Month: January 2016

438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea by Jonathan Franklin | Book Review

Posted January 30, 2016 by Jana in Adult Non-Fiction, Book Review / 2 Comments

438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea by Jonathan Franklin | Book Review438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival by Jonathan Franklin
Published by Atria Books on November 17, 2015
Genres: Memoir, Survival
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
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5 Stars

438 Days is the miraculous account of the man who survived alone and adrift at sea longer than anyone in recorded history—as told to journalist Jonathan Franklin in dozens of exclusive interviews.

On November 17, 2012, Salvador Alvarenga left the coast of Mexico for a two-day fishing trip. A vicious storm killed his engine and the current dragged his boat out to sea. The storm picked up and blasted him west. When he washed ashore on January 29, 2014, he had arrived in the Marshall Islands, 9,000 miles away—equivalent to traveling from New York to Moscow round trip.

For fourteen months, Alvarenga survived constant shark attacks. He learned to catch fish with his bare hands. He built a fish net from a pair of empty plastic bottles. Taking apart the outboard motor, he fashioned a huge fishhook. Using fish vertebrae as needles, he stitched together his own clothes.

He considered suicide on multiple occasions—including offering himself up to a pack of sharks. But Alvarenga never failed to invent an alternative reality. He imagined a method of survival that kept his body and mind intact long enough for the Pacific Ocean to toss him up on a remote palm-studded island, where he was saved by a local couple living alone in their own Pacific Island paradise.

Based on dozens of hours of interviews with Alvarenga and interviews with his colleagues, search and rescue officials, the medical team that saved his life and the remote islanders who nursed him back to health, this is an epic tale of survival, an all-true version of the fictional Life of Pi. With illustrations, maps, and photographs throughout, 438 Days is a study of the resilience, will, ingenuity, and determination required for one man to survive fourteen months, lost at sea.

First of all, happy two year rescue anniversary to Salvador Alvarenga! It was exactly two years ago today that Alvarenga washed up onto a little island and was taken in by a generous local couple who helped nurse him back to health. This man’s story is unfathomable, and inspiring. There are really no words that can accurately describe what he went through. And I really want to just sit you down and tell you everything, but that would just spoil everything. I’m so happy that I got the opportunity to read his story and learn more about the man we heard about in the news.

438 Days took a little while to grab me. The first 60-70 pages talk about his life before he was stranded at sea. He was a party boy. He loved his drugs and his alcohol. I was a little bored with this section because I was more interested in reading about his survival story than his background. Once he became stranded, he began a radical internal change. He cared about his daughter and he cared about being a better person. I loved seeing how this event impacted him for the better. Once the book moved in to his survival story, I became very invested and flew through the pages. Interestingly enough, I also got very depressed while reading. I already knew the outcome, and I knew he would be ok, but I was still very mopey as I read about his emotionally and mentally taxing experiences. This is part of why I read so quickly. I needed to read that he was ok.

The writing style also took a little while for me to get used to. The author of this book, Franklin, is a news reporter for multiple publications, and I could tell from his writing style. The entire story was written like a newspaper article, and it lacked the flowing, narrative style I’m used to in books. I did get used to it, though, and I grew to enjoy it at times.

The book has a map on the endpapers that plots the course Alvarenga took. I loved looking at this map, and seeing where he was during each part of his journey. So much detail is used to describe his day-to-day activities, the weather, his surroundings, etc. that I felt like I was there. There’s a particular few days where Alvarenga makes a friend in a very large whale shark, who drifts along with him. A few days later, a baby whale shark shows up. What an amazing thing to experience. There are other special moments that the author recounts, and I’m so happy to know that Alvarenga was able to experience some good during his miserable time at sea. He saw some amazing things.

Alvarenga grew to be a true survivalist. The ingenuity and creativity he developed helped him find food and water. He was able to entertain himself to pass the time. He was able to fight off the insanity that was bubbling to the surface. He continued to amaze me throughout the entire story. I honestly have no idea how he was able to survive for so long drinking turtle blood and eating raw birds and fish. Every time I think of this man, the words “amazing” and “miraculous” come to mind.

In short, I’m not usually a fan of non-fiction and memoir. I’ve read a few, but they are not usually what I choose to read. Alvarenga’s story was so interesting to me, though, so I took a gamble and accepted this book for review. I really enjoyed reading it, though, and felt feelings of hope while reading. I felt inspired to do great things. I love it when books have the power to do this to a person, and that’s the beauty of survival stories. I’m going to end my review with a quote from Alvarenga himself, which can be found in the epilogue of the book. The author asks him what motivated him to write this book. His response is a lovely message for people everywhere, and perfectly illustrates that our experiences have the power to change us:

“I suffered so much and for so long. Maybe if people read this they will realize that if I can make it, they can make it. Many people suffer only because of what happens in their head; I was also physically being tortured. I had no food. No water. If I can make it so can you. If one depressed person avoids committing suicide then the book is a success.

Be strong. Think positive. If you start to think to the contrary, you are headed to failure. Your mind has to be relaxed as you think about survival. Don’t think about death. If you think you are going to die, you will die. You have to survive and think about the future of your life, that life is beautiful! How can you imagine taking your own life? There are challenges and punishment in life but you have to fight!”

5 Stars

501 Must-Visit Destinations | Book Review

Posted January 28, 2016 by Jana in Adult Non-Fiction, Book Review / 1 Comment

501 Must-Visit Destinations | Book Review501 Must-Visit Destinations by David Brown, Jackum Brown, Kieran Fogarty, Rebecca Walder
Published by Bounty Books on January 1, 2006
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 544
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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5 Stars

The book covers 501 must-visit destinations, ranging from remote hideaways and tropical islands to bustling cities, breathtaking monuments and stunning landscapes across the world. Stunning photography sits alongside informative text and a summary of don't-miss features of each site.

I’m plagued with a very serious disease called wanderlust. I live to explore new places, which is hard when you’re a poor grad school student. The next best thing is to flip through books like these and transport yourself to a new place, free of charge. This book takes you to every possible vacation spot ever! It covers Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean, Asia, Australasia and Oceania, Europe, and the Middle East. The pages all have color-coded tabs that tell you where you are. Each destination gets one page with about 4-6 paragraphs of text and a beautiful image or two. There’s also a sidebar for each location that tells you a number of different important facts about when to go, how to get there, any yummy foods you should try, what to do while you’re there, where to stay, legends, taboo, entrance fees, and any social etiquette you should be aware of. The main body of the text discusses the history, culture, and other interesting tidbits.

I learned a lot on my journey with this book! Let me highlight some of my favorite facts. Did you know that Lake Malawi has the largest variety of freshwater tropical fish in the world? In Egypt, women should cover their knees and shoulders in public. Cat Island in the Bahamas is where Columbus first landed in the New World. For all you pink-lovers out there, visit Barbuda in the Caribbean! They have a pink sand beach! Canada has its own serpent-like creature lurking around the waters of the Lake Okanagan. Sightings have been made at least once a year, unlike the Loch Ness Monster. They also have a Sasquatch-like creature creeping through the islands of God’s Pocket. I had no idea that the Florida Everglades is the only place on earth where alligators and crocodiles cohabit!

Moving on. Welcome to Asia! Did you know that the Buddhists believe that mountain Kailasa is the birthplace of the world? They feel this way because there are four rivers that flow down its slopes into the four corners of the world. I’d love to see that, wouldn’t you? Be careful, though! According to the locals, setting foot on its slopes is a dire sin. You might die. That’d put a damper on the vacation, huh? Thought so.

Remember how “The Bear Necessities” in Disney’s The Jungle Book mentions the pawpaw (prickly pear)? Well, Captain Bligh is credited with introducing that fruit to the people of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. The Louvre used to be the world’s largest palace before it became the world’s largest art museum. Europe has its own Grand Canyon: Les Gorges du Verdon in France. The film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, was partially filmed in Neuschwanstein—the royal palace in the Bavarian Alps of Germany. The beautiful British Museum is totally and completely amazing… plus, entrance is FREE! Good to know!

Anyone seen the movie Leap Year? Part of it takes place in beautiful Dingle. A dolphin named Fungie has lived in that harbor since 1984. Makes me want to visit even more now! Mount Athos, in Greece, is the treasury of the Greek Orthodox faith and only men can apply to enter. Men, if you’re interested be sure to apply at least 6 months in advance because only 10 are allowed to visit per day. Spain has its own Guggenheim Museum! It looks just as awesome as the famous Guggenheim in New York. Our journey ends in the Middle East with a personal favorite: Jerusalem. Did you know that Jerusalem is also known as “the City of Peace”? Kind of ironic, considering it’s the most disputed city on earth.

Doesn’t this make you want to jump on a plane and start exploring? This book is 544 pages of dream vacations, and I would love to visit every single one of them. I am really annoyed that the book did not come with plane tickets and travel accommodations for each of these destinations. I mean, come on! I would recommend this book to any traveler, whether you’re experienced or just daydream about it a lot.

5 Stars

Winter by Marissa Meyer | Book Review

Posted January 19, 2016 by Jana in Book Review, Young Adult Fiction / 6 Comments

Winter by Marissa Meyer | Book ReviewWinter by Marissa Meyer
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #4
Published by Feiwel and Friends on November 10, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction, Steampunk
Pages: 832
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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5 Stars

Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

I don’t know what to say!!! I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY! I LOVED this conclusion to The Lunar Chronicles. Marissa knew just what I wanted to know and she answered all my questions and tied up all the loose ends. Boy, does she know how to end a series.

Cress and Thorne are so unbelievably cute, I can’t even handle it. Thorne is still my very favorite character in this story. He can make me laugh, he can make me swoon, and he can make me crazy. Scarlet and poor, tortured Wolf go through everything you could possibly think of and I’m amazed at their strength and their ability to push through it all. Their love was written in the stars, and I think they might be my favorite couple ever (but don’t make me choose because I won’t!). Readers are not given as much time to fall in love with Winter and Jacin, but you do anyway. I keep thinking of Buttercup and Wesley and Corey and Topanga when I think of those two. Cinder and Kai are overshadowed by the epic love stories of our other characters, but it’s so good to see them happy. And Iko… Iko, Iko, Iko… she is still hilarious and sweet and tender and flirtatious. No android will ever be able to take her place in my heart. I miss everyone already. How am I going to live without my band of misfits in the sky?

Marissa Meyer has outdone herself, and I’m almost afraid of reading any of her future works because how can she outdo herself again? (Of COURSE I’m going to read everything she writes forever.) This book is LONG, but I needed every page. Every word. I was either swooning over this romance, or screaming at that revelation, or crying over that moment, or flipping out over WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!?!, or cheering because YAY I LOVE THEM THEY RULE. The action is cataclysmic, the suspense unending, and the romance breathtaking. There’s so much of everything you could ever hope for and more. The tension never lets up, and you never feel totally safe until the very end. Can we all drive off into the sunset together?

Bottom line, thanks for reading my review because I have no coherent thoughts.

In summary: Read The Lunar Chronicles. 

5 Stars

Discussion: What’s the Longest Book You’ve Ever Read?

Posted January 16, 2016 by Jana in Discussion, Personal / 23 Comments

With all the excitement of the holidays last month, it has taken me since Christmas Eve to finish Winter by Marissa Meyer (I finished it in the wee hours of yesterday morning, and it was everything a Jana could have dreamed of.). Of course, this means I’ve had pretty much no content for my blog. lol. And I swear, I felt guilty that things were so quiet over here while I took three weeks to read one book. But then…

I realized, Winter is the longest book I’ve ever read (824 pages)! So basically this is a huge accomplishment. I usually feel very overwhelmed by big books because they are a major time commitment. They latch onto your emotions and take you away from this world. I’m so glad I was willing to give myself the time to read such a long book. AND it was one I bought! I read it for me, and I rarely take the time to do that.

Anyway, I’m wondering… What’s the longest book you’ve ever read? 

Top Ten 2015 Releases I Meant to Get to But Didn’t

Posted January 11, 2016 by Jana in Top Ten Tuesday / 6 Comments


Top Ten Tuesday is hosted over at the other blog I write for, The Broke and the Bookish.

Today I’m talking about those books from last year I meant to get to but didn’t. I still really want to! I just can’t possibly read as fast as publishers publish books. lol. Hopefully I can find time for them this year. :)



The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski
The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson
Ten Thousand Skies Above You by Claudia Gray
A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas
Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
All Fall Down by Ally Carter
First & Then by Emma Mills
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

What should I read first? And which books did you miss out on in 2015?

Exclusive Interview with Author Kristan Higgins

Posted January 6, 2016 by Jana in Author Interview / 0 Comments

I’m so happy to have Kristan on the blog today in celebration of the recent release of Anything for You (12/29/15), the final book in Blue Heron series! Read a little bit about the book, and then scroll down to learn more about Kristan! I had some fun questions to ask her.


Blue Heron Series: The Best Man, The Perfect Match, Waiting On You, In Your Dreams, Anything for You

Anything for You by Kristan Higgins
Published by HQN Books on December 29, 2015
Genres: Adult – Contemporary Romance
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Before you get down on bended knee…

…you should be pretty darn sure the answer will be yes. For ten years, Connor O’Rourke has been waiting for Jessica Dunn to take their on-again, off-again relationship public, and he thinks the time has come. His restaurant is thriving, she’s got her dream job at Blue Heron Vineyard—it’s the perfect time to get married.

When he pops the question, however, her answer is a fond but firm no. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Jess has her hands full with her younger brother, who’s now living with her full-time, and a great career after years of waitressing. What she and Connor have is perfect: friends with an excellent benefits package. Besides, with her difficult past (and reputation), she’s positive married life isn’t for her.

But this time, Connor says it’s all or nothing. If she doesn’t want to marry him, he’ll find someone who does. Easier said than done, given that he’s never loved anyone but her. And maybe Jessica isn’t quite as sure as she thinks…

Interview with Kristan Higgins

Jana: Hi Kristan! It’s so nice to have you on the blog today. Where were you when you found out you were being published for the very first time? Tell us about that moment.

Kristan: I was alone in the house when my agent called with the news. I gasped and jumped around and cried a little, and then when I hung up the phone, I thought of my dad, who’d died many years before. And I told him, and for a second, it felt like he was there. Then my daughter got off the school bus, and I said, “Guess what? Mommy wrote a book, and it’s going to be in bookstores.” And she said, “That’s nice! What’s for snack?”

Jana: Aw, that’s really sweet! When you think about all of your books, what is the one scene you found the most fun to write?

Kristan: There’s a scene in ANYTHING FOR YOU when Connor oversleeps on the morning of his mother’s wedding. He’s a wee bit hung over, and his sister has absolutely no sympathy for him. I love that scene.

Jana: Which character in the Blue Heron series do you see yourself in the most?

Kristan: Oh, that’s a great question! I think I’m most like Emmaline Neal from IN YOUR DREAMS. She’s a very capable woman, but she’s got an Achilles heel, too. She’s straightforward and fun and goodhearted, and I hope I’m all those things, too. But there’s a goodly chunk of my heart in every character, except the really mean ones, of course.

Jana: I love that there’s a part of you in every character! That’s so nice! Now that the Blue Heron series is over, what are you going to miss most about it?

Kristan: Well, never say never, you know? There’s a chance I’ll write another Blue Heron book, but this did feel like a good stopping point. If it’s truly the end, I think I’ll miss the town the most, because the people who make it what it is were the best part of writing the series.

Jana: Oh, interesting. I’d love it if you went black to Blue Heron again someday! When you’re not writing, what else do you like to do?

Kristan: I like to annoy my kids by lying on their beds and making them talk to me; I love going to the movies and eating out; I love to travel, ride bikes on flat surfaces and window-shop. Mostly, though, I’m a homebody who’s just happy doing everyday things.

Jana: Haha. I like that you stipulate that bikes must be ridden on flat surfaces. I couldn’t agree more! Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Kristan!

Kristan: Thank you so much for having me!

I don’t know about you, but I loved getting to know Kristan a little better! Her books are so much fun, and I love the characters. I can’t wait to see what she does next!

Have you read any of Kristan’s books? Which one is your favorite?

2015 Statistics Survey

Posted January 4, 2016 by Jana in About Me / 1 Comment

Welcome to 2016! Brittany and Andi came up with this fun statistics survey last year, and it’s so much fun! I love surveys that make me reflect on the past year, so here we go!

Number of…

books read… 
• Under 250 pages: 12
• Between 251-399 pages: 18
• Between 400-449 pages: 2
• Between 450-499 pages: 2
• Over 500 pages: 0
• Over 1000 pages: 0

• Audiobooks: 0
• Re-reads: 0
• DNFs (did not finish): 7

Books rated…
• Five Stars: 9
• Four Stars: 8
• Three Stars: 4
• Two Stars: 5
• One Star: 8

Number of authors met in 2015: 4 (Lindsey Leavitt, Robison Wells, Courtney Alameda, and Valynne Maetani.)

Number of book events attended in 2015: 1

Number of books you read in one day: 1 (The Devil You Know by Trish Doller)

Number of books that made you cry: 0

Number of 2016 books you have on pre-order: 3 (Truthwitch, A Court of Mist and Fury, and Stars Above.)

By the Books

Book read furthest away from home (vacation reads?): Shadowlands by Kate Brian, Catch of the Day by Kristan Higgins, Hello, I Love You by Katie M. Stout, Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare, and The Trouble With Destiny by Lauren Morrill were all read while I was either road-tripping across the country or on a cruise ship.

Book that took you the longest to read: I Married the Duke by Katharine Ashe took me 39 days to finish. I really didn’t like it. Haha. I should have quit!

Book that you personally connected with the most: I didn’t really read any books that I connected with on a deep level. I had some things in common with various characters, but I did not make a memorable connection with any of the books I read.

Book that made you love the villain: I felt a lot of empathy and sadness for Levana from Fairest by Marissa Meyer, but I still don’t love her!

Book you said you’d come back to but still haven’t picked up again: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Landry Park by Bethany Hagen.

Book you read waaaay before it’s publication date: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sara J. Mass. I read it in March and it came out in May.

Book you read on your birthday: I Married the Duke by Katharine Ashe, sadly.

Book with a character who shares your name: My name is rare. I’ve only read one book with a Jana in it, and it was not this year (Black City by Elizabeth Richards. This Jana was crucified. Ick.)

Book you weren’t entirely truthful about when rating (Fluff up any ratings?): I’ve been really honest this year. No fluff here!

Rated even though you didn’t finish?: Nope.

Book you read in 2015 but already want to re-read: Operation White Christmas by Nicki Edwards.

Book you borrowed from a friend a long time ago and still have: Nope.

Book you which you could go back and read for the first time again: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas.

Most books read by one author this year: I read 2 books by Katharine Ashe, which is sad because I didn’t like either one.

This and That

Happiest & saddest: Operation White Christmas by Nicki Edwards / The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Longest & shortest…
•By page number: The Sculptor by Scott McCloud (488 pages) / The Strange Case of Finley Jayne by Kady Cross (83 pages)
•By title: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente / Rebound by Noelle August
• From buying to reading: Shadowlands by Kate Brian / The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall

Best & worst…
• Average rating on Goodreads: 3.1 stars
• Books you read/your rating: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas got 5 stars, and The Sculptor by Scott McCloud got 1 star.
• Series enders: The only series-ender I read was Of Neptune by Anna Banks, and I really really hated it.

First & last…
• Reads of 2015: The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall / Winter by Marissa Meyer
• Books on your bookcase (1st book on the top left and last book on the bottom right): Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe by Shelley Coriell and Egypt: The Treasures of the Great Pharaoh.

Most disappointing & biggest pleasant surprise: Shadowlands by Kate Brian and The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey.

Fandom you joined & one you abandoned: Veronica Mars! And I didn’t abandon any. lol

Series you picked up & series you quit: I picked up the Secrets of Itlantis series by Kate Avery Ellison and I quit The Prince Catchers series by Katharine Ashe (I also picked this series up this year as well).

Most lenient & harshest ratings: Really, I’m just truthful. Perhaps Of Neptune by Anna Banks was the harshest rating. I’m never really lenient. lol.

Most hyped & furthest under the radar that you read: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas and Of Sea and Stone by Kate Avery Ellison.

Grab Bag

Book you read that is red: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Starts with X, Y, or Z: Nope!

Book you hugged when you finished it: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Book you wanted to throw across a room: The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

Food you craved while/after reading a certain book: I don’t remember craving anything as a result of a book I was reading.

Book that became an instant go-to recommendation: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas and Of Sea and Stone by Kate Avery Ellison

Furthest out of your comfort zone: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Read on a recommendation (that you may not have picked up yourself): The Devil You Know by Trish Doller

Forced yourself to finish: I Married the Duke by Katharine Ashe

Series or author’s works you binged (whether all at once or throughout the year): Nope.

Blogging Life

• Post of 2015: My Happy New Year post and my January link-up for the Debut Author Challenge were both posted on January 1.
• Review of 2015: A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

• Post of 2015: End of Year Book Survey
• Review of 2015: The Kiss Before Christmas by Sophie Pembroke

Number of posts in 2015: 152

Number of reviews posted this year: 31

Least coherent review: A Court of Thorns and Roses

Post with the most views (posted in 2015): 2016 Debut Author Challenge Sign-Ups

Post you wish you could re-write: I’m happy with them all!

Happy New Year 2016!

Posted January 1, 2016 by Jana in About Me / 2 Comments


Happy New Year!!! To all my wonderful friends, I wish you all the best 2016 has to offer! I love this idea of starting fresh and looking forward. 2015 had its good moments and its not so good moments, and I’m happy to see it go! I’ve got a lot happening in 2016! The biggest thing, though, is that I’m graduating with my Master’s this year! Wooo!

What exciting things are coming up for you?