Sunday, November 28, 2010

Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizel

Look, everyone! It's a book review. Now don't go getting used to this kind of thing... ;-)

Lenah Beaudonte has been alive, if you can call it that, for more than five hundred years. She has killed without mercy and assembled a coven of the most powerful, most dangerous vampires in the world and bound them together with magic. She has worn the finest fashions of every decade and has the literally eternal love of two vampires. But with eternal life comes eternal suffering and eternal longing for one thing: a human life. Lenah is dying to live even if living ultimately means dying. When the one who first changed her to a vampire finds the secret to returning her to human life, Lenah finds her greatest wish coming true. She returns to mortality as a student at a New England prep school where she quickly befriends Tony, an artist, and falls for Justin, arguably the most gorgeous guy in school, who glows with the life that Lenah has been missing. It's not long, though, until Lenah's vampire days come back to haunt her because the magic that binds her wicked coven cannot be severed, and she is doomed to be hunted by her most vicious creations. It will take everything Lenah has learned in just a few months of being human to save the people and the life she has come to love.

At first, I though Infitinite Days really wasn't going to work for me. I can't tell you how many times within the first 50 to 100 pages I was tempted to give up on it. I had a hard time buying Lenah as a teenager. As much as I loved and felt for Tony as a character, I had a hard time believing that anyone would be as blindly accepting as he was of the many things Lenah is inexplicably clueless about. Things that anybody who hasn't been asleep for the last hundred years would know about were overexplained. Also, the thought that you could be a girl who is over 500 years old and still fall for that perfect-looking prep school lacrosse player guy just like any other silly girl was, if not unbelievable, then at least disheartening. I didn't put it down, though, and I'm glad of it because once I got through the rocky beginning with only Lenah's vampire flashbacks somehow ringing true and drawing me into her world, Infinite Days really started to come into its own.

Maizel's vampires are not the romanticized, cuddly sorts of vampires popular in many books, they are cold-blooded killers driven to kill by their fury and resentment at being robbed of the pleasures of human life and left to exist for all eternity. Lenah is a well-drawn character who forces us to be both appalled at her actions and sympathetic to her trials as she tries to re-acclimate to human life in an unfamiliar place and time. Her struggle with her guilt from centuries of perpetrating horrors as she gains the human ability to truly feel and the flashbacks to her memories of love and loneliness and treachery in the life she lived as a vampire are rich and haunting. Set in sharp relief against Lenah's expansive past, the private school's petty rivalries and would-be bullying seem even more ridiclous and downright laughable. I'm also happy to report that despite my initial qualms about Justin as a love interest, Maizel does a good job of explaining Lenah's attraction to Justin as more having to do with how he pulses with life more than anyone she's met rather than his simply being "that guy" that all the girls fall for. Somehow Lenah knows that it is Justin who will be able to teach her how to truly live again, a lesson that she is most desperate to learn.

Ultimately Infinite Days is a compelling, fast-paced story of a vampire turned human whose newly-learned humanity might just be the key to her salvation.

And, of course, there will be a sequel. And, of course, I will be awaiting it eagerly.

(My copy provided by the publisher via Shelf Awareness. Thanks!)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday (Un)Salon: Bloggy McSlacker

This is the post where I warn you that I'll probably be indulging my inner (outer?) flaky, inconsistent blogger even more than usual for, well, probably the next month and some. I'm recovering from one of those weeks that I knew was going to be busy and was which was rapidly followed by one of those busy weeks that catches you totally by surprise. Which then segues into...Thanksgiving week? Thanksgiving already? Once I realized that, it dawned on me that my last non-busy week for the year had probably gone by without my even noticing.

The good news is, I'm still managing to read books at my same slow but steady pace resulting in my already reading the book that will make official my surpassing of last year's reading totals, which I am quite thrilled about last year's reading totals having been horribly (horribly!!) dismal. The bad news is that the time and energy for review writing has been considerably lacking and I've grown very behind again. I'm hoping that this week will offer up an opportunity or two to pick up the pieces, what with all the TV shows mostly going to reruns, but I promise nothing, given that the desire to sit down at the computer for any length of time after sitting at one all day is often absent. Plus, with the coming holiday, I'm sure this week is going to be busier than I'm expecting in my current optimistic view. Then come Christmas trees and shopping and assorted other holiday activities that will keep me (and you, too, I imagine) from having any of those delicious weekends where I can park myself in front of the laptop and churn out a few reviews at a time.

Now since I've regaled you with all my guilty excuses, how about the news in books? Last weekend I finished Gayle Forman's If I Stay, which, I was warned, would make me cry... a lot. I did cry, but not as much as I was expecting. I think all the warnings had me steeling myself a little for it, so my hardened heart wouldn't let me cry more than a time or two, thought I can see how there would have been many more opportunities for weeping had I not thus prepared myself. This week I'm reading, and hopefully finishing, Starting From Scratch by Susan Gilbert-Collins. I found it a little rough going at first, but it grew on me. I'm enjoying it, but I have the sense that it's only scratching the surface of things that could easily go much deeper. I feel like I end up saying that about a lot of the "family drama" set of books. I often think that maybe I should stop requesting or agreeing to review books that fall into that sort of niche, but then, when it's done well, I have the potential to like them so much.

In other news, my effort to stem the tide of incoming books is failing with flying colors. I'm not really buying books for myself (though I'm sure I'll be buying them as gifts!), but I haven't been able to resist requesting a few. Plus, now, of all times, I've gotten a few unsolicited copies to add to the burgeoning TBR pile. I've got it in my head now that I desperately need to finish off my backlog of LibraryThing Early Reviewer books that are none too early anymore, but that I am nonetheless obligated to read and review. I keep thinking that maybe if I get those done, everything won't seem so overwhelming. But who am I kidding?

This afternoon, I'm excited to be going to see the new Harry Potter movie. Have you seen it yet? Is it good?

What are you up to this weekend? Are the upcoming holidays getting you frazzled yet? ;-)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Leverage

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

Leverage by Joshua Cohen
Dutton, February 17, 2011


The football field is a battlefield.

There’s an extraordinary price for victory at Oregrove High. It is paid on—and off—the football field. And it claims its victims without mercy—including the most innocent bystanders.

When a violent, steroid-infused, ever-escalating prank war has devastating consequences, an unlikely friendship between a talented but emotionally damaged fullback and a promising gymnast might hold the key to a school’s salvation.

Told in alternating voices and with unapologetic truth, Leverage illuminates the fierce loyalty, flawed justice, and hard-won optimism of two young athletes.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Green Books Campaign: Operating Room Confidential

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco- friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.

The campaign is organized for the second time by Eco-Libris, a green company working to make reading more sustainable. We invite you to join the discussion on "green" books and support books printed in an eco-friendly manner! A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.
It's been a while since I've done anything even mildly activisty or socially conscious on my blog (for shame, I know), so when I got an e-mail inviting me to be a part of the 2010 Green Books Campaign, I jumped at the chance. Since I'm still far too in love with my "old-timey" books printed on paper to trade them in for an e-reader, the next best thing seems to be to get on the bandwagon with printing books in as environmentally-sustainable a manner as possible.

The book I chose to read for the Green Books Campaign is Operating Room Confidential by Paul Whang. It is printed by ECW Press on FSC Certified paper, 98% of which comes from recycled materials. FSC certification ensures that forest products used are from responsibly harvested and verified sources ( I chose Operating Room Confidential from a list full of intriguing environmentally friendly options because it plays into my day job, which I am forced to work at to fund my book habit. If you don't know, I work in a surgical pathology lab at a pretty busy hospital and, as a result, have a fair few interactions with surgeons. Besides still being in the dark about much of what happens behind the operating room doors, I was eager to see how Whang's impressions of surgeons matched with my own experience.

Dr. Whang is an anesthetist at a busy Toronto hospital and, as such, has the opportunity to observe the goings-on during many operations performed by a variety of surgeons. With a candid, conversational tone peppered with anecdotes and insider observations Whang guides us through a day in the operating room in a way that is both entertaining and informative. Whang covers topics ranging from the daily protocol of the operating room (the 5 second rule applies to nothing, for the record), the types of patients doctors fear the most (lawyers, other doctors, doctors' family members), personality types of the various medical specialties, as well as some cold hard information about what to expect if you, yourself, are about to go under the knife.

At the start, I very much enjoyed Dr. Whang's exposure of the daily happenings of the operating room. His observations and anecdotes are told with insight and wit, and I learned some interesting things, some of which confirm a good deal of what you see on Grey's Anatomy isn't so far beyond the pale. I definitely found myself in agreement with many of his comments on hospital hierarchy and the frustrating disconnect between administration and the people actually doing the hard work of caring for patients on a daily basis. I am, however, happy to report that my hospital differs from Whang's on the food front. He comments at length, in a very funny section, about the terrible lack of quality in hospital cafeteria food.

As I came into the home stretch of the book, though, it began to lose my interest a bit. Toward the latter end of the book, Whang spends a good deal of time giving us information, some of which is valuable and some of which consists of surgery details that I almost wish I could un-read. Whang's in depth description of his function as an anesthetist, what good anesthesia looks and feels like for the patient, and how to aid recovery with good pain management are valuable and, I think, comforting for those about to undergo surgery. On the other hand, his very detailed descriptions of, for example, the minutiae of knee or hip replacement surgery made me cringe and I would heartily recommend not reading these portions if you foresee these sorts of surgeries in your future. The idea of having one of these mostly routine procedures one day in my hopefully distant future distresses me more than ever having read the details.

I do think knowledge and a certain amount of preparedness is definitely helpful when it comes to undergoing and recovering from a surgical procedure, and Operating Room Confidential does a good job of providing us with this information. That said, though, there is a point past which ignorance is bliss, and I fear that, just a time or two, Whang's explanations go beyond that point. Other than these few instances, though, Operating Room Confidential is an engrossing and honest portrait of what goes on behind closed doors, both the good and bad, and I would recommend it to anybody who's ever been curious about the innermost workings of a hospital. The faint of heart might just want to skip that last chapter. ;-)

(Thanks to the publisher for providing my copy in conjunction with the Green Books Campaign).

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Dose of Random Randomness #6

- I am within one book review of being caught up with the review backlog that's been dogging me, yet for some reason, I'm writing this instead. I mean, jeez, if I finished that one review, I'd have to find something else to feel inexplicably guilty about, and we can't have that now can we?

- You know what I hate that other people seem to love? Choosing my next book to read. There's nothing I loathe more than finishing a book on the weekend, when I do the bulk of my reading, only to be left wasting valuable minutes trying to choose the next book and get into the meat of the story before my precious reading time gets eaten up by the work week. Instead of being enthralled by the possibilities, I'm paralyzed by the choice. This may be one reason why I don't read that many books in a year, or well, really get anything much accomplished....

- I got a letter in the mail from the New Yorker customer service center a few weeks ago that kindly refers to me as a "preferred New Yorker subscriber," and then oh-so-helpfully assures me that my subscription will be automatically renewed, and I will shortly receive my invoice for $49.95. Apparently, being "preferred" translates to having your subscription renewed automatically without your permission at a rate of approximately $10 more than is offered on their website for new subscribers. Jeez, New Yorker, don't do me any favors. I think I'll just go back to being a lame, un-preferred subscriber...or perhaps not a subscriber at all.

- I suck at quitting book acquisition cold turkey, and not for lack of trying. Despite my efforts to keep books from darkening my door so I can try to get the ones I have under control, they continue to arrive. And then, I, um, lose control and request one or two or, um, three. But that's still okay because I could have easily requested ten or twenty, right? See, yeah. I suck. No wonder the TBR is beyond out of control.

- I have a problem with collecting books by authors who I think I'll like without ever reading one to make sure that I'll like it. Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Pete Hamill, the list goes on....and on. I've encountered a few other nuts like me who do this lately, but how about you? Do you follow this bizarre pattern of insanity? What authors are you just collecting? ;-)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti

Looking back, oh how I wish I'd pillaged those leftover swag bags at Book Blogger Con for some more Deb Caletti books. If only I'd had a nice Sherpa to carry all my plunder through the crush of the NJ Transit crowd in Penn Station the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend. As it was, I barely made it out without being squished to death by the herd, but those missed Deb Caletti books still haunt me. I'm sure I'll find a way to acquire some more because I really liked Wild Roses and with The Nature of Jade Deb Caletti has definitely gone two for two with me.

Jade DeLuna never knows when she's going to have a panic attack. She's always on guard for for that tightening feeling in her chest that signifies that she might be about to lose control and humiliate herself. Jade's figured out a few ways to ward off the panic - lighting patron saint candles, picturing herself in a calm, barren desert, sucking on a cough drop, and watching the live webcam of the elephants in the zoo down the street. The routine of watching the elephants do what comes naturally soothes Jade's stresses away. Sometimes she can see the visitors to the elephants on the webcam, too, but none ever draw her attention until the day the young guy in a red jacket carrying a baby on his back catches her eye. Just seeing him on the webcam, Jade has an unmistakable sense that this stranger and the kid she assumes is his will somehow become a part of her life.

After a half-hearted attempt or two to "accidentally" meet him, Jade pushes thoughts of him to the back of her head to focus on her new volunteer job taking care of the elephants. Getting to know the elephants and their keeper is a welcome break from the troubles that are riddling Jade's parents marriage, unwelcome additions to her group of friends, and her rapidly upcoming decision about what college to attend. Between all the chaos in her life and her new found relationship with the elephants, the guy in the red jacket is all but a memory until the day he shows up again. Just as she'd supposed, soon Sebastian and his son Bo are becoming the best things in her life, and she feels more at home with the pair and Sebastian's grandmother than she could ever hope to feel at home with her real family. Unfortunately, there's more to Sebastian's story than first meets the eye, leaving Jade to make some decisions she'd never imagined.

Caletti has a great knack for voicing quirky first person narrators that are easy to relate to for girls both young and old. Jade has a compelling conversational voice that makes you feel like you've got a friend telling you a story. She makes it easy to see how the every day business of living can be downright terrifying if you think about it too much.

But the one thing my illness did make me realize is how necessary it is to ignore the dangers of living in order to live. And how much trouble you can get into if you can't. We all have to get up every morning and go outside and pretend we aren't going to die... We concentrate on having little thoughts so we don't have BIG THOUGHTS. It's like those days when you've got a really bad pimple but you still have to go to school. You've got to convince yourself it's not so bad just so you can leave the house and actually talk to people face to face. You've got to ignore the one big truth -- life is fatal.

Jade and Sebastian's love story is sweetly told starting with believable awkwardness and insecurity and evolving until they start to feel like home for each other. Caletti goes out of her way to emphasize the quirks and ordinarily mundane qualities that can make one person love another much more than words or looks. The portrayal of a teen dad who is in love with his young son and desperately wants to care for him no matter the sacrifice is refreshing. It seems the most natural thing in the world that when Jade begins to forget to worry about every little thing as she falls deeper in love with Sebastian and his family.

And so I had to go backward and come to know the person I loved. I learned he hated shirts with scratchy tags, that he knew everything about cars and read science fiction and spy novels. He could figure out what was wrong with a computer, draw sketches of buildings on napkins and phone books and spare pieces of paper, and often wore socks that didn't match. He hated to get angry, and instead just kept it inside until it came out in a rush that was near tears. His touch was gentle. He used the work "f--k" a little too often after he got to know you well, but rarely swore around people he didn't know. He liked anything barbequed - ribs, chips, hot wings. Sometimes he licked his fingers.

What's especially interesting about Caletti's books is that, despite the fact that she writes beautiful, romantic, realistic love stories, she never leaves her main characters to be defined by their relationship. The love story opens doors, teaches lessons, and ends uncertainly, but the change in Jade never stops being the focus. Caletti leaves us all with the correct impression that girls are stronger than they know and more resilient in the face of hardship than even they would expect, and that's a lesson that's a pleasure to learn from The Nature of Jade.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Heart of Deception

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

Heart of Deception by M.L. Malcom
Harper Paperbacks, April 5, 2011


Leo Hoffman is a man of many contradictions. He is a Hungarian national with a French passport, a wealthy businessman with no visible means of support, and a devoted father who hasn’t seen his daughter in years. He is also a spy.

Recruited by the Allies to help lay the groundwork for their invasion of North Africa, Leo intends to do as little spying as possible; he just wants to earn his American citizenship, get to New York, and find his daughter, Maddy. But while Leo dodges death in France and Morocco, Maddy learns the truth behind her father’s mysterious past, and as she matures, this haunting knowledge compels Maddy down her own dangerous path of deception and discovery.

Spanning the years from World War II to the turbulent 1960s, this sequel to Heart of Lies tells the riveting story of a family struggling with the choices that war forces them to make, and the consequences that take a generation to unfold.

I read the first book in this series (that I was somehow unaware was a series), Heart of Lies, earlier this year. There were definitely some loose ends that it would be interesting to see tied up, so I'm excited at the prospect of this second book!

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger

It was funny to find that this week's Weekly Geeks theme fits oh-so-well with my week's reading. It's all about (at last) reading a book that you've been meaning to read for a long time that you can't believe you've waited so long to read because it's that good. It just so happens that this was the week that I chose to break free from my sea of obligatory reading and just read something that's been sitting on my shelves for a while. According to my calculations, Steve Kluger's Last Days of Summer has been cooling its heels (pages?) on my shelves since at least 2005, and now, having read it, I really can't believe that I let this gem sit around unread for as long as I did.

Told entirely in letters, notes, and news clippings, Last Days of Summer is the story of Joey Margolis and Charlie Banks. In 1941, 12 year old Joey is a Jewish kid living in a part of Brooklyn where Jewish kids, particularly ones with mouths as big as Joey's, aren't treated too well. Charlie Banks is the hot-headed up and coming third baseman for the New York Giants, and he'd just as soon slug a guy for calling him a name on the basepaths as he would hit a long ball over the wall.

Joey is a smart-alecky kid with uncanny persistence and a knack for writing letters to famous people that actually elicit replies, like his correspondence with President Roosevelt and his staff, for example. It's no shocker, then, that when Joey figures that Charlie Banks might well be the solution to his problem with the neighborhood bullies, Charlie hardly has a chance of resisting. Soon the two are sniping back at each other in letters. It's not long, though, until their real struggles start to work their way into the letters even if they are buried in snark, fibs, and tough guy-isms. Soon, Charlie is proving himself a worthy stand-in for Joey's father, a philandering factory owner with no time for anybody but himself and his new wife, and Joey is calling his hot-tempered hero out on his unsportsmanlike conduct.

Last Days of Summer is, perhaps, a profoundly implausible story, but that small fact never crosses your mind while you're reading it. Kluger gives each of his two main characters such vivid, believable voices that you can't help coming to care about each of them quickly. Only using letters, Kluger fleshes out an entire cast of characters that include Charlie's lounge singer girlfriend, Hazel MacKay, arch enemy of Ethel Merman; Joey's mother and his aunt, a Jewish stereotype of sorts who's always saying that if things go wrong "let it be on your head;" Joey's upstairs neighbor Craig Nakamura, his partner in entrepreneurial pursuits and tracking the movements of old Mrs. Aubaugh the "German spy" with the wooden leg; Charlie's teammate Stuke, famous for making the first unassisted triple play in 21 years; not to mention Joey's Rabbi, a patient if humorless man who gets more than he bargained for when the distinctly un-Jewish Charlie steps in for Joey's dad at Joey's Bar Mitzvah.

Given all this, it's not surprising that Last Days of Summer is laugh out loud hilarious to the point that you might embarrass yourself while giggling away during lunch break while you're at a table by yourself. What is surprising, though, is the way these characters work their way into your heart while you're busy trying not to laugh too loudly in public, how the story can be heartwarming without ever crossing the line into cheesy, and how, even when you guess the ending coming from a hundred pages off, it still takes you by surprise and makes you cry like a baby. I absolutely loved this story of a pair of unlikely buddies who needed each other more than they could have guessed and of two boys who ultimately teach each other how to be men.