Saturday, February 25, 2012

Used Book Bonanza!

There's something about a long dreary winter that makes it that much easier to succomb to the siren call of the library used book sale.  I've always associated summer more with book sale season at any of several local libraries, but it's the winter ones that I live for, that give a little island of anticipation in the dreary months between Christmas and and when springtime finally shows its face. 

With a combination of ignorance, luck, and self-discipline, but mostly the first two, I only shuffled myself off to one winter book sale this winter, which is a good thing given the imminent collapse of the house under all the unread books.  I made it worth my while, though, and ended up with a slew of promising reads.  Here they are for your viewing pleasure, with haphazard commentary, of course!

One Day by David Nicholls - Between all the blogosphere buzz and the movie previews, it wasn't hard deciding to pick this one up.  Plus, the idea of revisiting a relationship on just one day of each year is kind of fascinating.

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson - I've heard nothing but good things about Chains, and so far I've got a great track record with Halse Anderson's books like Fever 1793 and Speak.  This was purchase was a no-brainer!

Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan - I think I won this in a giveaway once upon a time, but it never came, and I was very sad.  =(  But now I have it anyway, so I am very happy! =)

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra
The Ballad of West Tenth Street by Marjorie Kernan

The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson - Who that heard Maureen Johnson speak at the first Book Blogger Con and who subsequently took up following her wildly entertaining Twitter stream would pass up the chance to acquire more of her writing when faced with it at a book sale?

Gardens of Water by Alan Drew
Open Secrets by Alice Munro

Under the Dome by Stephen King - I probably would have picked this up just because I'm a Stephen King fan from way back, even though I've been wandering from the fold, but it's Bellezza's two posts that got me really intrigued about it.

Somebody Else's Daughter by Elizabeth Brundage

The March by E.L. Doctorow - I read Ragtime once upon a time, and I really enjoyed the way Doctorow does historical fiction, getting it from all different angles and perspectives and incorporating real historical figures.  Hope this is similar!

The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher - Seeing the Booker Prize shortlist emblem on the front of a cover nearly always draws my interest. 
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman - It's Kim's review of this one that got me interested, and I almost missed it completely at the sale but for spying my mother slip it off the shelf and back on and catching a glimpse of the cover.  The copy's just like new!

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty - This one's been all around the blogosphere and sounds great.  I'm sure I've read a zillion positive reviews of it, but Raych's is the only one with an exploding snow man illustration of the novel's plot, so we'll blame her for my acquisition of this novel.  P.S. this is one of those books where U.K. cover is much lovelier than that which was trotted  out to the U.S. audience.  It's quite nice when people who donate their books donate their books from other places. 

The Devil's Company and The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss - Historical fiction, for being one of my favorite "genres" has been sorely lacking in my reading of late, which is perhaps why I've elected to collect yet more of Liss's work based on a now distant satisfied feeling about The Coffee Trader which I read many, many moons ago.

We Thought You Would Be Prettier by Laurie Notaro - I can remember one of my best friends (who I didn't meet for the first time on the internet) having driven to my house had something by Laurie Notaro on audio for the trip that she said was hilarious.  This is not audio, but I hope it reads just as hilariously!

The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer
Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - One of Eva's favorite authors, which is more than enough reason for me to pick something up at a book sale, for sure.

Light from a Distant Star by Mary McGarry Morris - Okay, I may have just thieved this one from my mom.  I bought it for her for Christmas because I think she's read just about every one of Morris's books, and I'd hate for her to have a gap in her reading and because buying a book for my mom is almost like buying a book for myself since once she reads it, it becomes mine... ;-)

Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire - An impulse buy that I might regret.  I felt meh about Wicked the book, felt great about Wicked the musical, and then Wm Morrow sent me a copy of the final book in the series, so I thought, hey, it costs a buck, why not revisit the series and see what I think because surely I can't read the last book in a series without having read the others!

There you have it, the newest used additions to the collection.  Are there any that I should push to the front of the to be read line?  Any that were total mistakes?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Loose Leafing: Vampire Batty

Funny story.  I set out at the beginning of this year to stay up on my reviews, and I, um, actually have.  In theory, this is a really great thing.  It's a good goal and one I'm surprised I'm staying on top of so far despite the chaos of life.  *knocks on wood*  I feel oddly insecure, though, because I'm now faced with the prospect of not having a review for next week of a book that I've read any time in the recent past.  Ah, the nerve-wracking quandaries of the slow reader.  What's a girl to do?  I'm reading Lorna Landvik's Oh My Stars as fast as I can, which, of course, is not terribly fast, because I am me, aren't I?  It seems my only option, and one I'm reluctant to pursue is to review one of the ones that fell by the wayside last year that I only sort of remember but should really review anyway.  Or I could write a really random Loose Leafing post on totally unbookish things that really irritate me, like, for example, Wal-Mart.  It should be obvious by now what I've chosen, so consider yourself fairly warned.

I hate Wal-Mart.  Loathe it.  If I didn't live in West Nowhere, where Wal-Mart is one of only a few shopping options I would never go there.  Everything from the dementedly chaotic parking lot to the way both normal and abnormal people act when they shop there makes me nutty.  One time I went to Wal-Mart because it was on my way home and it's right by Panera which is convenient when you need a food reward for forcing yourself to go to Wal-Mart, and I got maybe three things.  Let's say, a box of crackers, a pack of gum, and a twelve pack of bottled water.  Okay, I'm not sure about the other two things, but there was definitely the pack of bottled water, which, you know, is kind of heavy.  Then I headed for the checkout where, because I have a problem being distracted by shiny things and chocolate, I paused for a moment to inspect some Cadbury Creme Eggs not quite up to the end of the line, but I was definitely present there and looking at the eggs while I waited for the checkout.  And some lady.  SOME LADY!  *ahem, excuse me* Some lady walks past me, and turns around, and I'm right there obviously waiting in line even though I wasn't right on top of the person in front of me.  So she's looking past me, and I'm staring back at her and thinking "What the heck is going on here?" when she ushers somebody with a full cart of stuff AROUND me and my 3 items without even so much as blinking while I clutched my Cadbury Creme Egg all agape-like.  A short line scout!  I stomped off loudly muttering things that probably shouldn't be said by a person running an errand on the way home from church to go to the self checkouts, which I also loathe, I mean, don't I pay more for stuff at your store so a person earning a paycheck can ring up my purchases?  I have a job, I don't want to do yours, too.  But I digress, the self checkout wouldn't scan my Cadbury Egg (Mmmm, chocolate shiny things!), so I left it behind in a fury, and that is pretty much an accurate representation of my entire Wal-Mart experience.

This brings me to the ultimate reason for this tirade. Being that Wal-Mart is what it is, on my daily commute home I often wonder why on earth are people willing to risk your life and theirs to cut you off across two lanes of traffic where you clearly have the right of way to get there?  It's Wal-Mart for pete's sake.  I might cut off people across FOUR lanes of traffic when I don't have the right of way to get AWAY from Wal-Mart, but to get IN?  This is a perpetual source rage frustration for me as I daily pass through the dread intersection and wonder why rational thought deserts people in the presence of Wal-Mart. 

As you may be able to tell, I'm having kind of an angry week.  So much so that one of my co-workers referred to me as a fragile butterfly, to which another replied, "more like a vampire bat" to uproarious laughter. 

That's not so bad right? Look, it's kind of cute!

Are you kidding?  Vampire bats are no laughing matter! 

Anyhow, I hope you don't mind my going on.  Really, I should be reading or else senseless diatribes like this might become the norm.  Horrors! 

I'm done ranting, but I have an important question for you before I ride off into the sunset. ;-) Do you have a smart phone or tablet or whatever upon which you play any of the "With Friends" games?  Words with Friends?  Hanging with Friends?  Scramble with Friends?  If you do, please look me up and play with me.  I'm tired of playing with the same old people, and I swear I won't afflict you with random rantings unless you like that sort of thing.  I'm Toadacious1 on all 3 if you want to find me, or you could leave your With Friends username in the comments and I'll find you!  (Dun dun dunnnnn.)

I'll be back soon with more bookish content, but until then, perhaps you have something you'd like to get off your chest about Wal-Mart?  Or anything that irritates you?  Like maybe this post?  Just kidding.  I hope.... 

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin

Matt and his sisters, Callie and Emmy, are always starring in a play directed by fear.  Just one small wrong move can set their mother Nikki off, and lead to the most dangerous of circumstances.  She has no qualms about leaving her young family to fend for themselves most nights in South Boston, and that's the best case scenario.  When Nikki chooses to lavish her presence upon her three children, they can almost count on terrors like finding a kitchen knife pressed to their throats, being beaten with a bag of seafood, or even taking a terrifying detour into oncoming traffic if they can't placate their mercurial mother.  Despite having a father who is still involved in their lives in small ways and an aunt who lives in the downstairs apartment, nobody steps in to protect Matt, Callie, and Emmy until a stranger named Murdoch McIlvane enters their lives one unexpected night at the Cumberland Farms store.  It is then that Matt begins to dream that things won't be like this forever, that he begins to believe that life could be more than living in fear of his mother. 

Matt, the eldest at fifteen, is the story's narrator, and a good one at that.  Matt knows what it is to live in fear and to want to escape, but he knows he can't leave without his two sisters who he will protect at any cost.  Despite the odds, though, Matt still hasn't given up hope that their dangerous circumstances could change, that their father could man up even though he's almost as terrified of unstable Nikki as the kids are or that Aunt Bobbie could step in when she hears the commotion upstairs.  It's this outside hope and other reasons that even Matt can't give voice to, that he searches for an ally in Murdoch, and finds one.  Matt, with all his hopes and the fear that encroaches upon them, is the perfect window into the lives of abused kids.  Werlin uses his narration to great effect, giving us a sense of just how easily and random it was to attract Nikki's senseless rage and how it's lurking at the edge of even the most trivial encounter.

The Rules of Survival is a page-turner of a book that will catch readers up in its twists and turns.  It's a frighteningly realistic portrayal of abuse, how easy it is for kids to be trapped by it when adults that should care do nothing.  Matt, Callie, and Emmy's story is ultimately one of change and of redemption, but it's one that makes you wonder and worry all the kids for whom it's not.

(No disclaimer needed - this one I done bought for myself!)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Heartbreakers

Happy Valentine's Day everybody!  Instead of talking about love, though, today's Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish is all about those books that took our hearts and broke them into a few pieces. 

1. Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger - This story about a pro baseball player who forms an unlikely friendship with a big-mouthed kid is one where you can see the heartbreak coming a million miles away and still be utterly shattered.

2. After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell - I'm always talking about this book so I'll just give you two words:  Ugly cry.

3. When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale - This story has such a believable child narrator that it's heartbreaking watching his mother lose her marbles from his perspective.

4. Black & White by Dani Shapiro - A daughter becomes her photographer mother's muse and can't separate what should be a mother's love from being used to bolster her mother's career.  And then the mother falls ill and the daughter has to decide whether to revisit the past and repair the relationship.  There are a lot of really well done flashbacks and, yeah, a little heartbreak, too.

5. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson - The end of this book made me cry before anything that could be construed as entertainment could make me cry.  I can't talk about it because it's the end, but yeah, heartbreaking for sure!

6. A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs - It's heartbreaking how horrible Burroughs' father was to him, and heartbreaking how well he tells it in this book.  Also heartbreaking?  That there are plenty other kids who get more terror from their fathers than love.

7. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness - This book is like a minefield of heartbreak.  But the part with the dog, that's the worst kind of heartbreak.  If you've read it, you know what I'm talking about.

8. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein - For everyone that kind of believes their dog is more than just a dog, and that maybe they understand more than meets the eye, and for everyone who's ever lost a beloved family pet, your heart will be in a few pieces before the end of the first chapter.  Kind of in a good way, though.

9. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - My biggest frustration with this classic?  The heartbreak that comes from nothing ever going right for long for a family that you've been made to care for. 

10. Dreamland by Sarah Dessen - Teenage girl trapped in abusive relationship.  The whole dynamic of it is heartbreaking.

What books have caused you a little heartbreak?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Moment edited by Larry Smith

I'm home, everyone!  I know, I know, technically I wasn't really gone, but I've been so busy that it sure felt like I was.  When you're only home a few hours a day, not counting the ones when you have to sleep, it kind of seems like I might as well have been on vacation.  Actually, I think I've had my computer booted up more often when I've been on vacation.  LOL.  I think things will be a little calmer this coming week, and in the brief few hours of weekend intermission I've managed to steal away for a few moments and produce (*gasp*!) a book review!

Perhaps you recall the recent Six-Word Memoir craze spawned by Larry Smith of SMITH magazine.  Succinct and creative as those six-word memoirs are, they didn't create quite enough space for all the stories people wanted to tell, and Smith found while traveling across the country for readings of the Six-Word Memoir series that everyone seemed to have a story to tell, a story about some singular event that had a life-changing impact on the teller.  From those stories, The Moment was born.  It started as a section of the SMITH magazine website, where life-altering stories poured in from all corners, and eventually became this book where Larry Smith has compiled 125 of the captivating tales.

Contained within the pages are a variety of life-defining moments. Some of them involve great teachers making a difference in the lives of their students, others involve falling in love or enduring the death of a loved one, still others mark the journey through parenthood.  Some of my favorites, though, are moments that are so mundane that it's hard but oddly comforting to discover that the moment that changes your outlook on life can be so small and can be brought on by seeing a simple gesture of true love or discovering you're not so very different from the moth that keeps missing the open window trying to escape from a car. 

With its very short essays written by 125 different authors from all walks of life, The Moment can't help but be a little uneven.  Some of the moments made me scratch my head and wonder just why they proved to be so life-changing.  Others I appreciated for their honesty.  Some I found easy to relate to personally, and others managed to give me chills of understanding, of sympathy, of wonder even while they helped me to understand a whole different perspective on life.  Some of my favorites included "Assembly" in which Vivian Chum discovers the insidiousness and unfairness of racism, Gregory Maguire's "Wicked Start" where he finds the inspiration for his Wicked series, Steve Almond's story of the impact of a fan latter from John Updike, Michael Castleman's story of the night his mother refused to cook dinner and he discovered the power of books, and Rebecca Woolf's "Tomorrowland" that perfectly captures that feeling between loss and possibility as she watches her son growing up day by day.  Okay - and many, many more, there are lots of powerful stories contained in these pages.

I love the idea behind The Moment and enjoyed the essays themselves, but if I had it to do over again, I would not have requested it as a review copy (from Harper Perennial, thanks!).  I would much sooner have read this book at my own pace, reading a few essays here and there between other books rather than trying to gulp them down all at once.  Many are profound and thought-provoking, and would be much better enjoyed at a leisurely pace.  As for me, I found myself pushing to get through them so I could write my review and move onto other things, and so some of my enjoyment was lost in the process. I'm confident, however, that should you happen to pick up a copy of the book and read it without obligation, you will find it as satisfying as I should have.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 1 by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and HitRECord

So, before Christmas, I got a review request in my e-mail box for a sort of book I would probably never go out to a bookstore and buy if I hadn't had occasion to hear about it in advance.  Such is the wonder of book blogging!  This book was a book of little stories, super little stories, in fact, by a collaborative coalition of artists and writers founded by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, where one person might write a tiny story and another person might just like it enough to draw a tiny picture to go with it.  I'll admit that I was the slightest bit ambivalent at first thinking it would be insubstantial and oh, what's the point? But then I thought, hey it's short, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's pretty cool, and sure, I guess I'll give it a shot, why not?  Imagine my surprise, then, when I really loved it!

The first volume of The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories is indeed a tiny book.  It's not even as tall as your average mass market, and it's only about 80 pages, but it packs a punch.  Mostly pictures with just a sentence or two to punctuate them on each page, The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories can be read in just a few minutes, but if you're anything like me, you'll have a smile on your face long after. 

It's one of those books that helps its readers feel connected with all the rest of humanity just because they'll recognize some of their own sentiments in these short sentences and pictures.  They inspire nostalgia, and give curiosity about the future, make you think about just what emotion they're trying to inspire versus just how they make you feel.  I saw myself in words like, "Sometimes I lie awake wondering about the future, when I lie awake wondering about the past," and "His hands were weak and shaking from carrying far too many books from the bookshop.  It was the best feeling."  Others made me smile and still others had me laughing out loud and others just made me feel like a kid again sprawled on my bed with a book of Shel Silverstein's poetry making me laugh and wonder. 

I definitely recommend The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories if you're looking for a quick pick-me-up or a sweet gift for a friend, and I can hardly wait for Volume 2!

(Thanks to Harper Collins It Books for the review copy!)