Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Sea Change

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Sea Change by Jeremy Page
Viking, December 2


After experiencing a devastating tragedy, Guy sets out to sea in an old Dutch barge that has now become his home. Every night, he writes the imagined diary of the man he might have been—and the family he should have had.

As he embarks upon the stormy waters of the North Sea—writing about a trip through the small towns and nightclubs of the rural American South—Guy's stories begin to unfold in unexpected ways. And when he meets a mother and daughter, he realizes that it might just be possible to begin his life again.

Haunting and exquisitely crafted, Sea Change is a deeply affecting novel of love and family by an acclaimed young writer.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman

It doesn't take Vince Luca long in his life to find out that his dad is in the "vending machine business" or that the vending machine business has nothing to do with vending machines either. For one, he knows that his dad is an only child, but there always seem to be a few sinister-seeming Uncles around the house. That, and when his dad says a sarcastic good night to empty rooms, it's not hard to tell that the Luca house is bugged by the FBI. Yes, Vince Luca's dad is a mob kingpin, and it's causing Vince all sorts of problems, especially in his love life, like that time he took a girl to the beach, opened the trunk to get a blanket out, only to find one of his dad's roughed up debtors passed out in the trunk. Things are going to get worse, though, because Vince is falling for the daughter of the very same FBI agent that is trying to put his dad away for good.

Son of the Mob is a great blend of the hilarious and the serious. Vince is a sympathetic and funny narrator caught between his dad's line of work, which always seems to be getting him in trouble and the comfortable life he leads because of it. It's hard to take a moral stand against the mob when his dad's income from it is what's putting food on the table. The story is littered with oddly named Uncles and their expected and unexpected exploits. The back story of Vince's dawning realization that his dad's line of work is a bit different than all the other kids' dads, not to mention the scrapes he's always getting into because of it, are all laugh out loud funny.

In a strange sort of way, Son of the Mob is a convincing coming of age story. Vince has always had the mob in his life, but he's never worked out where he fits into his family's story. He knows that a criminal life isn't one he wants to lead, but he is still wrestling with how to reconcile that distaste for his dad's life with a son's inherent loyalty to a dad who, despite his illegal career, has taken care of him and cared about him all of his life. Vince's relationship with Kendra, the FBI agent's daughter, is less of a convincing love story than it is a plot device that throws all Vince's quandaries into sharp relief and forces him to face up to what his dad is doing and what he, Vince, is going to do about it.

Ultimately, Son of the Mob is a funny story with heart and a serious coming of age component that almost takes you by surprise.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Dose of Random Randomness #5

We haven't had much randomness lately. It's time to remedy this. Plus, my week has seemed so awfully long that I'm afraid I'm not mentally competent enough to write, like, a book review or something. So....randomness!

- I'm having one of those weeks where you get books in the mail that you'd kind of written off as ones you weren't going to get. It's an odd feeling, a cross between that glee you feel at finding money you forgot you had in that oft unused compartment of your purse and abject panic ("Where will I put these? When will I read them?")

- I dislike lunch foods that cannot be eaten with one hand. How am I supposed to hold the book open while I eat??

- I'm not sure how I'll ever be a mother, I mean, should the opportunity arise. I'm the most awful sort of germaphobe. When the people in my household are sick, I A) disappear or B) loudly object to touching the buttons of the phone or the remote control or other shared objects. Yes, I know, I kind of irritate me, too.

- My town plays host to the biggest fair in my state this coming week. It's such a big deal around here that I used to get the week off of school for it. I miss that. If you can't find me this week, it's because I'm off gorging on deep friend foods, playing Bingo for prizes that nobody wants (the best of which might just be an hour of free Bingo!) and reveling in small town Americana. Or maybe I'm just going for the Dock Dogs. Or maybe I'm just going because I can watch Dock Dogs while eating funnel cake and french fries and ice cream and, oh, well you get the point.

- Good news! I've read a second book this month now. This means I won't have to retire to my bed in a state of abject book blogger humiliation. But, uh, I might choose to.

- I think that Shelf Awareness dedicated issue about Gallery Books single handedly is going to add many books to my wish list. As soon as I read it instead of shallowly looking at the cover photographs and mindlessly musing that, "Oh, that's pretty. That looks really good."

That's all my randomness. Got any randomness you'd like to share? Come on, it'll make you feeeeel good.... ;-)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

It's September the 21st already, and I've read approximately one book this month thus far. It's my pleasure to blame this mild travesty on Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I mean, if it hadn't been for my lunch breaks at work this past week, I might have done no book reading at all. Is it wildly ironic that I had to go to work to get any book reading done?

The good news is, though, that though I've only read on book this month thus far, it was the right book. It's exactly the one book I committed to read for exactly the one reading challenge (R.I.P. V!) I chose to participate in this year. Now, you may think that reading one book for a challenge and reviewing it is not a lofty goal, but, uh, yeah, I like totally failed last year. So that I'm here, I've read the book, and now I'm on the cusp of reviewing it is far more impressive than perhaps you're thinking.

Her Fearful Symmetry, if not exactly my most beloved book of the year, was definitely a good fit for a creepy fall read in the R.I.P. challenge vein. I'm not even sure if I quite know how I feel about it yet. It was definitely creepy, but not in the deliciously creepy kind of way you're envisioning when you curl up with a ghost story on a crisp, breezy fall day. More just like creepy creepy bordering on the disturbing. Or maybe I just don't read enough creepy ghost stories to be able to judge properly.

I don't usually do this, but I've got to stop a second here and say something about the book itself. Regal Literary sent me a finished paperback for review, and I think the paperback is just scrumptious. The cover is beautiful and the softened edges of the photograph of the girl seem to fit the book just right. It's got pages that are just the right thickness, a great font for the chapter headings, and photographs of the cemetary divide the parts of the book. It was exciting just to take it out of the envelope and hold it in my hand, and all the extra well-done aesthetic touches added pleasure to an already enjoyable reading experience. Ah, I take so much pleasure from just holding a book in my hand, I don't know that I'll ever be able to make the switch to an E-reader! But that's a problem for another day. Today there's a review to be written!

When Elspeth Noblin passes away after a long fight with cancer, she leaves her diaries to her lover, Robert, and she leaves her flat at Vautravers right next to Highgate Cemetary in London to her twin nieces Julia and Valentina. There are a few conditions, though. Valentina and Julia have to spend a year living in the flat before they can sell it and neither their father, Jack, nor their mother Edie, Elspeth's twin, may step foot in the flat to visit their daughters. Though Valentina, the meeker of the two, has considerable reservations about moving to London from Chicago, Julia's fierce determination to move to London and for the twins to stay together as they always have, wins out.

The two set off for London and settle in the flat. Julia becomes acquainted first with the upstairs neighbor, Martin, a man who suffers terribly from obsessive compulsive disorder whose wife, unable to live under the burden of Martin's many compulsions any longer, has left him. Much later they come to know Robert, Elspeth's grieving lover and a guide and a scholar of Highgate Cemetary. A year in the flat is complicated, however, because there is much mystery about the broken relationship between Elspeth and Edie that still lingers, and Julia and Valentina are finding that always being together, living as two halves of a whole is not the life they're both dreaming of. As for Elspeth? Well, she might be dead, but it appears she's not exactly gone. I'll say no more for fear of revealing crucial plot points in a book that's about the slow revelation of its many mysteries.

Her Fearful Symmetry is a book that grew on me, and one I suspect might continue to do so. It started slow, and I wondered where it was going and if it would get there soon. It finally grabbed me somewhere in the middle, and I had a sense of where it was headed and was rather disturbed by it. I think, though, that I was ultimately won over by its resolution. At its heart, Her Fearful Symmetry is about human folly and best intentions gone awry and being granted wishes that don't turn out the way you'd imagined. At times it's a twisted love story, and at other times it's a sweet love story, but it most definitley is a love story. It's not a fairy tale sort of love story, but a real love story that shows love for what it is: a terribly messy emotion that doesn't make sense and makes us do things that are beyond foolish and beyond selfish. It's a mystery and a ghost story with a rich, creepy atmosphere and a book that, despite my occasional misgivings, I think I really liked.

Friday, September 17, 2010

BBAW: Future Treasures

Wow, I can't believe Book Blogger Appreciation Week is already drawing to a close. As usual, it's been a fantastic week full of crazed bloghopping, great discoveries of new to me blogs that will give my Google Reader another infusion of new life, and a chance to rekindle my excitement about books, book bloggers, and book blogging. As always a big thank you to Amy and her dedicated helpers who put so much work into making it all possible!

The last topic of the week is all about blogging goals.

This year has been full of blogging ups and downs for me. Leafing Through Life is rapidly coming up on its third birthday, and the book blogosphere has grown in leaps and bounds even since I started blogging. It's been incredible watching the book blogging community grow and watching book bloggers draw the attention of publishers and authors simply by doing what they do best - get excited about books. That said, I won't lie. It's been hard trying to keep pace with a rapidly evolving book blogosphere and trying to find my place within it. There have been times in the past year when I've thought that perhaps it had passed me by, and maybe I should hang up my book blogging hat, simply because I didn't and still don't have the time to be the blogger I want to be. Er...this is not very cheery. Hold on, I promise it gets better.

Then came BEA and then Book Blogger Con and then BBAW, and, even when I'm feeling the most down about my blogging or most slumpy about my reading, these kinds of things have a way of always getting me excited and reinvigorated. Meeting and building relationships with people who love books, learning about the latest in publishing, getting to share my love of books with people who actually appreciate it instead of scratching their heads and saying something to the effect of "Oh, I read stuff. I read an issue of Entertainment Weekly just last month!" - all things I love too much to miss even when I can't dedicate the time I'd like to it. It's also weeks like this week that remind me that what's so great about the book blogosphere is still what's so great about the blogosphere - the community. It's a pleasure to see book bloggers trying to get to as many posts as possible for them this week to leave comments and discover new blogs and make new friends. The book blogosphere is a community that's still warm and welcoming and doesn't want anyone to feel left out.

I don't intend to set a lot of goals. I don't like them. They make things seem hard and like work, and it's when I let it turn into a chore that I have to get done that I like blogging least. So there will be no hard and fast goals here, just some loosey goosey wishes and hopes for the future of me in the book blogosphere.

- First and foremost, I don't need another chore, and I don't want to make blogging and reading just another obligation I have to fulfill.

- Second, I want to be more consistent about posting, and if I can't always post as much as I'd like, I still want to be as consistent in replying to comments and/or paying return visits to commenters as possible. I want everybody who takes the time to comment here to know that I really do notice and appreciate them.

- Third, I want to be a better blog reader. I'm notorious for letting my Google reader get way out ahead of me and, without even realizing it, not commenting on even my most favorite blogs for weeks on end. I'd love to come up with a better method, so that I can be more regular about showing the bloggers I love I appreciate them by actually reading and commenting on their blogs more often!

- Finally, I want a banner. For the top of the blog. See it up there? It's so boring! Except for the After You'd Gone quote, still love that. I don't know if I'm going to try to resurrect my Paint Shop Pro skills or commission someone with more talent than myself, but if you visit me next year at this time, there'd better be something pretty or at least visually interesting there.

Hope you've had a great BBAW - I know I have. Thanks to everybody for making it a particularly fabulous week to be a book blogger! =)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

BBAW: Forgotten Treasure

If you've been book blogging for any length of time, or even reading book blogs for any length of time, I'm sure it doesn't surprise you when I say that some books really sweep the blogosphere. To open up your Google Reader and see what's going on with your blogging friends, you'll be exposed to reviews and chatter about the same book every five posts. I mean, Mockingjay anyone? Or perhaps you remember the whole Raven Stole the Moon thing? It's great to see worthy books get a boost from lots of book bloggers' enthusiasm, but today's Book Blogger Appreciation Week topic asks us to spotlight a book that we've loved that seems to have flown under the book blogging radar.

When I saw this topic, a book I've read this very year jumped immediately to mind. Looking back, I even commented on the unfortunate lack of book bloggers reading this book in my original review. I wanted all my blogging friends to love The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by Thomas Mullen as much as I did. The author's previous book The Last Town on Earth seems to have made a much bigger splash, if not in the book blogosphere, then at least in general.

So, this book, it's set in the Great Depression-era where Jason and Whit Fireson AKA The Firefly Brothers are becoming infamous for their bank robbing exploits, except it seems their time may be up because they've been killed and now they're waking up in the morgue. Yes, I did say waking up up in the morgue because much to their, and everyone else's surprise, the most definitely dead Firefly Brothers are getting a second chance and a third chance and, well, you get the idea. Okay, I know people either love or hate that magical realism element in their reading, but this book has got so much going for it that perhaps even the magical realism haters could see their way to giving it a chance.

First of all, it's an unbelievably compelling picture of the Great Depression. It captures the desperation and the depravity to which the average person was driven. It draws out this hero worship for bank robbing criminals who were, in the eyes of many of the people whose houses had been foreclosed on, vicariously exacting their revenge. Second, it's a penetrating look at family as it follows the brothers back to their home where their mother and other brother are living a more average Depression experience. All these characters have incredible depth and seeing how they interact, how old hurts are never quite forgotten, and how their love for each other manifests itself in unexpected ways that never turn out quite the way they're intended is a perfect and well-drawn picture of any family, even given the unique circumstances. Finally, it's got action. I mean, it's a book about bank robbers. They rob banks. They have tommy guns. They have to make daring escapes from the cops. They have hostages and lovers and hostages who become lovers. Add to that the fact that they seem to not be staying dead, and you've got a pretty decent amount of action to offset the deeper, darker parts of the book.

I loved this book. I loved seeing the bank robber myth and legend simultaneously built up with the brothers' unlikley resurrection and peeled away to reveal a pair of average guys going through a hard time, just guys with families and baggage and struggles who just happen to be infamous bank robbers. All right, I hope my shameless gushing has convinced you to seek out a copy of The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers, and I'm looking forward to discovering some more excellent forgotten treasures today around the book blogosphere.

What's *your* forgotten treasure book?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

BBAW: Interview Swap!

Welcome to the second day of Book Blogger Appreciation Week! If you hadn't already guessed it, today is the day with the bloggers interviewing each other. This year I have the pleasure of helping you get to know the lovely Shanyn of Chick Loves Lit, a blogger whose Twitter feed I discovered before I'd ever laid eyes on her blog, a blog which just so happens to be chock full of excellent YA reviews. I hope you'll enjoy getting to know Shanyn better as much as I have!

Now...on with the show!

First, tell me about you. What are you up to when you're not reading/blogging?

My name is Shanyn, and I'm married to a soon-to-be optometrist. Right now we are moving around the state of Michigan completing his last year of school, so I've spent my time trying out new libraries :) I love to watch TV shows when they're out on DVD (or, all in a row), and I'm also a fan of different kinds of crafts. My big goal this fall is to get to a Red Wings, Lions, and Pistons game (since we're near Detroit), but if I only got to choose one it would definitely be the Red Wings (they are the only one of the three I'm actually a fan of).

How did you get started blogging about books?

I had a website where I reviewed movies in 2004-2005, but it was one I coded myself (not through a blog), so it was a little harder to upkeep. And I also realized I don't like movies much. Then in 2005 my best friend started a music blog, where we would post new music finds - that was a lot of fun, but only lasted about a year, also. In early 2009 I was starting to look for another hobby, and decided to try book blogging to keep track of all of the books I was reading - I think this blog has a pretty good chance of staying around for a few more years :)

How has being a part of the book blogosphere changed what or even how you read?

The biggest change I have noticed is that I recognize 75% of the YA books on the shelves when I'm at a bookstore. This also causes me to pay attention to the general consensus about a book, because if we're out and I recognize a book, I like to also think about what other individuals have said about it. So I guess I'm more aware of everything out there!

If you could give a new book blogger one piece of advice, what would it be?

My piece of advice is to blog what you want to, not what everyone else thinks you should. You don't need to burn out on memes if you started blogging to share your thoughts on books - yes, many book blogs have similar posting schedules, but if you don't do what's right for YOU, you won't keep up your blog.

I've really started loving young adult books even though I'm a "grown-up," and Chick Loves Lit is all about YA. What made you decide to focus your blog on YA?

I originally started my blog focused on women's literature - (aka "chick lit") - but I found that reading them one right after another kind of wore me out, because many of the themes were similar. I picked up a YA book last summer and loved how fast paced it was, as well as reading about a character during a time in their life that they learn so much about themselves - so it just kind of stuck.

Tell me about one (or a few) of your favorite reads this year thus far.

I just finished Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson - I haven't written the review yet, but it is by far one of my favorite books, ever. I also loved The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney.

I love the randomness of your Fun Five feature. How'd you get inspired to ask authors (and bloggers!) questions that *aren't* all about books and writing?

After seeing so many interviews across different blogs, I realized I was mostly skipping over them - because the questions were all the same. "How do you come up with your ideas" "What is your inspiration" "What advice do you have for new writers" - while those questions can have some great answers associated with them, I found myself more interested in the personality of the author - many authors can answer the writing questions very similarly, but it's unlikely that all of them will have the same answer for their favorite gas station snack or row at the movie theater. It gives them an opportunity to tell us a story and learn more about them as an individual rather than just their writer side.

This has all been pretty heavy on the reading, writing, blogging end of things. So, I was wondering, can I borrow your Fun Five for a minute here and turn the spotlight on you?

* What's your favorite kind of ice cream?

Cotton Candy Confetti is my all time favorite. It's vanilla ice cream flavored a little like cotton candy, with bits of candies mixed in - my description doesn't do it justice, I promise! If you can manage to find it, you must try it.

* What's your weirdest habit?

Hmmmm this is an interesting question! The one that immediately comes to mind is that I always eat a piece of dry cereal out of my bowl before I pour milk on, but that makes me sound rather boring :p Oh! How about, at night when I'm trying to go to sleep, if I start thinking about something negative about my day (or something that could be turned into a nightmare), I open and shut my eyes, to kind of give myself a clean slate. I guess that one kind of makes me sound weird... I'm going to move on to the next question now...

* What's one unusual thing you have sitting on your desk?

Right now my desk is a small table that holds my computer and that's all, since I'm moving around so much. The desk in this room (that I'm not using) has a pencil sharpener (old fashioned kind) screwed right to the desktop - that's kind of unusual nowadays, I think.

* What was the last thing you bought totally on impulse?

An issue of TV Guide! I have had a TiVo for years, but when we moved, we moved to a place with AT&T U-Verse, which isn't compatible with TiVo, so I've had to watch live TV a lot. I figured I'd see what's coming in the fall season :)

* What's your favorite song right now?

The Man Who Can't Be Moved by The Script. It has been my favorite song for over a year now (maybe even two) :)

Thanks, Shanyn!

Monday, September 13, 2010

BBAW: First Treasure

That's right, Book Blogger Appreciation Week has come again! It's that week where we all get appreciated, yes, but also the week where the book blogging scene goes crazy as we all bloghop like mad and make our Google Readers overflow with newly discovered blogging friends. Given the blogging madness that ensues particularly during this week of the year, I'm unofficially suspending book reviews, because who will really have time for that kind of thing this week, anyway? I mean, right? Sure it's ironic that this week of book blogger celebration would be a week without reviews, but I'll have my hands full up writing posts for the BBAW daily blogging topics not to mention reading a good many others. I'm sure you understand, and I hope you're taking part in the BBAW festivities, so that you, too, can enjoy the pleasures of a week of book blogging celebration.

The first blogging topic to kick off the week asks us, if we're not new book bloggers or first-time BBAW participants, to spotlight a great new book blog we've discovered since last BBAW. It took me a while to figure out who I would spotlight, not because I couldn't think of many worthy blogs, but because I have no sense of time when it comes to how long I've been following a blog, much less whether that blog is actually new or just new to me. After some contemplation, though, I've come up with a great one. It's....

I've been reading Books in the City since early spring this year. Actually, I think Colleen discovered me before I discovered her, and after she'd left a comment (or few?) here, I wandered over to pay her a visit and was happy to stick around given her excellent reviews of a wide variety of books reviews that she can always make look appealing to me as well as her thoughtful Sunday Salon posts. I also had the pleasure of meeting Colleen in person at Book Blogger Convention in May. Our time in the lunch line flew by because I was enjoying our conversation so much as we talked books and blogging and bonded over our healthcare-ish jobs that have less than nothing to do with books and reading. And did I mention her blog has a lovely look too? The button is just a taste!

If you haven't paid Colleen a visit, I hope you will, and I'm sure you won't regret it!

What new(er) blogs do you love?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Hunger

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler
Graphia, October 18


Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home—her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power—and the courage to fight her own inner demons?

A wildly original approach to the issue of eating disorders, Hunger is about the struggle to find balance in a world of extremes, and uses fantastic tropes to explore a difficult topic that touches the lives of many teens.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The One With the Challenge (R.I.P. V)

Challenges, in general, just don't tempt me anymore. Yes, I realize, yet again, that such a fact paints me as a freak among book bloggerdom. Early on, I realized that I'm pretty much the biggest challenge failure on the Earth. This didn't stop me from continuing to make lists and attempt participation only to repeatedly fail with flying colors. I guess I'm just not the sort that takes joy in reading within established parameters, that and I read at a snail's pace which means if I join more than one challenge, I'm suddenly in way over my head. This year I finally bagged even pursuing the illusion of challenge participation.

All that said, though, along comes Carl's R.I.P. challenge, a hallmark of the fall in book blogger land, and I find that despite my failure to review the one book I read for it last year (Challenge Fail Take 29!), I want to come out and play again. You know why? No, it's not an alarming compulsion to read kinda creepy books as the air gets crisper and cooler and the leaves start changing colors and people start carving jack-o-lanterns and putting them out on the porch to glow the night away, noble and rewarding as that might be (and the actual reason that most people are joining the challenge, I'd bet). It's nostalgia. R.I.P reminds me of when I was a baby blogger just starting to poke around the blogosphere and reviewing whatever books I felt like reading whenever I felt like reading them. I remember my first rounds of the blogosphere, when the first 24 Readathon was just coming to be. I remember seeing everyone reading all these atmospheric fall-ish sort of books, and it all sort of reminds me of my blogger self of yesteryear(s) who was excited about reviewing every book she read just to see if she could and wasn't busy dancing on the line between blogging as fun and blogging as chore. I miss my bloggy roots, and I guess that's why when R.I.P. comes around every year I have a bizarre compulsion to join in despite my total disavowal of challenges.

So here it goes. Again. I'll be doing the Peril the slacker Third, where you only have to read one book.

This one that everyone probably already read for last year's R.I.P. will probably be the one...

But it could be this one, too.

Or maybe even this one.

I know I've not given many details of the actual challenge, so if you happen to, um, not know what the heck challenge I'm talking about, you should absolutely go check it out. I mean, it's a book blogging tradition!

Now, wish me luck. I suck at this challenge stuff. =P

Friday, September 3, 2010

Vanishing and Other Stories by Deborah Willis

What kind of person am I? I, my friends, am the type of person who claims to have no room in my dark, cold heart for short stories. Though I often try to make room in my heart for short stories and do tend to like one or two on occasion, I still don't count myself among the short story's fanbase. It also so happens that I am the sort of person who, despite my avowed ambivalence about short stories, is tempted by and requests a whole book of short stories for review. Surprisingly, when I do counter intuitive (read: stupid) things like this, sometimes they come out all right. Deborah Willis's Vanishing and Other Stories did anything but fall flat for me. I'll admit to wanting to spend more time with the characters she created than just the few pages I was allowed, but I was never totally perplexed or unsatisfied, by and the large the feelings I usually associate with short stories.

Deborah Willis's collection is populated by characters who are defined by the absence of an important person in their lives. The title story is that of a daughter whose playwright father disappears one day and leaves her in the shadow of his growing enigmatic fame. Characters are missing parents, friends, or significant others in each story. They're learning to cope, or they're enjoying their freedom, or they're attempting to fill the space left empty in their lives.

The characters Willis portrays are vivid and relateable in their joy, pain, hopes, dreams, fears, and their penetrating need for things that they can't quite put a name to. Willis draws stark clear-eyed pictures of cheating wives, mourning husbands, lost friends, struggling fathers, and confused couples that elicit an unexpected sympathy for those simply struggling to endure the burdens of the human condition. Reading Willis's story collection is like riding the best kind of emotional roller coaster that effortlessly captures the full range of human emotion. Willis also has a clever and fsubtly ironic way with words that makes certain passages jump off the page with their relevance within the context of the stories and perhaps even in our own lives.

Penny looks out at the faces of her students, faces she would describe as looking sleepy or sweetly bored. "By the end of the semester," she says, "you'll have a good grasp of vocabulary and be able to speak in the present and past tenses."

One of the Margarets raises her hand. "What about the future?"

"The future?" Penny is so grateful to this girl for listening that she could kiss her. "We'll try to get to that too. But the future is complicated."

Willis has penned a captivating collection of short stories, many of which, if I didn't enjoy, I at least appreciated. My favorite, though, would have to be "Escape," a story about a meticulous researcher who finds comfort in statistics, reason, and routine who loses his wife to cancer. Searching for something after her death, Tom finds himself taking refuge in gambling at a casino where a has-been magician turned blackjack dealer captivates him with her games and tricks that allow him to escape from the empty routine of his life. The harsh reality of loss juxtaposed with hope and a sense of possibilty make "Escape" an especially poignant read.

But it wasn't until Kelly was admitted to the hospital that he prayed. It took him a while to get the hang of it. He tried to pray to the God of Light that Kelly favoured, but as her condition worsened, that god satisfied him less and less. The god Tom knew was a darker thing. A murky, underwater god. A god who said, Sometimes there is light. A god capable of beauty and cruelty and - Tom prayed for it, every night, on his knees - magic.

(Thanks to Erica at Harper Perennial for the review copy!)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: The Tiger's Wife

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
Random House, March 8, 2011


The time: the present. The place: a Balkan country ravaged by years of conflict. Natalia, a young doctor, is on a mission of mercy to an orphanage when she receives word of her beloved grandfather’s death far from their home under circumstances shrouded in confusion. Remembering childhood stories her grandfather once told her, Natalia becomes convinced that he spent his last days searching for “the deathless man,” a vagabond who claimed to be immortal. As Natalia struggles to understand why her grandfather, a deeply rational man, would go on such a farfetched journey, she stumbles across a clue that leads her to the extraordinary story of the tiger’s wife.

An involving mystery, an emotionally riveting family story, and a wondrous evocation of an unfamiliar world.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?