December 30, 2012

TEA & BOOKS Reading Challenge


Is there never a cup of tea large enough for you? Is there never a book long enough to suit you? Then you've come to the right place. Let me introduce you to the Tea & Books Reading Challenge where you'll be sipping tea while reading dome 650+ pages tomes.

To sign up for the challenge and get acquainted with the general rules, please head over HERE.

Now that you found your way back to this post which is not only a reminder to get your name on the sign-up list, but also the first update post of the challenge, it's time to dig through those book stacks to find books that will not only go wonderfully well with some Earl Grey tea, but which will also give your upper arm muscles some workout.

Before getting started, I'd like to add two more things to the challenge.
I've been asked whether audio books are allowed and the answer is yes. Of course the page rule also applies here which means that only listening to an unabridged version of a book which has over 650 pages in print form will be allowed.
Also I'd like to repeat, as stated in the rules, that there is no need to review the books you read for the challenge. I know that in most challenges you are supposed to read, review and link-up that review, but I simply want to emphasize the joy of reading non fiction. If you want to write a review that's fine, of course, but you don't need to if you don't want to.

Secondly, remember if the book is too big for you, you might need stronger tea to keep going!

Updates for the challenge will be posted regularly on Sundays near the end/beginning of a month and the next dates will thus be February 3rd, March 3rd, March 31st, April 28th, June 2nd, and June 30th.

I can't wait to hear what you might have already read by early February! So make yourself some tea and read a heavy tome!

THIS ISN'T FICTION Reading Challenge


Love non fiction? Or maybe you are a bit weary of the non in front of the fiction yet want to give it a try? Either way, if you plan to read books that fit the This isn't Fiction theme, then read on.

To sign up for the challenge and get acquainted with the general rules, please head over HERE.

All right, I do hope you found your way back to this post which is not only a reminder to get your name on the sign-up list, but also the first update post of the challenge. Of course we've all got two more days to get used to the idea of getting some non fiction fare onto our reading plates.

First, I'd like to add two more things to the challenge.
I've been asked whether audio books are allowed and the answer is yes. And I'd like to point out, as stated in the rules, that there is no need to review the books you read for the challenge. I know that in most challenges you are supposed to read, review and link-up that review, but I simply want to emphasize the joy of reading non fiction. If you want to write a review that's fine, of course, but you don't need to if you don't want to.

Secondly, have fun folks!

Updates for the challenge will be posted regularly on Sundays near the end/beginning of a month and the next dates will thus be February 3rd, March 3rd, March 31st, April 28th, June 2nd, and June 30th.

I can't wait to hear what you might have already read by early February! So go ahead and read something that isn't fiction!

The Reading Files - Have a cozy new year!

And the year shall end with ... murder!

Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon (M.C. Beaton)

Thoughts. Finding herself in the middle of a dreaded adultery case, Agatha is once again being her rude old self. While I wasn't too fond of her in another book in this series, oddly enough the interplay with the new hires in her detective agency made this mystery quite worthwhile for me.

Last lines. She opened the door and stared up at the tall figure standing there, smiling down at her. "Hullo, Agatha," said James Lacey.

Verdict. Solid little mystery with a bit of a cliffhanger!

Death of a Travelling Man (M.C. Beaton)

Thoughts. If there are two words to describe Hamish Macbeth then it would be charmingly unconventional. Granted, his methods (or his attitude in general) might not be for everyone, but I slowly seem to grow a liking for him. Unfortunately I found the mystery itself lacking.

Book quote. I'll hae the law on ye, ye randy! I'll hae yer life!
S.R. Crockett

Verdict. Light read adorned by everyone's favorite gruff (and lazy) constable!


Dead in the Water (Carole Dunn)

Thoughts. This has been the first book I've read in the series and I was instantly smitten by the historical setting and the main characters. Unfortunately the whole row-your-boat theme as such didn't do much for me, but nevertheless this was a lovely book that drew me right in.

Funny quote. "Oh, don't tell me you're just another of these bally would-be intellectual women, are you?"
"I'm a writer."
"Heaven help us! ..."
(p. 18)

Verdict. A delightful historical cozy that makes me want to read more in this series!

Review - Smuggler Nation (Peter Andreas)

America is a smuggler nation. Our long history of illicit imports has ranged from West Indies molasses and Dutch gunpowder in the 18th century, to British industrial technologies and African slaves in the 19th century, to French condoms and Canadian booze in the early 20th century, to Mexican workers and Colombian cocaine in the modern era.
Providing a sweeping narrative history from colonial times to the present, Smuggler Nation is the first book to retell the story of America--and of its engagement with its neighbors and the rest of the world--as a series of highly contentious battles over clandestine commerce. As Peter Andreas demonstrates in this provocative and fascinating account, smuggling has played a pivotal and too often overlooked role in America's birth, westward expansion, and economic development, while anti-smuggling campaigns have dramatically enhanced the federal government's policing powers.


Review
I've always been a friend of reading about history from a different angle. In Smuggler Nation Peter Andreas presents US history as a "smuggling story" which is a vantage point that sounded highly promising to me.
Presenting the impact and significance smuggling had in terms of the building of the US as a nation - from the early colonial era, up until the modern day - this is a both extensive and comprehensive work on the topic. It's the fascinating questions of how and why smuggling became such an essential, sometimes even necessary, ingredient for the nation, that hooked me right away.
While this book offers a broad view of the complex relationship America had, and still has, with smuggling, the author also skillfully highlights the progression of illicit trade throughout the years culminating in the battle to subvert it today. It's funny how we look back with a nostalgic glance on those colorful smuggling tales of times long gone and only ever grasp the ramifications of what illicit trade means to a country and its people when being faced with it in the present. And it's the present which is awarded just as much attention as the past, reaching beyond drug and border wars straight into the realm of illicit globalization.
Highly recommended for all history enthusiasts who're not scared of a fair share of economy between the pages too.
In short: Fascinating account on how smuggling made a nation!

4/5 Trees

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the NetGalley book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review - Mankind Beyond Earth (Claude A. Piantadosi)

Seeking to reenergize Americans' passion for the space program, the value of further exploration of the Moon, and the importance of human beings on the final frontier, Claude A. Piantadosi presents a rich history of American space exploration and its major achievements. He emphasizes the importance of reclaiming national command of our manned program and continuing our unmanned space missions, and he stresses the many adventures that still await us in the unfolding universe. Acknowledging space exploration's practical and financial obstacles, Piantadosi challenges us to revitalize American leadership in space exploration in order to reap its scientific bounty.


Review
With Mankind Beyond Earth Claude A. Piantadosi presents a different focus among the multitude of books on space exploration. Emphasizing the importance of first returning to the Moon before even thinking about taking the big leap towards Mars, some may think the book offers a much too prudent approach, but does it really?
Not just reiterating historic events, but drawing a vivid picture of how space travel draws from eg polar science, which is one of the grandparents of space exploration, the author comes to the conclusion that despite what it may look like, a coherent plan for human space travel has not been developed yet.
Obviously traveling into outer space does not allow much leeway when it comes to errors and bringing feasibility of future space exploration on par with the limits of human biology is a crucial point. Thus we must continue to learn and what better way than settling up on Earth's natural satellite which would offer the chance for habitat development before attempting interplanetary missions? With robotic missions well under way, we are certainly taking the first step, but it's a fragile balance not just of scientific research, but politics as well as economic considerations.
Highly engrossing and accessible even for those who aren't science nuts, I thoroughly enjoyed this book which does not simply draw castles in the sky, but conveys a wonderful combination of sound science with a sense for adventure!
In short: Captivating tract on the importance of space exploration!

4/5 Trees

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the NetGalley book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review - The Tinkerers (Alex Foege)

Once upon a time, the United States was a nation of tinkerers – amateurs and professionals alike who applied their ingenuity and talent to the challenges of their day. Guided by the curiosity of an inquiring mind, a desire to know how things work, and a belief that anything can be improved, they came up with the inventions that laid the foundations for the American century. Today, it seems that that can-do spirit has been overtaken by a general hopelessness around intractable problems. But as Alec Foege shows in The Tinkerers, reports of tinkering’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
Think tanks and companies have recognized the benefits of tinkering and have done their best to harness and institutionalize it, but they lack either the resources or the will to truly allow it to flourish. And as anyone who has overpaid for a simple smartphone repair knows, the complexity of modern systems can be needlessly intimidating. But ours is a nation that achieved its strength through the accomplishments of its innovators, and the tinkering tradition remains, in new and unexpected forms, at the heart of American society and culture.


Review
When I first heard about The Tinkerers by Alec Foege I had to think back to my own childhood days when my grandpa would tinker around on all kinds of gadgets and our TV set got repaired by a tinkering friend at least a dozen times.
In this spirit the author sets out from the tale of his own tinkering experience of repairing his smartphone, before delving deeper into history and technology, exploring tinkering from the birth of the nation straight to the hope of recovering the tinkering spirit through respective changes in the educational system.
Written in a sweeping and entertaining way, Foege certainly understands to pull you right in with his opening chapter. Then, however, I found myself faced with the sudden realization that the author and I have a completely different understanding about what tinkering means. A promising introduction is followed by, more or less, inventing things, and while this is certainly interesting it's neither what I had expected nor what I had been looking to read about.
Despite the misleading title the book is certainly rich in content and opens a fascinating perspective on the tinkering mind-set of the American people. Especially the emphasis on how Americans may, and should, rediscover their tinkering spirit, and the important part that education plays in this regard, was well worth the read and made up a little for what I conceived as missing the point of the topic.
In short: Manifest for reviving the American tinkering spirit!

3/5 Trees

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the NetGalley book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review - The Scientific Sherlock Holmes (James O'Brien)

One of the most popular and widely known characters in all of fiction, Sherlock Holmes has an enduring appeal based largely on his uncanny ability to make the most remarkable deductions from the most mundane facts.
In The Scientific Sherlock Holmes, James O'Brien provides an in-depth look at Holmes's use of science in his investigations. Indeed, one reason for Holmes's appeal is his frequent use of the scientific method and the vast scientific knowledge which he drew upon to solve mysteries. For instance, in heart of the book, the author reveals that Holmes was a pioneer of forensic science, making use of fingerprinting well before Scotland Yard itself had adopted the method. One of the more appealing aspects of the book is how the author includes real-world background on topics such as handwriting analysis, describing how it was used to capture the New York Zodiac killer and to clinch the case against the Lindbergh baby kidnapper.
Sherlock Holmes continues to fascinate millions of readers and movie goers alike. The Scientific Sherlock Holmes is a must-read for the legion of fans of this most beloved of all fictional detectives.


Review
With The Scientific Sherlock Holmes James O'Brien brought out a book for those who've been as spellbound by the fictional detective as I've ever been.
On first glance the book seems to focus on Sherlock's scientific tools of deduction, yet it also offers a substantial introduction to characters, influences, and stories themselves. On one hand I found this to be a good idea as it offers a more rounded picture, on the other hand the title is a bit misleading with its promise of a scientific emphasis. This probably makes the book more suitable for Sherlock Newbies while those who already know a fair share about Sherlock's world might skip the first part.
About two thirds of this small volume delve deeper into the world of forensic science and mostly chemistry, which Sherlock certainly knew most about. His methods are being illuminated by examples from the stories and brought in correlation with modern-day methods. Especially the discourse by Isaac Asimov, himself an avid Sherlockian, who is a notable critic of Sherlock's scientific knowledge, was quite captivating. Sadly though the two domains of fictional story and science feel cobbled together in a rather dry manner, without much care for a fluent reading experience.
All in all I am torn about this book as I found the topic itself highly fascinating, but the execution lacking. Either way, those genuinely interested in the subject should definitely give this book a try.
In short: The little book of Sherlock trivia!

3/5 Trees

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the NetGalley book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

December 28, 2012

Mid-Winter's Eve Blog Hop Winner

The lucky winner of the Mid-Winter's Eve Blog Hop is
Judith D.*
who has won a bookish mug from CafePress!

* there were a whooping five different Judith's entering this giveaway, so if Judith is indeed your first name, but your last name doesn't start with a D then it's not you *wink*

E-mail is on the way! Due to the holiday season the winner will have a full week to respond. If they don't, a new winner will be drawn!

December 24, 2012

Beware of red-dressed fellows with long white beards!

Wishing you all ...

a) Merry Christmas

b) Happy Holidays

c) Not Another Manic Monday

d) The Wisdom NOT to Take Candy from Strangers (you'll only regret it when you step on that scale when the new year rolls around)

Please check answer(s) that apply to you!

OOO

I've decided to take off the next two weeks. Not "take off" as in traveling-to-a-far-away-island-to-soak-up-the-sun ... instead I shall "take off" as in too-lazy-to-do-much-blogwise. There will be the odd post here or there, such as announcing the winner of the Mid-Winter's Eve Blog Hop and a reminder post about the two reading challenges I host, but that'll be it. And with any luck a couple reviews should be posted too (ha, ever the optimist).
See you all again on January 6th!

December 23, 2012

The Postman Files - The one with the cards!

This has been a wonderful week of food stuff for my mailbox! Not only did Santa (or rather the magic elf, as I've been told) drop off a book from my wishlist, I also received several Christmas cards, courtesy of the wonderful Book Bloggers Holiday Card Exchange hosted my Judith from Leeswammes' Blog, but I also received a card from one of my most loyal readers, dear Miki!

Gifted
Sweetly (Jackson Pearce)
from Ally @ Snow Feathers

Let me send you a big hug, my magic elf!!

Cards

A big thank you to all of you! 
Those cards sure brightened my day!!

The Reading Files - Let's get cozy!

About time to grab a mug of hot tea and delve into the world of cozy mysteries! Perfect book fare for the season if you ask me!

Murder with All the Trimmings (Elaine Viets)

Thoughts. Not all that much of mystery shopping in this one, but a whole lot of family business which was reminiscent of a slapstick comedy (not in a good way though) with Josie constantly lying and (perhaps consequently?) her usually smart daughter being utterly annoying. Not my fav in the series that's for sure!

First words spoken. Mom, can I see your wedding pictures?

Verdict. No prezzies for Josie from Santa this year!

Holiday Grind (Cleo Coyle)

Thoughts. Dead Santa. Dead Santa? Oh yes. Once again this series does not disappoint with a solid mystery and new insights into the characters (hint: Mike Quinn's Ex is making an appearance!), but most of all ... falalalalaaaaa ... there's holiday recipes galore to be found at the end of the book!

Last line. Then the mistletoe was above my head and the gift of love, at last, was right in front of me.

Verdict. Ho-ho-ho a Christmas coffee to go!

The Teaberry Strangler (Laura Childs)

Thoughts. Oh the scent of tea-berries (which will eventually reveal the murderer, of course). I found this to be one of the better books in the series, nice and cozy and thankfully lacking Theodosia's habit of lying through her teeth all the time. Funny though that I initially thought this would be a Christmas themed book (well, it isn't).

Random quote. "I don't speculate," Tidwell said in an icy tone. "I postulate."
"There's a difference?" Theodosia asked.
(p. 97)

Verdict. Like a nice cuppa tea, minus some cookies!

Books Can Be Deceiving (Jenn McKinlay)

Thoughts. First in the new Library Lover's Mysteries this one neither impressed nor disappointed. We're talking library and plagiarism and murder, obviously. Not many ups and downs, yet it's a promising introduction into the series and I will definitely check out the following books.

Cheesiest line. The bike ride into work woke her up, as the brisk October air pinched her cheeks like an affectionate auntie.
(p. 184)

Verdict. Very bookish, very cozy!

Murder of a Bookstore Babe (Denise Swanson)

Thoughts. Hard to believe this is already book 13 in the series and you know what they say about series that go on too long ... great plot with a truckload of suspects plus (mostly) highly likable characters. I initially bought it solely because of the "book theme", but I guess this won't be my last trip to Scumble River.

Book read in the book. If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where's My Prince?

Verdict. Great mystery that makes me long for more!

December 22, 2012

Pajama Musings - Bookishly challenged?

It's that time of year again. No, not Christmas. Though this reminds me that I need to get out the Christmas tree - 100% plastic, but looks almost like the real thing, plus I add a YC Mistletoe Air Freshener - and do a little decorating. First though let's take a look back on 2012 and what bookish things I achieved ...

I survived a full six months of not buying any books. Trust me when I say that it is absolutely doable and nothing to be scared of. Well, maybe a tiny little bit, but then again, where would be the challenge and the exalting feeling of victory when you make it across the finish line without once faltering.

I realized that just because you're not buying any books for half a year, doesn't mean your TBR piles will be getting noticeable smaller.

Starting out with roughly 400 unread books earlier this year, though to be perfectly honest it was almost 420, but I'm not sure about the exact number as my memory is somewhat blurry in that regard, my current number is 363.  Bummer.

After thinking long and hard, and getting a wee bit creative in a sneaky kind of way, I had an epiphany. There is a way to downsize those unread mountain ranges of books after all, it is called book purge.

*scampering off to fell some timber*

If your own TBR piles are as humongous as mine you'll probably own some books for up to a decade already. Thing is, as with tastes in other things, also the taste or interest in certain books or genres has a tendency to shift. Ultimately this meant that I purged my book piles twice this year, the last time about a week ago when I purged another 36 books. I mean, let's be perfectly honest, if you haven't picked up a book for several years chances are you won't pick it up in the next couple years either. So, out they go.

Not quite as obvious, but lurking secretly hidden away is my virtual library which thankfully doesn't take away much space. The virtues of an eReader, yay! However, it was time to face the music aka long list of unread freebies which I hoarded like crazy in 2011 and it wasn't a happy tune. Chances are I won't be reading (most of) those either, so a whopping number of 134 eBooks went straight to what I will from now on lovingly refer to as my Hiatus Stack. I'm not going to delete them from my eReader, but I'm not going to count them toward my unread books. Let's face it, they are more like undead now. Ha. Not funny, I know.
Side note: In the meantime I have changed my ways and am now only very rarely downloading freebies! And if I do, I usually read them within a month or two!

Where does this put me? This purge and slaying substantially reduced the number of unread books and I am now looking at the slightly less daunting number of 193 unread books. Still an awful lot, all right. The interesting question is - will I ever be able to get into double digits? Doubtful.

What to do, what to do?

I need to read faster and I need to get less books in. Yeah, right!

Solution? Book buying ban. There's not much fun in that either. So I decided I would at least reduce my book buying to keep things in the balance. Let's say I read 12 books a month, give or take one or two. I will need to stay below this mark. Well below, in fact. After all, books for review will roll in, and there might be the odd giveaway I win. So, I decided not to buy more than 6 books a month. Should be doable. Especially if I send out last-minute-orders like a maniac next week. Just kidding. After all I put myself on a book-buying-ban this month too, to avoid exactly that.

So, tell me, do you ever purge your TBR piles and what are your book shopping goals for next year? And book-buying-bans planned for the new year? Please share!

2nd Blogoversary Giveaway Winners

Have I got good news for you or what? Not only did the world not end, it's also time to announce the names of two lucky blog readers who've won the 2nd Blogoversary Giveaway!

Erika W.
Luisa F.

E-mails are on the way! Due to the holiday season the winners will have a full week to respond. If they don't, the world might end after all. Just kidding. No reply means new winners will be drawn!

December 21, 2012

This isn't Fiction - Cover me in ... animals!

Is there anything sweeter than being woken by a dog's wet nose? Or maybe you'd rather have your very own purring foot warmer? Or is your best friend just a hairier version of yourself? And if you've ever bought a book solely because the animal on the cover was cute, no need to be ashamed, I'm guilty of doing that myself.

Bark!
Marley & Me (John Grogan)
Inside Of A Dog (Alexandra Horowitz)

Meow!
Dewey (Vicki Myron)
Bad Cat (Jim Edgar)

Monkey see, monkey do!
Me Cheeta (James Lever)
Nim Chimpsky (Elizabeth Hess)

Now tell me, which of these covers do you like the most? 


Mid-Winter's Eve Blog Hop

Welcome to the
Mid-Winter's Eve Blog Hop
(December 21st - December 27th)

What is a giveaway hop? That's simple. Each participating blog hosts a giveaway and then we link up together allowing our followers to hop easily from one giveaway to another. For followers this means lots of chances to win free books and other goodies. For blogs hosting a giveaway it means lots of new visitors and followers. It's a win-win!

What does every reader need on those cold winter days? Apart from the obvious, such as a pile of books and a cozy blanket, that is. A coffee mug, of course. Or tea mug. Or hot cocoa mug. A mug to be filled with something hot and steamy which is why I'm giving away your choice of any bookish mug (15 oz) worth $18,00 from CafePress (plus shipping). In case the winner already owns enough mugs he/she may alternatively opt for a $20,00 CafePress GC instead!
Please note: I am in no way affiliated with Cafepress, I just happen to like the stuff they sell. Also, I will have the prize shipped to the winner directly through Cafepress to save on additional shipping costs.

All you have to do is fill out the form!
This giveaway is now closed!

Rules 
Comments do not count as entries - you must fill out the form!
Following my blog is no requirement, but greatly appreciated.
One entry per person.
Open worldwide.

Winner
One winner will be picked through random.org on December 28th and will then be contacted by e-mail as well as announced here on my blog. Due to the holiday season the winner will have a full week to respond and if he/she fails to do so I will draw a new winner.

And now, head on over to the rest of the blog hop participants!

December 19, 2012

Beyond the Shelf - This Into That

Where to go? This Into That

What's it all about? From the carefully tended orchards where a fully ripened book is harvested so it can be made into a piece of furniture in best old-world craftsmanship's tradition.

Who should check it out? Book lovers in need of a new side table (or some such).

Time well spent? Totally. I mean, this is such a neat idea for re-purposing old books, and I could well imagine owning one of the bookcases shown here.

One for the road ...


Round Table

December 18, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books I Read In 2012


Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Books I Read In 2012

To spread my love equally I decided to split this one up into two categories - Top Ten Fiction (YA) and Top Ten Non-Fiction!

Top Ten Fiction (YA) Books I Read In 2012

Ashes (Ilsa J. Bick)

A Face Like Glass (Frances Hardinge)

Twilight Robbery (Frances Hardinge)

Hereafter (Tara Hudson)

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Patrick Ness)

Delirium (Lauren Oliver)

Sisters Red (Jackson Pearce)

A Million Suns (Beth Revis)

POD (Stephen Wallenfels)

Numbers (Rachel Ward)


Top Ten Non-Fiction Books I Read In 2012

The Deepest Sense (Constance Victoria Classen)

Physics of the Future (Michio Kaku)

The Art of Procrastination (John Perry)

One for the Books (Joe Queenan)

My Bookstore (Ronald Rice, Ed.)

Hollywood Unknowns (Anthony Slide)

Rabid (Bill Wasik)

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap (Wendy Welch)

Consider the Fork (Bee Wilson)

If Walls Could Talk (Lucy Worsley)

What are the best books you've read this year?

Quote Garden - Snow

White are the far-off plains, and white
The fading forests grow;
The wind dies out along the height,
And denser still the snow,
A gathering weight on roof and tree,
Falls down scarce audibly.

The road before me smooths and fills
Apace, and all about
The fences dwindle, and the hills
Are blotted slowly out;
The naked trees loom spectrally
Into the dim white sky.

The meadows and far-sheeted streams
Lie still without a sound;
Like some soft minister of dreams
The snow-fall hoods me round;
In wood and water, earth and air,
A silence everywhere.

Save when at lonely intervals
Some farmer's sleigh, urged on,
With rustling runners and sharp bells,
Swings by me and is gone;
Or from the empty waste I hear
A sound remote and clear;

The barking of a dog, or call
To cattle, sharply pealed,
Borne echoing from some wayside stall
Or barnyard far a-field;
Then all is silent, and the snow
Falls, settling soft and slow.

The evening deepens, and the gray
Folds closer earth and sky;
The world seems shrouded far away;
Its noises sleep, and I,
As secret as yon buried stream,
Plod dumbly on, and dream.

Snow by Archibald Lampman

December 17, 2012

A Writer's Life - This one is so not about me!

Do you like ETSY? 
Do you love COUPON CODES? 
Then you better read on!

Writers write. Writers read. Writers easily get cold feet when they're not wrapped in a cozy blanket while ... well, writing or reading. We can't have that, can we now?

Personally I've always been one of those people who will layer up in the cold months and then throw a cozy blanket over shoulders or lap, depending on mood and bodily freezing zones. It will not surprise you to learn that I own quite a few blankets, from thin (think cool summer nights) straight to an ice-bear-died-for-that (a polyester bear, so don't look so scandalized).

But you know what? I do have a favorite blankie too. Actually it's the newest one in my collection and it's not just wonderfully soft and warm and perfect to throw over while reading some cozy mysteries ... it also features Boyd's Bears, yay! Wanna take a look? Thought so!

Tadaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

And no, that's not me! I mean I'm not opposed to hibernating during the winter months, but I'm not THAT hairy either! Somehow a "modelling photo" seemed like a perfect idea and well, Queen Elinor volunteered to pose for me.

Now how about a close-up?

Isn't it adorable? And even more so, the blanket is as soft as it looks too!

So, to cut a long story short - I received this lovely blanket from my friend Amy. And guess what? Amy has her own Etsy Shop where she, you may have already guessed, sells such blankets too! And guess again! Amy has no clue that I'm doing this post today *evil grin*.

Anyway. If you or one of your loved ones has a bit of a blanket fetish too, than I suggest you check out Primeau's Purls.

Here are some more teasers for you ...


Amy also makes the loveliest door wreaths. Now what has that got to do with writing or reading you wonder? Usually writers and readers alike live in places that have doors, right? Right.



And last but not least - no matter if you want to finish your Christmas shopping (you should really get a move on then) or pick up something nice for yourself, you'll get 15% off all orders with coupon code MERRY12 - sounds good? Thought so!

Oh and while we're at it - feel free to leave Amy a nice message in the comment section or maybe stop by her Facebook page and show her some love there too!

December 16, 2012

The Reading Files - Of Earth and Nations

Some more non fiction before I'm going to treat myself to some good old-fashioned reading for fun over the Christmas holidays. Seeing how I kinda sorta "forgot" that I wanted to write two reviews of books I read the previous week, there will be a boat-load of reviews next Sunday. Hopefully. Ha.

Mankind Beyond Earth (Claude A. Piantadosi)

Thoughts. Traveling into outer space does not allow much leeway when it comes to errors. As much as the Moon was just a step away, Mars is a pretty big leap. And apparently we need to take that step again to make the leap. Highly engrossing and accessible even for those who aren't science nuts!

Conversation starter. Polar science is one of the grandparents of space exploration.

Verdict. Captivating tract on the importance of space exploration!

Smuggler Nation (Peter Andreas)

Thoughts. I've always been a sucker for reading about history from a different angle. Here the author presents US history as a "smuggling story". Sounded promising and I was not disappointed. Though I must admit there's been an awful lot of economy between those pages, so beware if that's something you're not too fond of.

Book recommendations. I Am the Market: How to Smuggle Cocaine by the Ton in Five Easy Lessons

Verdict. Fascinating account of how smuggling made a Nation!

December 15, 2012

Pajama Musings - More things you didn't know about me ...

If you just look close enough you might notice that readers are more than those creatures hunched over a heavy tome casting evil glances when being approached by innocent bystanders who have obviously no idea that it's an absolute no-go to talk to the reader when they are engaged in a book. That said, people who interrupted me while reading have been known to get vaporized on sight (I knew that light saber would come in handy one day, but I digress).

The thing is, as much as we love to read, there is so much more about the reader. We ... uhm ... err ... do plenty of other stuff too. Sometimes. When we aren't rearranging book shelves or downloading new books onto our Kindle. Occasionally, though this is the exception, we've been caught ... wait for it ... eating or even sleeping. Imagine!?

Joking aside, I thought it was time to share a bit about what I like to do apart from sticking my nose into a book. Finding time for it all is often a bit of a problem, but then again, who needs to sleep anyway?
*drops head on desk*

So, what do I do when I'm not reading or writing or blogging?


Photography. This has been one of my hobbies for a long long time and I usually don't leave the house without my little Kodak EasyShare. Of course I am also the proud owner of a Nikon D3100 but sadly that baby is too heavy to get dragged along wherever I go. Either way, I love taking snap shots! Just not with my cell phone. That's just not classy, you now.

Traveling. Is it really fair to mention traveling after photography? Well, I certainly take more photos than vacations, ha. It's a long list of places I have been to, and yet there are still so many more places I want to travel to. Let's see, I've been to exotic locals such as Mauritius, I held a wombat in my arms in Australia, and I've ridden on a Russian train. But my favorite destinations are still the Land of the Free and the Home of Mr Bean.

Knitting. All right, this one's brand new. Amy, it's all your fault! Hated it back in school, and now I can't seem to stop. There is something wonderfully meditative and calming about it. Maybe that's a state of mind only adults but not kids can appreciate. Oh and if I continue producing scarfs (hey, I am a beginner, after all) at my current speed, my whole neighborhood will be wrapped up cozy this winter.

Pottery. I haven't been getting my hands dirty in a while now, but this is one of my favorite things to do when it comes to letting my creativity flow out of my fingers whilst not holding onto a pen. Damn it, now I wish I had signed up for another pottery class this year *big sigh*.

And now, my dear readers, how about yourself? What do you like to indulge in when you're not reading? Let me know!

December 14, 2012

This isn't Fiction - Let's talk ... preferences!


Stephanie B. asks, "Do you ever read fiction?" Amy marvels, "Why do you prefer non-fiction to fiction?" and Veronica W. wants to know, "Do you enjoy non-fiction just as much as fiction?" These and similar questions popped up quite a few times in my survey.

Don't let my soft spot for non fiction fool you. Last year I read exactly 46 non fiction books. Keep in mind that I read a lot and those 46 books translate into roughly 30% non fiction vs 70% fiction.

So, yes, I do read fiction, in fact, quite a lot of it too. I realize this might not be all too obvious seeing the emphasis of non fiction on my blog, but if you keep an eye on my mini reviews in The Reading Files each Sunday, you'll see that I love them all. Fiction and non fiction and the elusive I-can't-believe-this-isn't-fiction books too.

In a way the two complement each other and this is what I like about reading both. One day I might read a gripping science fiction novel and the next I sink my teeth into a book on astrophysics. Never hurts to get an idea about the universe and see all the (im)possible things implemented in fiction from a different perspective. That doesn't mean I'd pass judgment on fiction going where no scientist has gone before, on the contrary, I think it's great when facts and fiction merge, paving the way for the actual story. Besides, just as life can often be stranger than fiction, you'd be surprised what science is already capable of these days which even fiction authors don't yet dream about.

It is understandable though that you'd get the impression of me preferring non fiction. Then again, this is just a focus here on my blog and doesn't mean I like one more than the other.

And keep in mind that also many bloggers who review fiction often specialize in certain genres which doesn't necessarily mean they are never ever reading books from other genres. Some of us like to share the love for one or two particular, usually favorite, genres on our blogs, while other bloggers take a more eclectic approach and review a broad variety of books. I started out as "mostly" non fiction reviewer, with maybe 25% of fiction thrown in for good measure, and since last July I am solely reviewing non fiction on my blog. Why? Not just because I love non fiction, but even more so I felt the book blogging community could use a little bit of non in between all that fiction.

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Did you also get the impression that my heart solely belongs to non fiction? Are you surprised that I do read a lot more fiction? How about yourself - how much non fiction do you read compared to fiction?

December 12, 2012

Beyond the Shelf - ReadWriteThink

Where to go? ReadWriteThink

What's it all about? This site provides educators, parents, and afterschool professionals with access to the highest quality practices in reading and language arts instruction by offering the very best in free materials.

Who should check it out? Teachers, parents, tutors. Basically anyone who wants to improve reading and writing skills of children.

Time well spent? Well worth a browse for anyone looking for learning resources from Kindergarden straight to 12th grade.

2nd Blogoversary & Giveaway

How time flies. Two years of book blogging feels like, well, two years of book blogging, but still it seems so long ago when I decided to start this venture and I love it as much as I did the first time I published a post. Of course at the time I had no idea how to schedule posts ahead of time, but ohhh the many things I've learned since then.

And no, it's not just about the love of books, it's so much more. Let's call it a process which culminates in a pure genius realization - in dog years my blog is now a pesky teenager. There you go. That is all my brain manages to spit out at this special moment. Darn it. I've never been good in giving speeches.

Anyway, let's clink books, preferably hardcovers to avoid damage, on this special day. May amazing books continue to find their way to our bookshelves and straight into out hearts. May we live as long as Dracula so we stand a chance to finally pick up that last unread book from our humongous book piles. No wait, I am not really into sucking blood. Then again *side glance at the mentioned piles* maybe we could discuss this at a later time *cough*.

Seeing how it's my 2nd Blogoversary I figured there'd have to be two winners. And because I'm in a generous mood I'll be giving away an Amazon Giftcard worth $ 25,00 (if you're from the US) or books of choice worth up to $ 25,00 through The Book Depository (if you're international) to the winners!!
Please note: This giveaway is open worldwide, but only for countries TBD offers free shipping to - please check here.

All you have to do is fill out the form!
This giveaway is now closed!

Rules 
Comments do not count as entries - you must fill out the form!
Following my blog is no requirement, but greatly appreciated.
The giveaway will be open
from December 12th through December 21st.
One entry per person.
Open worldwide.

Winner
Two winners will be picked through random.org on December 22nd and will then be contacted by e-mail as well as announced here on my blog. Due to the holiday season the winners will have a full week to respond and if they fail to do so I will draw new winners.

December 11, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Favorite New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2012


Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Favorite New-To-Me 
Authors I Read In 2012

Cleo Coyle

Charlaine Harris

Frances Hardinge

Tara Hudson

Patrick Ness

Lauren Oliver

Jackson Pearce

Jeri Smith-Ready

Stephen Wallenfels

Rachel Ward

Which are your favorite "new" authors whose books you read this year?

Quote Garden - A Winter's Night

I am suddenly comsumed by nostalgia for the little girl who was me, who loved the fields and believed in God, who spent winter days home sick from school reading Nancy Drew and sucking menthol cough drops, who could keep a secret.
Audrey Niffenegger

Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine, the life, the soul of reading! Take them out and one cold eternal winter would reign in every page. Restore them to the writer - he steps forth like a bridegroom, bids them all-hail, brings in variety and forbids the appetite to fail.
Laurence Sterne

I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.
T.S. Eliot

There are adventures of the spirit and one can travel in books and interest oneself in people and affairs. One need never be dull as long as one has friends to help, gardens to enjoy and books in the long winter evenings.
D. E. Stevenson

His novel or book of poems, decent, adequate, arises not from an exercise of style or will, as the poor unfortunate believes, but as the result of an exercise of concealment. There must be many books, many lovely pines, to shield from hungry eyes the book that really matters, the wretched cave of our misfortune, the magic flower of winter!
Roberto Bolaño

December 10, 2012

A Writer's Life - Oh come all ye writers ...

The busiest time of the year! 
For Santa and reindeers, mostly.

I don't know about you, but I'd love to read that book!!

Someone will be wishing for bigger twigs next year ... or maybe use the carrot to type!

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com

December 9, 2012

The Postman Files - Just call me book hoarder!

You know what they say ... a picture speaks more than a thousand words. And apparently, this rings true in every sense of the way. In my defense I'd like to add that these are all the books which I ordered at AwesomeBooks over the course of the last three weeks and I've decided to wait for all of them to arrive before presenting my haul. That said, let's take a look, shall we?

Bought
A Big Little Life (Dean Koontz)
Cell (Stephen King)
Shiver (Maggie Stiefvater)
Zombie Blondes (Brian James)

The Lies That Bind (Kate Carlisle)
Murder Under Cover (Kate Carlisle)
Blood Orange Brewing (Laura Childs)
Dragonwell Dead (Laura Childs)
The Silver Needle Murder (Laura Childs)
Oolong Dead (Laura Childs)
Through the Grinder (Cleo Coyle)
Espresso Shot (Cleo Coyle)
A Killing in Antiques (Mary Moody)

Yep, you could say I'm on a bit of a cozy mystery roll right now! And I already know who's going to inherit some of those when I'm done with them *wink*.

Won
Circle Spinner and Other Tales (Elizabeth Baxter)

The Reading Files - Elementary, my dear Watson!

Time to get a bit of non fiction on my book plate, wouldn't you agree? Let's call it practice for next year's This isn't Fiction Reading Challenge!

The Scientific Sherlock Holmes (James O'Brien)

Thoughts. Time to get out the magnifying glass. While it may look as though this book focuses on Sherlock's scientific tools of deduction, the book also offers a brief introduction to characters, influences, and stories themselves. Good idea, yet a misleading title.

Conversation starter. Sherlock Holmes knew more chemistry than any other science. In fact his knowledge of the other sciences is often describes as anything from feeble to variable and limited by Watson.

Verdict. The little book of Sherlock trivia!

The Tinkerers (Alec Foege)

Thoughts. Apparently the author and I have a completely different understanding about what tinkering means. A promising introduction is followed by, more or less, inventing things, and while this is certainly interesting it's not what I expected. At all.

Lesson learned. Benjamin Franklin is often remembered as America's first tinkerer.

Verdict. Manifest for reviving the American tinkering spirit!

December 8, 2012

Pajama Musings - I beg to differ!

Where there are opinions there are arguments, conflicts, and even heavy clashes. What I'm talking about? Neither politics, nor religion. Reviews. Yes, reviews.

Those who write them will almost inevitably have experienced this phenomenon. Not so much that tastes in books may differ, because they do and this is certainly not a bad thing. Some people will not just disagree with you, they will start throwing tantrums of the size of my unread book piles. Those who don't know about my mountain ranges of unread books yet, trust me, we're talking huge. Piles and tantrum, for that matter.

While I have never been attacked by an author whose book I reviewed - the worst that ever happened was an author ignoring my e-mails after posting a 3 star review and the only consequence was that I was then not able to offer a copy of the book in question in a giveaway as had formerly been promised by said author - I received a fair share of ... uhm, remarks on sites such as Amazon.
Earlier this year I reviewed Dispatches from Bitter America (Todd Starnes) which made some of my readers comment about how they would not even touch a book like that with a ten foot pole *waves hello to Rikki*. In my defense, I was curious, I read it, and I shared my opinion. We're talking 2 star review here.

Here are two comments I received on Amazon:

-This book was written by an American for Americans. As you have said, you are too European. As such, you would not understand. So why did you even offer a review?-

-I see ... Liberals have to be warned about what they should or shouldn't read because it might change their thinking. Don't confuse me with the facts I already made up my mind.-


Apparently you can't make either party happy, but that's ok. Let's keep in mind that what I posted is actually a review and not just an appeal to the general public to basically burn the book. You should see some of the other reviews, especially those adorned with 1 star, and the comments on those. The worse the review, the more likely people will claim that you obviously never read the book. Hmmm ...

So, the example of comments I got are far from being hateful, but it illustrates that, please speak after me, opinions differ between individuals. Shocker, right?

What did get me going, a little bit at least, was a recent comment about my star ratings. Apparently one of my reviews read like 4 stars so how dare I only give out 3 stars? Let me think, probably because I thought the book was only average? 

The thing with reviews is that the actual review and the star rating won't always make sense to others. The fact that the "meaning" of each star rating is often slightly different, depending on the site where you post your review, doesn't exactly help matters either.

Amazon
5 stars - I love it
4 stars - I like it
3 stars - It's ok
2 stars - I don't like it
1 star - I hate it

Goodreads
5 stars - It was amazing
4 stars - Really liked it
3 stars - Liked it
2 stars - It was ok
1 star - Didn't like it

See the differences? What's ok on Amazon is apparently more than ok on Goodreads. And now let's add that every single blogger and book reviewer has his/her own concept of what each star rating means to them. 

As much as I find star ratings mildly helpful, all I can say is - read the actual review that goes with it, and even better still, read the book yourself and build your own opinion! What I most certainly don't need are some know-it-all's who haven't read the book and who think my rating is wrong. Wrong compared to what!?

What's your take on ratings - are they a good thing or do you feel they can be misleading sometimes? In case you're a book reviewer, do you post your reviews (as I've seen some bloggers do) without a star rating? And how about you, my dear readers, do you decide whether a book is worth picking up by their ratings? Please share.

December 7, 2012

This isn't Fiction - Recommended Reads #6


I thought long and hard what kind of books I could recommend to you in light of the season and seeing how I did not find Santa's Biography or a Tell-it-All by Rudolph Reindeer, I decided to highlight two books focusing on Christianity. I wouldn't go so far as to claim one is for skeptics while the other is for believers, but rest assured both are equally fascinating ... if the topic itself is down your alley, of course.

God: A Biography (Jack Miles)
Ever thought of God as a literary character? This is exactly the approach Jack Miles takes in his book which - who knew - has even won the Pulitzer prize. Of course one should not go by such awards, however in this case it is well deserved.
This is a thought-provoking and controversial read, absorbing and just utterly brilliant in my opinion. I realize that some might be on the fence about viewing God as merely a character in a book, so this "biography" is certainly not for everyone.

The Case For A Creator (Lee Strobel)
As the subtitle A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God already promises this book focuses on getting as close to proof as one possibly can to the existence of God. If you've ever heard about Intelligent Design, this is basically the key factor here. The author, a former atheist, doubtlessly raises many fascinating questions. His assertions will make you think, though in which direction your thoughts, and beliefs for that matter, will go from there, is entirely up to you.

Who do I recommend these books to?
Those who want to explore God, one way or another.

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Have you read either one of these books? If so, I'd love to hear how you found them! And generally, are non fiction books that deal with religion (not just Christianity) something you enjoy? Please share.

2 by 2 Giveaway Winner

The lucky winner of the December 2 by 2 Giveaway is
who picked the book The Far Side!

E-mail is on the way and please get back to me within the next 48 hours!

December 5, 2012

Beyond the Shelf - Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America

Where to go? Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America

What's it all about? The association encourages and promotes the interest in and appreciation of fine and antiquarian books and other printed materials, and manuscripts.

Who should check it out? Readers who are considering advancing from the average book hoarder to the serious book collector - no matter if it's just for the fun or as investment.

Time well spent? I might not have the room to create a collection of  antique books and first editions of the classics, but if I could I certainly would. In the meantime this is a fascinating site to browse.