Sunday, December 24, 2017

2017 Reading Challenge: Volume 3

Continuing with the third and final volume of reviews for my reading challenge this year:

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The Writer's Idea Book by Jack Heffron

So, at the end of October, I spontaneously decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, which is the National Novel Writing Month that usually happens in November.  Hence my decision to dive into this idea book that I just happened to already have on my Nook account, downloaded from who knows when, because I knew I'd want to try to get back into writing one day.  I'm planning to refer to this book throughout my writing process, since I have not seriously written in such a long time.

This book definitely has plenty of prompts to spark that writing flame.  I cannot deny that.  However, many of them don't apply to my specific situation, or I just can't remember enough, such as when the prompt suggests to write about something that happened at a specific point in your past.  Especially since the memories of my early 20s always tend to be a bit of a blur to my mind.  But the chapter that has resonated with me the most is Chapter 17: Minding Other People's Business.  It talks about paying attention to the world around you, and letting those simple observations spark ideas for writing, such as a conversation that you've overheard at an airport or in a restaurant.  I already do this, whenever I'm out in public, because of a writing teacher I had that advised us to use the things you hear people say, as a potential beginning to a story.

I  thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and it has so many helpful tips and tricks to overcome the struggles of the writing process.  I felt inspired throughout the journey of reading it, which is exactly what I needed to get out of it.  And now I feel like I'm better prepared to dive right into my writing again.

[...] at some point, we must put away the books and sit down to write. There are lessons to be learned about writing that only can be taught by writing. -pg 336

Read from October 26, 2017 to November 15, 2017

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Spider Woman's Daughter (Leaphorn & Chee #19) by Anne Hillerman

πŸ“š Continuing with the B&N Readouts selection for November, this is another mystery novel, originating in New Mexico on a Native American reservation, where a local legendary lieutenant, retired from the Navajo Nation police force, is shot in the head after leaving a restaurant, having had breakfast with some co-workers.  Our protagonist, Bernadette "Bernie" Manuelito, just happens to witness the encounter, which sets her on a mission to acquire justice for the man, who's like a father to her.  

I like how the mystery keeps seeming to have a viable lead, only to be snuffed out by further investigation.  I was surprised to find out who was responsible for the shooting at the end of the book, though I could definitely see the motive.  I loved that while I was in the middle of reading this, we happened to travel halfway across the country, through Arizona & New Mexico, and I saw the actual setting where the story takes place: Shiprock, Window Rock, Chaco Canyon.  Granted it was only from the highway's point-of-view, but still!  It was neat to make that connection to the book.

Something that I noticed throughout the book, that I didn't like, was the way the story transitioned into a completely different scene, without any notice in the formatting.  It was slightly confusing, until I realized and would have to mentally remind myself: "Oh, we're in a different scene now."  Overall, the book was entertaining enough to keep me coming back to it every day.  It was riveting to learn more about the Native American culture as well.

Read from November 2, 2017 to November 27, 2017

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Odd Hours (Odd Thomas #4) by Dean Koontz

So now we are up to Odd's fourth adventure, where he has procured a job in a place called Magic Beach, as a personal chef for Lawrence "Hutch" Hutchison, an actor-turned-children's-book-author, whose movies were popular during the 1940's & 1950's.  Once again, the action starts from the first few chapters, where Odd goes on what he thinks will be a simple walk on the beach, yet ends up being chased by men he encounters while conversing with a pregnant woman he'd seen in a dream.  This mysterious woman turns out being far more than she seems, speaking in vague statements, rather than directly answering any of Odd's questions.

This book reminded me of Odd's second adventure, in how everything unfolds throughout the latter portion in a rather rapid progression, yet this one had twist and turns in the plot, one after another.  I could barely keep up!  Not to mention how Odd transformed into even more of a badass.  I was surprised at how he handled taking down all the criminals.

There's a point in the book where it is mentioned that Odd should have realized who the mysterious woman was, that he instantly vows to protect.  Ever since reading that, I had been trying to figure out who she is, and I'm still slightly confused, though after the last words of the book, I have an inkling of an idea.  (And if my idea is correct, that opens it up for even more confusion, but alas, that's to be expected in Odd's world...)  But nothing concrete is said, so I'm assuming I will have to find out in the next installment.

Read from November 4, 2017 to November 21, 2017

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Odd Interlude (Odd Thomas #4.1) by Dean Koontz

So this book bridges the gap between Odd Hours and Odd Apocalypse, taking place directly after the events of Odd Hours ended.  Odd and his new traveling companion Annamaria are drawn to the small village of Harmony Corner via Odd's psychic magnetism, though they don't know why.  Odd immediately goes snooping on their first night at the motor court, after having a disturbing nightmare.  He discovers the existence of a mysterious Presence that is able to take control of the Harmony family, one by one, that also prevents them from leaving the area without causing torture and misery to their fellow family members.

I know I keep sounding like a broken record, but this installment of Odd's journey is extremely creepy, getting worse by the page.  Though it was intriguing to see Odd not dealing with any of the lingering dead that he normally sees, instead involving himself with top-secret government experiments gone horribly wrong.  The family that he befriends are all purely alive and kicking, although the fate of one twelve-year-old girl is up for grabs, after the town's tyrannical 'ruler' decides that she is becoming "too beautiful" to live.  Odd immediately develops a sort of big-brother-y bond with her and steps up to the challenge to save her.

This book also introduces a few chapters from the girl's perspective, instead of Odd's, for reasons that are explained at the very end, which was a nice change of pace.  I grew quite fond of her character and how incredibly brave & optimistic she remained, despite the torment and despair she'd been facing for the past five years.  The next installment promises to be even worse than the events that took place at Harmony Corner, so I'm kind of scared to see what happens next!

Read from November 21, 2017 to December 13, 2017

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Front Lines (Front Lines #1) by Michael Grant

πŸ“š Down to the last B&N Readouts for this year, and I have to say that this selection looks like it won't disappoint!  It's an alternative view of the restrictions of World War II, allowing women to be drafted and enabling them to voluntarily enlist as well.  It simultaneously follows that journey for three unique women, representing three pivotal locations in the United States: Rio Richlin from the West (California), Frangie Marr from the Midwest (Oklahoma), and Rainy Schulterman from the East (New York).

I really enjoyed the small hints of romance that the author has included for each of the women in this book, during the first part, where they are preparing for their roles in the war.  Each woman is in a different place romantically, but it gives that sense of reality in this fictional version of the truth.  Rio ends up on the front lines as a rifleman, Frangie pursues the medical aspect of war, and Rainy enlists in military intelligence, so you really get a feel for the various facets of the U.S. Army.

The second portion of the book involves the intense action of the war that the three of them are fighting, in their own ways.  I like how intricate the details are, you really get a sense of what was going on in their heads and what the women were dealing with as they fight to survive.  This part also brings the three of them together, in ways that they hadn't imagined.  I will be looking into reading the next 2 books of this series as well, because while I wouldn't consider myself to be a huge history buff, the writing made the war intriguing enough to see what happens to these women that I've grown fond of, throughout their different journeys.

Read from December 1, 2017 to December 23, 2017

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The Cryptographer (Second Sons #1) by Alice Wallis-Eton

πŸ“– Reading Prompt: a book related to your line of work

First off, this only vaguely relates to my line of work, in the fact that the main character, Aster Tanner, works as a secretary, which is what I've enjoyed doing the most in previous jobs.  And because this is a historical fiction novel set in the early 1800s in England, it was unusual for a woman to be working as a secretary.  Hence my use of the word vaguely.

Words had power, and the right words in the wrong ears could bring down nations. -Chapter 8

This was a delightful little read about an unlikely couple falling in love, yet keeping the walls around their hearts tightly in place.  Their lack of communication towards the end of the book was frustrating, until they finally decided to resolve their issues by declaring exactly how they felt about each other.  Though it was still sweetly written and I enjoyed the moment where they finally reach that same page, metaphorically speaking.  Among their budding romance is a mysterious "list" that names traitors to England, which Aster realizes she has in her possession, putting her life in danger.  She successfully decodes the puzzle and flees to a 'safe house' until Iain and her faithful terrier find her.

I liked the character development and backstory of Iain and Aster, further implicating their unlikely pairing.  I also ended up growing quite fond of all four of the Scotsmen and their humorous banter with each other.  Enough so that I will probably be purchasing the next three books in the series, which revolves around each of them finding their own version of love, as well as dealing with the traitors that have been revealed.

Read from December 13, 2017 to December 24, 2017

( 27 )

Oklahoma Christmas Blues by Maggie Shayne

So I spontaneously decided to try for another quick read, inspired by it being so close to Christmas, and the title including my homestate of Oklahoma.  And I do still have about 7 days to get in more books, so I might as well try while I can!

My first impression of this book is that it's most likely going to be like those sappy holiday movies on the Hallmark channel, filled with mushy sweetness that is almost too much to handle.  Haha.  We'll see though.  I will update once I've finished!

[UPDATE] So I was right.  It was sappy and mushy and all the other words that describe a Christmas movie on the Hallmark channel.  But it was an enjoyable read.  I liked the character development, although their backstories were slightly brief, but I got to know them enough so that I could relate to their situations.  Some of the dialogue seemed slightly off to me, in seeming a bit unbelievable that a person would actually say something like that, even though I did also grow up in Oklahoma.  Albeit not in a small town, where this story takes place.

Anyway, it was a fun holiday read that is sure to lift the reader's Christmas spirit and belief in Santa Claus! :)

Read from December 24, 2017 to December 28, 2017
Legend: πŸ“– reading prompts πŸ“š = B&N Readouts

( So let me just say it here, I'm not going to finish the last 4 books in my challenge for this year.  Scratch that, I'm still trying for 30! Officially ended at 27 books. )

Certain events throughout the latter part of the year prevented me from reading as much as I would have otherwise, but that's okay.  Life happens and at least I can say that I tried to get all 30 books completed.  Considering the circumstances, I'm happy with where I ended up.  I will be continuing this next year as well so hopefully I will be more successful! 

In conclusion, Merry Christmas Eve, and I hope everyone has a safe and happy time saying goodbye to 2017 next week!  

Welcome, 2018.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

2017 Reading Challenge: Volume 2

Continuing with the second volume of reviews for my reading challenge this year:

( 11 )

Promises in Death by J.D. Robb

πŸ“– Reading prompt: a book by an author you love

I've always wanted to read a book by the pseudonym of one of my long-time favorite authors, Nora Roberts.  And I figure now's as good a time as any!  I picked this up randomly at Half-Price Books and I've had this book on my shelf for awhile.  Even though this is the 28th book in the In Death series, I can't wait to be introduced into the world of Eve Dallas for the first time.

For some reason, it actually took some time for me to get fully involved in this book.  Maybe it's the fact that it's so far into the series and there are a few blanks that I need to fill in, by reading the first book in the series.  But it's not so far that I can't understand the individual story.  After a quick wikipedia search, I found that the books are set in a futuristic setting of 2058, which explains the advancements in technology and some of the "inventions" that are referenced.  I figured most of them out myself, but it's nice to have confirmation of the items referenced, in any case.

One thing is prevalent in the book that I noticed: a lot of Eve's fellow cops are also female.  I feel like this was done on purpose, in trying to reverse the stereotypical nature of law enforcement officials.  I liked the subtle hints of romance thrown into this crime thriller as well, and I appreciated how it wasn't the main focus of the story.  Though the dynamic of Eve & Roarke's relationship is intriguing and makes me want to go back and read the beginning of the series to find out how exactly how they came to be who they are.  As for the actual story, I felt it was an exploration of the lives left behind and how you can find yourself not truly knowing everything about your partner until you have to examine every part of their life, in an attempt to catch their murderer.  It definitely yanked on my heartstrings a bit, in different ways for various characters.

Read from May 31, 2017 to July 17, 2017

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Law and Disorder (The Finnegan Connection, #1) by Heather Graham

πŸ“š So this was June's selection from B&N Readouts and I have to say that my first impression, after finishing the book, is that it is not as good as the other books they have had available previously.  It was still entertaining though.  I would consider it maybe a 'filler' type of book, something to pass the time.

I couldn't get past the slight awkwardness of the dialogue, at times.  However, a plus for the book is that it does start out by immediately drawing the reader into the hostage situation that takes place in the first chapter, from the very first sentence.  Dakota 'Kody' Cameron and a few of her fellow associates at the tourist attraction known as Crystal Manor (which Kody's family owns) are quickly overwhelmed by a group of men who are all wearing masks in tribute to various 1930s gangsters (Al Capone, Clyde Barrow, John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, etc).  Their motivation is revealed to be based on a rumor that there was a significant stash of money hidden somewhere in the house, although Kody's forced research into the rumor confirms that it is actually somewhere in the vastness of the Everglades (in Florida).

I did like the twist in the story where Kody realizes that she knows one of her captors, after they decide to take off their masks, yet she can't remember from where at first... and that she's slightly attracted to him, which gives her some mixed feelings about herself.  The ending of the book seemed a little too rushed and abrupt to me.  Overall, it was still an intriguing read, seeing how I kept coming back to it every day to see what happened next.

Read from June 1, 2017 to June 24, 2017

( 13 )

Extraordinary People (The Enzo Files, #1) by Peter May

πŸ“š I was immediately drawn to the story of the B&N Readouts selection for July, which is about a retired forensics expert who is caught up in solving one of the seven most notorious French murders, using modern technology.  I think that type of work is incredibly intriguing, although I wouldn't want to do it, so getting lost in that world via a book is perfect for me.

The story follows Lorenzo "Enzo" Macleod, who is motivated (by attempting to win a 'stupid wager') to find out what exactly happened to Jacques Gaillard, who disappeared in 1996.  The local law enforcement officials have never been able to figure out what happened and Enzo, being the stubborn Scot that he is, believes that he can solve the decade-old mystery himself, by applying new science.  He ends up being led on a treasure hunt of sorts, having to figure out clues that have been left behind at each subsequent dig site that he's uncovered.  These clues reveal the identity of each person involved in Gaillard's disappearance.

This book was a bit slow at times, while the characters are attempting to figure out each set of clues and where they eventually lead, but it picks up once they start figuring out more of the mystery.  I liked the slight plot twists in the story as well.  There's a point where I was sure of who was the killer (although there appeared to be no motive), only to be proven wrong at the very end and surprised by the truth.  Throughout the story, I was wondering what would motivate these people to leave hints to their own identities like this, a notion that Enzo himself kept coming back to frequently.  But I was happy to be enlightened in the end, regarding that curiosity.  This was a compelling read and I definitely recommend it to any fans of forensic science and/or archaeology.

Read from July 1, 2017 to July 24, 2017

( 14 )

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

πŸ“– Reading prompt: a book that has been turned into a movie (that I haven't seen)

So I dove into this book not knowing anything about it, except for what I saw briefly in the trailer for the movie, years ago.  And my first impression of the book is that it reminds me of a script that has forced its way into certain points of the novel.  I've definitely never read anything with this type of format before, much less a book that is narrated by "Death" himself.  I didn't care for it at first, but it grew on me, the more I read.

"They say that war is death's best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one.  To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible." -pg 309

Some of the phrasing of the words in the book is really intriguing, and done in a way that I've never heard before.  It's a nice change of 'scenery' from the norm.  The book follows the life of teenager Leisel Meminger, who is brought to live with a foster family, the Hubermanns, during the difficult times of Nazi Germany in the late 1930's/early 1940's.  After learning to read from the kindness of her foster father, she falls in love with words and becomes "the book thief," stealing books so that she can escape into their worlds.  Her story is poignant & powerful and the more I got into it, the more it tugged at my emotions, pulling me into the delights & devastation that she faces.  It gives an insight into how the words of Hitler affected these ordinary people who were just trying to live their lives, the best way that they could, considering the circumstances.

I love that Leisel turned to writing at the end of the book, as a way to chronicle her life and deal with her experiences... I could relate to that all too well, as I have done the same of my own life, though I have obviously not dealt with the same level of tragedies.  I also loved the way that 'Death' describes things in the book, having such an incredibly unique way with words.

Read from July 18, 2017 to August 11, 2017

( 15 )

The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan

πŸ“š So this book is the B&N Readouts selection for August.  It follows the events of a pianist: Zoe, a teenage prodigy, who is attempting to start over, after being involved in a tragic car accident that took the lives of three of her classmates.  Since she was the only survivor and also the driver of the car, she has been forced to deal with the guilt by leaving the village she grew up in and starting over in a new city.  Her mum has remarried and her new husband, his son from a previous marriage, and their new baby girl are referred to as a "Second Chance" family throughout the book.  Yet it doesn't take long for Zoe's past to catch up with her, in the worst possible way.

The book opens up with Zoe and Lucas (her stepbrother and fellow pianist) performing a concert together, only to be interrupted within the first few minutes, by the father of one of the girls who was killed in the accident.  He's upset that the concert is being held in the church where his daughter's tombstone lies, taking it as a sign of disrespect, and this is what propels the story into action.  Secrets are revealed, ultimately leading to a brutal confrontation in the middle of the night, which ends in the death of Zoe's mother.

I found that I enjoyed learning about Zoe's past and what she had been through, more than the actual mystery of who killed her mother.  It's a gut-wrenching story that will force you to realize how bad things definitely happen to good people sometimes, seemingly without a reason why.  Some parts hit far too close to home with me as well, but I liked how everything turned out for Zoe and her family.

Read from August 3, 2017 to August 26, 2017

( 16 )

Odd Thomas (Odd Thomas, #1) by Dean Koontz

I've wanted to read this book (and the rest of the series) ever since I first saw the movie that was inspired by it.  I just instantly fell in love with Odd Thomas, because of his quirky and sweet personality, or maybe just because I loved the way Anton Yelchin portrayed him.  Either way, I was definitely intrigued!  So the next few books on my list will be from the Odd Thomas series.

First off, I love how the book gives SO many more details about Odd Thomas and the people he encounters, than did the movie.  That's nothing new though, the book can always be depended on that when it has been made into a movie.  I loved reading more about the backstory for both Odd and Stormy.  There's a little bit of that from the movie, but some things you just can't express visually, at least not as precisely as you can with the written word.  Odd was just as sweet and quirky as I remembered him.

That being said, this book has some truly heartbreaking stuff within its pages.  I felt a full range of emotions throughout the whole thing.  Even though I knew that plot twist was coming at the end, it still made me feel for Odd, after the build-up of his relationship with Stormy throughout the book.  Fate can be one cruel prick.

I'm looking forward to the next installment of his adventures, this time without already having a vague idea of what happens!

Read from August 18, 2017 to August 31, 2017

( 17 )

Forever Odd (Odd Thomas, #2) by Dean Koontz

On to the next book in the Odd Thomas series!  The story immediately starts off with some intrigue, with the mysterious murder of a radiologist at the local hospital, and his adopted son's disappearance, who also happens to be a childhood friend of Odd's.  To make matters worse, he suffers from "brittle bone disease," making the situation even more dire.  So, of course, Odd starts to get down to business right away.

Right in the middle of reading this, I was hit with a bladder infection that made it difficult to do anything other than sleep and vomit, so this one took me longer to finish.  I liked the suspense though, and how Koontz utilizes the whole story taking place in only a 24 hour time-frame to emphasize the severity of Odd's predicament.  The latter portion of the book takes place in this abandoned hotel & casino that had suffered from an earthquake five years earlier, resulting in severe fire damage, left sitting in the dust and isolation of the desert.  I found myself more interested in what had been left behind in the ruins, rather than the mystery of Danny Jessup's disappearance, just because I find that type of thing interesting, for some reason.  To explore places of ruin and see how everything had changed.

Anyway, I did enjoy the story and seeing justice being served to the people who deserved it, namely the deranged and demented woman who taunts Odd all the way through the story.  I was surprised at Odd's decision at the end of the book, but excited to see where it takes him next!

Read from August 31, 2017 to October 3, 2017

( 18 )

 Walk on Earth a Stranger (The Gold Seer Trilogy, #1) by Rae Carson

πŸ“š Here's the B&N Readouts selection for September.  My first impression, after reading only the blurb about the book is that I may not be quite as into this one as I have been of other Readouts selections, but that doesn't mean I'm not willing to give it the best chance that I can.  At least the cover art is beautiful though, and appears to have some effort given to it.

I really like the setting of the book, during Gold Rush-era America.  It's interesting to see how Leah copes with her "gift" of being able to sense gold buried deep within the ground that she walks on, or in objects, such as her mother's necklace, which she wears just for that sensation, as a sort of constant comfort throughout the trauma that she faces.

After finishing the book, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed reading about the many trials and tribulations of Leah's long journey from Georgia to California.  She definitely faces some significant obstacles that only help in making her a stronger person.  I felt that the story is also a sort of empowering one for women, especially during that time period, and Leah proves that she can keep up with the other men she encounters, specifically because she was disguised as a boy for a large majority of the book.  I loved how her new 'family' came together at the end and relentlessly stood by her side when she finds herself face to face with the man who had taken everything from her.

Read from September 1, 2017 to September 24, 2017

( 19 )

Beautiful Storm (Lightning Strikes, #1) by Barbara Freethy

πŸ“š So you'd think that the October selection for the B&N Readouts would be somehow related to horror, in honor of Halloween later this month, but that's not the case.  Instead they're going for a murder mystery, romantic suspense type of story.  I have to admit, what intrigues me the most about this book is the protagonist's job as a photojournalist, with a passion for storm photography, to the extent that she races towards the most severe storms, instead of away from them.

The more I learned about Alicia Monroe, the more I could relate to different aspects of her personality and character: her interest in photography, how she has unintentionally isolated herself from old friends, subconsciously guarding her emotions... life is tough sometimes, and Alicia's story does not forget that.  I really liked the character development in this book, and the rate at which you find out more information about Alicia and Michael and their respective friends and family.  It was the perfect balance to what was going on in the story as well.

The mystery of the story was interesting also, and I did not suspect who was responsible in the end.  It goes to show that there are some people in this world that are highly skilled in hiding their true natures and it's also a disturbing fact.  No matter how close you may be, you have to accept the fact that you may not know everything that's going on deep inside a person's mind.  I love how the very last words of the book references back to the title of the novel.  It was simple, yet cleverly implemented.  This book left me interested to read the rest of the books in the trilogy, and learn even more about the minor characters that were seen/mentioned.

Read from October 1, 2017 to October 24, 2017

( 20 )

Brother Odd (Odd Thomas, #3) by Dean Koontz

Well, Koontz doesn't disappoint!  From the first chapter, I'm drawn into the story by the reference back to Stormy from the first book, and a phrase that she used to say to Odd, from the mouth of a sleeping girl who never knew Stormy, yet still utters those heartbreaking words, stopping Odd in his tracks.  I can tell that this installment is going to be interestingly spooky.

Living in a monastery, even as a guest rather than as a monk, you have more opportunities than you might have elsewhere to see the world as it is, instead of through the shadow that you cast upon it. -pg 1-2

I think I can safely say that this was the creepiest novel in the series so far.  The 'bone beasts' that continually haunt the monastery and how they came to be in existence in the first place is disturbing in itself.  Though Odd overcomes the obstacles set out in front of him as efficiently as he does in previous installments, no matter how difficult it is for him to face the person who has created them.  He learns some important life lessons in the process as well.  And I love his fierce determination to protect a little girl whom he meets in the school who reminds him of Stormy, in her appearance and other uncanny coincidences.  It was such a sweet moment, tugging on the heartstrings in more ways than one.

I'm looking forward to seeing where his adventure takes him next, especially now with the spirit of Frank Sinatra at his side, after effectively helping Elvis Presley finally move on to the Other Side.

Read from October 3, 2017 to November 4, 2017
Legend: πŸ“– = reading prompts πŸ“š = B&N Readouts

Thursday, November 02, 2017


First off, this quaint little town square instantly reminded me of Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls!  It looks so similar and I felt like I was walking right along those same city streets, albeit slightly modernized (I think you had to be there in person to feel the full effect).  It is called Copperopolis and is located on State Rte 4.  We stopped here on the way up to Lake Alpine for a bathroom break and drinks, and decided to take some extra time to explore the square.  However, when we were there, the stores were closed, and only one restaurant was open, which is why I was able to capture so many shots without random people in them.

Anyway, getting right to the pictures:

Capturing the flags, proudly representing California, United States & Copperopolis.

The gazebo, located right smack in the middle of the square, with the buildings surrounding it.

One side of the square.

Another view, taken from outside of the gazebo.

And still another view!

Trying to keep up with the creative shots...

Looking back towards the Town Hall building, with the gazebo there on the left (out of the frame).

Jacques & I from inside the gazebo, in front of Town Hall.
And that's it!  Short but sweet, huh? ;)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

On Lake {Alpine} Time

So, last year, for my birthday, we took a belated celebratory trip up to Lake Alpine to explore the beautiful scenery.  It is near Bear Valley, which is a popular 'escape' town, up in the Central Sierra Mountains.  I say belated, because we had planned to do this closer to the weekend of my actual birthday, but since we ended up getting rear-ended on the day before, we ran into this unexpected delay.  Anyway, here are the photos from that excursion!

These first few photos were from the Hell's Kitchen Vista Point, where you can walk around and get some amazing views.  This area is really pretty when it's covered in snow also!!

Just trying to get a unique perspective among the scenery...

Obligatory couple "selfie"! =D

Such pretty views!  I actually have a similar shot of this area, but covered in snow, taken back in February 2010.

Practicing my macro skills with this interesting branch formation...

Panorama shot, with Jacques being silly.

Seriously, I could not get enough of this area!

Here's the start of the pictures at Lake Alpine, walking around the area.  This was very serene and peaceful!

Another peaceful shot of the lake in between the trees.

Catching some canoe-ers rowing down the lake!

I liked this view of that log lodged in with the water...

Can you find the pup in this shot?! :)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Alcatraz, 53 years later...

The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was a maximum high-security federal prison on Alcatraz Island, 1.25 miles off the coast of San Francisco, California, which operated from August 11, 1934 until March 21, 1963.

The main prison building was built in 1910-1912 during its time as a United States Army military prison; Alcatraz had been the site of a citadel since the 1860s.  The United States Disciplinary Barracks, Pacific Branch on Alcatraz was acquired by the United States Department of Justice on October 12, 1933, and the island became a prison of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in August 1934 after the buildings were modernized to meet the requirements of a top-notch security prison.  Given this high security and the location of Alcatraz in the cold waters and strong currents of San Francisco Bay, the prison operators believed Alcatraz to be escape-proof and America's strongest prison.

Alcatraz was designed to hold prisoners who continuously caused trouble at other federal prisons.  One of the world's most notorious and best known prisons over the years, Alcatraz housed some 1,576 of America's most ruthless criminals, including Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the "Birdman of Alcatraz"), George "Machine Gun" Kelly, Bumpy Johnson, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Mickey Cohen, Arthur R. "Doc" Barker, and Alvin "Creepy" Karpis (who served more time at Alcatraz than any other inmate).

Above information courtesy of Wikipedia

So now that you know exactly what Alcatraz was, I'll share my photos from my two experiences visiting this incredibly interesting site.  Our first visit was with my dad back in February 2015 and most of the photos from this post are from that.  I didn't get nearly as many photos during our second visit, because of course, I'd already seen everything.

First off, I wanted to capture this old sign from the ferry, as we were approaching the island.

Still on the approach; that building in the back is the main prison and held all of the inmates.

One of the guard towers; these were manned 24 hours a day, with no exceptions.

Just a pretty view of a smaller dock located around the island.

Inside the old army barracks building, which eventually was converted into apartments for the families of the staff.

A view of some of the remaining area from the civilian part of the island, away from the prison.

A view of the trees, taken from the perspective of a small circular window inside the main prison building
In a prison of strict regimentation, the yard offered rare freedom of movement, association and choice.  Some inmates chose to play baseball or run laps.  Others simply walked to the top of the bleachers and looked out at what they were missing.
Recreation yard for the inmates.  That grassy area at the back was a makeshift baseball field.

Looking back at the main prison from the recreation yard.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

2017 Reading Challenge: Volume 1

So at the beginning of this year, I committed myself to a reading challenge on Goodreads, promising to read at least 30 books over the course of the year.  So, inspired by that, I'm going to post a compilation of these books and my personal reviews on them here.

{ I will be posting them in 3 separate 'volumes' with 10 books per post.  Any bonus books that I get through will have their own post as well. }

( 1 )

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

I'd bought this book months before actually deciding to sit down and read it, from seeing the movie first.  I know books can provide so many more details and insights into the characters, so that's why I wanted to read it.  So here's what I thought:

First off, this is not a book for the faint-hearted reader.  It definitely has some truly disturbing and intense imagery and scenarios.  Having said that, the book is written in a way that leaves you itching to know what really happened on that fateful January night.  I saw the movie before reading the book, but it had been so long that I was still surprised by the ending, and of course, there are always many more details introduced from the book.  I also loved Ms. Flynn's way of describing emotions felt by Libby as an adult.

Read from December 5, 2016 to January 5, 2017


( 2 )

Dark Horse by Tami Hoag

"Life can change in a heartbeat, in an instant, in the time it takes to make a wrong decision... or a right one." -pg 554

That quote pretty much sums up the theme of this book.

I've always loved horses, so this book immediately piques that interest.  After only reading the first chapter, it has already given me a glimpse into the equestrian world, specifically in dressage, which is described as a form of equine ballet.  I had to look it up via video and it's simply beautiful!

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised with this intense mystery and I loved seeing the way the case changed Elena throughout the pages, giving her a new outlook on the messy turmoil that was her life in the beginning.  The writing flowed in a way that made me anxious to see what would happen next and I can honestly say I've never read 550 pages of a book so quickly before!  And to think, I originally bought this book from the clearance rack at a half-price bookstore... one of the best $2 I've ever spent!

Read from January 7, 2017 to January 14, 2017


( 3 )

First Year of Marriage by Marcus & Ashley Kusi

(I received a copy of this book, via a group on Goodreads, in exchange for writing an honest review.)

I liked the advice given in this book.  You can really tell that the couple writing it knows what they're talking about, from firsthand experience.  I thought the two of them sharing their personal perspectives throughout the book really enhanced it as a whole, because it felt more like talking with a friend, rather than just reading a 'lecture.'

I very much enjoyed the use of the comparison of marriage to two people on either end of a canoe, and how you have to make sure you're both on the same team, i.e. synchronizing your paddling and working through life's obstacles (wind & waves) together.  If either one of you goes your own way without letting the other know, you're in danger of falling apart (tipping over).

There is a definite theme to this book about using everything that is discussed, to build a strong foundation that will give you a lasting and fulfilling marriage and it's a great resource to have on hand for future reference, should you ever need a reminder. =]

Read from January 22, 2017 to January 23, 2017


( 4 )

Collide: The Secret Life of Trystan Scott by H.M. Ward

πŸ“– This book starts a series of 'reading prompts' that I'm following for the next 12 books or so.  This is the "book that I chose for the cover."  Seriously, I looove that cover!!

So this book was rather difficult for me to get into, to be completely honest.  It didn't seem to grab my attention right from the start, as other books have.  I felt like I kept waiting for something meaningful to happen, but it never does... and the book ends so abruptly, and while your mind acknowledges this, it still feels like you should be moving forward.

Also, I didn't care for the writing style, as each chapter was written from either Mari's or Trystan's perspective and while Mari's chapters use the first person narrative, Trystan's use third person and it just made the flow of the story too choppy and disjointed for me.  Plus, given the name of the book, I would have expected the first person narrative to be used for Trystan's chapters.  Also, the book starts out with each character reliving the same moment, so you're basically reading the same scene twice, with the story progressing a little bit at the end of the chapter.  While I understand how this can be an interesting concept in theory, after awhile, it just gets repetitive and tiresome.

However, if you're looking for an overdramatized teenage romance, you'll be happy with this read. ;]

Read from January 14, 2017 to February 26, 2017


( 5 )

Hard Rain by B.J. Daniels

πŸ“š I'm reading this freebie via B&N Readouts, after being intrigued by the first chapter.  It's somewhat clichΓ©, yet still it piqued my interest enough to want to read about what happens next.

First off, the mystery far outweighs the romance of this book for me.  The way it weaved such a complicated web is what kept me coming back to the book every day.  And though I had my guesses throughout the book on who was the killer of Maggie McTavish, I was surprised to find out who it really was in the end.  As for the 'forbidden' romance between the two main characters, I didn't care for the way their [near] intimate scenes were written.  It was too clichΓ© and a tad unrealistic, like a sappy romance novel that's trying too hard.  Though I do understand what the author was trying to accomplish, but it just rubbed me the wrong way.  Fortunately, as the mystery unravels, there are far less of these scenes, which just made the book more interesting for me.

Overall, I'd say the book is very intense and full of suspense, mixed in with all of the drama that comes hand in hand with vindictive, manipulative & jealous wives and girlfriends.  Maggie seemed to be hated by these women, just for being who she is  possessing a carefree, wild personality and natural good looks, who's in touch with her emotions in a deeply passionate way.

It also ends with a cliffhanger, which I guess I should've expected, seeing as this is the 4th book in a series of six.  It definitely ends in a way that makes me want to read the entire series, just to find out what Harper's mother's true intentions are, regarding the rest of her family.

Read from February 2, 2017 to February 22, 2017


( 6 )

Clockers by Richard Price

πŸ“– Reading prompt: the book I've started but never finished

"Being in this business was like walking blindfolded through a minefield.  It was hard to know what to do or what not to do [...]." -pg 23

I'm not at all familiar with the world that this book is set in (a drug-dealing, murder-filled New Jersey neighborhood), which I think is why I've always lost interest in it, the few times that I've started reading it.  And while I did grow up in a world where I knew drugs existed, I think I'm hesitant to embrace the idea that there are places in this world where people are that desperate for the stuff.  I suppose, on some unconscious level, I just don't want to believe that a community like that exists.  As a person who has never done drugs (and never will), it's difficult for me to understand the lure that it provides for those who are drawn to the habit.

Anyway, the book doesn't really take off for me until the actual murder happens.  There's a lot of backstory about the main 'clocker' named Strike, along with the world in which he inhabits, and who he interacts with on a daily basis.  And the same is being done for a cop named Rocco Klein, to whom Strike's brother Victor gives a willing confession of murder.  He immediately believes that Victor is innocent, which sets him off on a mission to find the real killer.

I'm glad that I powered my way through all 593 pages of the book this time, even if only to get to the very last chapter, where one thing starts happening right after another, the tension-filled pages refusing to allow my eyes to drift from the story.  Overall, the book had me consistently torn between utter annoyance at the attitudes of the 'clockers' and pity at the type of life that they seem to be stuck in, with no way out, except death.  It was an incredibly gut-wrenching, brutally honest read.

Read from February 26, 2017 to April 19, 2017


( 7 )

The Steel Kiss by Jeffery Deaver

πŸ“š I was really excited to see this book on B&N Readouts for March, because Jeffery Deaver is one of my all-time favorite authors, and I'd always wanted to read a Lincoln Rhyme novel!  And he definitely does not disappoint -- the intensity starts right from the very first chapter, with a gruesome death via a malfunctioning escalator in a busy mall, conveniently giving the suspect an easy out, whom Detective Amelia Sachs is in the process of pursuing.

This book is an eye-opener for how certain devices and appliances in your home (or in public) can be the death of you... literally!  All thanks to an advance in technology known as smart controllers that can be operated remotely from a smartphone or tablet.  It makes me happy to know that the only similar device we have in our house is a smart TV, so all we are in danger of is being bored to death by a show that we don't like?  Hah.  Anyway, I loved how some of the different stories collide with each other towards the end, and there are plenty of plot twists thrown in there as well, one in particular that I never would have expected.

Not to mention the complexity of 'Unsub 40', as he's referred to throughout the book.  He hates consumers, those rich people who buy expensive appliances and devices, and who have forgotten the importance of sitting down to dinner together with your family or having a deep conversation with someone you love.  And while I can understand where he's coming from, that is definitely not a valid reason to commit murder!  Though we learn later in the book that he also has another motive inspiring him to murder people with the products they've bought.  And at the closing of his case, I couldn't stop the pulling of my heartstrings at the situation that he's found himself immersed in.

Read from March 1, 2017 to March 26, 2017


( 8 )

A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

πŸ“š Initially on the fence about delving into this B&N Readouts freebie, but the era in which it takes place is what draws me to the story (1920s New York, "Roaring Twenties & the Jazz Age").  After reading the first few chapters, it seems that the premise revolves heavily around adultery, as it is clear that 44-year-old Theresa Marshall is a married woman having a sexual relationship with Octavian Rofrano, a 22-year-old "boy."  Enter 19-year-old Sophia Fortescue, who is engaged to Theresa's brother Jay, yet also captures the heart of Octavian from their first meeting, the chemistry between them causing her to doubt her own decision of accepting Jay's marriage proposal.

Throw in the murder of Sophie's mother 16 years ago, presumably at the hands of her own father, and the book gets even more interesting!  I actually had to re-read parts of this book, seeing as B&N suffered a glitch where it left out some important key chapters, containing newspaper articles that shed a whole different light on some of the characters and their interactions with each other, not to mention what is supposed to be an 'outsider's perspective' to what's happening.  (Damn you technology!)  I didn't like Theresa at all; she came off as a conceited & manipulative woman and she just got on my nerves more than anything else.

Overall though, I enjoyed the book.  There were some odd phrasing choices at times, and random interjections, but I suppose that's just how the author interpreted the era in which she was setting her story in.  I did really like the descriptive writing and I had no problem visualizing scenes in my mind, as I read it on the screen.  Though I will say that I felt it ended too abruptly, like there was more to the story that fell victim to the editor's cut or something.  That being said, this was still an entertaining and fun read that I enjoyed!

Read from April 2, 2017 to April 23, 2017


( 9 )

Jack: The Tale of Frost by Tony Bertauski

There's just something about the retelling of a classic tale that I can't resist.  And after reading the first book in this series (Claus: Legend of the Fat Man), I couldn't wait to dive into this one.  I remember buying the first 3 books in the series on a whim, simply because of how interesting & mysterious the descriptions were.

Anyway, I love how this book starts out, jumping several hundred decades into the 21st century, from where the first book ended in the early 1800s.  The dialogue is slightly awkward at times, but I love the suspense, that gradually builds up throughout the first half.  The last part of the book is filled with plot twists and I liked how it transformed my feelings about certain characters and this brutal taste of reality that they have to find a way to deal with.  The progression of the story definitely surprised me, more than once, after offering vague hints about what was going on, glimpsed through Sura's experiences. I loved seeing how "Pawn" had developed throughout those long years and grown to adapt to the human aspect of the world, fully embracing the joy of Christmas as well.

However, I was slightly disappointed when there was no mention of Jon Santa (from the first book).  He was one of my favorite characters and it would have been nice to see what he'd been up to all those years also, since I know he's still alive, considering his complete transformation into an elven.  I thought it was ironic how Mr. Frost and Jon ended up switching places, species-wise, with him being reborn as a human at the end.  Overall, I found this book to be a very enjoyable and enchanting read!

Read from April 25, 2017 to May 12, 2017


( 10 )

Flury: Journey of a Snowman by Tony Bertauski

First off, I love the concept of how this book is written.  The story once again introduces a brand new set of characters, starting out with a young man discovering some journals that his great-grandfather had written in the 1880s, after he survived a tragic accident that left him stranded in the Arctic.  The story combines the two time periods via a retelling of the words written on the ancient pages, through a teenager's outlook.  I would have loved to find something unique like that, and have the opportunity to get to know a relative in that way, that most people don't ever get to meet, 'seeing' their world through their own experiences.

This was, by far, my favorite book of the series.  I love the way it explores the full range of human emotions, experienced through the complex character of Malcom Toye.  It was interesting to see how things panned out in the end, not to mention the surprises along the way.   And how he chose to deal with the events that he couldn't control.  

Read from May 12, 2017 to May 27, 2017


As of right now, I'm about 2 books behind schedule, but hopefully I can catch that up over the next couple months, through whatever is provided in B&N Readouts.  I wasn't interested in May's selection and January's I just plain forgot about it, so I missed out on extra book opportunities there.

Anyway, stay tuned for my next batch of book reviews!  Hopefully I will be able to knock them out faster than I did these first 10.

Legend: πŸ“– = reading prompts πŸ“š = B&N Readouts

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