15 January 2017

Sunday Salon: Paring down my TBR list and other thoughts

After I posted my thoughts on how to move forward with this blog, I immediately went to Goodreads and started culling titles from my TBR list. I removed 74 titles but that still left me with a total of 383 books to read. Many of the books I removed were YA titles that I really added to my list so I would remember to check them out of the library for my kids. Considering that my kids now range in age from 18 to 23 and three of them no longer live with me, I think I can officially give up my household role of Bringer of the Books :-).

So what do I do next? Well, I think that my goal from two years ago is still valid. I'm going to do my best to stop adding books to my TBR list and stop downloading free books on my iPad, at least until the end of March. I've actually done pretty well on avoiding the free Kindle books. I canceled my subscription to all the free book emails, which helped a lot. I only ended up downloading five books in 2016 and one of them was a book I actually purchased and read right away. The next book I plan to review is another one I downloaded in 2016, so I think I will continue down that road and keep reading from my Kindle collection for the next couple months. I really don't want to go into 2018 looking at the same collection of books on my iPad.

I would also like to work out a new strategy for reading the Overdrive ebooks from my library. The new Overdrive app doesn't work on my old iPad and I won't be buying a new one anytime soon. Many of the ebooks from the library are available in Kindle format as well as Overdrive format, so it isn't an immediate problem. I do prefer using the Overdrive format, however, because it is easier to return books and delete them from within the app. Right now, I can either read the Overdrive ebooks on my iPhone or on my laptop. The iPhone screen is too small and the laptop is not portable due to a bad battery. As an alternative, I may go to my favorite pawn shop to see how much used e-readers are going for these days and if they have one that will work with Overdrive. If I can get one for less than $50, that may solve my issue, at least until Overdrive upgrades again.

LAST WEEK: I read my first book of the year, and it was a romance novel. That's not new, but it was a contemporary romance which is unusual for me. My review of "Truth or Beard" is here.

I also posted my first Gentle Media review, which is where I review a TV show or movie (usually from a streaming service) that some people would call "clean" or "sweet". I'm not talking about moralistic or religious movies; I'm just talking about something with little violence or cursing and usually has a happy ending. If you have ever binged on Hallmark movies, then you know what I'm talking about. My review of "Terrace House" can be found here.

UPCOMING: This week I plan to read and review "Love By The Letter" by Melissa Jagears and "Just Desserts" by Claudia Bishop. Both are books that I already own, so I'll be making a tiny dent in the TBR list.

14 January 2017

Gentle Media Review: "Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City" (Netflix)

Promo for "Terrace House"

I first heard about "Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City" when one of the brothers mentioned it in passing on the podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me. For most of 2015 and 2016, I felt like Netflix was bringing me the same few shows over and over when I would browse, so I always take a look if someone mentions a show that I haven't seen. I'm glad that I did.

"Terrace House" is a Japanese reality-TV series that is like a kinder, gentler version of the MTV series "Real World". Six people living in a house with cameras and no script -- sound familiar? You may know the setup, but this show stood out to me for what it didn't have. There is no prize money, no challenges, no confessionals, no eliminations, and no yelling. The "members", as the housemates call each other, are there for two reasons: to find love and to work on their careers.

The show ran for eight seasons from 2012 to 2014 on Fuji Television in Japan and even had a movie to wrap up the events in the original house. Unfortunately, those episodes are not available on Netflix US.  In 2015 Fuji Television teamed up with Netflix to start a new series subtitled "Boys and Girls in the City" that takes place in a new house in Tokyo.

Two or three times throughout each episode, a panel of six Japanese celebrities comment on what they have seen. It reminds me of "People's Couch" or "Gogglebox" and I think it makes watching a reality show more fun. The panel also clarified some scenes for me when I thought that I was missing something due to cultural differences.

Another unique element is that the members are not in isolation like they are on many American shows. The episodes were treated like regular TV in Japan and released on Netflix Asia once a week. The members would watch the episodes as they were released and would talk to their family and friends about what was shown. New members who came into the house would watch past episodes to find out about certain events that had occurred before they arrived.

The biggest difference for American viewers may be the way relationships are conducted. Every little step of expressing interest in another person is considered a big deal. Anyone who has watched Korean dramas knows what I am talking about. Cooking a meal with someone is almost like a date. Holding hands is a big step, and couples don't kiss until they have declared that they are going steady.

I think that "Terrace House" is the perfect reality show for my pals who enjoy Hallmark movies. It may sound like a show where nothing happens, but if you give it a chance you will get sucked in. The 48 episodes of "Boys and Girls in the City" are still available on Netflix, and the new series "Aloha State" will be available 24 Jan 2017.

11 January 2017

"Truth or Beard" by Penny Reid

Truth or Beard (Winston Brothers, #1)Truth or Beard by Penny Reid
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Part of a series?: Yes; spinoff from Knitting in the City, Book #1 of Winston Brothers
Genre: Contemporary romance with motorcycle club and new adult elements
Format read: E-book borrowed from local library
Sweet or hot?: Medium heat level; although it is somewhat sweet, you would have to cut large chunks out to make this a Hallmark movie.

This was my first time reading a Penny Reid book and, despite the fact that I only gave it two stars on Goodreads, I am looking forward to reading the first book in her Knitting in the City series. The majority of books I read get three stars, so a two-star rating from me isn't necessarily bad. It just means that there were a few elements of the style that I had trouble reconciling.

"Truth or Beard" is the story of Jess and Duane, a couple who were enemies as children but find that their adversarial passion has turned into something more complicated (but no less heated) as adults. Duane has an outgoing and sociable identical twin named Beau who inspired a monumental case of hero worship in Jess, while Duane was the brooding brother who couldn't stand the sight of her -- or so she thought. Just as Duane and Jess discover that they are attracted to each other, a new obstacle comes into play: Duane is all about home and family and has strong roots in their hometown of Green Valley, while Jess has only come home long enough to save money for her dream of traveling the world. Add in a subplot involving a local motorcycle club and illegal activities, and you have the main conflicts of this book.

The hurdle I had to overcome with this book was the tone. Reid has a light, fun style that is quite enjoyable, so I was brought up short when there was a heavy make-out scene about 15 pages into the story. Although the majority of romances that I read would be classified as "sweet", I am not a prude. However, the heavy petting that soon in the story made me feel exposed. If this story were a house, then the sex started on the porch when I was expecting to get up to the bedroom first. After that, the story seems to back up into sweet romance territory for a little while. Duane's desire to take the relationship slowly and treat Jess with respect is lovely, and I enjoyed reading how Jess was learning to interpret what she had always thought was Duane's brooding nature. When the sex comes back, it feels more natural.

One of the reasons I picked up this book is because I've been hearing other romance readers mention the motorcycle-club subgenre as a favorite. I'm trying to branch out and read something other than the historical Christian romances that are a staple of my reading list. This was my first romance where a motorcycle club is part of the plot, and I am still undecided as to whether it is for me. I didn't get much of a sense of danger, and it took a bit of willpower for me to read the scenes with the Iron Wraiths instead of just skimming them. The Iron Wraiths reminded me of that rowdy element most small towns have, and you can easily avoid any trouble with them simply by staying away from their side of town.

Although this book follows minor characters from "Beauty and the Mustache", the fourth book in Reid's Knitting in the City series, it is definitely a standalone novel. It is very difficult for me to enjoy series books out of sequence, yet I didn't get the feeling that I was missing anything from not reading the previous book. If I hadn't already known that this book was a spinoff, I wouldn't have suspected until the very end.

"Truth or Beard" -- Author's website
"Truth or Beard" on Overdrive
Truth or Beard (Winston Brothers) (Volume 1) at Amazon

04 January 2017

Where do I take this blog now?

So I've developed a renewed interest in writing book reviews and have decided to revive this blog. Now, what?

I was proud of myself when I made this decision, but now I feel aimless. What books should I review? Should I join a reading challenge? Should I sign up for something like NetGalley and request advanced reader's copies? Maybe I should reach way back to the start of this blog and read more titles from "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die"? It is tough being a person who craves structure yet bucks against it once she gets it.

Perhaps I will look through my reading lists and see if that gives me some direction. My main to-be-read list is on Goodreads and currently stands at 457 titles. This does not count my minor lists on other sites, such as my wish lists on NC Digital Library, One Click Digital, Freading, and Open Library. I also have about 50 books on my iPad. Most of the titles on these lists have been there for years; I don't want to delete them but when it comes time to read something I keep passing over them. Maybe 2017 will be the year that I clear out these lists and give myself the freedom to make fresh lists that better reflect my current interests.              

01 January 2017

My Reading Goals for 2017

It's that time of year again when everyone talks about goals. My success with goal-setting has been hit or miss, so for the past few years, I've stuck with the Goodreads Reading Challenge. It only requires that you set the number of books you plan to read during the year. I exceeded my goal two years in a row so I got cocky and increased my goal to 100 books for 2016. Of course, that guaranteed that I wouldn't reach it; I only read 59 books last year. So this year I am going to play it safe and aim for 50 books.

Other than the Goodreads challenge, I have a vague idea about reading more broadly. I'm not setting a specific goal just yet because I know that will make me feel restricted. Last year, I took a pass at the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge and I ended up reading only one book. Most of the categories felt too heavy and serious, especially for the type of year I was having. I don't want to veer into literary fiction territory but I need to get out of the historical Christian romance genre more often. This is not a new lament for me; it was one of the reasons I started this blog years ago. I have very little success from year to year, but I keep trying.

26 September 2016

"Faking It" by Cora Carmack

Faking It (Losing It, #2)Faking It by Cora Carmack
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Faking It is the story of Mackenzie (Max) and Cade. Max is a free-spirited musician, complete with tattoos and crayon-colored hair, who works as a go-go dancer in a bar to pay bills while getting her band off the ground. She is also dating her band's drummer. Of course, her parents think she has normal hair and works in an office. When they show up unexpectedly, she grabs the nearest conservative guy to pretend to be her boyfriend -- Cade. He does such a good job that the lie becomes too tough to back out of. Do they really want to?

This was a pretty good audiobook. Using a male and female narrator for the alternating perspectives was a good idea; I can imagine that I would be confused if I was listening to this with one narrator. I especially liked the female narrator, Emma Galvin. She had the perfect voice for the character that I envisioned.

This was also my first book in the relatively new "new adult" genre. I'm not sure how I feel about it. I enjoyed this particular book, but judging from the synopses I've read most of the books in this genre seem to be more angst-filled than what I like to read. I also have to be honest with myself and admit that I'm not terribly comfortable reading sex scenes featuring girls who are in the same age range as my own daughters!

Although this is the second book in a series, I don't think you need to read the first book to enjoy it. The main characters from the first book showed up a couple times and made me slightly curious about them, but not knowing their full story didn't ruin this book for me.

There were a few little plot points that bothered me, like a character getting in a door that is supposed to be locked. Overall, however, these things weren't enough to make me stop listening. I'd say give it a go.