hug every kid around me, cause who knows what might happen?  And don't we all deserve to physically feel love and kindness? And then I stop crying because there was a short circuit between my head and my heart.  But I still want to hug all the kids I see.  That's frowned upon, in case you were wondering. are my thoughts about this book but what I really want to know is what were your thoughts?

Truthfully, I'm not sure what to make of this one.  I picked it up at O'Hare on my way home from Carrie's and I read it quickly.  Thought I'm still not sure if I truly understand or am taking the right things away from it.....but I guess just the wondering is part of the book's goal.

Mr. Young is telling this story for his friend Mac.  Mac's little girl was kidnapped and murdered by a serial killer while Mac had his kids on a camping trip.  Mac's relationship with God was already cautious, but after that tragedy it became contentious.  After receiving a note from "Papa" to meet at the shack (where his daughter was killed), he goes not knowing what to expect.

He spends the weekend with three representations of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  He asks questions, makes judgments, walks on water, sees his daughter, heals his relationship with his dead father and ultimately decides to go back to the "real" world when given the choice to stay in this alternate existence/reality/fugue state.  Mac wakes up in a hospital after a terrible car accident.  There are more details, but I think the point is that God loves us despite and because of ourselves even when we struggle to do the same.
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Monday, March 5, 2012

Carrie's Top Five for The Family Addiction

Color me baffled.
I had no idea I read so much non-fiction this year.
I demand a recount.  Except, that, um, these are MY calculations that leave me so baffled.  By my count, of the 30 literary works I reviewed during the first year of The Family Addiction, I can classify almost all of those works as equal parts fantasy (7), romance (7), mystery (7), and non-fiction (7).

Equal parts non-fiction?

How did that happen?

I am a self-proclaimed escapist reader.  Just look at my profile page!  Serious reading = work reading.  Fun reading = steampunk, detectives, and happily ever after.  (Not, of course, all in the same story.)

Perhaps I tried to make myself look like a smarter reader once I realized I'd need to admit, aloud (or online, at least), what I read in my free time.  Except . . . once you remove the two China books I read for work-related reasons, every one of those non-fiction books was something that really appealed to me. That's so weird.

As there will be no recount, how about we just pretend this little fact-finding mission never happened? Then do me a favor and don't count how many non-fiction books made my top five list.  That way I can go back to thinking of reading as escapism instead of work.

As we approached our first blogiversary last Wednesday, it seemed right for Sarah, Amy and me to write recap posts (of sorts).  We settled on this top five list because it mirrored the list of five favorites we post over there. ==>

(We may move those soon to our profile pages, but for now, they're really over there. ==>)

Picking a top five wasn't easy for me.  Some of my favorite authors wrote books that were good, but not as great as their best work.  Some of my favorite authors were reviewed by my sisters.  Some pod people took over my body and had me reading outside my comfort area.  (I might have made up that last one.)  I decided that my top five needed to be books that I would enthusiastically recommend, without reservation, because that, after all, is the whole point of The Family Addiction.

And here they are:

5) China Road by Rob Gifford  Last April I wrote "It should've read like the road trip from hell--two months traveling 2,998 miles from Shaghai to the China-Kazahkstan border. Instead, it read like the end of a really good date the author never wanted to end, the kind where he keeps delaying the inevitable good-bye. Arguably, a two-month trip through China via taxi, truck and bus may be longest and oddest end of a date on record, but it was a lovely good-bye nonetheless."

This book was a labor of love and labor of hard-earned insight.  If you struggle with the endless possibility and the imminent threat that China seems to be, you should read China Road.

4) River Marked by Patricia Briggs In this review, I admitted that I spend insane amounts of time wondering how I might fit into the fictional lives of my favorite fictional people.  What can I say? Patricia Briggs writes such good stuff I can't help myself. As I wrote in my review, River Marked is the sixth book in a series, and I adore the entire series.  I think what makes this book so amazing is that it's so complete.  All the pieces of Mercy's life fit together in the plot.  Plus, what's not to love about a VW mechanic?

3) The Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe  This was a new author for me, but I after I posted this review on February 20, I ran straight to the library to get two more books by the same author.  Happily, one of those books follows The Sword-Edged Blonde in a series.  Here's how I characterized Eddie LaCrosse, the protagonist of this series.  "See, Eddie is tough guy, a sword for hire.  Living in a place that feels a little bit Medieval Times and a little bit Tombstone, Eddie makes a living by his wits, by his word, by his weapon.  I don't want to date Eddie, and I really don't want to be Eddie, but I would love to have a guy like Eddie at my back.  When you're in a pinch, and you need someone discreet to straighten out your mess, Eddie is your guy. He's a little bit Sam Spade, little bit Harry Dresden, and whole lot of Easy Rawlins."  Just like in River Marked, what's not to love?

2) Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard So, President Garfield held the Oval Office for all of about six minutes because of delusions of grandeur on the part of the man who shot him and the man who doctored him.  Destiny of the Republic outlines this story in a compelling and revealing manner.  If you think underhanded political behavior is a new twist on democracy, you should read this book.

I always cry along with tears of joy.
1) The Help by Kathryn Stockett  I loved this book even as it made me cry in sympathy and ache in frustration.  You may have seen the movie.  You should know that Octavia Spencer won an Oscar for her portrayal of the best damn cook in Jackson.
I think you should read The Help because, in my own words, it's "a story about the way we are when we think no one (or no one of consequence) is looking. This is a story about the way we are with people we don't understand and don't know. This is the story about the way we are with children; with our friends; with privilege; with adversity. I hope you read it. I hope it speaks to you, too, because it is, simply, a story about the way we are."

So that's my contribution to The Family Addiction for this first year.  What do you think? Have you read these books? You should!  As the second year of this blog rolls along, what do you think I should read?  

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Amy's Top Five for The Family Addiction

In honor of our blogiversary (yes, I know that was technically earlier this week, but we like to stretch things out a bit around here) it is my turn to take a trip down memory lane.  This past year I reviewed 29 books for The Family Addiction. Wow.  That was a lot of reading!  And typing!  And ignoring my household duties! Yay! You would think that composing a list of my top five favorites should be easy, right?  Wrong.  It would actually be easier for me to list my top five LEAST favorites that I have reviewed this year (I'm looking at YOU, Sweet Valley High Confidential: 10 Years Later).  When I don't like something, I REALLY don't like something.  But when I like something, I LOVE something and there were a lot of books that I LOVED this year.  I'll do my best to break them down for you here. 

5.  Crush by Alan Jacobson
Months later, I still find myself comparing female crime fighters in books and even on TV to Karen Vail.  She is tough in a male-dominated profession and yet has a likable feminine side to her also.  She balances her duties as mom, cop and girlfriend the best she can, even when surrounded by a gruesome murder during what was supposed to be her vacation.  It didn't hurt that this particular mystery was set in California; more specifically the wine country. Jacobson crafted some memorable characters in a realistic setting and I am looking forward to reading more.

4.  Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger
Again, love the strong crime-fighting main character in this one.  This time it's an ex-sheriff of a sleepy Minnesota town by the name of Cork O'Connor.  He's Irish, rugged and no-nonsense.  Cork's main focus is finding the truth even if it means he has to make some major sacrifices on his part.  He is part loving dad, part loyal ex-sheriff and part torn ex-husband.  Bonus:  there are ten more Cork O'Connor novels for me (and you!) to read.

3.  My Blood Approves by Amanda Hocking
Finally a vampire novel I could read without being annoyed!  And this one even made my top five list!  Hocking made her mark as an e-publishing dynamo with this series that she wrote in her spare time. Even though it is a young adult novel, I didn't FEEL like a young adult when I read it.  The characters are mature without taking themselves too seriously.  The book is fun, short and is exactly what I want in a paranormal romance. 

2.  There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz
I was blown away by how much this book affected and still affects me.  Set in Chicago, There Are No Children Here is the story of real life for two young men raised in the Henry Horner homes. The day-to-day living of these particular boys was riveting and heart-breaking at the same time.  Drugs, crime and poverty invaded every moment of their lives in the early 1990's.  What could just a few more dollars and a little bit more opportunity have done for them?  Would their lives have been any different?  I wish I knew.

1.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Surprised?  You shouldn't be.  I talk about this book all the time!  By far my favorite book this year.  If you haven't read it DO.IT.NOW.  (Sarah...this means you!).  Almost daily, I see where more and more people are reading this book or have teenagers that are reading this book. What is all the fuss about? Set in the future after the fall of the North America, the country of Panem now exists in twelve districts that must send one person each year to The Hunger Games to fight to the death.  It's full of action, suspense and drama.  Once you start, you'll be hard-pressed to put it down. I promise.

What were your favorite books in the past year?  What would you like to see us review in the future?  Leave us a comment and let us know.  It just might make my list of favorites for next year!  Happy Reading!

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