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

📖 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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( 12 )


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

📚 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
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( 13 )


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

📚 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
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( 14 )


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

📖 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
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( 15 )


The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan

📚 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
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( 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
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( 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
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( 18 )


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

📚 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
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( 19 )



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

📚 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
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( 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
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Legend: 📖 = reading prompts 📚 = B&N Readouts

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Copperopolis

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? ;)
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