Sunday, November 29, 2009

Senseless Book Shopping for the Infirm

I do this sometimes. I use words and then I wonder if I know said words real meaning. Hence, when I casually plunked down "infirm" in the title of this post, I thought, does infirm really mean what I think it means? As it turns out, infirm has several definitions, more than one (all?) of which apply to me for the purposes of this post. So, in fact, my casual choice turned out to be just the word I wanted...and more. Here we have the definition as copied and pasted from

in⋅firm  /ɪnˈfɜrm/
1. feeble or weak in body or health, esp. because of age; ailing.
2. unsteadfast, faltering, or irresolute, as persons or the mind; vacillating: infirm of purpose.
3. not firm, solid, or strong: an infirm support.
4. unsound or invalid, as an argument or a property title.

I mean, how perfect. First of all, I'm feeling kinda "feeble in health." I've been trying not to get sick all week, and I thought I had it beaten, but then just on the other side of all the Thanksgiving festivating, I find myself all tired and stuffy-nosed and grumpy. In this state, I happened upon a nice, helpful announcement from Book Closeouts informing me that they're having a nice 50% off sale on fiction books. Not being "firm, solid, or strong" in my commitment to not buy any more books for my overflowing shelves (or do I mean "overflowing house"?), I happened over there and browsed the books to soften the raw deal of being ill on the weekend when I should be starting my Christmas shopping and relishing the anticipation of the upcoming Christmas holiday. Now I find myself with a good few books in my virtual cart and I'm feeling "unsteadfast, faltering, and irresolute" about just what to do about this, which is quickly followed up by some very "unsound or invalid" reasoning as to why I should just go right on ahead and buy those books.

So then, I have a mission for you, should you choose to accept it. Your goal? Talk me out of whipping out my credit card and buying the 9 books (whittled down!) I have in my cart at Book Closeouts which are obscenely cheap because of their (not just) Black Friday fiction sale. Tell me how I have no need of more books, how I should be either saving my money for any of several important causes or spending it on Christmas presents, how there is no space for new books. Tell me that "they're cheap!" and "But I've really wanted them for a long time!" are not valid reasons for buying them, nor is the excuse that "I'm sick and ordering books I have no space for will make me less sick/less bummed out about being sick." In other words, cure me of my bookish infirmity. Until then, I'll be hovering here with my mouse perilously close to the "purchase" button.



P.S. Sorry about the word verification. It was getting pretty spammy around here, so I turned it on. :(

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Black Angels by Linda Beatrice Brown

Wow, it's been a while since I've shown my face here. I'm sorry for my general blogosphere scarcity, but I would be remiss if I didn't tell you to expect more of the same. As the holidays descend with alarming quickness (can it really be Thanksgiving next week?), and all of my belongings seems to be breaking down or requiring extra attention (do I own them or do they own me???), and the prospect of a few weekend outings loom large in my future, I can say with pretty good authority that you probably won't be seeing a good deal of me until, perhaps, after Christmas.

However, this is not an official hiatus notice, just a perhaps unnecessary heads up. If I do manage to crop up, I promise I'll have a book review or few for you as we approach the end of the year whenever I can reasonably manage it (AKA whenever I reasonably feel like it), as I am a good few behind. As a matter of fact, I quite intend to have one for you today.

A while back I read a great review of Black Angels by Linda Beatrice Brown by Susan at Bloggin' 'Bout Books. So great, in fact, that instead of simply adding it to my wish list and moving on as is my typical practice (sorry, bloggers!), I actually commented that I would be adding it to my wish list. In due course, Susan gave my name to Stacey at Penguin Young Readers, and I found myself in possession of a review copy. (Oh FTC, I hope you're "listening"!). So thanks to Susan and Stacey, and now on with the review!

Black Angels is a historical fiction account of three children who for various reasons find themselves lost and alone during the waning days of the American Civil War. First Brown introduces us to Luke, an 11-year-old slave running away to meet other runaways whose goal is to head north and fight for the Union. Then we meet Daylily, a nine-year-old slave girl, alone in the woods having witnessed an act of unspeakable violence. Finally we meet 7-year-old white Caswell, who is fleeing his burning home in search of his probably-dead mother. After their first rainy night alone, the three find each other in the morning, and figuring that without each other they will be totally alone, they form an unlikely trio and determine to head north to safety, or so they hope.

When the ragtag trio, in a moment of desperate need, happen upon a mysterious Indian woman, their paths are changed in more ways then one. She feeds them, clothes them, and seems to know the vast potential that lies inside each of "her" children. As the war drags on into its final days, her wisdom and love will prove even more invaluable than her provision.

Black Angels is a captivating tale of three children who become the forerunners of the many people who have helped heal our nation from years of hatred and prejudice. It teaches the timeless lessons that there are bonds much deeper than blood or color, that we are all essentially the same, and that love gives us the power to overcome in a world that doesn't always understand. It offers younger readers an unflinching but not overpowering glimpse of the Civil War and the miserable years of slavery and the extreme racism that continued long after the war had ended, but at the same time it employs its characters to show readers how wrong it all was and give them hope for our nation's and even humanity's future.

My one complaint would be that the book occasionally dabbles in preachiness, but the instances are few and don't take much away from the book, and for that matter, might not even be so noticeable depending upon the age of the reader. Other than that, Black Angels is a big hearted, beautifully crafted tale of the American Civil War, and I'd wholeheartedly recommend it to historical fiction fans both young and old.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Fireman's Wife by Jack Riggs

Sooooo, I learned something from the Read-a-thon. I learned that I miss reading one book at a time, just one so I can be caught up in just it instead of spreading my attention too thin trying to be engrossed in a few at a time. So, it's back to one book at a time for me, and I like it, but we'll see how long it lasts. Somehow it feels like you're getting more read when you're reading more than one book at a time, though I'm starting to see that, for me, that might not be true.

Anyhow, that's enough with the personal interlude. I'm still wildly behind on my reviewing. Well, for me, I mean. So, on with the show!

Cassie and Peck Johnson's marriage is falling apart. In fact, it's probably been falling apart since it began when Cassie became pregnant with their daughter Kelly during one lovedrunk summer at the beach. Disowned by her Baptist minister father, Cassie is forced to leave the mountain home she loves and her hopes of a college education to move to the sweltering South Carolina low country. There she all but loses her identity in the everyday struggles of raising a daughter and trying to love a fire chief husband who seems to be more involved with his crew than his family. Cassie isn't sure what she wants from life, but she knows that to find out, she'll have to escape strong, steady Peck and his beloved low country, the ties of which she can always feel tight around her.

Sure that this time, really, is the time she is leaving for good, Cassie sets off for the mountains with Kelly and Peck's friend Clay determined to escape from the life that has bound her for so long. Soon, though, she learns that getting away isn't so simple as simply packing her things and driving away. When unexpected events occur, Cassie finds that the new life she's pursuing isn't quite what she'd imagined and maybe not what she's searching for at all.

Told in chapters alternating between Peck and Cassie's perspectives, The Fireman's Wife is a story of a marriage collapsing under the weight of its own past. At the start, the novel is less than captivating. Its choppy, belabored beginning chapters populated by characters who come off as selfish and none too likeable make for rough going. Riggs' beginning is a bit forced and a little too obvious in the telling, and his two main characters don't exactly leap off the page. Luckily, however, as the story continues, it shakes off many of its problems. By the midpoint of the book, Cassie and Peck are more genuinely fleshed out and readers are more involved in their story and their problems. The alternating viewpoints manage to successfully present both sides of an argument that the two never really manage to have. Even the mountains and the low country come to life so that readers can share in the characters' deep love for the essence of their respective homes. Ultimately, readers can't help but pull for the two to heal the damage of their shared past and find a way to reconcile their differences.

The Fireman's Wife is not the perfect novel, but if you can look past some of its ticks (a clunky first fifty pages, an occasional awkwardness in the first person present tense narration, and perhaps an irritating overuse of the expression "pissed off"), it is a sweet story that reminds us both that love isn't always easy, but is worth it, and how sometimes to love another, we first need to know and love ourselves.

(This is a review copy compliments of Random House via LibraryThing Early Reviewers.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Thoughts on Stardust

Wow, that post title sounds really profound, doesn't it? Let me disabuse you of this notion of profundity. I intend merely to expound upon my reading experience of Neil Gaiman's Stardust (in unintentionally highfallutin' vocabulary) because it has been so long since I've read it, at this point, that a legitimate review seems near to impossible.

For one, I have the feeling that Stardust defies a plot synopsis. It's a fairytale. There are a lot of ins and outs that probably won't make sense until you peruse the pages. Boy has one night stand with girl in Faerie world which happens to be just across the way (or the wall if we want to be perfectly clear). Union results in son. Son, not knowing his true origins, sets out for the land of Faerie to retrieve a fallen star for his one true love, so that she will marry him or at least maybe give him the time of day. Hapless hero soon discovers, amid numerous action-packed side stories of brothers fighting to the death for their right to rule and witches trying to replenish their beauty and immortality, that, oh yeah, maybe his one true love is not his actual one true love, and his actual one true love is, well, someone rather unlikely. I think you get my drift. It's a fairy tale! To say too much would spoil its magic, so enough with this plot synopsis stuff!

We talk of the kings and queens of Faerie as we would speak of the kings and queens of England. But Faerie is bigger than England, as it is bigger than the world (for, since the dawn of tme, each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn't there has taken refuge in Faerie; so it is by now, by the time that we come to write of it, a most huge place indeed, containing every manner of landscape and terrain). Here, truly, there be Dragons.

This is a great story. So great in fact that somebody made a movie out of it, not that great stories are necessarily required for some dingbat to try to make a movie out of a book, but I digress. And the movie Stardust? Well, I saw it first, and I wish I hadn't. If I had read this book before seeing the movie I probably would have loved it. Having seen the movie, which is not completely true to the book but not too untrue to it either, kind of wrecked the book for me. It was like watching an episode of one of your favorite TV shows, but it's a re-run. I enjoyed it, but already having an idea of what was going to happen kind of took away from the experience. It seems like this feeling, also, exempts me from being able to write a legitimate review of Stardust as well.

There's no doubt that Gaiman really created a great story here, though, a story that works equally well, if you ask me, in the book and on screen. I loved the movie, and most of that can be chalked up to Gaiman's vivid and imaginative storytelling. And it's a fairy tale! That somebody wrote recently! For grown-ups! Even the thought of it is rather delightful!

Now for some really, utterly random thoughts that will only make sense to those who have read the book and/or seen the movie:

I liked how in the movie, the dead brothers were funny, but I also liked how, in the book, each time the dead brothers spoke, it was likened to some passing sound - the rustle of a curtain, the breeze blowing through the bushes, etc.

I missed the we'll say "more interesting" aspects of the Captain's character as played by Robert De Niro in the movie.

I also kind of enjoyed the juiced up movie ending, with the thing and the thing and the drama and the action, and the other thing that happened, all of which I can hardly even allude to for fear of the inevitable spoiler. Well, actually maybe it was a bit too Terminator, and the book's somewhat softer, gentler arrival is actually preferable. I can't decide.

I have, however, decided that I would like movie Stardust for Christmas, and that book Stardust can't unseat Neverwhere as my favorite Gaiman.

If you happen to be looking for an actual review, I might recommend...

Becky's Book Reviews
The Bluestocking Society
Trish's Reading Nook
Musings of a Bookish Kitty

And you? How about you? Have you read Stardust or watched it? Or both? What did you think? How does the movie compare for you, if you've seen it? Will you buy it for me for Christmas?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Er...Pardon That Life-a-thon

Okay, so when I posted that Read-a-thon wrap-up last Sunday morning, I definitely wasn't thinking "oh hey, well, this will be my last post til next week." In fact, I was hoping to have a post Read-a-thon review-a-thon week in which I would catch up on my reviews which I seem to be getting more and more behind on, and filling in the extra time visiting the new faces I saw here on Read-a-thon day and slightly after.

Rather what I got is a Life-a-thon, which is when your job and, well, your life kick your butt mercilessly all week so that you feel like everyday is like running a marathon and you ran out of energy and the will to continue three days before. You know, the kinds of days when the only thing you feel like doing when you get home is taking a long nap and watching TV or something else that requires similarly little brain power. So yeah, all my blogosphere "high" left over from the Read-a-thon dissipated all-too-suddenly. Nonetheless, I (in no particular order) bought some cheap books, slept a lot, watched a good baseball game that ate into the extra hour of sleep I was supposed to get (and was totally worth it), did some pseudo Trick or Treating, and drank a fantastic milkshake, and am feeling semi-recharged. Given that, I should probably be writing a review or five right now, instead I'm writing one of these posts about life and reading randomness.

Much to my surprise, I actually finished a book amid all the lousiness that was last week. It's The Fireman's Wife by Jack Riggs which I probably should have read and reviewed some time ago, no really, some time ago for LibraryThing Early Reviewers. I had started it and put it down a few different times because the first 50 pages just aren't catchy. I was concerned that the writing wasn't ever going to flow and I wasn't going to care about the characters, but once I finally got through to the middle of the book, I was pleasantly surprised. There were definitely some flaws, but overall I suppose it was a pretty good story. More later when I write the actual review.

And as for the books I bought to soothe myself about my rotten week? I knew you'd ask. My parents and I were poking around a town about an hour from where we live, and we ended up at a big (BIG!) antique store. Now, most antiques don't really thrill me, so imagine my happiness to find they had a book sale going on in their basement. Needless to say, I looked at books while my parents ogled the antiques. Honestly, the selection was pretty poor in the grand scheme of used book sales, and I really thought I was going to strike out, but then there it was glimmering, a diamond in the very rough, Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a book I've wanted to get my hands on for so long that I probably should have just bought it new or got it from the library. Now, I don't have to. I also may or may not have picked up Runaway by Alice Munro because I feel like I've heard good things about her short stories, A Spectacle of Corruption by David Liss because he wrote The Coffee Trader which I liked, and Hanna's Daughters by Marianne Fredriksson because who doesn't love a good generational saga? And that's all I found. Which is probably a good thing.

Anyhow, here's to next week being a better (and more productive) week around here! Hope you all have a good one, too! =D