Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pub 08 Challenge Completed

I simply had to post about this. The Pub '08 challenge is the one and the only of all the challenges I've attempted this year that I've actually completed. Actually, I completed it with flying colors reading some 17 books published in 2008 when the minimum required was 8 and reviewing all but one of them. I hear there's a Pub '09 challenge on tap for next year, so I guess I'll have to join that, too. Then maybe I'll be able to say that I succeeded at *two* challenges, but then I probably shouldn't start counting chickens before they're hatched...

Anyhow, here's the wrap-up...


Have You Found Her by Janice Erlbaum
The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari
The Cactus Eaters by Dan White
Black Wave by Jean and John Silverwood
Queen of the Road by Doreen Orion
A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs
Home Girl by Judith Matloff
Tears of the Desert by Halima Bashir


Widows of Eden by George Shaffner
Three Girls and Their Brother by Theresa Rebeck
The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
Ellington Boulevard by Adam Langer
All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan
Sweetsmoke by David Fuller
When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale
Aberrations by Penelope Przekop

My favorites are tough to choose as there are a bunch of really good books here, but I'd have to go with Sweetsmoke for fiction and Tears of the Desert for non-fiction, but if I broke my categories down any more than that I would just continue picking favorites until I had a huge list. Keep your eye out for the Second Annual Leafy Awards if go in for huge lists.

My least favorites? Probably Black Wave for non-fiction and Aberrations for fiction. Both books had their good qualities but didn't work as a whole for me.

Monday, December 29, 2008

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

Ah, methinks the Christmas reading funk has come to an end. Which is good, because it seems that Christmas has now passed. In keeping with my (new) tradition, I finished a great (if emotionally wrenching) book on Christmas day itself. That book is How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. And, I'll tell you, it was so good that I didn't even notice that it had nary a quotation mark until at least halfway through.

How I Live Now begins with the 15-year-old and obviously troubled Daisy arriving in England to spend the summer with her aunt and four cousins that she barely knows. Leaving life in New York where the weight of people's pity that her mother died in childbirth combined with life with her "evil" and now pregnant step-mother is a relief for Daisy whose desperation to be loved mixes all up with using self-starvation as a weapon against parents who don't seem to understand. Daisy finds solace at her Aunt Penn's isolated farmhouse where her odd but affectionate cousins wrap her up in their idyllic world where school consists of reading books and communication is totally possible even outside the limitation of speech.

I made up my mind to ask Aunt Penn some of these questions when she came back from Oslo but I guess what you really want to know are the things you can't ask like Did she have eyes like yours and When you pushed my hair back was that what it feels like to have your mother do it and Did she ever have a chance to look at me with a complicated expression like the one on your face, and by the way Was she scared to die.

As the summer wears on, Daisy is sure that she's found a place she can belong in the Back of Beyond with her cousins, Osbert, the eldest, who feels some responsibility for the rest but can't be troubled to do much about it; Piper, the youngest, who eagerly sweeps Daisy into their lives with her disarming sweetness; and twins Isaac and Edmond, the former who seems to be able to talk to animals but is strikingly wordless among people and the latter who Daisy feels a bit more for than is generally acceptable in a cousinly relationship. Even as Daisy begins to live her truest life, it is crumbling around her as a war sneaks into the countryside, upending all of their lives forever.

...sometimes I forgot to count Isaac because he could go days without saying a single word. I knew Aunt Penn wasn't worried about him because I heard her say to someone that he'd speak when he was ready to speak, but all I could think was in New York that kid would have been stuck in a straitjacket practically from birth and dangled over a tank full of Education Consultants and Remedial Experts all snapping at his ankles for the next twenty years arguing about his Special Needs and getting paid plenty for it.

How I Live Now is beyond description. The summary covers only the barest bones of a story that is surprisingly unique and oddly magical. Daisy is a brilliant teen narrator, obviously damaged and cynical when it comes to her life thus far and also desperately vulnerable and in need of love in a way few around her seem to understand. Her narration races along in stream of consciousness style with capital letters used frequently for emphasis in a way that is decidedly teenage. It crackles with insight and captures her cousins from an outsider's inside point of view, picking up on their sort of spiritual wavelength even when she is yet unable to be a part of it.

The beginning of the story paints her Aunt's run-down country farmhouse like a paradise and her cousins like Daisy's long lost soulmates, just as Daisy must see them. So, then, it is that much more jarring when a war begins in a decidedly non-traditional sense, slowly slashing paradise to pieces, separating the cousins, and subjecting them all to the harsh realities of an ultimately violent enemy Occupation. Even then, though, Daisy is finding herself and living a truer life than ever before as she discovers real love and learns that she would do anything to live for it.

I wanted to tell someone that this was it, the end, I couldn't go on any more with my own misery plus Piper's, which was so much worse. I felt full of rage and despair, like Job shaking his fist at God, and all I could do was sit with her and stroke her hair and murmur enough, enough, because that's what we'd both had.

Read it. It's awesome. It's definitely not the kind of book that you'll be quick to forget.

Read other reviews at:

Things Mean A Lot
In Search of Giants
Ink and Paper
Where Troubles Melt Like Lemon Drops

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dewey's Books Challenge

Despite my dismal failure at nearly every challenge I try, I'm going to have to give Dewey's Books Challenge a try, if only to try and honor her memory through reading. I'm sure you've all heard about this one by now, so I won't go on about the details - that's what the link's for! Anyhow, I'm going with option number 2 which is to choose and read 5 books that Dewey reviewed on her blog. Because I'm determined to succeed, I'm trying to make my list as easy as possible for me to accomplish, including mostly books that I already intend to read in 2009 and perhaps, uh, one that I've read already. Here's my list, which is, of course, subject to change upon my whims.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Thanks to Chris and Robin for hosting!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Redux

Greetings! Hope you and yours had a Merry Christmas!

We made lots of merry here at our house, and I'm wholeheartedly satisfied with my gift haul, and more importantly how much everybody else liked the gifts I bought them. Or, at least, how good of a job everybody did of acting like they really enjoyed the gifts I bought them.

I made a concentrated effort to buy at least as many books for gifts as I do most years and quite possibly more. For my mom, who loved Wally Lamb's previous two books, I grabbed a copy of the newest, The Hour I First Believed which she's already started to read. For my dad, we had the old standby, the yearly Odd Thomas release from Dean Koontz, Odd Hours, which he always enjoys. He's badly in need of a new author to love, so I'm trying to get him hooked on Neil Gaiman with a copy of Neverwhere, too. My grandmother, who almost never wants books, kept bringing up the good things she'd been hearing about Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, so naturally, I had to pick up a copy of that for her. Lastly, and my crowning achievement of the year, for my cousin who has just begun learning to read, I grabbed a copy of one of my very favorite childhood books, Animalia and made a severe annoyance of myself until my mom bought her a copy of Mo Willems' The Pigeon Wants a Puppy. It's so much fun picking out cool books for new readers. I hope she enjoys them as much as I do!

As for me, not too many books under the tree, but the quality was definitely there. The first gift I opened was a copy of Leif Enger's So Brave, Young, and Handsome which I've been dying to have since I knew it existed. I loved Peace Like a River, so I'm quite excited about this one. I also got a spiffy new copy of the new ESV Study Bible which the people at my church are simply rabid over, if indeed, it's quite correct to be rabid about a Bible.... Anyhow, it's full of awesome stuff, so I'm quite excited about that, too. My ever-thoughtful 10 year old cousin got me a book light. Now does that kid know me or what?

Another gift I consider to be quite bookish that I'm wildly excited about is my hunter green SLANKET! This is a great gift for when I want to read in my arctic temperature bedroom. As a matter of fact, cozily tucked into my Slanket I devoured the end of How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff last night after the holiday merry making had come to an end (and a few re-runs of House had been watched). Believe it or not, I've actually already written the review, but I'm going to save it for sometime over the next few days because I predict that next week is going to be pretty harsh on the old blogging time because some folks at work are taking some vacation which means that I get pressed into service at all kinds of weird hours. After which, I'll definitely need to drink some of the !wine I won in their mystery holiday giveaway drawing! which is doubly cool because I'm going through a real wine phase right now, which sounds kind of bizarre because I'm not much of a drinker at all.

All in all, a very satisfying holiday. The planets aligned properly allowing everybody to be in a fairly good mood on the holiday. Children were relatively well-behaved. Great gifts were given and received, and a sense of humor prevailed. Can't ask for much more than that. It's about time for me to leave for the matinee of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which will be, hopefully, as good as it looks.

So, what good stuff did you get for Christmas?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dude, Where's My Attention Span?

Brought to you in list form for the extremely attention span deficient.

- I've lost my attention span, and I can't seem to concentrate long enough to go looking for it. I'm hoping it will come back when I stop being busy all the frickin' time.

- I don't really like working full time. It's a real time suck. I do, however, rather enjoy the bigger numbers on my paycheck. A quandary, really. Especially during the busy holiday season when I could really use the big numbers but could also really use an extra hour or two. And no, my attention span doesn't attend work with me either, which is not good. If you see it, could you send it back?

- I read this other YA book a few weeks back, before Twilight. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan. I don't even quite know how to talk about it. I almost quit halfway through but was persuaded by the rather high rating on Library Thing and its shortness to persevere, and I liked it. It's a sweet little love story of two boys. The writing? A little bit quirky and quite absorbing. The love story? Great. Actually, the first time Noah and Paul go out, or I should say, stay in, would make a powerfully great short story. The weird not quite alternate universe peppered with things like a tranny homecoming queen/football quarterback, cheerleaders who ride motorcycles into the pep rally, and generally accepted homosexuality except for the one kid with the religious parents? This didn't work for me. I mean, here we've got this world that Levithan has created where pretty much everybody is cool with whatever sort of sexual preference you, um, prefer, but then there's this random rather important character whose intolerant parents won't let him be who he is. Somehow, it just doesn't seem to fit. Why is everybody cool about this kind of thing except for this kid's parents? If Levithan had totally tweaked reality and went the whole hog on this, I think I would have been okay with it, but there's this old-fashioned leftover from really real reality (did you follow that? I'm not sure I did) that kind of messes the whole thing up. Sure, let's envision an enlightened sort of life where everybody is free to be who they are and like who they like, that's swell, but if we're going to do that shouldn't we leave the "past" behind? There was just something about it that rubbed me the wrong way. Oh well. I liked the book, really, I did. It was a sweet story and once I managed to get over my issues with Levithan's slightly alternate reality, I did find the story quite enjoyable and that characters quite lovable.

- So I joined this book group with some people from church - actually it's more of literature group. We're reading A Christmas Carol. I have managed a sum total of 46 pages of this since I finished Twilight, and, uh, nothing else. I'm enjoying it, but have I mentioned that I have no attention span to speak of? Next up I have to decide if I have it in me to tackled Crime and Punishment....again. I'm hoping that someday they'll read some literature that I didn't read in high school.

- I'd almost given up hope, but this (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet) came in the mail today. I'm very excited about it. Really, very excited about it. The early, early reviews that I've read have been positively glowy. And it's so pretty. See the pretty picture? Oooooo.

- I've read astonishingly few books this year. I'm alternately embarassed and ashamed. I'm ready to gear up for next year and do better. It would definitely help if nobody in my family would go and have a near death experience right at the beginning of next year. Or any other part of the year for that matter. Do you hear that family? No brushes with death! I have books to read, you know! (Okay - this point is kind of sick and twisted - time to move on).

- I keep...like...winning stuff. It's starting to get a little crazy. I'm starting to wonder if maybe I should play the lottery, too. I mean, if only I could win the lottery, I could quit my job and have plenty more time to read... My wave of good fortune probably started a while back with Imaginary Friends which I won from Literary Feline. Then at the beginning of this month, I won The Teahouse Fire from Matt. Over the weekend, I scored a much-coveted Christmas bookmark and treats from Nymeth. And now today I found out that I've won Chartroose's four "Falling" books. How awesome are these people and their sweet giveaways? I'm so excited for the very super great mail days in my future. It all just kind of makes me want to give away stuff. And I will, but probably not until the new year - you know, that massive lull of winter months that come after Christmas. I need something to look forward to and I imagine so will you.

- I could make a lot of excuses for this post. Instead, I think I'll just publish it before I wander off to look at shiny things and forget to click the button....

Monday, December 8, 2008

Everybody's Doing It

You know, there's a bit of an fine line going with this whole book blogging thing because when I'm not blogging it usually means I'm reading and when I'm blogging too much, then that means I'm not reading enough to sustain my book blog.

What I'm trying to say is that I went Christmas shopping on Saturday in a vain hope of finding Animal, Vegetable, Mineral at the one local indie book store which has a definite sci-fi/fantasy bent with a few random bestsellers tossed in. To my great surprise, I found a copy and was able to "support the local indie" as I always say that I want to but rarely do. I don't buy many new books, and I buy even fewer new books from actual stores. Except for at Christmas, that's when I make up for my lackluster new book buying.

While I was there, against my better judgement, I bought one of these...

Because, I mean, who can really resist buying a book with vampires from a bookstore that actually has a "Vampire" section? Especially when you're an incredible sheep like me who just has to know what the big deal is. (Yes, I saw the movie, too, okay?) And it's been on my wish list for longer than you would guess...

Much to my surprise, I quickly cast aside everything I'd been reading and all the accumulated reading obligations this year has brought, and then let it devour my weekend whole. I accomplished nearly nothing this weekend apart from reading this book. I almost made it all the way through to the end, but alas, the work week came despite my great desire to stay in bed with the book. And then I worked 9 hours today, so the spell was briefly broken. But I intend to finish it. Soon.

No, it's not a work of great literary merit, nor, I believe, is it intended to be. It is, however, great and addictively escapist. I totally get the appeal. I mean, I need a few more books that will make me completely disregard everything else I might need or even want to do (even if I do notice offhand that maybe the main characters glare a little too often and that their attempts at verbalizing their feelings maybe get the slightest bit redundant even as I plow through the pages at an alarming rate). I get a kick out of how all of the first 10 widely "thumbs upped" reviews on Library Thing are wildly negative, and yet, it has an impressive 4.3 star rating among the general LT populace. Despite whatever flaws it might have, Meyer does know how to tell a good story - slowly handing out the details you crave and keeping you reading late into the night (or well into that time that you should have been balancing your checkbook or decorating your Christmas tree or even indulging in the ever-hallowed post-church Sunday afternoon nap - the best of the week I'll have you know).

Anyhow, all this leads me to believe that if you like this sort of thing, you will find it to be exactly the sort of thing that you will like. And I do. I like this sort of thing. Now, I'm off to go like it some more.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Missing You

I don't know what to say, but I can't just say nothing. I was shocked as was much of the book blogosphere to hear of Dewey's sudden passing last week. I've been reading Dewey's blog for just about as long as I've been a blogger. Though, I've never seen her, it feels like losing a friend. It is like losing a friend.

I can't say how much I have appreciated Dewey's enthusiasm for books, her great generosity, and most of all her many efforts to build our book blogging community. Many of my best blog friends I discovered because of Dewey's tireless efforts with things like the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon and the Weekly Geeks, and all them (of you!) are priceless gifts.

Thank you, Dewey, for everything you did and everything you were. You will be greatly missed.