January 19, 2020

NY Times Best Seller Reading Challenge

One of my favorite aspects of past reading challenges has been reading books by authors who are new to me and (sometimes) whom I wouldn't ordinarily read otherwise. I was exposed to some of my favorite books through reading challenges. They include Legend by Marie Lu, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, and Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen (which I read as part of last year's reading challenge).

I have high expectations for this year's reading challenge, which I'm calling the NY Times Best Seller Reading Challenge. At least once a month, I will read a book that made it to the top of the NY Times Best Seller charts on either the Combined Print & E-Book Fiction, Hardcover Fiction, or Paperback Trade Fiction lists within the last six months. The catch is, it has to be a book by an author I've never read before. Since a lot of people must have liked the books in order for them to reach the #1 spot on a NY Times best seller list, I'm hoping that, by the end of the year, some more books by new authors will join my list of favorites.

As always, I will let everyone know how this reading challenge went at the end of the year. Happy reading in 2020!

December 31, 2019

Favorite reads of 2019

Happy New Year, everyone! As we get ready to welcome 2020, here were my favorite reads of 2019.


1. The Wife Between Us - Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Many books have claimed to be the next Gone Girl, but of all the psychological thrillers I've read since Gillian Flynn's, The Wife Between Us is the most worthy successor. The book is full of twists, some of which I was able to guess but some that I was happily surprised by. It's also written in a way that kept me turning the pages, wanting to find out what happens next. I literally couldn't put it down and finished the book in two days.

2. Recursion - Blake Crouch
This was the most gripping and mind-blowing book I read all year, so it's no surprise that it landed near the top of my list of favorite reads. Unfortunately, I can't say more without spoiling what actually happens in the book, but I highly recommend it! The only reason it wasn't #1? It took more than the usual amount of suspension of disbelief to buy into the premise, but once I did, I was sucked in.

3. Broken Lands - Jonathan Maberry 
The Rot & Ruin series is one of my favorite YA series of all time, so imagine my delight to discover that there's a new series set in the same universe. Many of the beloved characters from Rot & Ruin play a part in Broken Lands, and if this book is any indication, I'm going to love the new series too.

4. An Anonymous Girl - Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen 
After reading The Wife Between Us, I had to read the next book by this author duo. An Anonymous Girl shares a lot of the same elements that made their first book such a great read, but it's not another Gone Girl, in case you were expecting a similar story line. However, it's still a great book, and I highly recommend it. I can't wait for the next book by Hendricks and Pekkanen.

5. Aurora Rising - Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff 
Speaking of author duos who I want to see write more books together, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have done it again. The books in their Illuminae Files trilogy were the top reads the last three years. Their latest collaboration, the first in the new Aurora Cycle series, is also great. This book isn't written in an unusual format like the Illuminae Files were, but it's still a must read for fans of YA speculative fiction.

6. Stepsister - Jennifer Donnelly 
Stepsister is one of the best fairy tale retellings I've read. I liked how we heard the Cinderella story from the point of view of one of her stepsisters, and in a way that made us sympathize with her without turning Cinderella into a villain. But more important than the quality of the story were the messages in it, including (as quoted from one of the characters), "We all make mistakes. What matters is that we don't let our mistakes make us." This book was not only entertaining but inspirational.

7. Redshirts - John Scalzi 
I'm not sure how much my love of Star Trek played a role in my enjoyment of this book, but I sure liked it! I've wondered what it was like to live the life of a redshirt on the show, and now I know. Unexpectedly, this book got me thinking about its thematic message more so than most of the books I read this year. Whether you're a Star Trek fan or not, I encourage you to give this book a try.

8. Saint Anything - Sarah Dessen 
Based on the description, I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book, but I chose it to satisfy my Authors A to Z challenge. I'm sure glad I did. This was the best contemporary book I read in 2019. I immediately liked the main character and her best friend, and as a result, I was easily invested in the story line. I'll be reading more books by Sarah Dessen now.

9. Circe - Madeleine Miller 
After all the buzz I heard about this book, I gave it a try and liked it as much as I expected to. It helps that I'm already a fan of Greek mythology. I really enjoyed the way the story is told in Circe's point of view, shedding more light on some myths that I only knew superficially or only heard one side of. The novel really brought Greek myths to life in a way where I felt like the characters involved were more real.

10. Scrappy Little Nobody - Anna Kendrick 
I don't normally read non-fiction, especially autobiographies, so the fact that Scrappy Little Nobody ended up on my list of favorite reads of the year was a surprise. I selected this book to fulfill the Authors A to Z challenge and because I liked the Anna Kendrick movies I've seen. She is hilarious in writing, and if anything, reading this book makes me want to watch more of her movies.

December 30, 2019

What I read in 2019

As another year comes to an end, it's time to review the books that I read in the last twelve months. In 2019, I read 84 books, one less than in 2018.

The average rating for the books I read was 4.01 stars per book, broken down as follows:
  • 5 stars - 24 books
  • 4 stars - 37 books 
  • 3 stars - 23 books 

The 4.01 stars average was a slight decrease from the 4.07 stars per book in 2018.

Of the 84 books read, 26 were part of the Authors A to Z Challenge that I embarked on in January. One of the goals of the reading challenge was to read books by authors whom I haven't been exposed to before, and in that regard, I considered my efforts successful, as 16 of the 26 books were from authors new to me.

The ratings for the books in the Authors A to Z challenge were distributed as follows:
  • 5 stars - 6 books 
  • 4 stars - 10 books 
  • 3 stars - 10 books 

The average rating for the books in the challenge was 3.85, lower than my overall rating for books read in 2019. This shouldn't have come as a surprise since I read several books outside of my comfort zone. However, the experience was well worth it, and I'll have to repeat the reading challenge again in the future.

In my next post, I’ll list my top ten favorite books of 2019. Stay tuned!

November 23, 2019

What would you do with a Groundhog Day time loop?

I watched a movie recently that was similar to "Groundhog Day" in that the main character relived the same day over and over. I don't know if "Groundhog Day" invented the genre, but it's pretty amazing to think of the number of movies following the same plot: "Before I Fall," "Edge of Tomorrow," and "Happy Death Day" (the movie I just watched) to name a few.

Columbia Pictures

The movie got me thinking about what I would do if I were to ever be caught in a Groundhog Day time loop. First, it would depend on what happens during the repeating day. If, like in the case of "Edge of Tomorrow" or "Happy Death Day," I end up dying, my top priority would be to prevent that from happening. Death is no fun. I would spend each iteration trying to figure out how to change my fate.

What if the day was a normal day like in "Groundhog Day"? My first reaction was, "I hope it's not a Monday!" Repeating a typical working Monday would be awful. But then, if I really was stuck in a work day, I'd stop going to work once I found out what was happening to me. I'd take the day off and do something else instead.

What if the repeating day was a great day, like a vacation to Disney World? I'd be happy to relive it the first few times. I'd probably make tweaks to my schedule to go on that ride I didn't get to go on the first time or to try the restaurant I didn't eat at.  However, I wonder if I would tire of it after a while. As with the work scenario, would I eventually ditch Disney World to spend the day doing something else?

In the end, I decided that as long as something catastrophic doesn't happen, it doesn't matter which day repeats. If I knew I'd have the day to live over again, I can do whatever I want to today. There's a sort of freedom in the "Groundhog Day" scenario that we don't get in ordinary life. You may be wondering, "Why wait for a time loop to make those choices? Why not do those things today?" The reason is that there are consequences in real life. If I don't show up for work day after day, I'll lose my job. If I eat sweets and fattening foods all day (something I'm likely to do if the day resets itself), my body will be in pretty bad shape.

If I think about it more, there could be a bucket list of things I'd do even if I weren't stuck in a time loop, but it might not be so bad to actually relive Groundhog Day over and over again. :-)

October 26, 2019

Harry Potter vs. Star Wars, Theme Park Edition

It's no surprise that there are many similarities between Harry Potter and Star Wars. They both now share something else: with the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disney World and Disneyland this year, both franchises have theme parks, coincidentally in Orlando and Los Angeles.


I had the pleasure of traveling to Orlando earlier this month and visited the Harry Potter park inside Universal Studios as well as Galaxy's Edge in Disney World. Although I recommend seeing both if you have the opportunity,  here are some ways they're similar and different if you have to make a choice.
  • Immersive Experience: Both parks do a good job of making you think you're within the Harry Potter/Star Wars universe. Given that they're both part of larger parks, the delineation between the Harry Potter/Star Wars sections and the rest of the parks is clear. When I first walked into Diagon Alley, I thought I had entered the movie. There are so many details that will impress any Harry Potter fan. Galaxy's Edge is similarly immersive, although the setting is Batuu, a planet that isn't featured in the movies. It's close enough to Jakku or Tatooine that casual fans may think they're on one of those planets instead. If there's one difference between the two parks, I'd say it's that the employees who work at Galaxy's Edge pretend as if they're inhabitants of the planet, whereas those who work at the Harry Potter park act like regular theme park employees.
  • Signature Drink: Harry Potter has butterbeer, and Galaxy's Edge has blue milk and green milk. Based on my taste alone, I prefer the butterbeer, but I'm glad I sampled the blue milk. Both parks also offer additional drinks from their respective franchises, such as pumpkin juice and gillywater or the selection of cocktails at Oga's Cantina in Galaxy's Edge.
  • Choose Your Wand/Saber: If you bring home one merchandise from the parks, I'd say it'd be a wand from Harry Potter and a light saber from Galaxy's Edge. At Ollivander's, you can choose wands from a variety of characters. Being a Hufflepuff, I went with Cedric Diggory's. I didn't buy a light saber because they were more expensive (starting from $130) and I didn't have room in  my luggage to carry it home, but the ones on display looked pretty awesome. You can choose the light saber from your favorite character or build a custom one.
  • Rides: This is where the parks are most different, with Harry Potter being the hands down winner. Galaxy's Edge currently only has one ride, Smuggler's Run, but a new ride, Rise of the Resistance, will open in the winter. Harry Potter has five rides if you count the Hogwarts Express, which I do because it was fun. I didn't get to go on the new Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure because the line was insanely long, and the Forbidden Journey ride made me sick, but I enjoyed the others.
The next time you're in Orlando or Los Angeles, I recommend visiting the Harry Potter and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge parks. Even if you can see only one, it'll be fun. I'm planning to visit the parks in Los Angeles next year, and I can hardly wait!

September 2, 2019

Famblooey!

Did you know that Dr. Seuss invented the word "nerd"? Or that John Milton came up with "pandemonium"? Charles Dickens coined words such as "doormat" and "boredom" (no comment on the irony of the latter), and many words in the English language can be attributed to Shakespeare. The reason I mention these words invented by authors is that I've started using a new word of my own invention: famblooey.

What does "famblooey" mean? Think of the best place you've ever been for vacation. That place was famblooey. Imagine the most delicious meal you've ever had. It was famblooey. Your favorite book? Yup, famblooey. Synonyms for famblooey include "awesome" and "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." However, "famblooey" isn't as atrocious, but I can't guarantee that you'll sound precocious when saying it.

So the next time you encounter something that you thought was too wonderful to describe with words, now you can; it's famblooey! You heard it here first! :-)

May you have a famblooey day!

August 4, 2019

2019 Summer Sale

If you're feeling blue because summer is almost over, I have something to help cheer you up: a summer book sale! For the next seven days, most of my e-books will be on sale for 99 cents or FREE on Amazon! Snap up these titles before they return to their normal prices on August 11!

99 CENTS:
     
Beneath
the Earth
  All That
Remains of Me
  Beyond
New Eden
  Gifted

     
Transmissions   In the Hands of
Children
  Keep Your
Enemies Close
  George and the
Galactic Games

     
A House in
the Woods
  Protect   Search   Rescue


FREE:
     
Drive   Through a
Tangled Wood
  Celestial   Spectral Tales

Happy summer reading!