Thursday, October 29, 2015

Book Review #3: The Cracked Spine, by Paige Shelton

Title: The Cracked Spine
Author: Paige Shelton
Published: March 19, 2016
Page Count: 320 (Hardcover)
Price (Hardcover): ~ $19.25
Price (eBook): ~ $12.99
Format Read: NetGalley PDF
Series: A Scottish Bookshop Mysteries
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Date Read: October 27th-October 29th, 2015
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Recommendation: Undetermined (See Review)

Summary: Delaney Nichols needs some adventure in her life! She decides to take a job working for a bookshop in Edinborough, Scotland, but is surprised to find that tragedy strikes the small bookshop family nearly as soon as she joins it! Now she must solve the mystery of who killed her boss's sister.

My Thoughts: Ugh. This is going to be a tough book for me to review. I've only finished it a moment ago and I feel unfulfilled while still compelled to read any future books in this series or by this author.

I want to be fair in this review while also being honest about my reading experience. In general, I give books two ratings: A star rating and a recommendation. The former is intellectual, usually based on the book's merits (though sometimes I might push a 3-star book to 5-stars if I particularly enjoyed it, even if its merits don't deserve it). The latter is an emotional response to the book. Is it something that I'd recommend to a frient?

In this case, the writing is good and the editing excellent. In terms of actual content, the book is a solid three-stars when compared to other popular cozies that I've read. 

The book would be much more readable if Ms. Shelton wrote dialog in plain English. Instead, she attempts to imitate the Scottish accent by writing dialect (including some Scots) into the dialog. This makes it more difficult to read, to the point that I got regular headaches while reading the novel and had to put it down in order to avoid them.

Readers are capable of inventing the accent in their own imaginations and do not need the author to do it for them. (That being said, some -- such as my husband -- love dialect in dialog. I'm just not one of them, and it's considered poor form for writers, besides).

This was the biggest drawback from this novel for me, but it was far from the only drawback that I experienced.

The book starts off slowly, with too much description of "what it's like to be an American in the UK." It would seem that the author has had her own experience with this (since her descriptions were adequate), but as someone who also has lived in the United Kingdom, I felt someone insulted by Delaney's response to the cabs and the accent. For a clearly intelligent character, she struggled with culture, and I was glad when the mention of "G-Forces" (in the car) finally stopped. 

Description has its place, but this book could have been cut by about two-thirds if only the unnecessary description was removed from it to leave the reader with more story and plot.

I also found it disturbing that the clues of his mystery didn't seem to point to its conclusion. Perhaps the author is attempting to avoid the formula, but the formula works for a reason (it tends to be more engaging to the reader). If one followed clues throughout the novel to reach a particular conclusion, we were thrown off-balance with the climax (which I felt came just a bit too late in the book, feeling rushed).

My opinion is that Ms. Shelton should have focused more on the pacing of her story throughout, and less on descriptions of the Scottish countryside. If she can do this with future novels, I'd happily read the next book in this series (which leaves me feeling conflicted on whether or not I recommend the novel in the first place).

The characters were well-developed and mostly likable (one reason I so enjoy books set in Scotland and Ireland is that they remind me of my time living in the UK and how generally hospitable these people were compared to the English!), but I found it someone strange that the majority of them were described as "older." Most of the characters -- except for the protagonist and Hamlet (one of the workers at the bookstore) -- were over the age of 50. 

While I appreciate diversity in all fiction (including books and movies), I felt that this was somewhat less "diverse" and more focused on the elder characters than on a good mix of characters from various backgrounds and ages. This may be setting the stage for another book in this series, which I would find believable.

All in all, my favorite character was Elias, and I hated the way that Delaney used him and Aggie, but have to confess to having liked Delaney well enough to give another book featuring this character a shot.

I read the book in about two days, which says something for someone who usually only reads about one book every week and a half. It will be released in March of next year and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

Recommended for very patient readers.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This is my honest opinion of the novel.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wishlist Wednesday #1: Focalink Double Alto C Ocarina

I've been doing a little bit of writing lately about how and why to make a holiday wishlist, so I thought that since I didn't have any overwhelming inspiration for today, that I'd write about what's on my wishlist. Every week I'll choose one (relevant) item from my wishlist and post it here (with a link to Amazon, of course!).

I'd love for my readers to participate by adding their own most wished for items in the comments. If anybody's interested enough, I'll add a linky to next week's Wishlist Wednesday. Make sure to include a link to your wishlist if you choose to participate!

Wishlist Wednesday at Coffee, Books, and Music

This week, I'd like to share with you the Double Chamber Alto C Ocarina from Focalink that has been on my wishlist for about a year.

This blog's main focus is on books because they're easy to write about, but its secondary focus is on music. I've been playing the ocarina for about two years now, and I've found real peace and joy in musical expression. I purchased the Focalink Double Soprano G last year, and I love this little instrument -- but prefer to play in the key of C. 

Other ocarina players advised me to buy a key I didn't currently own (since I already had two Alto Cs and one Soprano C). I've never been happy that I followed this advice, in spite of how much I love my two Soprano G ocarinas (one double and one six-hole).

Of all the things I hope to receive off of my wishlist before the end of the year, this is at the top of my list.

Wishlist Wednesday: Focalink Double Alto C Ocarina

If you'd like to see the other things on my Amazon Wishlist, then check out the link below.

My Amazon Wishlist

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Book Review #2: Frozen Charlotte, by Alex Bell

Frozen Charlotte, by Alex Bell

Title: Frozen Charlotte
Author: Alex Bell
Published: January 5th, 2015
Page Count: 352
Format Read: NetGalley PDF
Series: Red Eye
Genre: Young Adult Horror
Date Read: October 27th, 2015
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Recommendation: Recommended

Summary: Sophie and her friend Jay think it's innocent enough when it starts. What harm can a Ouija app on a cell phone do, anyway? But when the lights go out in the cafe and Sophie sees the figure of a girl in a long dress standing on one of the cafe's tables -- right before a woman starts to scream from the kitchen -- things take a dark turn. Can the ouija board, in fact, release something evil from beyond the grave? She's going to find out, whether she wants to or not!

My Thoughts: Let me tell you, it's been a long time since I read an entire book in one day -- including the little 70 page novellas I've downloaded free from Amazon. This book grabbed me, sucked me in, and held me until I read the last page. I came to the end shuddering with horror -- which is exactly what I like when reading a horror novel!

The book is atmospheric -- but then you might expect it to be, set on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. It reminded me in some ways of stories like The Woman in White, The Good Son, and Orphan. When a book sucks me into the setting with its outstanding atmosphere, it's harder to put it down, and results in a faster, more entertaining read.

Considering that I'm making a concerted effort to read for pleasure at this point in my life, this book hit the spot!

I have to admit that I thought I'd figured the book out -- that it was something similar to My Sweet Audrina -- and I was waiting to be proven right. Ms. Bell successfully pulled me through to the very end without spoiling the results for me. How wonderful!

If you're looking for a spooky read, this is a great choice. It includes classic components of great horror: Atmosphere, an item commonly connected to phobias (dolls), excellent characters, decent writing, and a fast pace. The book never slows down, doesn't include unnecessary wordiness, and though written simply (for younger readers), the ease with which I read this encouraged me to continue by picking up the next book on my TBR stack -- tonight.

To note: The writing could do with some improvement. At times choppy, the flow in the beginning of the book requires some improvement, but it got better as the book went on. Either that, or I was so enthralled with it that I ceased to care. It's well-enough edited: Few grammatical errors and no spelling errors that I noticed. A copy editor could deal with some of the leaps in the novel, but they aren't significant enough to bother me -- and I'm a tough reviewer, in general.


I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This is my honest opinion of the novel.

I receive a small commission on purchases made through Amazon. If you click through my link and make any purchase on Amazon through this link within the next three days, I will receive a commission. This helps to support my book habits! I'd appreciate any commissions I can make through this blog. Thank you!

Book Review #1: The Last Reading by Gillian Larkin

The Last Reading, by Gillian Larkin (Book Review)
Title: The Last Reading
Published: August 13th, 2014
Page Count: 77
Format Read: Kindle
Series: Storage Ghost Cozy Mystery #1
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Date Read: October, 2015
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Recommendation: Recommended

Summary: Grace Abrahams works with her brother's second-hand shoppe by attending storage locker auctions to pick up merchandise for the store, and she meets ghosts in the abandoned lockers who are attached to items in the lockers. 

In The Last Reading, Grace meets Mae Moonshine, a psychic reader who was killed during a psychic fair. now she must work with Mae to find the killer and answer the questions the befuddled ghost has about why she had to die.

Thoughts: I enjoyed this quick and easy cozy mystery. In the last few years I've read a number of mysteries which cannot be solved based on the clues given to the reader, and Larkin successfully built a solvable story that wasn't so completely obvious that I groaned and rolled my eyes when I reached the climax of the story. She has considerable skill as a storyteller, which is what got me through this book. 

Before I get into the specifics, I do intend to pick up more books in this series to give them a further read. I liked the book and would recommend it.

That being said, I do feel that the characterizations were a bit thin and that the author could do with hiring a good editor with a mind toward fleshing the prose out. There were moments in the book when things changed unexpectedly -- and not in a good way. One example that comes to mind is that Grace is confident throughout the story that she can use her sleuth powers (like Jessica Fletcher, on Murder, She Wrote) to solve the mystery, and then she very suddenly loses all confidence and has a meltdown in front of Mae.

The characters could do with more definition, but were likable and I feel that all in all, these characters will follow through with more development in future stories.

It bears mentioning that while this book is the first in a series, it is a continuation from another series. Grace and her brother Frankie, as well as Pearl (the ghost of the thrift store) are characters from another series by the same author. This may be confusing if you don't understand this point from the beginning (as I didn't).

I like Ms. Larkin and would love to see more from her. 

Did you read The Last Reading? If so, what did you think of it? If not, do you plan to?

I receive a small commission on purchases made through Amazon. If you click through my link and make any purchase on Amazon through this link within the next three days, I will receive a commission. This helps to support my book habits! I'd appreciate any commissions I can make through this blog. Thank you!

4 simple reasons I read for pleasure

Every fall, I begin to read again, and nearly every winter, my reading drops away. There are several reasons that this happens, but the most important reason is that in the fall, I read for pleasure.

There's something different about the Autumn, when I comfortably settle in to read with a cozy blanket in my favorite recliner and read for hours at a time. (Wouldn't it be nice if I could do it without being interrupted by my seven-year-old?) Moreover, this is the time of year when I am most turned on by paper books and not my eReader.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot love my Kindle the way that I want to. It's fine for quick reads of independent fiction (in particular the shorter books published through KDP), but the meat and potatoes of reading is (for me), the paperback novel.

(Admittedly, I don't even get the same thing out of hardcover books!)

4 Simple Reasons to Read for Pleasure

This fall, I picked up my Kindle Fire (not my favorite device to read on, but it was available at the time) and when I opened it, the first book that popped up was Stephen King's It. I had begun picking at it about a year ago (it is admittedly an epic read) off and on but found the Kindle version to be overpriced and under-edited. Too many 1s stood in place of lowercase Ls (or vice versa), making the book difficult to read on Kindle.

So I took myself to Half Price Books and purchased a copy of the novel for $2.49.

It has been years since I got so much pleasure out of a book. This book, in particular, has occupied much of my reading time; Not because of its length, but because the book fascinates me. I'm reading it for the third time now.

I'm not going to get into the reasons that I don't get as much out of reading on the Kindle (not yet, anyway, but I will at a later date!) but I would like to talk some about what reading for pleasure has done for me this fall -- and why I want to do more of it throughout the year.

It Provides an Escape from Stress

I struggle with post traumatic stress disorder, and even the most routine stress can cause me to become deeply depressed. This became a serious problem this summer while my family and I were living with my parents for four months (and more recently, since my husband lost his job).

When I put aside the stress of reading (a commitment to review everything that I read, the challenge to read a book or two a week, the desire to read for knowledge rather than pleasure), it provides me a temporary escape from stress. While I read, I am fully immersed in the world the author has woven for me.

This takes me out of the world of stress in which I live and provides me the opportunity to engage with something different. Even if the world of the novel is horrifying (such as It), I can escape from my present circumstances and into a rich world of characters and (my favorite), terror. 

Of course, this only applies when the book provides a stable universe, interesting characters, and a plot that continues to move. This is one of the reasons that I enjoy Stephen King's older work, among other favorite authors.

It Broadens My Reading Library

When I read for pleasure, I read more. While I realize that this isn't true of everyone, reading for pleasure means that I read more often, read more deeply, and that I enjoy reading more than I do if I'm reading as entertainment (to replace writing, television, or music), and therefore I generally read more books if I'm not on a timeline (even if the books are longer!).

I've always been a quick reader, capable of finishing a novel in a week or less, depending on its length and how much reading I'm doing. What I do not like is having to read on a schedule in order to churn out book reviews on a particular timeline or for the benefit of the author (which is especially true if I didn't enjoy the book).

Reading for pleasure means that I read more deeply, become more involved in the book, and that I therefore remember the book better. The books I read for pleasure are most likely to be added to my book shelf of books to recommend to other people, and I'm more likely to keep them -- my true test of enjoyment for any novel.

I'm always looking to expand my library of books I've read from start to finish (which includes if the book is written as part of a series, finishing every book in the series).

4 Simple Reasons You Should Read for Pleasure
I want my personal library to look like this: Full of books I've read!

It Introduces Me to Excellent Authors

One of the most amazing things about reading for pleasure is taking recommendations for friends. If it wasn't for friends, I'd never have discovered Nicholas Evans, John Grisham, or Nora Roberts (some of my favorites). In fact, I might never have stepped outside of the horror genre and away from Anne Rice and Stephen King if it hadn't been for the recommendations of other pleasure readers.

I read book blogs on a regular basis -- it's one way that I've discovered books I truly enjoy (such as The Hunger Games). The best recommendations often come from other pleasure readers, and the people I connect with the most are always those who read because they want to, and not because they've set up a personal timeline on Goodreads or their blog, reading a set number of books in a set time period. The most astonishing (for me) is when I read blogs by people who claim to read a book a day.

This is impossible for me to do and enjoy, even when the books are remarkably short. The last short novel I picked up was The Last Reading and it took me about six months to finish because I pushed myself too hard. I ultimately enjoyed the book when I relaxed and read it because I wanted to, and not because I had to. I'll happily read more by author Gillian Larkin.

It Helps Me Relax Alone

Reading for pleasure helps me to relax alone.
As an INFJ, I need a lot of time to relax alone. Reading for pleasure helps me do that!

I'm an INFJ personality type -- for those who don't know, the rarest personality type at only 1% of the population. Like most introverts, I require considerable time to be by myself. Reading -- and in particular reading for pleasure -- provides me with what I need in order to rejuvenate myself. 

The escape into a fictional world helps to comfort me and the book provides a barrier between me and other people who would otherwise attempt to engage me.

Throughout the time that my family stayed with my parents, my mother was the worst culprit for stopping to talk to me when I was involved in other things. For me, this could be anything from writing to studying language to working on graphic design (which is not a talent of mine, I must say). She was particularly fond of bringing up stressful topics when I could least handle discussing them (such as how my husband's job search was going, or whether or not we'd signed a lease on a home yet). 

A book tells other people "leave me alone, I'm reading." It tells people that you want to be by yourself, and it acts as a barrier. Reading for pleasure separates me mentally from the people who attempt to change my focus. If I'm reading for pleasure, I'm deeply involved in the fictional world, and am further from the "real world" in which my friends of family wish to involve me.

This makes it easier for me to be alone, and therefore to relax away from the pressures of every day life.

Monday, October 26, 2015

It's Monday: What Are You Reading? #1 (Stephen King's It)

It's Monday? What are you reading?

I've just begun to start reading again after a long hiatus (mostly due to personal pressure on myself to read too much in too short a period of time). This is significant for me, though it tends to happen every autumn. 

This is a new blog because I thought that a fresh start and a fresh perspective might work well to help keep me motivated. 

My goal is to read as much as I want and to review everything that I read, regardless of whether or not I'm able to finish it (provided I've read enough to give an opinion on the book).

Mondays are a good benchmark, but they are also the day that Book Date hosts "It's Monday: What are you reading?"

I've made my own graphic because I like to have Pinterest-friendly graphics on my blog. The official banner is on the right (it links to the meme for this week on Book Date, if you're interested).

Stephen King's ItIf you're a book blog, you might want to participate, so stop on by and leave your link, along with what you're reading this week! I'll be happy to hear from you in my comments as well.

As for me, this week I'm reading It for the third time.

This classic horror novel is a favorite of mine, and it seems timely given that Halloween is just around the corner. I'm taking it slow and reading for pleasure rather than to race to the end so I can review the book. Who needs another review of a Stephen King novel, anyway?

(Late) last week I finished reading The Last Reading, which was a nice, short little cozy mystery by Gillian Larkin. The review will be posting tomorrow (scheduled), so you can look forward to it then (I'll link it here once the review has actually posted). I would recommend this book, but encourage readers to understand that the book claims to be the first in a series but starts from a point it continues from another series. It's a little bit confusing, but the book itself was enjoyable.

I'm not expecting to finish It this week, so I don't project any other books for this one.