Monthly Archives: December 2014

Lara’s Top Picks of 2014

Well folks, it’s time for my favorite blog post of the year. It’s time for my personal “Best Of” list. I must reiterate that this is a list of the best books I’ve read this year — NOT the best books that came out in 2014. (If I’m being completely honest, of the 24 books I read this year, I think only two or three were actually released in 2014.) If you’d like a 2014 “Best Of” list, check out the New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2014. If you want to check out some really kick-ass books I loved this year, keep reading. And scroll to the bottom for a complete list of all the books I read this year! Bring on 2015!

10. Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick. An English teacher and Eagles football fanatic snaps and spends years in a rehab facility, only to return home and find that everything has changed, including himself. Moving on proves harder than he thought it would be. The bestseller-turned-Oscar-winning-movie is a showcase of mental illness and how devastating loss can be. Buy it now.

9. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon. A haunting tale of murders and mysterious disappearances, this novel is chilling and twisted with lots of characters and deep, dark secrets as two young girls try to piece together what happened in their town and their home about 100 years ago that led to their mother’s recent disappearance. Buy it now.

8. Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman. After watching the Netflix series, I had to read the autobiography on which it was based, and I’m glad I did. Now that I know the true story about what happened to Piper, I feel a lot better. You will too. But don’t worry — both the painful and humorous anecdotes are included in this telling of a woman who serves a year in an all-female prison. Buy it now.

7. Divergent by Veronica Roth. The start to another YA dystopian series, this book is a bestseller for a reason. Once they reach a certain age, teenagers have to choose a “faction,” based on their personalities, behaviors and instincts. But when one girl fits into several different “factions,” she starts a much-needed, exciting, painful, and thrilling revolution. Buy it now.

6. 27 by Howard Sounes. You think you know everything about the deaths of Amy Winehouse, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain. But you don’t. The uncanny coincidence that they all died at the age of 27 gave biographer Howard Sounes enough of a reason to further investigate this in the nonfiction book simply and eerily titled 27.  Buy it now.

5. Dare Me by Megan Abbott. What a dark story, but what a good one. A cheerleading squad is busy enough doing drugs, skipping meals, and perfecting their bodies to realize that its coach, captain, and squad member are somehow caught up in a murder that appears to be a suicide. The mind games that go on in this novel were enough to make my head spin and my hands turn another page. Buy it now.

4. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead. The second of Maggie Shipstead’s novels isn’t quite as good as her first, but its beautiful story about a dancer who gives up her life as a professional ballerina for family is rather…astonishing. It centers on a scandal, much like Shipstead’s first novel, but the focus on dance and the complex relationships it weaves adds a layer of intrigue. Buy it now.

3. Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead. This bestseller about the beach wedding of a pregnant bride, who comes from a prominent New England family is more than just a scandalous, juicy beach read. It feels like true literature, like an Edith Wharton novel written in the modern day. It’s a painful, but fun and interesting take on who people really are compared to who they seem to be or want to be. Buy it now.

2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. it’s more than the bestselling YA novel about a girl with cancer who falls in love. It’s a coming-of-age story. it’s a beautiful statement about what young love can mean, and a display of how good young adult fiction can be, even if it’s not a sci-fi dystopian novel. Buy it now.

1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Bestselling author Laura Hillenbrand takes us on the journey of Louie Zamperini’s life — a true story of an Olympian and WWII POW and hero. What he endured is truly incredible. An inspiring read for anyone, especially as we head into the new year. Buy it now.

Tick to the Tock – Matthew Turner

The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

The Cabinetmaker – Alan Jones

Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand

Orange Is the New Black – Piper Kerman

On Grace – Susie Orman Schnall

Committed – Elizabeth Gilbert

A Fool Among Fools – John Terracuso

The Lucky One – Nicholas Sparks

Divergent – Veronica Roth

Seating Arrangements – Maggie Shipstead

I Remember Nothing – Nora Ephron

The Never Never Sisters – L. Alison Heller

Silver Linings Playbook –Matthew Quick

27 – Howard Sounes

Astonish Me – Maggie Shipstead

Prep – Curtis Sittenfeld

The Killing Chase – Craig Hurren

The Winter People – Jennifer McMahon

Dare Me – Megan Abbott

In the Company of Educated Men – Leonce Gaiter

The Stupidest Angel – Christopher Moore

Blue Wicked –Alan Jones

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Review: Blue Wicked

Recap: Something wicked is happening on the streets of Glasgow. More and more bodies are turning up dead, tortured and poisoned with antifreeze. All the victims are drunks, and the suspects aren’t leaving any traces behind. But when a veterinarian named Eddie starts to realize that the ways in which they’re dying is similar to several recent cat deaths, he begins to investigate. Mentioning to police that there may be a link between these cat and human deaths leave him with nothing but laughs and rolled eyes. But one of the detectives, Catherine, has a soft spot for felines.

Soon Catherine and Eddie set out on their own private investigation into all the deaths. What they learn is that something blue and wicked is killing them all — a blue drink of antifreeze that tastes like alcohol — tricking alcoholics to drink it, while they are tortured in a slow, painful death. After proving the link to be probable, the entire investigative unit of the Glasgow Police work to solve the serial crimes. But with little evidence left behind, it’s hard to track down the killer — one of the worst Glasgow’s seen in years.

Analysis: Every once in a while, there’s nothing I take more pleasure in than reading a good, fun crime novel. This is one of those times. This thriller hooked me from the beginning. The book sets the reader on an omniscient path, each chapter showing a different character’s perspective, including that of the killer. That’s where the novel begins, hooking muse in with a detailed description of Jacko’s sick, grotesque murders and the rise he gets from them. He disgusted me so much, that while I had to turn away from some pages, I couldn’t help but continue to read, so I would rest assured he was captured.

The pacing of the novel was almost perfect. It was slow and methodical at first — as it should be! — but the quick nature in which the detectives went about tracking down the killer was way too easy to be believable. However, the ease with which the detectives work to find their suspect is met abruptly with a twist that’s more surprising to the characters than it is to the reader (no spoilers here, folks!), and that was almost enough for the pacing and logic to redeem themselves.

MVP: Eddie. Of course, he’s the protagonist of the novel who gets all the glory, but he’s also a strong man who pushes for what he believes in. Unlike other detective novels, Eddie has to fight for his ability to investigate the case (after all, he’s not actually a detective — he’s a vet!). But that makes him all the more interesting and commendable.

Get Blue Wicked on your Kindle for just $1.59..

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Unknown John Steinbeck Short Story Published

John Steinbeck is known for his great pieces of literature, like Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. But have any of you heard of his short story “With Your Wings”?

Didn’t think so.

According to Entertainment Weekly, you can now read the short story which was virtually unknown until now. The managing editor of The Strand magazine discovered the more than 70-year-old transcript of the story in the archives at the University of Texas at Austin. The Strand has since published the short story, which is about a black WWII pilot.

Apparently the story went under the radar because it had once been read on the radio by Orson Welles in July 1944, but was never published in a book or magazine. So it just became forgotten.

Now we all get to feast on a new, yet vintage, piece of literary history.

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Amazon Offering One-Hour Delivery in Manhattan

Amazon started out as a web site from which you could order things — primarily books. Then it became a brick-and-mortar store. Now it’s a brick-and-mortar store from which you can order things and get them (in New York City) in less than an hour.

According to Entertainment WeeklyAmazon has opened a location on 34th Street in Manhattan. Using a new service called Prime Now, people who live in Manhattan can order from the site and have the items delivered to them from the 34th Street location in an hour or less for $7.99, or in two hours or less for free.

Prime Now is a mobile app from which orders can be made everyday between 6 a.m. and 12 a.m. Amazon’s SVP of worldwide operations Dave Clark said this is good alternative for many people:

“There are times when you can’t make it to the store and other times when you simply don’t want to go.”

Now you can get what you want without leaving your home…in less than an hour.

For now the service is only available in New York City, but there are plans for it to spread to other cities in the future. My guess? LA would be next.

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Review: The Stupidest Angel

Recap: Just in time for Christmas, an angel wants to grant a wish to a child. And that wish comes just in time, since a little boy from Pine Grove, California recently witnessed “Santa Claus” get killed in a cemetery. What better timing than now, so the boy can ask the angel to revive Santa from the dead? All of this happens while the townspeople in Pine Grove are getting ready for their annual Christmas party at the local church, near the cemetery.

Really, what could go wrong? Except everything goes wrong, when the boy’s wish is granted and not only does Santa come back from the dead — so do many other bodies buried in the cemetery. And to top it all off, they come back as brain-eating zombies.

Analysis: If you’re in the mood for a light, silly book, this is the book for you. With Christmas around the corner, it might be just the right time to read it. The book is funny, and it’s completely off its rocker. Some people might be into that. I am not. I had a rough time reading this book, and in fact, almost gave up finishing it entirely. But because it was for a book club, I kept on reading.

There were some funny jokes, but all of the characters were pretty warped, generally obsessed with sex, drugs or things that are just plain weird. The plot itself is psychotically silly and very focused on death in a comical, twisted way.

I’ve read that author Christopher Moore used several of his characters from his previous novels in this one, so maybe had I read some of his other books, I would have enjoyed this one more. If you already know you’re into Christopher Moore novels and his style, then I imagine The Stupidest Angel would be right up your alley. But it’s sarcastic, dark humor was too ridiculous for me to wrap my head around. I mean, read my recap again — and you be the judge.

Get The Stupidest Angel in hardcover for $13.59.

Or on your Kindle for $7.99.

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Scribd Adds 30,000 Audiobooks

Good news for those who like not to read their books, but to listen to them.

According to Entertainment Weekly, the streaming subscription service Scribd is adding thousands of audiobooks to its catalog — 30,000, to be exact. The new books will include old and new releases from some of the more well-known publishers and authors, including Scholastic and HarperCollins and Haruki Murakami and Suzanne Collins.

Before the addition, Scribd’s catalog included more than half a million titles.

But according to The Verge, that catalog was only made up of e-books, not audiobooks. The hope is that the company will be able to compete now with Audible.

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J.K. Rowling’s Detective Series to Be Adapted into TV Series

Harry Potter may not be coming back to the big screen — or any screen — time soon, but J.K. Rowling’s other novels are soon expected to make their TV debut.

According to Entertainment Weekly, the BBC has announced it will adapt J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike novels into a BBC One TV series. The detective series was written under Rowling’s pseudonym Robert Galbraith. The TV show will start with the telling of the first novel in the series, The Cuckoo’s Calling, which was published last year. Rowling will be involved in the project, working with BBC and Bronte Film and TV. So far only two novels in the series have been published — The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm. A date for the TV series has not yet been announced.

But Bronte Film and TV is also helping Rowling adapt her other adult fiction novel, The Casual Vacancy, into a three-part series that will air on BBC One in February 2015. The Casual Vacancy is not part of the Cormoran Strike Series.

So…who will be watching?? Considering how much I loved The Cuckoo’s Calling, I know I will!

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Review: In the Company of Educated Men

Recap: When three friends graduate from Harvard, they feel like the world is their oyster. Sort of. In reality, they’re clueless about where they want to go and what they want to do. Lennie comes from a wealthy family and can virtually do whatever he wants. Paul is quite the opposite. Louisa is the beautiful brainiac with all the potential and no particular goals. A few weeks after they leave school, Lennie is on a mission; he wants an adventure. So he enlists Paul and Louisa — whether they like it or not — and sets out on a cross-country road trip.

But things get interesting — and frightening — when the trio is held up at a gas station in the middle of nowhere by a man with a gun. The man turns out to be a teenager who then hops into their car, looking for a ride to California. As they ride along, scared they’ll be shot and killed, the group realizes there’s yet another person in the backseat — a little girl who followed them out of a diner and into the car with plans to run away from her parents.

Lennie, Paul and Louisa all have different plans for what they should do next — what’s the safest and most ethical option? But while Lennie continues looking for adventure, everything falls apart in a tragic, horrifying and life-altering way.

Analysis: When I first started reading In the Company of Educated Men, I thought this would be just your average coming-of-age story. But when the three friends got held up at the gas station, I scratched my head wondering where this was going. Suddenly, the story became completely unpredictable to me.

The best way to describe this novel is to call it an “extreme” coming-of-age novel — one that portrays how how an eclectic group of young adults from different socioeconomic backgrounds handles a bizarre, rare and extreme situation. Along with fighting for their lives, the friends fight amongst themselves, leading to betrayals and changing their friendships forever.

For Lennie, the incident does more than just alter his friendships. It changes the entire course of his life, as he realizes he became more focused on having an adventure than taking caring for others. In an effort to avoid hurting others anymore, he goes on to lead a life of solitude and correct his earlier mistakes. The story is written through a series flashes — jumps between the incident and 10 years after the incident until the reader finally learns at the end of the novel what happened and how Lennie resolved it.

In the Company of Educated Men exemplifies that young people make mistakes, but how you deal with those mistakes is what most affects your life. In the Company is dark and frightening, but full of lessons about growing up, growing apart and learning from your erroneous ways.

MVP: Louisa. She’s the only character that truly stays calm and holds herself together both during and after the “incident.”

Get In the Company of Educated Men in paperback for $11.05.

Or get it on your Kindle for $4.99.

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Chris Colfer To Pen More Books in Series

It was just about this time last year when I told you Glee star Chris Colfer would be writing more books in his The Land of Stories series. Well, now he has even more to write.

According to Entertainment Weekly, the actor will be penning two more Land of Stories books — The Mother Goose Diaries and Queen Red Riding Hood’s Guide to Royalty — to be released in 2015 and 2016, a perfect project for him as Glee comes to an end next year.

But that’s not all. In addition to the new books in the series, Colfer also plans to write two picture books based on the Land of Stories series and two companion books to be released as part of a holiday box set next year.

Colfer is already a bestselling author from the first books in The Land of Stories series. As long as they continue to sell well, Colfer may not need to rush to find his next acting job after Glee ends. It seems like he’s doing just fine.

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Review: Dare Me

Recap: Addy and Beth have worked hard to make it to the top of their high school cheerleading squad, with Addy always coming second to Beth. Beth is the girl who rules the school — a beauty, a force to be reckoned with, an angsty problem child with an attitude. But things go sour for Beth, when a new young Coach takes away her “Captain” status and leaves no one but herself in charge. Meanwhile Addy  is fascinated by Coach.

Coach whips the girls into shape, but also enforces strict liquid diets. She invites the team over to drink in her backyard while her husband works late. She has sleepovers with the girls. So while the girls’ bodies tighten and they learn to stunt and tumble, they also develop eating disorders, party hard, have sex, and do drugs. She encourages them to experiment with boys. Addy feeds into all of this, while Beth vehemently dismisses it.

The team is cast under Coach’s spell, especially Addy, who has become Coach’s favorite. She’s the one Coach calls when she finds the dead body of someone close to her. She says it was suicide, but was it? While Coach claims she’s innocent, Beth works to convince Addy that Coach can’t be trusted. But in this dark world, who can?

Analysis: With Dare Me, author Megan Abbott aims to prove there’s more to the world of cheerleading than a mess of lollygagging girls focused on ponytails, sparkles, and miniskirts. This is a dark, twisted story of manipulation, trust, and loyalty. Dare Me is like an unfunny, hyped-up, crime-infused version of Mean Girls.

The prologue sets the creepy, twisted tone of the novel, describing the scene of the mysterious death. One would think that the novel would center around that death. As it turns out, midway through the novel, we’ve already learned who died and have some idea of how. At that point, I thought the remainder would focus on the fallout. But ultimately, the death serves little purpose other than developing relationships between other characters. In the end, it’s the one character that seemed to be the most important, who matters the least.

That’s when it becomes obvious that this isn’t a novel about a crime. It’s a novel about girls becoming women —  how friendships ebb and flow, how quickly loyalties can change, how women at times can be both subtle and dramatic, and how much they manipulate each other because of jealousy and competition. It’s a precautionary tale of three good girls gone bad — two of whom manipulate each other and the third who — in a surprising twist — manages to manipulate the reader.

MVP: Beth. She is the one every guy wants and every girl wants to be. She is both admired and hated. Everyone knows a girl like this. Especially in high school. At the end, her pure evil juxtaposed with her sheer vulnerability makes her the novel’s most complex character.

Get Dare Me in paperback for $12.41.

Or on your Kindle for $8.89.

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