Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sorry I haven't been around much this month, but it's been a roller coaster of one that hasn't left me much time to so much as turn on my computer, much less blog constructively, but I'll save that tale for another day.  Until then, witness my big Christmas gift...finally asked for and received for better or worse.  I've held out for a long time, but here it is at last...the dread Kindle (a Paperwhite - purely for reading, no additional distractions for the short attention-spanned).  Bad picture quality brought to you by iPhone and my glare-y kitchen table. 

Aw, but it is kind of cute, now, isn't it?  And it might have proved itself by making it exceedingly easy for me to purchase and re-read a good chunk of The Hobbit immediately in the wake of seeing the movie yesterday.  I could get used to this, I think.  My TBR "pile"?  Maybe not so much. 

Anyhow, just thought I'd stop in between holiday meals and gatherings to wish you all a very Merry and assure you all that I have survived most of December despite reports to the contrary.

So, what did Santa leave under your tree?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Driving the Saudis by Jayne Amelia Larson

Jayne Amelia Larson's memoir starts out the way anybody's story of trying to pursue their dream might start.  Girl moves to LA to try to make it in the film industry.  Girl gathers mountains of debt while failing to gather mountains of job offers.  Girl takes utter crap job to pay the bills.  It's a common story, but the utter crap job that Larson takes is a boon to her readers because she's not waiting tables or cleaning toilets, rather she's chauffeuring a pack of rich Saudi royals.

As it turns out, a truly awful job for Larson makes for an engaging memoir that proves to be both entertaining and enlightening.  Life among the Middle East's most filthy rich is bizarre to say the least.  The Princess heading up the party spends most of her days shopping in high end stores with family, friends, and servants and demands that the chauffeur for each participant follow along as the party walks between stores.  A tea set gets its own expensive hotel room.  Women who, at home, are expected to be covered from head to toe to go out in public, who may not even be looked upon by a man not related to them, suddenly throw off their restrictions, not to mention most of their clothes once they hit American soil.  Larson is responsible for catering to her employers' every demand, no matter how ludicrous, and standing at the end of a long road, is that beacon of freedom - the unfathomably large tip the Saudis are rumored to pay for a job well done - a tip Larson is counting on and slaving toward in hopes of keeping her creditors at bay.

Driving the Saudis is a fascinating book, really.  On one hand it is a memoir of a woman pushed to the brink by an unbelievably demanding job, but also a woman who found unexpected friends in the servants to the royal family.  On the other hand, the book proves to be an enlightening look at a culture that can rarely be seen from the inside. Larson's book is compact and well-paced, moving from one anecdote of her time with the Saudis to another fluidly in such a way that never loses the reader's interest.  Larson's tales of the Saudis are wild, mind-boggling, and occasionally funny, but Larson never seems to lose sight of the fact that these are people she is writing about and shines a light on the paradoxical lives of the Saudi women who have more money at their disposal than most of us can even imagine in a lifetime but whose lives are fiercely constrained by a society ruled by strict Muslim law. 

I fully expected Driving the Saudis to be an entertaining read, but I was surprised again and again by Larson's unique insights into the lives of both the rich Saudi royals and their servants, who are little more than girls working to send money home to their families.  Driving the Saudis is an amusing romp among the rich, but it's also a fascinating snapshot of a culture that could hardly be more foreign to us. 

(Thanks to Free Press for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review.)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck

I think somebody might have recommended this book to me at one point.  If not, then I read it entirely based upon a misconception.  I read and loved A Day No Pigs Would Die when I was in junior high, and I fully thought up until moments of writing this post that Richard Peck was the author of both that and this.  As it turns out, Robert Newton Peck was the author of A Day No Pigs Would Die (now I remember!), and this Richard character is a totally different guy.

Good news, my failure to differentiate between authors came out all right in the end as I'm sure I'll remember A Long Way from Chicago equally as fondly.

Joey and Mary Alice Dowdel are growing up in Chicage during the 1930s, the age of gangsters, bank robbers, and the Great Depression.  One would think they would see all there was to see in Chicago, but as it turns out, their more interesting life experiences come from the week they spend with their grandmother in a small town south of Chicago each summer.  According to a much older Joey looking back on those life-altering August weeks, Grandmas was as large as life, if not larger.

Now I'm older than Grandma was then, quite a bit older.  But as the time gets past me, I seem to remember more and more about those hot summer days and nights, and the last house in town, where Grandma lived.  And Grandma.  Are all my memories true?  Every word, and growing truer with the years.

A Long Way from Chicago consists of a short story for each year that Joey and Mary Alice visit Grandma.  Each year, the kids grow up a little more and grow to understand Grandma a little better.  Each year, Grandma's antics make for the kind of family stories that become almost mythical in the telling and re-telling.  With a strong sense of justice, a veiled capacity for kindness, and a clever way of putting people in their place when they need it and helping people out when they can't help themselves, Grandma proves herself to be nothing if not a person of action.  As Joey and Mary Alice grow older they go from not quite knowing what to expect from their stern, practical grandma to always expecting that she'll be up to something.

A Long Way from Chicago is an immensely enjoyable little book about a grandma that's tough as nails on the outside but, on the inside, is the sort of decent and resourceful ally you'd want in your corner.  It's obvious that beneath her rough exterior she loves both her grandchildren fiercely.  Whether you're young or old you'll get a kick out of Grandma's way of handling her town's busybodies, but if you're looking closely, you'll also find a story subtly woven with a grandmother's love, never more profoundly shown than in the last chapter, which brought me to tears. 

Glad I read it now that I'm older.  I'm a way bigger softy now than I was when I was this book's target audience.  ;-)

(Look Ma, no disclaimer.  My own hard-earned dollars bought this book!) 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Anticipating 2013

It's been a few weeks since I've managed to do a Top Ten Tuesday, but this week we're doing one of my favorite things - anticipating all the great books to come next year.  Here are a few books I'd love to get my hands on in 2013.  You can see everybody else's lists at The Broke and the Bookish and get even more excited for the bookish year to come!

1. The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister (January 24/Putnam) - I can't tell you how excited I was when I saw there would be a sequel to The School of Essential Ingredients.  Erica Bauermeister gets a chance to cement her place in the top 10 favorite authors discovered since starting to book blog.  ;-)

2. And the Mountains Roared by Khaled Hosseini (May/Riverhead, I think) -  Is it weird to be looking forward to the new book from a really well-loved author you have actually never read?  My parents are always on my back to read The Kite Runner, which I haven't, but I'm curious about Hosseini's new one just the same.

3. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (May 7/Hogarth) - This stems more or less from my growing interest in Hogarth as an imprint.  Plus, it just sounds good - "In the final days of December 2004, in a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa hides in the woods when her father is abducted by Russian forces. Fearing for her life, she flees with their neighbor Akhmed--a failed physician--to the bombed-out hospital, where Sonja, the one remaining doctor, treats a steady stream of wounded rebels and refugees and mourns her missing sister. Over the course of five dramatic days, Akhmed and Sonja reach back into their pasts to unravel the intricate mystery of coincidence, betrayal, and forgiveness that unexpectedly binds them and decides their fate."

4. A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri (January 31/Riverhead) - They're calling this "a magical novel about a young Iranian woman lifted from grief by her powerful imagination and love of Western culture."  Yes, please.

5. The Mirage by Matt Ruff (February 7/Harper Perennial) - This one in Harper's catalog caught my eye a long time ago.  It's alternate history that imagines the U.S. as a struggling third world nation, and Christian fundamentalists are attacking the United Arab States.  Could be interesting and provocative, no?

6. Sever by Lauren DeStefano (February 12/Simon and Schuster) -  Okay, so maybe I haven't read the middle book of DeStefano's Chemical Garden trilogy yet.  That shouldn't stop me from salivating over this one, should it?

7. Red Horse by Alex Adams (August 20/Atria) - This is a continuation of Adams' post-apocalyptic trilogy that started with White Horse which I read and loved this past spring.  Can't wait to see where it goes!

8. The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh (April 4/Amy Einhorn/Putnam) - I'm absolutely all in for a good story set in Africa, and they're pitching this as the South African Gone with the Wind - "The Fever Tree is a compelling portrait of colonial South Africa, its raw beauty and deprivation alive in equal measure. But above all it is a love story about how—just when we need it most—fear can blind us to the truth."

9. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (April 2/Reagan Arthur) - Neato premise much?  "On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization."

10. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (April 2/William Morrow Paperbacks) - "The author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be delivers her most ambitious and powerful novel to date: a captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask."

What new books are you looking forward to reading next year?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Loose Leafing: Adventures of the Absentee Blogger

Unintentional disappearance take 10 zillion?

Life has been busy on the ranch these days, and the holidays are only just now truly upon us.  I keep thinking I'll have a few minutes to sit and bang out a few posts to schedule ahead so when I get busy I don't go totally dark, but that sort of advance work and planning is not really working out.  This week I'm live-in dogsitting for a friend of a friend who is out of town, and I'm hoping I'll have a few minutes of peace and quiet so I can review some books and make excuses for why I'm such an inconsistent blogger (in iPhone photos!).

For one, you maybe remember earlier this year when I mentioned the lovely new porch we had put on our house.  It was lovely until it got cold and my mom let her inner animal lover emerge victorious and start feeding the stray cats that have been going it on their own all summer ("It's cold!  They'll starve!  They'll freeze!").  So, first we had these two...

We'll call them Patch and Declan.

Not long after that, we discovered some very little kittens in our garage.  So obviously we had to feed the mama, too, so she could feed the kittens, with the hoped for outcome that we may soon be able to take her and stop the kitten-having madness, if you know what I mean. 

Now, we have these...

And our porch looks like a little Hooverville for cats.  They're all very sweet good natured cats, and we're hoping to have them fixed and find homes for at least some of them so that we can stop being the cat ladies of our town.  Until then, cuddling three fluffy kittens and attempting to flea treat outside cats has proven to be a bit of a distraction.

Soon after we adopted the local cat colony, I was off to visit a friend of mine from college.  We had a great weekend together, one day of which we spent in Philadelphia, where, despite being a Pennsylvanian, I've hardly spent any time that wasn't apart of a school field trip.  We ate yummy food,

discovered the ugly Christmas sweater shop (awesome!),

and yes, it was me that started the dominoes falling.  ;-)

This week, of course, was Thanksgiving.  I hope you and yours had a great one, if you were celebrating.  We definitely did.  We had more family and friends at our house than we've had at the holiday for a long time.  It was crazy but also a ton of fun.  Last year we had about half as many people and it felt all boring and sedate, so it was kind of nice to return to the normal chaos.  Odd how you kind of miss that when it's gone, isn't it?

My dogsitting charges are giving me some peace, so I'd better run and take advantage of the rest of this quality blogging time.  Happy Sunday, all!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Theory of Everything by J.J. Johnson

What is it we have here?  YA?  Wow, do any of you even remember back in the jolly good old days when I was reviewing YA here on the old blog?  This year has been stunningly lacking in YA, not intentionally, for sure, but lacking nonetheless.  The sad fact that I haven't reviewed a book that wasn't written for adults since March (horrors!) made the opportunity to read and review The Theory of Everything positively glowy with possibility.  Especially since it's got all the things about YA that I best love.

Sarah Jones is not the girl she used to be.  Ever since she lost her best friend Jamie in a freak accident at school, Sarah hasn't been herself.  She doesn't care about her grades or being social.  Her normal conversational skills have been lost to a "snark box" that alienates what few people aren't already to intimidated to talk to her.  She's riddled with guilt, and nobody seems to get how to handle her or understands what a gaping hole exists in her life.  When not attempting to sustain her fragile relationship with her boyfriend Stenn on the weekends he's home from private school, watching movies with her dog, Ruby, is about all Sarah's interested in doing. 

Things are about to start changing for Sarah when yet another bizarre incident occurs in the school gym where Jamie died.  The incident sets a wheel in motion that soon has Sarah becoming friends with a strange man with a possum for a pet and dodging her parents to go do backbreaking labor on a Christmas tree farm.  And, all the while, Jamie's brother Emmett desperately wants to know the circumstances behind his sister's death, and the only who can tell him is the only other person who was there - Sarah.

The Theory of Everything got off to a bit of a rough start for me.  It seemed that maybe Johnson was trying a little too hard, in the opening chapters, to create this quirky, troubled teen voice. Sarah's first few chapters of narration seem forced and a little unbelievable.  Thankfully, though, it doesn't take the narrative too long to hit its stride, and Sarah emerges as a likeable character who's struggling and failing to keep it all together.  She's snarky and damaged and frustrating to her parents, her boyfriend, and her brother but can't seem to emerge from the cloud of grief and anger that makes her feel too guilty and misunderstood to plug back into the world without Jamie.  As the pages go by, Sarah becomes more and more sympathetic as she finally starts down the path to healing.

I really enjoyed The Theory of Everything which reminded me of one of Sarah Dessen's books, The Truth About Forever, but with more creative flair.  Both feature a lovable main character struggling to recover from tragedy, strangers who turn up to lend a helping hand, and an odd job that provides a dose of clarity.  Both pack the emotional punch that makes the best contemporary YA hurt so good.  Sarah's a little more edgy than Dessen's Macy - she's got that snarky edge, is nerdily addicted to Star Wars movies, and has a talent for clever graphs and drawings that lead off each chapter proving to be both amusing and illuminating.

Like this one (click to embiggen):

If you loved The Truth About Forever, you'll definitely want to give The Theory of Everything a try.  If you haven't read either of them, but still enjoy some good contemporary YA fiction, you should probably consider reading both of these excellent novels. ;-)

Thanks to Emily at Peachtree Publishers for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest review.  Check out Peachtree's blog to see the other stops on The Theory of Everything tour.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Bloggers Made Me Do It

It's time for another note from the acquisitions department.  Actually, there hasn't been one of these in quite some time.  That's because I've been trying to not acquire books, since I'm pretty well set on reading material until I'm somewhere in my mid-60s.  And by "trying not to acquire books," I, of course, mean, only acquiring about 10 a month and not spending money to come into possession of them.  I am, how you say, not good at not acquiring books.  I haven't tested this, but I'm pretty sure if you gave me a good shake a few books that I had no idea were there would fall inexplicably to the ground. 

Unfortunately, there are some obstacles to the non-acquisition of books, like, for example, all these mailing lists from online book retailers that I receive several times daily.  I'd been fending them off admirably until the Book Closeouts Scratch and Dent sale e-mail landed in my inbox.  Scratch and Dent basically means "good books at rock bottom prices if you don't mind if they're a bit banged up."  Can you blame me for having a look?  Then, the bloggers did most of the rest, because, naturally I came upon several books that book bloggers put solidly on my radar.  Sadly, I am a rotten blogger, and I have a hard time remembering just exactly which blogger to blame for each acquisitions, so I am forced to blame them all, as a unit. 

For example, The Singer's Gun by Emily St. John Mandel.  Now, in the little corner of the blogosphere I frequent, you'd be hard pressed to make it through with out getting bonked over the head by somebody recommending an Emily St. John Mandel book, so I'm more than a little pleased to finally have one in possession to read, when I turn 47 or 58 or whenever I get the chance, you know.

And The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet.  You don't quickly forget the bloggers talking up the book about the 12-year-old map-making prodigy who journeys cross country to accept an award from the Smithsonian people who, of course, don't realize he's twelve.  Somehow I missed the part about how visually appealing this book would be, which I suppose, really should be obvious, what with all the nifty maps and everything.  Very excited about this one.

And The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate about the black, female marine biologist at Woods Hole.  More than a few bloggers recommended this one.  In fact, bloggers seem to be fans of Algonquin Books as a whole, so I threw Blind Your Ponies by Stanley Gordon West in my cart, too.  It sounds like one of those books where the whole community comes to life, and my mom and I both seem to love those sorts.

Rounding out the collection is Tomorrow River by Lesley Kagen.  Everybody seems to be always talking about Whistling in the Dark by this author, but this one, about a girl trying to crack her family's secrets sounds good, too.  And don't forget Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris.  I've long been curious about Ferris's acclaimed portrait of the twisted office atmosphere. 

So, what should I read first or when I turn 36 or 52 or 63 after I shuffle off these other thousand books I can't seem to stop acquiring?  ;-)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Loose Leafing: The Lost Hour

Ah, the time change has flickered by us once again, sprinkling bonus hours on whom it will, but I am still thinking about my lost hour.  Something about the time change makes the truth of my hour that may well be lost forever come crashing home to roost again.  What?  I haven't told you the story of the lost hour?  Surely, you must be the only one I haven't told. 

You see, once upon a time when I was but a college student, which I would like to think was recently but is growing ever further distant, I went to England for spring break.  Spring break in England, you say?  I know, it's not very tropical and not very stereotypically spring break, but I've never been super crazy about the beach, and the party scene is not for me, so what better time to visit my studying abroad best friend than spring break?

I toured some of London and some of Scotland and had the time of my life little knowing that an hour of my life would soon be robbed from me.  You see, apparently, and much to my surprise for some reason, the whole daylight savings time switch doesn't always happen concurrently between countries.  As it so happened, when I was in the UK the time changed, and the next weekend when I'd gotten home again, we sprang forward again.  Normally, you can console yourself with the loss of your springtime hour with the promise of getting said hour back again in the fall, not so with the extra hour you lost while springing ahead twice

And can I just say how great it is to deal with jet lag and the loss of an hour?  Not to mention, the pain of sitting squashed up in your middle seat between strangers on the plane ride home (where the time change has not yet occurred) not knowing what in the heck time it really is anywhere so having no way to gauge whether you'll have to play Dr. Mario on your Virgin Atlantic seat screen for only two more hours or whether it will be a whole three before your plane cruises into the gate at Newark.  Not that there's anything wrong with Dr. Mario, I find Dr. Mario to be an extremely enjoyable way to fritter away hours and was delighted to discover it available on my flight.  In fact, I find Dr. Mario so enjoyable and diverting that I almost feel sad for those of you who are thinking, at this moment, "What is she talking about?  Is something wrong with her?"  "Her" of course meaning me, but I digress. 

Most people in my neck of the woods are happy and grateful for that glorious extra hour of sleep this weekend afforded, and I'll admit to some passing joy in it, too.  I'm still a glass half empty kind of a girl, though, and every time we change the clocks I'm reminded of that silly hour that I misplaced between countries that I'll never get back in the fall.

Anybody else ever been a victim from this sneaky thief of time?  And just exactly how obvious is it that I am just now avoiding the pile of books beside me that wants reviewing?  ;-)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Broken Harbor by Tana French

Tana French is one of those authors that everybody likes that I've been meaning to try and meaning to try forever and ever.  Enter one of the perks of being a book blogger.  While I was busy being a lazy slacker not reading all the books I should be and mean to be reading right now, I was getting an e-mail offering me a copy of French's latest, Broken Harbor, part of her series about the crime-fighters of the Dublin Murder Squad.  Usually I'm a stickler for reading series books in order, even when everybody says you don't need to, which is why it often peeves me so much to be pitched a book that is, oh you know, fourth in a series. Sometimes I can get past that whole "series in order" rule, and I'm glad I did this time around, because Broken Harbor stood well enough alone, though I'm sure there were extra tidbits that I could have picked up had I read the previous books. 

When Pat and Jenny Spain bought their house in the up-and-coming development in Broken Harbor, they were sure they were taking the first step to living the dream, and for a while it seemed so.  Pat and Jenny had what looked, to outsiders, like a perfect life - two kids, a good job, a fancy SUV, and a nice well-kept house.  Then came the financial collapse that took Pat's job and stopped construction on the luxury development leaving it a crumbling, underpopulated shell of the dream community that was intended.  The Spains grow more and more isolated trying to keep up appearances despite the odds until the day when Jenny's sister discovers the whole family brutally murdered in their home.  Broken Harbor centers on by-the-book detective Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy and his rookie partner Richie Curran as they attempt to unearth the secrets surrounding the heinous murder of a whole family.

Kennedy is a compelling character.  Gruff and a little pompous on the outside with his every action calculated to portray the right image, Kennedy's doesn't at first appear to be a very lovable guy, but his by-the-book approach does put criminals in jail.  The case in Broken Harbor brings out the demons of his past that won't stay buried.  As he tries to deal with his sister, who, he says, is "crazier than a bag of cats," initiate his new partner to the job, and capture a brutal killer, Mick's coming apart at the seams and French's book allows us a good look inside a character who is much more than meets the eye.

I loved Broken Harbor.  I loved that it didn't oversimplify what's involved in solving a crime.  It gets down into the nuts and bolts of the investigation instead of glossing over them in search of a few cheap thrills and twists.  It reminds us that there are tactics to interrogation and that sometimes solving a crime involves more sleepless nights of fruitless stakeouts than it does exciting breakthroughs.  Just the same, it doesn't get bogged down in too much detail. Rather, it explores an elaborate mystery with several unexpected dynamics that keep pages turning and readers guessing as it becomes apparent that there's no simple or obvious solution to what when on at the Spains' on that fateful night.  Even better, though, is the fact that French takes what could be "just" a murder mystery and turns it on its head to draw out a rich character study that puts the investigating detective front and center among the very vivid and varied cast of characters that populate the rest of the novel. 

I heartily recommended Broken Harbor, and if this is what I can expect from French's work, I can't wait to crack open the other books in the series!

(Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Loose Leafing: The Spider Says I Love You (and some winners!)

Meet Herbert.

Herbert is my pet (fake) spider.  He hails from a toy store in London where, with the exchange rate at the time, he cost me the equivalent of around $12.  He was purchased for the purpose of frightening my best friend's then boyfriend who was so arachnophobic that when we placed Herbert on his pile of plates in the kitchen cabinet, he decided that plates were for chumps, and he didn't need one after all.  Herbert came back from London with me and has become a star of the household as my mom and I tuck him into hidden places in an effort to scare each other, or at least make each other laugh.  If you're not paying attention you may find him lurking in your box of instant oatmeal packets or in the bathroom cabinet embracing your deodorant...

Why, pray tell, am I writing you a blog post about a fake spider?  It may have something to do with the fact that I've spent most of the week away from the computer and so have no reviews written.  It's hard trying to nurse your piece of junk spine back to health while getting ready to spend most of the weekend away in NYC, so the spider's all I've got in the way of interesting things to tell you.  It may be because the spider has become a twisted way of showing love, and I think it's kind of sweet and worth writing about.  Do you have any weird ways of saying "I love you" or do you just, you know, say "I love you"? 

I don't have much to say about New York City except that I enjoyed walking the High Line which I never knew existed until I read Pete Hamill's book, Tabloid City.  I googled it and saved it up for a sunny day, which Saturday definitely was.  I navigated the subway without too much trouble, but we still walked blocks and blocks and blocks and blocks on purpose.  We visited the most ridiculously ornate CVS drug store I've ever seen and had a waiter in a restaurant that could, in my judgement, stunt double for Robert Pattinson in a crunch. 

And now for the winners of my blogiversary giveaway...

Sarah will be getting a copy of The Stolen Child

Vasilly won a copy of The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers

Meg snagged a copy of After You'd Gone

I will be e-mailing each of you shortly for your addresses.  Please write back! 

Thanks to everybody who entered and everybody who wished me a happy blogiversary.  I appreciate each and every one of you and thank you for reading!  I wish I could give a great book to all of you.  Maybe someday.  Until then, you'll have to settle for the gift of random posts about fake spiders.  ;-)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Dewey's Readathon Wrap-up

Okay, so, I may have finished up my Readathon around 1 AM on Sunday morning, fell asleep reading, then got up and wandered off to do other things like go to church and the movies and never made it back to post the end of the event meme, which I feel like I just have to do even if I am too little too late.  Do forgive me my tardiness, and perhaps I'll even return with some, like, book reviews and stuff later this week.  ;-)

Which hour was most daunting for you?

16?  17? I think.  I was desperately trying to read the last story in the The Chronicles of Harris Burdick and mostly failing to keep my eyes open, though I did finish, I'll have you know.
Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale was absolutely perfect!  Fast-paced, excellent story, and an extremely lovable main character.

Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

Honestly, I can't think of a thing.  I had a total blast this time around.  Seriously, I was really down in the dumps when I started, and it was so great to be distracted by all my great internet friends and a couple great books all day on Saturday!

What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

I was really happy with the mini-challenges this go round.  In the past it has seemed like many of them have been just too time-consuming.  I'm usually looking for a little break, a little fun, not a lengthy creative exercise.  Thanks mini-challenge hosts for making your challenges nice and mini and tons of fun!

How many books did you read?

I finished two, but only one in its entirety on Readathon day.

What were the names of the books you read?

Princess Acacemy by Shannon Hale plus the last few stories in The Chronicles of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg (and company) and one story out of Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things.

Which book did you enjoy most?

Princess Academy

Which did you enjoy least?

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, by default, I guess.  It's a good book, but they're short stories.  Some are better than others, and all but one of the ones I read on Readathon day were just so-so.  Though the last one might have got a raw deal, what with me being half asleep and all.

If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

I didn't do any "official" cheerleading this time, but thanks for all the cheers, guys!  My advice?  It's fun to get around and cheer for all the people whose blogs you've never seen before, but even more fun to cheer for your friends.  I often neglect my bloggy friends on Readathon day in favor of meeting new bloggers, but I spent a lot of time trying to get around to my buddies this time, and it made the experience that much more fun!

How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

Extremely likely.  I like to do both read and cheerlead, but not on the same day, so I guess it'll depend on the sort of mood I'm in next time around.  Reading was definitely the right choice for me this time.  Cheerleading definitely was this past spring.  What can I say?  I'm unpredictable!  ;-)

Thanks to the Readathon hosts (and everybody working behind the scenes), to the cheerleaders, and to my blogging buddies for making another great Readathon experience! 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dewey's Readathon Hour 14 Update

Reading Now: TBD

It's been __117__ pages and __115__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 5 hours 36 minutes

Cumulative Pages Read: 314

Books Completed: 1!  Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Eating?:  Shish-ka-bob!  I live in a tiny town with not even one stop light, but there's a sports bar down the street that has great wings and the best shish-ka-bobs.  I had to take a little reading break to chow on them, but it was totally worth it!  I took a picture, but now that I'm looking at it, it's abysmal and you can hardly see them in all their glory, and alas, there are no late do-overs with food photography.  Just picture marinated and beef and veggie goodness!

My shish-ka-bobs and a little eye resting sufficiently rejuvenated me so that I've finished off the wonderful Princess Academy.  I couldn't have picked a better Readathon book for myself (and I didn't, LOL, thanks Random.org!).  I'm thinking of doing some short stories now.  The Chronicles of Harris Burdick has been languishing on my nightstand forever, maybe I'll finish that.  Or maybe I'll dip into Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman.  Or maybe (hopefully) I'll manage to do both!

Mid-Event Survey
1) How are you doing? Sleepy? Are your eyes tired? 
I'm feeling good, feeling strong.  I shouldn't say this.  Whenever I say this, I immediately start feeling tired.  If anyone asks, I didn't say this.  ;-)

2) What have you finished reading?

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale.  Approximately one book more than I finished last Readathon.  Go me!

3) What is your favorite read so far?

Princess Academy by default, but I'm confident it would be a strong competitor even if I'd read other things. 

4) What about your favorite snacks?

Chocolate peanut butter pie, but the ka-bobs win for "best dinner."

5) Have you found any new blogs through the readathon? If so, give them some love!
Agh, I've actually been sorely lacking in new blog discovery, been too busy re-connecting with old friends.  Maybe I'll remedy that here shortly.  :-)
Hope everybody's still going strong!  Keep up the great reading!  

Dewey's Readathon Hour 8 Update

Reading Now: Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

It's been __103__ pages and __101__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 3 hour 33 minutes

Cumulative Pages Read: 197

Books Completed: 0

Eating?: Oh, a few things.  But most importantly - chocolate peanut butter pie!

Okay, it had a rough five-minute journey from the restaurant to here, and my iPhone photography does it absolutely no favors, but I promise it was beyond delicious.  I would say that it will probably be my best Readathon food, but there is the promise of a shish-ka-bob this evening, so the jury is still out... 
I let myself get distracted from reading for quite some time my last break - visiting friends, doing mini-challenges, taking pictures to post to Instagram, and I'm probably about to do it again.  Also, I think that nap time approach-eth, but I'm trying to hold out, and Princess Academy continuing to be awesome is helping in that regard.
Hope everybody's still going strong!  I'm off for some cheerleading and then it's back to the book!
I'll leave with my cheerleading bookmark...

Dewey's Readathon Hour 4 Update

Reading Now: Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

It's been __88__ pages and __112__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 1 hour 52 minutes

Cumulative Pages Read: 88

Books Completed: 0

Eating?: Peanut butter and raspberry jelly toast and a cup of caramel vanilla cream coffee with enough sugar and half and half in it to disguise the fact that it's still a cup of coffee (said the girl who hates coffee but loves a good caramel latte)

I tell you, when I really need it to come through for me, Random.org always picks me a good book.  With the help of it and my LibraryThing library, I took a gamble and let it pick me a book since I am crap at making decisions.  I would not have picked Princess Academy for myself, but so far it's been a perfect choice, which is a good testament as to why I should not make my own decisions (LOL!).  I'm totally absorbed and the pages feel like they're flying by.  Actually, I didn't really even want to stop to update and consult the internet, but then I got interrupted anyway and figured now would be as good a time as any! 

I feel like I haven't participated in a mini-challenge since a few Readathons ago, so I'm joining one today.  Uniflame is looking for pictures of our Readathon snacks, so here is my breakfast first snack.  PB and J toast!  Yum!

My parents just went for breakfast, and I have begged them to bring me home a piece of pie from the restaurant.  Cross your fingers that there will be a piece of delicious chocolate peanut butter pie in my next update!  ;-)

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon!

That's right, it's Readathon day!  Being a glutton for punishment, I've signed up to read again.  I usually do better when I just cheerlead since I usually spend too much time in front of the computer and not enough in front of a book, but I like reading, so here goes.  A warning to those who read me in a feed reader, I am planning on posting an update every few hours.  If you're not interested in Readathon posts, go ahead and mark me all as read today, but don't leave me, I promise I'll be back to my normal low rate of posting by tomorrow.  ;-)
And now for the introductory questionnaire...
1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
At home in Bloomsburg, PA, USA

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
Guess what?  I have no book stack.  However, Random.org has helpfully chosen Princess Academy by Shannon Hale as my first book, and I feel pretty good about that!

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
I'm about to have some delicious raspberry jelly on some toast.  That's something to look forward to!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
Let's see, I'm 28.  I graduated from college with a degree in political science, but ended up working in a surgical pathology lab in a hospital, which is waaaay more science than political.  Blogging is how I get my creative jollies because I certainly don't get any working full time at my day job, and I've been at this blogging thing for a recently-celebrated five years.  In fact, if you need a break today, my 5 year blogiversary giveaway is still open, so check it out if you like.  I'm giving away some of my favorite books.  (And I promise that will be the last plug for the giveaway.  Really.  Just had to sneak it in there one more time.  They're my favorite books.  I want people to read them.  LOL!)

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
Like I said up there, I didn't make a pile of books today.  I've looked and I've thought about it, and as much as the pile gets me all excited for Readathon day, it usually disappoints me by the end with how little of my exciting pile I even touched, much less read.  So I'm trying it without the pile today, so hopefully I won't be bummed out when I only read, like, one book.  Oh, and no scheduled interruptions today - that's different than at least the last two times! 
All right, enough chatter!  I'm off to read. 
Happy reading, all!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Her Last Death by Susanna Sonnenberg

I have a confession to make.  I should have read this book several years ago.  I don't mean that in the, "This book was so good, I should have read it long ago!" sense either.  Back when I first started blogging, actually it's probably part of what got me going, I did the Elle Reader's Prize.  This used to involve any schmuck off the street filling out a form to apply, after which, if you were so fortunate as to be chosen, Elle Magazine would send you three books of their choice.  Then you, amateur book reviewer, would rank them and write eensy reviews of them with the chance that your very own reviewlette would appear in the magazine, which a few of mine actually did much to my excitement.  I read some great books this way, and some very terrible ones, too. 

Now, somehow I managed to do a fiction and a non-fiction jury in the same year.  I say "somehow," but this more than likely involves them asking me and me saying, "Sure, why not?" despite the fact that I'm more of a fiction girl, I mean, if you hadn't noticed.  Anywho, the whole 3 book thing went okay.  Two were great, the third was just okay but its full-length review has gotten me more blog hits than any other one post on the blog you see before you.  Then, though, then, at the end of the season there was the Grand Prix in which all 6 of the year's top books from the monthly juries would drop into your mailbox with a very limited time to read all and pick a favorite.  Turns out, when you do a non-fiction and a fiction jury, twelve excellent looking books would land on your doorstep.  This is staggeringly awesome, and also, how you say, hard to handle if you are a big, slow reader like yours truly.  I, ahem, picked a favorite, but I may have neglected to read all of my non-fiction selections.  I managed 4 out of 6 non-fiction selections, and as it turns out, I don't need to feel bad because, well, this one would not have unseated the one that I chose.  ;-)

Nonetheless, this book has been waiting on my shelves, and Random.org helpfully picked it for me.

Her Last Death is Susanna Sonnenberg's memoir of her rocky history with her mother.  It starts in what we are to take as the present when Sonnenberg has finally settled down to family life with her husband and two boys in Montana.  It's there that she gets the call that her mother has been seriously injured in car accident, and it speaks volumes from the start that when she receives the call, she doesn't believe it's true.  Sonnenberg faces the choice of whether to rush to what could be her mother's deathbed or not.  At its heart, Her Last Death is, perhaps, an excuse for why she eventually couldn't bring herself to go.  As Sonnenberg unpacks her memories of her effusive, overbearing mother who was addicted to painkillers, cocaine, and sex, who lied without a second thought, who stole her teenage boyfriends, who introduced her to cocaine at a young age, readers will find themselves ultimately sympathetic and disgusted with both mother and daughter.

I didn't love Her Last Death, but there is that certain something about it that drew me in.  Sonnenberg's writing is fluid and draws out the essence of her twisted childhood with skill.  Well-chosen anecdotes are strung together to reveal the dynamic of a dangerous mother-daughter relationship.  Sonnenberg actively loathes her mother, loves her, is frightened by her, is disgusted by her and is impressed by her.  She wants to hold her mother at a distance but has a daughter's desire to share her biggest news with her mother even if she knows hurt will follow every time she makes a connection.  Sonnenberg's memoir captivates with the same power of an Augusten Burroughs memoir, not because it's so enjoyable, but because it's well written and simply hard to look away from these train wrecks of lives so well depicted. 

I was enthralled by Sonnenberg's depiction of her early childhood with her wildly unpredictable mother.  However, as Sonnenberg herself grows to adulthood, having affairs with married teachers and escaping into meaningless sex, I lost much of what sympathy I had for her which made the latter half of the book a bigger challenge.  I was often disgusted by her behavior and unwilling to believe that her mother was at the root of the problem, which seems to be her desired angle.  Certainly, a bad mother can damage a child, but at some point, the child grows up and has to take responsibility for her own actions which it seemed to take Sonnenberg an awful long time to do.  Her Last Death is a fascinating and well-told story of a relationship, indeed it often is a well-balanced account of a mother's pros and cons, but when readers begin to lose sympathy for the memoirist, Her Last Death loses its bite.

(Does this require the old disclaimer?  I got this book for free from Elle magazine, like, four years ago in exchange for my honest opinion (which I failed to formulate because I only just read it now), but it was, well, four years ago, so who even cares?  There, we have been duly disclaimed, just in case.  ;-) )

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Leafing Through Life is 5!

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away or maybe just five years ago right here, the blog you see before you now was born with an abysmal post that was filled with too many ellipses and seemed doubtful that I'd continue at this for five months, much less five years.  Now I count people I've never laid eyes upon in person to be my friends.  I've read and reviewed countless books.  I've been to BEA not once but twice and put some faces to some friends and made some new ones.  My TBR pile is out of control and filled with books I would never have picked up without some helpful nudging.  My e-mail box runneth over in a way that I could never even have imagined with messages from people who, for some reason, want me to review their books.

I have been challenged, I've read-along, and I've been totally overwhelmed by my Google Reader.  I've got a bookish wish list that could reach about to the moon and back.  I've stayed up late into the night reading and cheerleading for Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon (and will again soon!).  I've seen bloggers come and go (and stay and stay!) and the book blogosphere go from a place where, even if you didn't follow everyone, you at least knew most people's names to a community where I couldn't even dream of even being passingly familiar with half the members.   I've been exhilarated and exhausted by it all.  Such is the life of a book blogger, and it's been my pleasure to be one for five years.  Thanks so much to everybody who's stuck with me and my blog even when I haven't been uber-dependable, and thanks all for inspiring me with your own blogs, for your great tastes in books, for commenting here and generally making book blogging the best hobby a person could have
Enough with all the sentimental windbagging, though.  Honestly, usually I forget my blogiversary.  I think of it a few weeks too late and let it pass without fanfare.  Who wants to hear me wax poetic about book bloggerdom anyway?  But five years, though, that's major, right?  So, I figure it's time for a giveaway of a few of my favorite books.  What better way to celebrate all the great books blogging has brought my way and my fellow bloggers and friends who have helped keep me at it all this time?  A few weeks back, I wrote a Top Ten Tuesday featuring the best ten books I've read since I started book blogging.  I'd love to send 3 different winners a new copy of one of those books, so check out the post, which has links to my reviews of the ten chosen ones.  Pick one out and fill out the form (Look, I learned how to make a form!  Who says an old dog blogger can't learn new tricks?) below if you want to win. It's open internationally, as long as The Book Depository ships to your country, until 8 am EST on October 21st, when I'll announce the winners.  There are no special requirements to enter, but if you wanted to spread the word, I'd sure appreciate it.  I'd like to, you know, actually have 3 winners.  ;-)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman

The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman takes us into the 1930s world of Patience Murphy, recently certified midwife, as she attends to a growing number of mothers around her West Virginia home.  Patience's adventures as a country midwife give us a cross-section of the population: black, white, rich, poor, young, old, and even Amish.  Seeing the many ways women cope with the impending birth is fascinating.  Some scream and fight against it, others dance with their husbands, nearly carefree until the last moment.  Patience assists with all kinds of births, hurrying off to places unknown at any hour of the day or night, often receiving nothing but gratitude in return for her services during the hard times of the Depression.  Patience's frequent calls to attend at births keep up the pace of a book to brisk clip, but in between Harman is hard at work drawing out a complex character in Patience herself. 

Patience has a much richer history than at first meets the eye, and Harman slowly leads readers into the dark corners of the past that has had her on the run.  Patience is no stranger to heartbreak or to tragedy, but her experience has opened her up to viewing all kinds of people as no different than her, which makes her stick out like a sore thumb among the racist whites of West Virginia who don't take kindly to her setting up house with a black girl, her new birthing assistant, Bitsy.  As Patience faces threats and troubles from all sides, she finds herself an unexpected ally in Daniel Hester, the local veterinarian, who threatens to poke holes in the shield she has erected to fend off those who might be too curious about her mysterious past. 

Aside from some minor quibbles about the redundancy that occurs in the rhythm of the book (birth, memories, birth, more memories, birth...), I very much enjoyed The Midwife of Hope River.  Patricia Harman has knit together a community of mostly lovable yet very different characters from the well-off wife of a local coal baron to the older, wiser midwife to the black community who takes Patience under her wing.  At the center is Patience who is a strong and well-developed character in her own right but also a lens through which to view the times.  Patience's life has brought her into the paths of lesbians, flappers, workers unionizing to struggle for their rights, coal miners trying to scrape out a meager living, coal barons losing everything to the market crash, and various and sundry "ordinary" people who dot the West Virginia countryside making a living however they can.  Through Patience's lens, both the 1920s the Depression era are brought to life.

Patience is a captivating character who I easily fell in love with.  She is strong, capable, and stands up for her principles, doing what her heart tells her even when it's dangerous and possibly deadly.  The Midwife of Hope River is a quick read and absorbing piece of historical fiction.  Here's hoping that Patricia Harman has a few more historical midwives up her sleeve!

Thanks to the publisher, William Morrow Paperbacks, for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

We Sinners by Hanna Pylvainen

 You know what's great? When you sit down and write a review of a book, and looking back on it discover that you liked it even more than you thought you did.  We Sinners is just such a book.  I appreciated it while I was reading it, and read it fairly quickly, but by the end, I didn't love it, just that sort of meh feeling one gets when one doesn't have really positive or really negative feelings about a book.  Having sat down to review it, though, I can safely say that We Sinners had much more of an impact on me than I thought.  Honestly, this is one of the great things about writing book reviews, that upon further reflection you can much more out of it than you would if you just read a book and walked away.  This ever happen to you?

We Sinners by Hanna Pylvainen is the story of the large Rovaniemi clan, Warren and Pirjo, and their nine children.  More than that, though, it is the story of their faith, a fundamentalist version of Christianity that originated in Finland, Laestadianism.  (Hmm, if I'm trying to make this sound captivating, I'm failing, aren't I?  Give me a few minutes, I'll get there.)  The Rovaniemis' church is impressively strict, demanding that its congregants forgo dancing, TV watching, drinking, listening to popular music, and using birth control.  In the tradition of some evangelical churches, it relies on lay preachers rather than the formally educated and ordained.  The church community is small and insular, and rather more a main character in Pylvainen's story so central is it to her characters' lives.

In We Sinners, Pylvainen explores the Rovaniemi family member by member, from those who embrace their faith whole-heartedly to those who can't wait to escape to a world free from the narrow confines of it.  It probes the psyches of both parents who each question their dedication to God, Warren when he faces the possibility of being called upon to preach and Pirjo, when it seems like something so simple as a television set could derail her family's focus.  It follows the children as they explore the lives they've been effectively denied, dating boys outside the church, experimenting with drinking, finding themselves and being excommunicated from everything they've ever known because of the selves they find.  Some choose to leave, and some choose to embrace the church and the, strict, if comfortable way of life they have grown to appreciate.

Pylvainen's short novel is not short on profundity.  Many might choose to villify this church, but Pylvainen, instead, chooses to show a more balanced picture of the trials and rewards of faith and readers emerge on the other side of her narrative forced to decide for themselves which is the better way, if indeed there is one.  For some of the children, the comfort of living in a community with faith that they all have in common draws them in inexorably as they grow to adulthood.  For them, the longed for words of absolution become a comfort and a necessity.  Their large families rise up around them, for better or worse.  The others attempt to find solace in "worldly" relationships where it eludes them, they trade their family and faith for freedom, but find that freedom from their faith isn't all they ever dreamed.  All find themselves haunted by the faith of their childhood and, it seems, that none find exactly what they're looking for at the end of either path.

We Sinners is a quiet but powerful book that explores the vagaries of a commanding faith from inside and out.  Pylvainen's prose is stark but illuminating, shining a light on a topic that rarely gets so much balanced attention.  While Pylvainen briefly explores each of the family's members to great effect, the focus always remains on the fundamentalism that both unites and divides and how the choice to stay or to go always leaves someone standing on the other side of the glass wondering if they failed to choose the better way.  We Sinners' portrayal of faith might not be for everyone, but anyone who wants to understand what makes a fundamentalist Christian family tick would do well to give Pylvainen's thoughtful debut a look.

Thanks to the publisher (Henry Holt) for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest revew.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Loose Leafing: All Good Things

Hola, everyone!  I have bad news, and I have good news.  The bad news, my wrists have been hurting me something fierce and making it hard to both work and blog.  Since my blog doesn't pay the bills, I've unfortunately forced to give most of my wrist endurance to my job, hence my missing the BBAW festivities of yesterweek and other assorted blogging.  The good news is, my poor, afflicted wrists seem to be getting their groove back, and I have returned to my oft neglected blog again.  (Hi, blog!)  The other bad news is I have to work more hours than normal this week, which doesn't leave an awful lot of time for my triumphant return to blogging, but I'm working with the time I've got, and I'm happy to say I've been making lemonade of my lemons lately and mostly enjoying life despite the working and the wrist problems.

For example, I've been reading and really enjoying it.  I liked The Stand, but I've gotta say, reading it all summer really started to feel like work.  It's been nice to actually start and finish a few books.  First, I read Glass Boys by Nicole Lundrigan for a blog tour.  I was a little nervous about it at first, but I'm pretty sure that for the moment, it's my favorite book of the year!  (P.S. There's still a little time to enter my giveaway for the book if you haven't yet.  Have I mentioned how great it is?).  Then I read The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman and really enjoyed that one, too.  Review to come.  For my current read, I randomly chose a book from my shelves (my shelves!  I remember them, there are various and sundry great books there that are even more neglected than my blog!  Horrors!) and ended up with Her Last Death by Susanna Sonnenberg which is the type of memoir Augusten Burroughs made famous.  A train wreck memoir, if you will, wherein you are frankly disturbed by the things you're reading, but it's well-written and you can't seem to look away.  After that, I think I'll be ready to tackle Broken Harbor by Tana French which has been patiently waiting for me. 

In between all the reading, I have been enjoying an annual trip to Hersheypark with my younger cousin.  We are the only children of our respective families, and he's kind of like my fake little brother that I don't spend quite enough time with for him to be annoying to me like a real little brother, so I've been pleased to make our Hershey trip an annual tradition so neither of us have to be the "single riders" that have to load in the middle of the roller coaster trains.  ;-)  Yesterday we even (accidentally) dressed alike in bright yellow/green shirts, shorts/pants with many pockets, and grey shoes.  We rode almost all the roller coasters, him being much more daring than I was at his age (thankfully), and purchased an outlandish amount of chocolate, and I plan to be irritated for only a little while longer that I had to pay $12 simply to park my car.  Twelve dollars!  That new roller coaster must have cost them a fortune (which was totally worth it - we rode it twice!) for them to be going in for this kind of highway robbery.  Ah, but don't they know that if they charge me like four fewer dollars to park, I will then buy that much more chocolate and they still get all my money anyway, without my having to tell everyone I know how I've been so wronged.  Less parking, more chocolate!  Do you think I could get people to picket with me?  Make Kisses, not dollars!  (Um, I'll keep my day job.)

While not reading/riding roller coasters/complaining about things I have no control over, I've been pleased to watch the Bloomsburg fairgrounds being populated with all sorts of rides and food stands and awesomeness.  The last week of the month our little town plays host to the biggest fair (I'm told) in Pennsylvania.  Last year, our town played host to the biggest flood of the Susquehanna River in a century, causing the cancellation of the fair, so I am looking forward to it twice as much which is a really really really lot.  I am super-stoked that next week at this time I could very well be stuffing my face with the many delicious deep-fried things (if I am not already full of delicious deep-fried things and sitting at home contemplating my clogging arteries), ogling the largest pumpkin in the tri-county area, and hopefully winning the candy game or a gold fish or a big stuffed animal or something.  People around here live for the fair, and so do I! 

So, how's life in your neck of the woods?  Have I been missing anything exciting (excepting the obvious) during my temporary vacation from the blogosphere?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Glass Boys by Nicole Lundrigan (Review and Giveaway)

Glass Boys by Nicole Lundrigan totally took me by surprise.  When I was offered a spot on its blog tour, I took quite a while to decide in the affirmative.  Its blurb makes it sound like more of a mystery/thriller than the literary fiction I seem to prefer (actually, it's quite literary, thank you very much).  It's from a Canadian publisher that, as far as I know, is new to me (but maybe just because I live in a hole). I had no idea Newfoundland had a dialect (see above RE: hole dwelling), but apparently it does, and so, therefore, does the book (hit or miss much?).  I worried so much that I wasn't going to like it, and I was selling out my quest to take no chances with review copies.  Getting to the point, though, I need not have worried.  This might well be the best stuff of my reading year!

And Wilda considered then they weren't as fragile as she often imagined.  They weren't made of thin clear glass.  If she opened her hands, let them go, they wouldn't shatter on the floor.  Surely, they wouldn't.  In the golden moonlight, she saw that each one was just enough for the other.

In the opening pages of Glass Boys, abusive, angry Eli Fagan, discovers his stepson, Garrett, is hiding an unspeakable secret.  At the same time, Lewis Trench, the newly appointed constable of Knife's Point, Newfoundland and his brother Roy are getting drunk on potato whiskey.  The two families cross paths in one fateful, accidental moment, and Roy Trench is killed.  The incident is ruled an accident.  Eli Fagan returns to his wife and stepson and eventually has two daughters.  Lewis Trench meets a woman in a curio shop after the trial and takes her home to Knife's Point to be his wife. The couple have a pair of sons, sensitive, eager to please Melvin, and Toby, a less thoughtful but more enthusiastic boy.  Though the two families attempt to avoid each other and their shared sordid past, the past can't be escaped, and the years never seem to ease the pain and anger between the two men, until the incident's echoes reverberate into a new generation.

Glass Boys takes some getting used to.  For starters, Newfoundland has a dialect and Lundrigan has taken care to reflect it in her writing.  There are s's on the ends of words where every fiber of a sensible reader's being supposes there shouldn't be.  Lundrigan's prose relies on sentence fragments for emphasis.  The first few chapters are, as a result, confusing and a little hard to digest.

Once the first few chapters are past, however, a profound, if dark, multi-layered story emerges.  Lundrigan's characters are richly drawn and haunted by the secrets of their respective pasts which are spread out before us like a breadcrumb trail to an unexpected destination.  Lundrigan's story is undeniably gritty and doesn't shy away from the worst things the human heart has to offer, but at the same time, just the tiniest trace of magic runs through Lundrigan's tale, just a tiny trace of hope that the younger generation might just be able to untangle the knot of hate that binds the two families together, however they might try to avoid its legacy.  The feeling that redemption seems to always lie only a page away makes this literary work unputdownable.

Despite its darkness, Glass Boys is likely my favorite read of the year thus far.  Lundrigan's story is, at times, hard to read, simply because of its subject matter, but she gives voice to her characters so well that even when they are flawed and loathesome, they still attract our sympathy, except, of course, for the one that doesn't quite.  Mostly male characters figure in Glass Boys, and Lundrigan proves herself remarkably adept at portraying thoughts, feelings, and actions even from across the gender divide.  In my experience dark stories rarely have satisfying ends, but Lundrigan defied my experience ending the book in a way that doesn't trivialize the rest of her story by wrapping up too easily but also doesn't neglect the catharsis we crave after having our hearts broken along with the characters we've come to care for deeply.  Highly, highly recommended.

(Disclaimer:  I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.)

Seriously, I'm so impressed with this book, ergo I was very excited to find out that the author's publicist is providing a copy for me to give away.  This will help me get started in my quest to get everyone to read this book. ;-)

If you'd like to win a copy, and have a US or Canada address (no PO boxes), please leave a comment with your e-mail address by 9/17, midnight EST.  I'll draw a name at random, and e-mail the winner. (And next time I'll learn to use one of those fun Google Docs forms.  Promise.) 

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Stand by Stephen King (Standalong Wrap-up!)

Well, it's been a long summer.  Okay, that's not true.  This summer has flown by.  Really, I can't believe it's September already, nor can I believe it took me almost a full extra month beyond the official end of the Standalong to finish what is, arguably, Stephen King's most ambitious, most famous novel.  Since it's taken up so much of my time this summer, and book reviews have been at a premium around here, I'm going to attempt to write a legitimate review of it, but if you did the Standalong and you just want to check out my second half reactions, there's bullet points at the bottom of the post!

It's the early 1990s and something deadly and manmade has been unleashed upon the world.  A plague sweeps across the U.S. killing off a large portion of the population causing chaos among the living.  Soon only a seeming few far-flung survivors remain, and it becomes apparent that the killer flu isn't the only issue at hand.  Survivors find themselves haunted by dreams of a dark man who has no face but is inutterably terrifying.  Some survivors dream of an elderly black woman who seems to offer a refuge from the dark power lurking in the west.  Little do the unfortunate survivors of the plague know that there is a much larger battle yet to be fought, a battle that will determine the future of a world torn between good and evil. 

Stephen King's tour de force is a hulking novel with its extended version weighing in at over a thousand pages.  Thankfully, King's writing has such a pull and a flow to it, that despite its size, The Stand is a relatively quick read, and one that can be hard to put down.  King's depiction of the killer flu that originates in a military facility in California and sweeps the nation before anyone even has a sense of what's happening, is alternately terrifying and compelling.  Some of the best chapters in the book emanate from the spreading of the flu and the all-too-believable cover-up that follows what starts as a PR disaster and turns into an apocalyptic death march. 

However, the plague is just the tip of the iceberg, and as the relentless deaths from the flu finally slow to a trickle, King's narrative follows many of the survivors as they begin to dream and soon attempt to reassemble themselves into a society amid the wreckage.  Here, King is again at his best, following the lives of innumerable characters and managing to give each of them a distinctive personality and a fleshed out backstory.  Despite being introduced to far more characters than can be counted on two hands, readers will feel like they know each and every person that King chooses to focus on, and it will be impossible for readers not to relate to at least a few of them. 

The Stand is not without its flaws, for sure.  It's aged fairly well in general, but much of the slang gives away the fact that it is a 1970s book retooled for a 1990s audience.  Around the two-thirds mark, King's story flags and drags for a while.  The dialogue seems overdone and cheesy while the plot comes to a near standstill as all the characters arrive at a sort of planning stage.  Thankfully, it doesn't last too long, the story picks up and ends with a bang.  Numerous times in the last quarter of the book, King and his lovable, if terribly flawed cast of characters, nearly brought me to tears, and I could hardly put the book down in the race to the finish.  While I'm afraid it might not unseat my favorite Stephen King books of old, The Stand is really not to be missed.  It showcases a great American author at the top of his game, creating an epic tale of good and evil that fully probes the truth that there is no one that is truly one or the other.


Just by way of wrapping up this whole readalong thing that I did a shoddy job of finishing on time...how about a few bullet points?  (These could be spoiler-y, so if you haven't read The Stand, look away!)

- In the end, I didn't hate Harold.  I just felt so bad for him, how even in a new world he couldn't let go of old slights long enough to embrace a new life and a new identity that hadn't been forced upon him by cruel high schoolers and his own unthinking parents.  Rather, he chose to believe that no one could ever change, that peoples' perceptions of him could never change, which leads him down a path of destruction, including his own.  I thought this was all incredibly depressing because it rang true, I mean, how hard is it to leave behind a past that has damaged you?  Too often, it's too hard.

- The whole establishment of the Boulder Free Zone and its ad hoc committe really dragged for me after the enthralling beginning to the novel with the plague unleashed and survivors regrouping.  The whole Boulder Free Zone seemed to be afflicted by a plague of a different sort - cheesy, lovey dovey dialogue on numerous occasions, mostly boring committee meetings.  It seemed like if we wanted to get from here to there a little faster, this could have been way pared down.  I read the huge version, so I wonder if it actually was in the shorter version...

- Glen Bateman is the King of the Infodump, and I actually didn't mind.  Turns out if you want to get away with infodumping in your postapocalyptic novel, all you need is a lovable, retired sociologist.  I actually felt like I learned real things from Glen Bateman's windbagging, and even though I recognized the societal information infodumping, I mostly appreciated it.

- Once Larry finally worked through all his issues, I really came to like him as a character.  I was pleased that Stu turned out to be as decent as we all hoped he was at the midpoint of the Standalong check-in.  At the end of the day, though, I think Tom Cullen and Kojak might just have been my favorite characters.

- The second half of the book definitely didn't do it for me the way the first half did, but ultimately I enjoyed reading The Stand.  I'm glad I finally did it, and it was good to revisit my love of Stephen King this summer!

Did you "Stand" this summer?  What did you think?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Confessions

Everybody's got some bookish dirty laundry, right?  This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is all about Bookish Confessions, so I get to open up my closet and take out all the bookish skeletons.  Here are all the (not so) super secrets about my reading life...

1. I don't own an e-reader... - I can't say I haven't been occasionally tempted, but I'd still rather hold a paper book in my hands than read yet more off of a screen.  I already spend far too much of my life staring at screens.  Also, see #3, I have no need of some other way to acquire more books.

2. ...or a library card.  - I haven't checked a book out of a library since I graduated from college 6 years ago.  I hate library bindings with their crinkly covers and having a deadline for reading.  I also just like owning books even if they're used, and really, a hefty part of my collection is used.  I support my local library by buying not borrowing. ;-)  I'm a library book sale hound!

3. My physical TBR pile is hovering around a thousand - Yes, really.  Will I read them all?  Will I even attempt to read them all?  I don't know.  Will I ever be able to successfully stop acquiring books I might not read for years?  All sources point to no. 

4. The shelves are double stacked, and I hate it. - But perish the thought of having to get rid of some of my babies!

5. I never read The Taming of the Shrew or A Tale of Two Cities. - Sorry, Mrs. Steiner, I did totally copy my summer reading journal off of my best friend, and badly, at that.  Thanks for not failing me out of 11th grade Honors' English.

6. I think I may be the slowest reader on the planet, if not the slowest, then at least the most distractable. - Most good book bloggers have read as many books as I've read this year by January, or February at the latest.  I work too much, have too many social occasions, and am a little bit too in love with my iPhone and my computer.  Plus, I just read really slow, much to my chagrin.

7. I'm a book monagamist. - I can't read two books at a time.  When I attempt it, I feel like I never actually finish any books, and I never seem to be able to get really absorbed in any of them.  I'm much more satisfied with my reading when I'm reading one book at a time and can be totally invested in it.

8. Blogging (and working, too!) killed the chunkster lover in me. - I used to really love a good chunkster, but you know what a slow reading book blogger reading a chunkster is?  A boring book blogger.  For example, see this summer's posts while I've been reading The Stand.  It's not exactly a pretty picture.  Plus, now that circumstances demand that I be a full-time working, functional adult, a good portion of my reading time takes place on lunch break.  Hauling a massive chunkster back and forth to work = major pain.  This is perhaps one argument that could persuade me to change #1. 

9. I'm an eater reader.  - I eat while I read.  We live in the age of multi-tasking, right?  I'm so, so careful not to make a mess, but er, every once in a great while, the fact that I eat while I read, um, shows in the pages. #shame

10. I stole my middle school library's copy of Bridge to Terabithia. - Okay, I didn't steal it.  I lost it, really couldn't find it anywhere, and paid for it.  Later I did find it, and read it again, and cried again.  If I was going to lose/steal a book from the library, this was a great "choice."

So, any bookish secrets you'd like to confess?