Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Switch Me!

It's time for a another Top Ten Tuesday with The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's topic is "Top Ten Characters I'd Like to Switch Places with for 24 Hours."  As it turns out, specifying a particular 24 hours is almost as important as specifying the character.  There are some characters whose life is charmed for a very limited part of a book.  Here's 10!

1. Jade from The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti - I love Caletti's characters.  They are so real, and learn to be so strong, and this one falls in love with a sweet guy with a baby, and they all spend time together on his grandmother's house boat in Seattle, and yes, I think I might like that sort of thing for 24 hours when the thing is new and there are no problems yet on the horizon.

2. Frodo from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien - For the 24 hours before the whole thing with the evil ring and the dark lord and everything starts, while they're still in Hobbiton, celebrating Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday.  That could be fun, right?

3. Laura from Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder - I was obsessed with Laura as a child.  Seriously, I wanted to be her but maybe still get to keep my electricity and running water, too.  Hmm.

4. Violet Mathers from Oh My Stars! by Lorna Landvik - Okay, yes, I picked the freakishly tall, one-armed woman with no self-esteem to change places with.  But then, she also gets to manage and tour with a ground-breaking new band during the 1930s.  She's fierce and she gets to hang out with the really handsome, really sweet, really in love with life lead singer of the band.  He might not love her, but he makes a better friend than a lover anyway.  ;-)

5. Lucy from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis - Who wouldn't want to be Lucy the first time she cracks open that wardrobe door and discovers a magical world behind it?

6. Kathleen from The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn - This is cheating, Kathleen's not a character, she's a person, but I'm choosing to think of her as a character in her own memoir of living in Paris and studying cooking at Le Cordon Bleu.  Demanding?  Sure, but at the end of the day, you're pursuing your dream and living in Paris.  Ah, Paris, I must see you!

7. Daisy from How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff - At the beginning part, where she's meeting the cousins and everything is idyllic and almost alternate-universey but before the part with the unexpected incest (even if it's surprisingly undisturbing) and the war. 

8. Any character from just about any Redwall book by Brain Jacques - I don't even need a full 24 hours, really, just long enough to eat one of those legendary Redwall Abbey feasts.  Yum!

9. Mattie Gokey from A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly - I'd love to spend a day at the resort where she works and you know, still have all my life and my dreams coming true all spread out before me.

10. Prudence from Home to Woefield by Susan Juby - I would like to be this indefatigably optimistic, if only one day.  I mean, who thinks they can run a farm with a grumpy old guy, a pasty celebrity gossip blogger who never did a day's hard work in his life, and a little girl with a penchant for raising chickens and actually makes it work?  This girl!

Monday, July 30, 2012

No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene

Once upon a time in a land far, far away (okay, maybe not that long ago or that far away), I read a book by Melissa Fay Greene called There Is No Me Without You, which was a very well-written and enlightening read about the AIDS crisis in Ethiopia and the many children left orphaned as a result.  I really appreciated Greene's book which centered on a courageous Ethiopian woman doing everything in her power to rescue her country's AIDS orphans.  I guess it shouldn't be terribly surprising to me that a woman who wrote such a book might have adopted some of these same children, but as it so happens, she did.  When I spotted No Biking in the House Without a Helmet about Greene's adventures raising nine kids, some biological, some adopted, for review, I jumped at the chance.  There Is No Me Without You was good, but No Biking in the House Without a Helmet with its deeply personal story has easily eclipsed it as my favorite of Greene's work.

When Melissa Fay Greene was in her mid-forties and beginning to see the edges of the empty nest on her horizon, she wondered if she could squeeze one more child in before her child-bearing years were officially over.  She and her criminal defense attorney husband, Donny, both felt like they weren't quite ready to give up the joys of parenting. As it turns out, while her child-bearing years were, in fact, over, her parenting years had only just begun.  After much internet research and some freelance writing about the work of international adoption doctors, Melissa traveled to Bulgaria to meet the boy who would be her first adopted son, Jesse.  But the couple didn't stop there, when her heart and her writing took her to Africa where she saw the far-reaching effects of the HIV/AIDS crisis leaving unfathomable numbers of both healthy and well children orphaned, Greene knew she and her family could make even more space for children who had no place to go. 

No Biking in the House Without a Helmet is jam packed with the trials of trying to create a family from children from around the globe, but it's packed with enough heart and humor that more than make up for the hardships.  Greene balances her funniest family anecdotes with her more serious struggles to make her adopted children feel loved and appreciated without letting her biological children fall by the wayside as well as her fierce determination that her adopted children not lose touch with their original countries and cultures even as they live their new lives in the U.S.  With a family so large and diverse, Greene often worries that she has traded in a family for just another group home where there's not quite enough love to go around, and not enough unity to constitute a family, but No Biking is proof-positive that, ultimately, those worries are unfounded.

Greene tells her story with honesty and manages to capture the individuality of each of her children and how they come together as a family all without ever succombing to cheesiness. She captures the joy of a child at being welcomed into a new family but never oversimplifies the challenges of creating a new life for a child that once had a family or spent their entire childhood in an institution.  By the end of the book, I was totally captured by this woman and her family who had the courage, determination, and more than enough love to spare to open their hearts and homes to children in need from across the globe and how even though it wasn't always easy, with love and a very good sense of humor they make their decidedly unique family work. 

Highly recommended!

(Many thanks to Media Connect for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Vivid Settings

It's been a long time since I did a Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish so I'm jumping back in this week with "Top Ten Most Vivid Settings."  There's nothing better than a great book that is set in a place that feels totally realistic and really transports you to a place you've never been.  Here are few good ones!

1. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien  - This is a gimme, right?

2. Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling - And so is this, for that matter. 

3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy - McCarthy's stark, grey, post-apocalyptic world is as vivid as it is realistic and, of course, terrifying.

4. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray - Busy Indian markets, spooky English boarding schools, with a side of incredible magical realms, Bray has great,vivid settings down pat.

5. Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer - You have to be doing a pretty good job making your post-apocalyptic setting vivid, even if it's a little vague, if I put the book down and wonder where I am and if things are all right with the world.

6. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson - San Piedro Island - "Late in the afternoon, at about four-thirty, heavy clouds shadowed the strawberry fields. The clean June light went softly gray and a breeze came up in the southwest. It was possible, then, to feel the cool pause before the first drops fell. The air turned thick; sudden gusts caught the cedars at the edge of the fields and flailed their tops and branches... The pickers craned their necks to watch the clouds and held their palms out to check for rain. At first just a few drops raised tiny wisps of dust around them and then, as if a hole had been punched in the sky, and island summer rain poured hard against their faces..."  Yes?  I thought so.

7. Sparrow Road by Sheila O'Connor - I read this on a dreary early spring day, but it felt like the long, warm, langorous days of summer because of how well O'Connor brought her former orphanage/current artists' retreat farmhouse and grounds to life.

8. That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx - Before I read Proulx, her reputation for capturing the west in her books preceded her.  Proulx's small Texas Panhandle town, Woolybucket, is so vivid I felt like I could live there, or did live there.  It's dry as a bone, rich with history, and maybe stinks a little like a hog farm.

9. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery - Anne of Green Gables is practically a travel brochure for Prince Edward Island.  I have absolutely no idea what PEI is like, but if it's half so nice as Montgomery's description, I pretty much need to go there.

10. The Legacy by Katherine Webb - Webb hits it right on the head with the big old manor house and the dreary yet somehow appealing grounds that go with it.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Loose Leafing: Defunked

I'm never quite sure how to return from my random disappearances from blogging.  Do I carry on as if nothing out of the ordinary happened (?  Do I apologize?  Do I really owe anybody an apology?  I mean, even in my best weeks, I kind of doubt you're counting on me to be rocking your reader terribly often.  Should I apologize to myself?  "I'm sorry, self, I'm just terrible at being the blogger you want me to be."  Do I just zoom past the weird, awkward part, say "What can I say?  It's summer, and when I get home from my computer-y job, the sight of my laptop inspires an overwhelming sense of meh," and make you a list of utterly random things?  Okay, maybe that.  But, really, I'm sorry.  On the blogging front this summer, I am being less dependable than ever...  Maybe in my list of randomness, I'll dole out some blame....muahahaha! 

- A month ago, I attempted to, for a very long and arduous time, read a book that totally knocked me out of my reading and blogging groove.  I am still having a hard time forgiving that book that totally dumped me in a funk, especially since I thought it was going to be so good.  My reading numbers are soooo low this summer.  How long do you think I can keep blaming that book?

[Picture withheld to protect the "innocent."]

- I need a new chiropractor.  Now while he's "fixing" me, he's also screwing me up in ways I never even imagined possible.  But if you ever read this blog, you've probably heard more about my chiropractor and why I should break up with him than you ever even cared the slightest bit about, so I will dole out his portion of blame for my absence from all things bloggy and attempt to carry on.

- I have one of these. 

I am of the opinion that it was made for roasting over a campfire.  The opportunity has not yet presented itself, but it will, and I will roast my Peep-Ka-Bob, even at the risk of grievous bodily harm!

- Friends don't let friends go see Magic Mike.  Sure, I mean, the stripping's great and all, but there needed to be more of it and less striving after a plot.  Hmm, I never expected I would be the sort of person to complain that a movie had "too much plot and not enough stripping."  I didn't go into it expecting a cinematic masterpiece, but I also hoped to emerge without melted brain cells drizzling out my ears.  My friend and I were very disappointed that another supposed friend did not warn us that there was not enough stripping to make up for the actress with the one facial expression, male strippers having what are supposed to be vulnerable moments where they question their purpose and life plans, and all the talk of breakfast food (Breakfast food? Yes, breakfast food).  It's a movie about stripping, already, there's really no need to disguise it with sad attempts at, like, character development.   And so ends my review/public service announcement about Magic Mike.

- I am still (still!) reading this. 

I don't anticipate making the end of the month deadline for the Standalong, but I will finish it this time.  I will!

- However, I took an intermission to read this...

 ...and it was awesome. 

Fear not, more book related content will be popping up here this very week, including my raving review of the above mentioned awesome book. 

So, how's your reading going this summer? 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

From the Acquisitions Department

It's summer library book sale again, everyone.  I expect to take less joy from it this year because I am limiting myself.  Horrors!  There are at least three big local library book sales every summer.  Considering that I just did a major bookshelf purge of somewhere between one and two hundred books and the books still don't all fit on the double-stacked shelves, I should probably be swearing off all booksales, nay, I mean all books.  Alas, I've never been good at going cold turkey off of, well, anything, I decided that limiting myself to 1 of 3 book sales would have to do.  There's one that's just a can't miss, and so, I didn't miss it. 

I'm glad I didn't miss it considering I got an unusually large haul of my first love, historical fiction, that's been much missing from my reading lately.  Plus, I got a nice dose of YA which I usually have a tough time finding on the book sale circuit.  Here's the haul, with haphazard commentary, of course.

Historical Fiction

The Given Day - Dennis Lehane - Boston, History.  Yes.
One Thousand White Women - Jim Fergus
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane - Katherine Howe - For some reason I was irrationally disinterested in this book when it came out and all the bloggers were glowing about it.  Considering that the first historical fiction book that ever truly captivated me was about the Salem Witch Trials, you would think this would be a gimme..
Skeletons at the Feast - Chris Bohjalian - Because WWII era historical fiction is my absolute favorite. 
Clara and Mr. Tiffany - Susan Vreeland
A Mercy - Toni Morrison - Okay, true confession.  Toni Morrison's books both attract and terrify me.  Once upon a time in high school, I chose Paradise from a reading list we were given.  The writing was great, but the rest of it pretty much went right over my head.  I'm still not sure what the book was about.  I'm trying her again, anyway.  Wish me luck!
The Doctor and the Diva - Adrienne McDonnell - The bloggers made me do it!
Song Yet Sung - James McBride

The YA

Hush, Hush - Becca Fitzpatrick - Is it just me or does this sound Twilight-esque?
Cupcake - Rachel Cohn - Ugh, there's another book in between Gingerbread and this one that I haven't read.  Fail.
Beastly - Alex Flinn - This has sounded good to me for a while.  I'm sad to report, however, it's got the movie cover art.  I hate that, but I'm trying to tell myself it's what's on the inside that counts.
Eighth Grade Bites (Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, Book 1) - Heather Brewer - Is it weird to get a book because you have a tote bag with the logo and you really love it?  Because, I kind of picked this one up because I got the vampire smiley face bag at BEA a couple of years ago and adore it irrationally, and a book with such a tote bag representation must be examined...right?  There is truly no end to my excuses as to why I must have this or that book. 

Everything Else

Mercy - Jodi Picoult - I'm trying to complete my Jodi Picoult collection.  I'm not sure why, I rarely get around to actually reading them.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley - This is a book that I never would have picked up if all the bloggers weren't going on and on (and on!) about it and all the rest of the Flavia de Luce books.  I'm not a huge mystery fan in general, but I couldn't pass up the chance to give it a try what with all the raving and all.
The Madonnas of Echo Park - Brando Skyhorse
Left Neglected - Lisa Genova - Bloggers made me buy this!
Emotionally Weird - Kate Atkinson
Home - Marilynne Robinson - Winning an Orange Prize or having anything to do with the Orange Prize, really, is a no-brainer of a purchase.
Lost and Found - Carolyn Parkhurst
The Woman in Black - Susan Hill - I think one of the the Book Smugglers sold me on this one.
Digging to America - Anne Tyler
The Gargoyle - Andrew Davidson - I remember this book being huge in the blogosphere when away back when I started blogging.  Another book that I probably would have passed over if not for bloggers!
Bitter in the Mouth - Monique Truong - Bloggers made me buy this one, too!

All right, now.  What should I read first?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Reviewlettes! - Enjoy Every Sandwich and The Legacy

It's been a long, long time since we've done a couple of tiny reviews in one post, and you may not have noticed because my definition of "tiny" usually ends up being too lengthy to be referred to as tiny.  Nonetheless, I have a couple of books that have been on my desk patiently waiting their turn for something like decades, and now I hardly remember what I could possibly say about them, but I might remember just enough for a "tiny" review collection of thoughtful rambling about each. 

Enjoy Every Sandwich by Lee Lipsenthal M.D.  -  I may have possibly been in the wrong when I accepted this one for review.  I had heard good things somewhere, and the e-mail asking me to review it showed up at just the right time when a friend from work was about to lose her father to cancer, and I figured, hey, reading this might be very timely.  In a way it was, but at the end of the day it's still a memoir that became one with a self-help book, and I, from an early age probably as a result of my mother's dependence on them, have loathed self-help books.  I really appreciated the memoir aspect of this book where Lipsenthal shares his story of being diagnosed with esophageal cancer, how he and his family had to use the skills he had taught plenty of sick people to learn to live in the moment and accept death as just another link in the chain of things that happen in your life, and how Lipsenthal really seemed to practice what he preached in terms of living in the now even as he faced his imminent passing.  On the other hand, I (the self help book loather) was nonplussed by the parts where he turned his attention to preaching at the reader rather than teaching by showing.  I found his delvings into the more metaphysical interesting but hard to swallow, and by the end I was rubbed the wrong way by his constant name-dropping which read like a who's who of alternative medicine/self-healing.  There is much to like about this book, and it certainly has some valuable lessons to teach which are made more valuable coming from someone who has used them while navigating the end of his own life.  As for me, I guess I liked the book enough, but my inner self-help book cynic kept from from truly embracing it.   (Thanks to Big Honcho Media for providing me with a copy for review.)

The Legacy by Katherine Webb - I remember talking a bit about The Legacy away back when I was reading it.  It's the story of two sisters, Erica and Beth, who are making a return to their grandmother's English manor house which is haunted by childhood memories of the disappearance of their (bratty) cousin, Henry.  Storton Manor is filled with the ghosts of their childhood memories both good and bad which the sisters must face as they make the difficult decision about whether they will stay and live in the sprawling mansion or sell.  During the time they spend there, an old friend shows up, and events long past are revisited with suprising outcomes.  Interwoven with Erica and Beth's story is the story of their great-grandmother, Caroline, a child of privilege living in New York City who marries for love and moves to Oklahoma Territory in 1902 to be with her husband on his ranch.  Times are hard on the Oklahoma frontier, and Caroline soon begins to wonder if love is enough to sustain her. 

Webb laces the two very different stories together so skillfully that they seem to truly belong together, and though it's not a fast-moving book by any means, it's filled with the suspense of wondering how the two stories must intersect.  Honestly, I feel like a dirtbag for not getting around to reviewing this until now because it's really a fantastic book.  The characters are very well fleshed out so that even when they do loathsome things, you can understand why.  A part of me wanted to loathe Caroline, she's not a particularly lovable character, but Webb draws out her isolation and her struggles against it so well that you can nearly understand when the suffering she perceives drives her to do unforgivable things and how her legacy impacts her family down through several generations.  The book was a slow read for me but was made the better for it because it's so richly atmospheric that you want to spend more time in the dusty halls of Storton Manor and Caroline and Corin's Oklahoma ranch.  Webb's dual storyline makes for an addictive and satisfying read that I heartily recommend.  I'm looking forward to Webb's next which just hit shelves - The Unseen.  (Thanks to Harper Paperbacks for providing me a copy for review.)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Standalong: Still Stand-ing

It's midway post time for Trish's Standalong, and I am happy to report that I'm still Stand-ing.  I have an irritating tendency to sign up for these sorts of things and then end up disregarding them completely, so the fact that I started reading and am still reading is a credit to Mr. King, who, as it turns out, continues to be one of my very favorite authors.  The bad news?  I'm something like 300 pages behind where I oughta be.  I'm sure if I could put everything else aside and focus solely on The Stand I would have had no problem making the halfway point by now because it is totally addictive reading.  Alas, I've been alternating with a review copy commitment that proved to be much less rewarding reading which I ultimately gave up on to run back to The Stand, begging its forgiveness all the way.  One hundred or so pages of reading later, it's totally rescued me from what could have been a devastating reading slump.  I've spent my weekend reading diligently, but I've still got a lot of ground to make up to get back on pace.  For me, Larry and Rita have just made their terrifying trek through the Lincoln Tunnel, Frannie and Harold are just about to leave Ogunquit.

Since I'm a #standalongunderachiever, I'm just going to keep on playing it fast and loose here and do bullet points.  Who doesn't love a few good, random bullet points?  If you happen to not be reading The Stand just at the moment and intend to at some point, you might want to steer clear since it might not be totally spoiler-free...

  • I like Stu.  He kind of reminds me of more than a few guys I know.  Matter of fact, not a big talker, dry sense of humor.  Not exactly book smart, but a practical, no-nonsense kind of guy.
  • Yes, I did actually catch a cold shortly after starting to read this.  Funny, real funny!
  • Who creates a mood better than Stephen King?  Despite it having no character connection, I was completely, totally taken in by the chapter where the superflu crisis is finally spinning out of control and media people are having to openly rebel to report real news and there is much senseless killing on all fronts.  Were you not terrified?  Did you not feel like maybe this could totally happen?  I'm glad I read it at home, I'm pretty sure I was all agape pretty much the entire time I was reading that chapter...
  • I like the alternating between characters.  I feel like it's going to make it that much more interesting when all these threads of the story come together because surely they have to come together, right?
  • I haven't had too much contact with Randall Flagg, but the chapter that introduces him is just about pitch perfect.  King really gets at the heart of that essence of evil that this guy apparently is and how that evil can manifest itself even in subtle ways with huge implications.
  • Even 10 years away from my high school self, I can safely say that curling up with a big, juicy Stephen King novel in the summer after a day of swimming and baking in the sun still can't be beat. 
I'd love to go on like this, but really, I should be working on those other 300 or so 8 or 9 hundred pages.  Happy Stand-ing!