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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Silenced by Heather Graham

Earlier this year I read The Dead Played On and Phantom Evil by Heather Graham, and while I didn't outright love either one they did convince me to keep reading her. I particularly liked the latter, and it's New Orleans setting, so when I saw more Krewe books popping up on NetGalley I had to request them. The Silenced is book 15 in the Krewe of Hunters series. This would mean reading the series out of order, which I am loathe to do, but I still did it.  As it turns out, it doesn't affect the reading at all.


Where is Lara Mayhew?

Lara, a congressman's media assistant, suddenly quits her job—and disappears on the way to her Washington, DC, apartment.

Novice FBI agent Meg Murray, a childhood friend of Lara's, gets a message from her that same night, a message that says she's disillusioned and "going home." To Richmond, Virginia. Meg discovers that she never got there. And bodies fitting Lara's description are showing up in nearby rivers… Could she be the victim of a serial killer?

Meg is assigned to work with special agent Matt Bosworth, a hard-nosed pro in the FBI's unit of paranormal investigators—the Krewe of Hunters. They trace the route Meg and Lara took more than once in the past, visiting battlefields and graveyards from Harpers Ferry to Gettysburg. Places where the dead share their secrets with those who can hear… As Meg and Matt pursue the possibility of a serial killer, they find themselves in the middle of a political conspiracy. Is there a connection? If so, has Lara been silenced for good? And whom—besides each other—can they trust?

So first, the mystery.  I don't read a ton of mystery or suspense books (though I'm starting to think I should!), so I don't have a lot of compare this to. I'd think that anyone who regularly does would have no problems guessing the identify of the serial killer in this one, but for me it was just enough of a mystery that I didn't really figure it out (not that I was actually trying to.)  Thinking about it now, if there were clues I still don't see them, beyond the fact that it's (always) someone you know.

The romance was really very quick. Meg and Matt fall in love within a week. It's very easily explained by the fact that they both have something "more" than average (ie, their special abilities that put them on the Krewe) and so it's always been hard to fall in love with someone who didn't understand.  Meg really dislikes Matt from the beginning tho, and I was hard pressed to understand their falling in love. I didn't really see any special attraction between them. Meg is very insecure about being the new girl, and her constant repeating of her qualifications got a little old, even if presented as a joke. I liked Matt quite a bit in general, despite my feeling iffy on the romance.

The biggest disappointment for me was that it's not set in New Orleans. Apparently the Krewe travels. I suppose the description of the book should have clued me in on that one but I kind of missed it. History buffs will love this, because it delves pretty deeply into Civil War history and the Underground Railroad, and while that was interesting, I felt that near the end it ruined the suspense aspect of the book. Graham kept throwing in a little more and a little more and a little more history. It's hard to maintain an elevated level of tension if you have to break for a couple pages to talk about the Civil War. ( I should remind you here that I was a history major, and that even I kept thinking "ok, let's get on with the story!")

All that said though, I am really enjoying the series as a whole and look forward to the next books (The Forgotten) as well as eventually going back to read the ones I skipped. It's a nice easy read with a bit of romance, a bit of history, a bit of "other", and some suspense. The ones I've read have fit that spot where you want something quick and fun that doesn't require much concentration- perfect summer reading!

The Silenced comes out today.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Head Case: My Brain and Other Wonders by Cole Cohen

I recently read a review for Head Case that made me log right into NetGalley to see if I could still snag a copy. Happily, I could. Books like this are endlessly fascinating to me, if they are done well.

A spirited, wry, and utterly original memoir about one woman's struggle to make her way and set up a life after doctors discover a hole the size of a lemon in her brain.
The summer before she was set to head out-of-state to pursue her MFA, twenty-six-year-old Cole Cohen submitted herself to a battery of tests. For as long as she could remember, she'd struggled with a series of learning disabilities that made it nearly impossible to judge time and space--standing at a cross walk, she couldn't tell you if an oncoming car would arrive in ten seconds or thirty; if you asked her to let you know when ten minutes had passed, she might notify you in a minute or an hour. These symptoms had always kept her from getting a driver's license, which she wanted to have for grad school. Instead of leaving the doctor's office with permission to drive, she left with a shocking diagnosis--doctors had found a large hole in her brain responsible for her life-long struggles. Because there aren't established tools to rely on in the wake of this unprecedented and mysterious diagnosis, Cole and her doctors and family create them, and discover firsthand how best to navigate the unique world that Cole lives in. Told without an ounce of self-pity and plenty of charm and wit, Head Case is ultimately a story of triumph, as we watch this passionate, loveable, and unsinkable young woman chart a path for herself.

I did find the story itself crazy interesting. I mean, how could I not?? She has a lemon sized hole in her head! But I never really felt like I'd enjoy spending time with Cole and her writing style (personality?) was a bit of a turnoff for me. I realize that a physical problem of this sort is not something that you can ever blame an individual for having, but reading it kind of felt like she was talking about some other person she knew who had this problem. It was in first person, but it was all very detached. The few concrete examples of experiences she had seemed very edited to make it seem as tho any misunderstanding or problem were on the side of the other person, even before she was diagnosed at all. I wanted her to open up and say "I totally screwed this up and know we know why, but oh man what a mess I made!" when instead it was more like "I just couldn't get it right and they kept blaming me!" I couldn't honestly recommend it as great reading though it was very short, so if you are particularly interested in this kind of topic, you may still want to pick it up.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Phantom Evil by Heather Graham

A couple months ago I was peer pressured into trying a Heather Graham paranormal. Ok ok, subtly peer pressured. Ok, so Katherine was reading one.  Katherine had one on her TBR. Same thing.  It was not awful, but also not great. It did, however, convinced me to try a different Graham series, The Krewe of Hunters. Phantom Evil is the first of that series.

A secret government unit, a group of renegade paranormal investigators…and a murder no one else can crack
Though haunted by the recent deaths of two teammates, Jackson Crow knows that the living commit the most heinous crimes.
A police officer utilizing her paranormal intuition, Angela Hawkins already has her hands full of mystery and bloodshed.
But one assignment calls to them too strongly to resist. In a historic mansion in New Orleans's French Quarter, a senator's wife falls to her death. Most think she jumped; some say she was pushed. And yet others believe she was beckoned by the ghostly spirits inhabiting the house—once the site of a serial killer's grisly work.
In this seemingly unsolvable case, only one thing is certain: whether supernatural or all too human, crimes of passion will cast Jackson and Angela into danger of losing their lives…and their immortal souls.

Wow, sounds creepy! But was it? No, not really. It was much more enjoyable than The Dead Play On though, and made me think that perhaps this was a series I could follow. Now, I read this one several books and a couple months ago, and I only just realized I didn't entirely finish my review but have already written a review for a future book in the series that may or may not make sense if I hadn't written this one yet. And yes, I realize that there's no one actually reading my blog and paying that much attention, but humor me, ok?  So here's the entirety of the review that I had already written:

ghosts vs real story
chopping writing
hokey sex

Nice. That tells you a lot, doesn't it? I'll fill that out for you. (THANK GOD I made such detailed notes! Tho, if I'm honest, that's enough to remind me.)

Religion.  This one takes place in New Orleans and there is a bit of a voodoo flair to it, not a ton, but a bit. There's also a good bit of dark vs light imagery that grew a bit annoying, and overall I felt as though there were more than a little Christian bent to the book. It wasn't overwhelming or particularly preachy, but it's not something I read often. 

Ghosts vs real story. The summary would lead you to believe that the murder is caused by ghosts. In reality, this is very much a Scooby Doo type ghost story. Oh there are actual ghosts, which I enjoyed, but it was almost a parallel story. Compared to The Dead Play On, it was much much more paranormal.

Chopping writing. I found this one to be much better written than I did The Dead Play On. Graham ceased to describe every single action. It's still not a series one reads for the writing, and there are certainly writers who do both paranormal plot AND writing better, but I never wanted to gouge my eyes out.

Hokey sex. Ok, so here's the biggest problem with this one. This is a paranormal romance. The main characters have to fall in love. I totally didn't buy it. I didn't feel the love or the attraction and I felt like the sex was way out of place. While I liked both the main characters, and actually ALL the characters, I just did not buy any aspect of the romance.

You're just dying to read this now, aren't you?  Honestly tho, I enjoyed it and I've gone on to read two more in the series. It isn't likely to make my favorite series list, but it's fresh and new to me right now and they are easy and quick for when I'm too tired to focus on anything else.  (As I write this, I realize this is the same slot the In Death books fill for me but I'm actually caught up on that series!) Would I read more? Clearly. Would I hold it out as an example of great writing? Nope. If you're already a fan of paranormal or romance then take a chance.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Five thoughts on Friday

1. I am exhausted this morning and have come to realize that the more tired I am the more easily distracted I am.

2. Our town has a summer festival called Oahe Days. It's kicked off with a parade that goes right in front of my house. For the third year, we've invited everyone we know with kids to a BYO Picnic and candy gathering. It's a lot of fun, and not a lot of stress. I don't have to provide anything but grass, curb space, a bathroom, and a hot grill. And there is beer. Just let the rain hold off! (Picture from two summers ago- look how toddler she was!)

3. I turned 40 last week.  I'm not upset to be 40, but I do find it a little surprising. I had the day after my birthday off and Mike and I spent it on the boat, in the quiet. That part was lovely.

4. That said, this is going to be my year. As my running buddy says, "Beast Mode ON."  I don't know if it's a function of the age/number or of the tiring work of parenting, but this is going to be the year I turn awesome.  I ran six  miles on Wednesday. It's serious now.

5. I'm in a serious reading slump. Books I expect to love are boring. Romances by favorite authors are a struggle. I don't feel like it's a matter of being in a rut, but just a string of "this isn't what I expected." I have no problems DNF'ing a snoozer tho, so hopefully something grabs me soon! (The cats illustrate what happens lately when I read.)

What's new with you today?

Monday, June 08, 2015

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

I am WAY late in reading and reviewing this one. I've had it from NetGalley since late 2014, but I wasn't overly interested until the last month of so. As I've mentioned before, I've recently become obsessed with the idea of a morning routine and productivity habits. I listen to Rubin's podcast, and she's been mentioned quite a few times on other podcasts, so I finally had a reason to pull it out.

The author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, tackles the critical question: How do we change? 

Gretchen Rubin's answer: through habits. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. It takes work to make a habit, but once that habit is set, we can harness the energy of habits to build happier, stronger, more productive lives.

So if habits are a key to change, then what we really need to know is: How do we change our habits?

Better than Before answers that question. It presents a practical, concrete framework to allow readers to understand their habits—and to change them for good. Infused with Rubin’s compelling voice, rigorous research, and easy humor, and packed with vivid stories of lives transformed, Better than Before explains the (sometimes counter-intuitive) core principles of habit formation.

Along the way, Rubin uses herself as guinea pig, tests her theories on family and friends, and answers readers’ most pressing questions—oddly, questions that other writers and researchers tend to ignore:

• Why do I find it tough to create a habit for something I love to do?
• Sometimes I can change a habit overnight, and sometimes I can’t change a habit, no matter how hard I try. Why?
• How quickly can I change a habit?
• What can I do to make sure I stick to a new habit?
• How can I help someone else change a habit?
• Why can I keep habits that benefit others, but can’t make habits that are just for me?

Whether readers want to get more sleep, stop checking their devices, maintain a healthy weight, or finish an important project, habits make change possible. Reading just a few chapters of Better Than Before will make readers eager to start work on their own habits—even before they’ve finished the book.

So I admit, I didn't really read the description before getting started.  I thought this was going to be a lot more like the other book I read by her- The Happiness Project- and was quite surprised to find this one to be a lot more meta. There's a lot about the thought process of habits, and the reasoning why some habits stick and some don't, and not a lot of actual advice or examples.  That said I thought this would be a nice intro to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and I was (am) really interested in the topic. It starts strong and I highlighted several passages and texted Trish a few times but by about halfway I was done with it. Even tho the actual content from chapter to chapter varies, the tone and the writing gets very very monotonous and I found Rubin's need to Name everything tedious and cutsy. (The Strategy of Distraction, a Questioner, a Rebel, A Tendency. A Something Capitalized.)

Overall, I am happy that I read this, as it fits in nicely with my study of habits and ritual and success, but if I'd just picked it up on a whim I probably would have set it aside unfinished and forgotten about it.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Five Books on Friday

Due to my library holds all coming in at once, I have a pretty strict list of books that need to be my "next" book. Library e-books are tricky things, you can't elect to pay a few days of fees and keep them late. They must be read immediately, or you get to go back on the list. Here's what I have that has to be read immediately.

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen.  I requested my library buy this one, so I'm at the start of the list, but I suspect the line after me is very long. I haven't read a Dessen in several years, but Janssen tells me this one is awesome.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I LOVED Tiny Beautiful Things (no, Trish, I have no reviewed it yet. I suck.) and Dear Sugar is my favorite podcast. This is the 3rd time I've checked this out and I'm not sure why I hesitate.

The Power of Habit by Duhigg. This one is an audiobook. I don't have high hopes that I will finish it before it expires because I've already started Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin and I don't want to read two books about habits at the same time. I'm enjoying Better Than Before, but it's not going super fast.

Second Grave on the Left by Darynda Jones. I FLEW through the first one and really should have waited before starting this. But I didn't. I'm about half done.

Slim by Design by Brian Wansink. I enjoyed Mindless Eating so much that I read it twice, so when I discovered this at the library I knew I had to read it too.

What are the next five books on your list? Do you have a pile of library books  that absolutely have to be read?

Monday, June 01, 2015

Hexagon quilt update the millionth

I know you have all been waiting and waiting for an update on the Pink and Gray Hexagon quilt. It had reached a point where while I was making progress the updates looked very similar and of course all the photos were near identical. I have finally reached a new stage in the quilt. I've basted about 2200 hexies, out of 2900. (Rough numbers. I DO have the exact count, but I am not writing this from home.) I have sewn most of the hexies I have into flowers. I estimate I'm about 80 flowers short, but I'm not 100% certain until I get closer. I have started sewing them together, exciting, right?

I have drawn out a rough idea of what I want the layout to be. This is flexible, if they fit together better in another way I can change it, but it gives me a map to work off of and lets me know approximately what my progress is. I'm sewing the flowers together as indicated on the chart, but I don't always sew all the way around each flower. Right now I'm mainly interested in getting them attached so that I can see where I am, than in a finished solid piece.

In this picture you can see one large piece. These are all connected in some way, tho as you can tell not on all sides. The white arrows point at seams I've done, and the green arrows show what I have yet to sew. Yet if you lay it out on the table, and smooth it down, there are no holes or missing hexies, follow? My idea is that if I do this now, I can stop thinking about layout and placement and just sit down in front of the tv and mindlessly finish all the seams.

If you look super closely at the next picture, at the arrow, you can see a straight pin. Across the open space in the flowered hex there is another pin as well. Those pins are there to point at each other so if I lose track of where the large pieces go I can line them up.  Honestly tho, the more I add the easier it is to keep my place. It's like giant jigsaw pieces. I have three of them done now, and since I started at a corner they all have straight edges to line things up.

I'm somewhere between 1/5 and 1/4 done with the body of the quilt.  In this picture, the ones marked in orange are sewn together, except that I worked on it more since I took this picture and it's actually done all the way to the top edge of the picture.  The graph itself is folded, so you're only seeing 1/4 of the full layout.  The green on the edges will be a row of white/neutrals and then there will be another row of pink outside of that. Or perhaps pink and white. I plan to use up my leftovers in the border.

I have had a TON of help with this one. Every time I spread it out this helpful guy comes over to check on me. He's not at all interested in my needle and thread, but does feel pretty strongly that he needs to hold it all down. He also seems to be a major Friends fan and will stare at the iPad like he's following along.

On  side note, I just saw this episode last week, and I loved it just as much as the first time.

Mike is out of town all week this week, and I made a point to clear the dining room table just to work on this project. I'm considering bailing on all other obligations and seeing just how far I can get. (It's not like I can leave the kids home alone and go run or anything!) My goal for finishing the top has been August 31st of this year. I don't think it's likely that I can do that, but I just noticed that I began the quilt on October 30, 2012. Perhaps I can aim for finishing it by it's 3rd birthday?

I'm linking up with Trish's Inspiration Monday today. Make sure you go over and see what projects everyone else has in the works.

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