Friday, August 1, 2014

Monthly Rewind | July 2014

Sarah Hearts
July is one of my favorite months because it's my BIRTHDAY month! My dad's birthday, one of my good girlfriend's birthday and M and I's anniversary is also in July, so it's a constant celebration. I had an amazing month - stressful at work, but what else is new. I made some big career decisions this month; I'm terrified and excited at the same time.

Blogwise, I had a pretty good month. I'm sliding into the realm of mood reading, which I actually really enjoy. It's so much more fun! 

BLOG STATS

Literary Exploration Reading Challenge 7/12 (58%)
The Canon Classics 7/12 (58%)
The Great TBR Pileup  31/...? 
GoodReads 2014 Reading Challenge 108/150 (72%)

THE GREAT REVIEW LIST


(not all covers shown)

1. The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
2. On the Roadby Jack Kerouac
3. Club Dead by Charlaine Harris
4. The Collector by Nora Roberts
5. Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich
6. My Soul Immortal by Jen Printy
7. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
8. The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay
9. The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant by Joanna Wiebe
10. A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller
11. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
12. Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris
13. The Anonymous Blog of Mrs. Jones by Ellen Harger
14. Missing in Death by J.D. Robb
15. The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury
16. Big Boned by Meg Cabot
17. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming


MOST POPULAR REVIEW

The Anonymous Blog of Mrs. Jones by Ellen Harger

The amazing new novel from women's lit author Ellen Harger, The Anonymous Blog of Mrs. Jones. SERIOUSLY. READ THIS.

FEATURES


TOP TEN


Sarah Hearts
Hello, August! I'm excited for a new month. It's time to make some changes and the beginning of a new month is the best time to get started. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Canon Classics | Casino Royale by Ian Fleming


Title: Casino Royale
Author: Ian Fleming
Publication Date: June 1954
Publisher: MacMillan
Series: James Bond {Book 1}
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
In the first of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, 007 declares war on Le Chiffre, French communist and paymaster of the Soviet murder organization SMERSH.

The battle begins with a fifty-million-franc game of baccarat, gains momentum during Bond's fiery love affair with a sensuous lady spy, and reaches a chilling climax with fiendish torture at the hands of a master sadist. For incredible suspense, unexpected thrills, and extraordinary danger, nothing can beat James Bond in his inaugural adventure.


I was surprised to find that I didn't really like Bond all that much. He was arrogant (expected) but what really got me was his overwhelming prejudice against women. I don't know if it was just the time period, but his disgust and annoyance at women in general, specifically at Vesper, his "partner", made him hard to cheer for. 

I have a feeling that Bond's initial character introduction was a little rough to allow for more character development as the series went on... He definitely grows from the agent in the beginning to the driven man in the end. 

On the other hand, I really enjoyed the plot twists and adventure scenes in Casino Royale. The best was the unexpected and somewhat unsettling surprise twist at the end with Vesper. The plot kept me on my toes, but it didn't have that addicting charm that made me want to keep reading. The best scenes were between Bond and his villian; they were just so unusual

There was great pacing in the adventure and race scenes, but otherwise the book was occasionally a bit dull. The narration occasionally took a major detour when Bond explained the protocols of gambling. Truly, I skipped a large portion of this; it was just dry. 

THE RATING:
WHY:
- Bond's prejudice to women made him hard to cheer for. I'm sorry. It was just so weird.
- Pacing was off at times, especially during the info dumps times.
- Some great scenes and plot twists, but not enough to make up for the rest of the story. 


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why Fifty Shades of Grey Drives Me Insane


I'm going to get on my soapbox and talk about something that's been bugging me lately, so if you a) don't like soapboxes or b) are a fan of Fifty Shades of Grey or Twilight, you might not want to read this. 

I can't stand Fifty Shades of Grey or its phenomenal popularity. 

Like most of the country, I read the book. It made me angry. 

Let me back up...


Twilight vs 50 Shades

I read Twilight in my first year of college and fell in love with the story. Yes, I admit it: Edward made my teen heart faint. It wasn't until I was older (I don't dare say wiser) that I realized there were so many problems in the book, ranging from the lack of plot to contrived romance. The biggest issues sat in Bella and Edward's relationship.

A quick recap:
1. Bella's whole world revolves around Edward. She has no friends of her own except for a few acquaintances and the studly Jacob.
2. She has no dreams, plans or ambitions. I know the feeling of being lost and wondering what to do with one's life, but she never even considers it...
3. Edward stalks her. Sleeping in her chair, taking her home, to school, to wherever, is overkill. M and I live together, but we would drive each other batty if we did everything together like these two do. 
4. Bella is, simply, a weak heroine with no personality, ambition or drive. Her only desire is to be with Edward, which is fine and dandy (slightly creepy, but her choice), but I have to wonder what on earth she's going to do in eternity as a vampire. She has no hobbies, no interests. 
5. She's constantly being taken care of by one person or another. Bella doesn't even have the chance to stand up for herself (although I doubt she would take it if she did), allowing others (Edward and family) to defend her. 

If you want a more in-depth review of all the issues of their relationship (or just a hilarious review in general, - love the GIFs), here's Steph's review over at Cuddlebuggery.

And then E.L. James created Fifty Shades of Grey. (Hopefully you hear the heavy sarcasm on "created". Here's a link to that whole...conversation.)

Fifty Shades of Grey goes over and beyond the issues found in Twilight. It's not the kinky sex or the erotica elements. The flat characterizations, dull dialogue, and lack of plot all fade in comparison to one thing: 50 Shades of Grey glorifies a horribly abusive relationship



The Abusive Relationship
When I read this book, I went into 50 Shades with an open mind. I had heard there was a lot of kinky shenanigans, but whatever, I've read some pretty weird stuff. What really upset me? How Christian treats Ana. He doesn't view her as a person; instead, she is something to be controlled.

Example? He makes her sign a contract. It parallels the roommate agreement between Sheldon and Leonard, but the contract Christian draws up goes way over the boundaries, detailing her health, food...her birth control... He isn't worried about her health or her life; the whole contract is about his needs, his wants. And what does she do? Sign it. 



The controlling nature of their relationships goes even further. She always has to let him know where she is, what she's doing, or he becomes irrationally angry. She always has to be in his control, one of the strongest signs of abuse.  

Um, did we forget about the CONTRACT

Also, let's remember the scene where Ana says no to sex and Christian essentially rapes her because she forgets the safe word. What a guy.  

Let's Talk About Sex
The BDSM culture does not bother me. Floats your boat? Dandy. What I can't stand is Christian's demeaning attitude towards Ana's sexuality as well as the overtones of rape. Examples? You bet.

1. He calls her virginity a "situation." RED FLAG. Virginity should never be considered a "situation." If you are with anyone who considers it so, RUN.

2. Let's not forget when he pulls her tampon out then proceeded to have sex with her. Oh yeah. That's normal. 

3. What about the time she said she wasn't sure, she didn't want to, but he did it anyway? Anyone remember that? 

According to Helpguide.org's Domestic Violence and Abuse page, details "Any situation in which you are forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity is sexual abuse. Forced sex, even by a spouse or intimate partner with whom you also have consensual sex, is an act of aggression and violence" (source). Sound familiar?

In the End...

This relationships is obviously abusive, but society has been falling head over heels for this emotionally disturbed and abusive man. So many women tell me they fall in love with his character because they want to "fix" him, and it breaks my heart. Christian Grey cannot be "fixed" by a naive literature student. He needs a therapist. 

The glorification of this abuse sets horrible expectations and standards. I understand that there are fully-grown adults reading this who know the difference between abuse and a stable relationship, but what about those who don't? What about the teen girls who are reading this? What kind of standard, expectation is being set for those just entering relationships? Are we teaching our kids that this is okay? This type of relationship is not normal or healthy. 

When the trailer for 50 Shades was released early last week and the Internet blew up, I couldn't shake this off my mind. It actually frightens me how popular this is. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

To Those I Love | Ten Authors I Own the Most Books From


1. Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb (22 books)

Roberts was my first romance author and remains one of my favorites to this day. From her settings to her characters, I fall in love with both her romances and her mysteries. 

2. Janet Evanovich (20 books)
I was introduced to the queen of chick lit and mystery by an old high school friends years ago and have been devoted ever since. Stephanie Plum and her antics are my go-to feel good series. 

3. Rachel Gibson (10 books)
I found The Trouble with Valentine's Day at the library and fell in love with her quirky, vibrant characters and intense romantic plots with a twist of hilarity. My top recommendations? True Confessions, See Jane Score, and The Trouble with Valentine's Day!

4. Charlaine Harris (8 books)
Yes. I bought most of the Sookie Stackhouse series. I went a little series-buying crazy when I first bought my Kindle. I'm not really a fan of Harris' other works: I've tried Last Scene Alive and The Pretenders. The first was okay and the second better, but I'm sticking with Sookie. 

5. Lauren Willig (6 books)
My mom bought me The Secret History of the Pink Carnation as a birthday gift and I fell in love with Willig's hilarious, vibrant characters and her twists on historical plots. I fell off the Pink Carnation wagon for a while, but after seeing how her book list has grown, I can't wait to start reading again! 

6. Meg Cabot (6 books)
If you haven't discovered this witty, chick lit queen, you need to. Her books are a staple on my bookshelf. I notoriously cannot pass up one of her books in a bookstore and she is my most lent-out author. The Heather Wells series can't be missed, along with The Princess Diaries series and The Boy Next Door. Seriously. Go read her. Now. 

7. Philippa Gregory (6 books)
Gregory's books sparked my infatuation with English history and historical fiction in general. The Other Boleyn Girl was my savior during a very dull layover and I've been reading her books ever since. My copy of The Other Boleyn Girl is so...well-loved/thumbed/read that pages are falling out. I can't help it. 

8. Jim Butcher (5 books)
A coworker of mine introduced me to Jim Butcher and the sarcastic wizard-for-hire fit like a glove. The sarcastic narration, strong themes, and fast-paced adventure makes Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files one of my tops!

9. Jane Austen (5 books)
These classical romances always make me smile. Pride and Prejudice is still one of my favorites. 

10. Dan Brown (4 books)
There are some highs and lows with Brown's books (loved Da Vinci and Angels and Demons, but not Inferno), but the ones I have on my shelves I read over and over. The adventures, strong characters, and quick chapters make for easy, fascinating reads. 

I also have all Harry Potters, Twilight and the complete works of Shakespeare from college. Harry and Shakespeare are some of my most loved books!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review | Big Boned by Meg Cabot

Title: Big Boned
Author: Meg Cabot {website}
Publication Date: January 2007
Publisher: William Morrow
Series: Heather Wells Mysteries {Book 3} 
Source & Format: Owned; paperback
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Life is reasonably rosy for plus-size ex-pop star turned Assistant Dormitory Director and sometime sleuth Heather Wells. Her freeloading ex-con dad is finally moving out. She still yearns for her hot landlord, Cooper Cartwright, but her relationship with "rebound beau," vigorous vegan math professor Tad Tocco, is more than satisfactory. Best of all, nobody has died lately in "Death Dorm," the aptly nicknamed student residence that Heather assistant-directs. Of course every silver lining ultimately has some black cloud attached. And when the latest murdered corpse to clutter up her jurisdiction turns out to be her exceedingly unlovable boss, Heather finds herself on the shortlist of prime suspects—along with the rabble-rousing boyfriend of her high-strung student assistant and an indecently handsome young campus minister who's been accused of taking liberties with certain girls' choir members.

With fame beckoning her back into show business (as the star of a new kids' show!) it's a really bad time to get wrapped up in another homicide. Plus Tad's been working himself up to ask her a Big Question, which Heather's not sure she has an answer for.


Being the assistant hall director in New York City can't be an easy job. With all the drama that young adults bring with them to college (believe me, I know all about it), I can't imagine trying to run a dorm smoothly. Being an ex-pop star and overseeing a hall nicknamed "Death Dorm" is asking for trouble. Maybe that's why I've fallen in love with the Heather Wells Mysteries series. The storytelling itself is phenomenal - memorable and hilarious - but it's the main character that keeps me coming back for more. 

Heather Wells is your typical girl...well, as typical as a ex-pop star can be. All she wants is to live the quiet life with her gorgeous landlord (and ex-boyfriend's brother), write songs, and get her degree. Of course, nothing goes quite as planned for her, especially when she runs "Death Dorm." Reading Heather's narration is like sitting down and catching up with a good friend (one who has some crazy adventures). There's something warm and familiar in these books, something that makes me want to return to them again and again. 

Heather herself goes through some drastic character development in Big Boned, but it doesn't take a huge role in the story; only now that I've finished the fifth book (review on Saturday!), I notice how she's changed and evolved from Size 12 is Not Fat. The biggest representation of her evolution is in her love life: she is head over heels in love with Cooper Cartwright, the private investigator and black sheep of her ex-boyfriend's family, but instead  dates Tad Tocco, her "vigorous vegan" math professor (I laugh every time I see that). Tad's a nice enough guy, but he doesn't fit Heather's personality. Her character development all hinges on this relationship with him and how she handles it

I loved the mystery plot of Big Boned. Following in its predecessors' footsteps, this installment has the same kind of hilarity and chaos surrounding the mysterious death, but underneath it all, there is a well-crafted mystery at work. All of the elements of a good mystery are there, from the red herring to the mistaken identity. The lack of grisly violence leaves the focus on the case itself, motives and suspects. The detective element of the plot evolved well and merged with the side plots (Heather's love life, the drama with the graduate student workers, and Heather's family drama) to make a strong, cohesive story that kept me thinking about the book long after I put it down. 

THE RATING:
WHY:
- Strong, engaging storytelling
- Loved the narration
- Well written mystery

RECOMMENDED FOR:
Fans of Janet Evanovich, Meg Cabot and Lauren Willing, and those looking for a light, fun, chick lit read. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

24 Lessons I've Learned by 24


It was my birthday early this week! M took me to San Francisco for the day (photos coming soon!) and on the way down, we talked about the random lessons we've learned over the years. 



1. Your parents were right. They will continue to be right about things.
2. Don't ever say you're bored...

source

3. People really are good at heart. Give them a chance.
4. It's better to lose than to never try. 
5. Always take a book. You'll never know when you have time to read!
6. There is nothing that can't be fixed with a makeup shopping spree and a good friend.
7. Some things in life are free. The ones you have to work for are worth it.
8. Do what makes you happy. Life's too short. 


9. People don't really grow up. This is both good and bad.
10. Be polite. It's free and it makes people happy. 
11. Mornings are better with coffee.
12. Let it go. Breathe.
source

13. Disneyland is really magic. 
14. Sometimes someone else's bad mood has nothing to do with you (Sometimes = 99% of the time).
15. There isn't a good way to break up with someone. Sorry.
16. Just because you don't understand it doesn't make it wrong.
17. Count to three before you talk. You'll be amazed what happens.
18. Show up, smile, do your best, and don't worry about the outcome.
19. There's no place like home.
20. Find someone who knows all your deep, dirty secrets and is head over heels in love with you anyway. 
21. Eat the frog first. 
22.  When in doubt/stressed/upset, go running. Then try to figure it out.
23.  "You is kind. You is smart. You is important." - Kathryn Stockett

24. Read about love, drama, war, humor, kindness, fairies, sports, whatever. Just read. Be curious. 

And just because this only always makes me smile...
source

Saturday, July 26, 2014

2014 Reading Resolutions

1. Complete book notes before publishing my review/post
I'm good at doing this about 97% of the time. Sometimes I'm so excited to get on to my next book that I forget, but writing down my thoughts has helped me organize my reviews so much. 

Want more? Here's my post on blog organization! 

2. Create a new feature! (Maybe something with classics or maybe even a personal one?)
I've done really well with this one! Just this summer, I am rereading/reviewing the entire Sookie Stackhouse series in my Summer of Sookie posts! I also have:
The Canon Classics | once a month, I review a major classic
Saturday Morning Coffee Date | my three dates with a book
Behind The Canon | a glimpse into my life as a book blogger

3. Reply to all blog comments. I love when bloggers reply to my comments, so I need to pick it up.
BAD. I've really failed at this one. 

4. Comment & be more active on blogs I follow. 
I am proud of how I've become more active in the blogsphere. Twitter and Bloglovin' have really been great tools for me to connect! 

5. Read 150 (or more) books.

6. Read the books I own 
I'm proud to announce that my Great TBR Pileup has shrunk! Yay! The only problem is that I keep buying books...

7. Read 1 classic a month (directly inspired by Hannah @ So Obsessed With)
I am 6 for 12 so far. My next read is Ian Fleming's Casino Royale

8. Participate in 1 reading challenge.
I am 7 for 12 in Literary Exploration Reading Challenge so far this year!