Saturday, March 31, 2012

Last Minute Bloggiesta!

Another crazy week down, but as luck would have it, it's followed by a relatively un-busy weekend.  I know I'm getting a late start, but late is better than never for my first official participation in Bloggiesta, an event pioneered by Natasha at Maw Books and lately taken over by the lovely Suey of It's All About Books and Danielle of There's a Book.  Basicially, Bloggiesta is a blogging marathon where you dedicate three days to getting the bloggy tasks done that you've been neglecting.  I've been neglecting a great deal of bloggish tasks, so there's plenty to do!  I've already missed the first day, but I'm hoping to still put some quality time in today and tomorrow.  So, here's my overambitious to-do list.

1) Write up as many reviews as possible.  There are 4 3 books I'd like to get done, and perhaps another that I'll finish reading this weekend. - One down!

2) Have one meme (Top Ten Tuesday or Waiting on Wednesday) written up and scheduled for at least the next four one week. - Three down!

3) Reorganize/clean up my feed reader.

4) Update my reviews by author listing and finish the reviews by title listing that I started about an eon ago and never got back to.

5) Make sure all the reviews I have written are also posted on LibraryThing

6) Answer this week's e-mail

7) Write a real "About Me" page to replace the tiny blurb to the side that exists now.

8) Clean up my blog roll

9) Perhaps some mini-challenges?

I'll be updating this post with my progress.  Good luck to everybody participating today - hope you're already knocking things off your own to-do lists!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream

We first meet Clementine on the day that she fires her shrink because she's finally really and truly decided to kill herself.  She's flushing her meds down the toilet and dedicating herself to the doing of satisfying things, answering old questions, and making sure the aftermath of her suicide will be as tidy as possible for those left behind.  The chapters count down the days of the month that are to lead up to Clementine's self-inflicted end. 

Before she shuffles off this mortal coil, Clementine has more than a few things to take care of, like traveling to Mexico to buy the tranquilizer to do the deed with the unexpected company of her ex-husband, tracking down her deadbeat dad and finding out the truth of her childhood, and finding a home for the one who's stood with her or at least been stuck with her through all the highest highs and the lowest lows:  her prickly cat, Chuckles.  As she more or less cheerfully prepares for her imminent passing, Clementine finds that her life has many surprises yet to be revealed, and readers discover that her reasons for making the choice to end her life are much more than meet the eye.

I told her all the little things I could remember, which weren't nearly enough.  Thirty years was a long time for memories to fade, until what you had were the memories of memories.  They weren't always reliable.  It was like a game of telephone you played with yourself.

One might think that a book about a severely emotionally unstable woman setting her affairs straight while counting down the last days of her life might be kind of a downer, but I found Ream's novel to be a weirdly delightful debut.  If you've got even the slightest taste for black humor, you might well find yourself chuckling as Clementine practices injecting a chicken in preparation for her final day and tries on coffins for size.  Laughter ensues even as Clementine takes on the depressing task of relocating her feline companion, Chuckles, who is almost as hard to handle as Clementine herself.  Really, aside from her, Chuckles is the next most well-drawn character in the book, and if you know any cats with an excess of personality, you'll definitely get a kick out of Chuckles.

For example, when he steals the dead chicken Clementine is about to use to practice giving injections:

Ears flat to his overbred, smooshed-in head, Chuckles dragged the corpse, which was at least as big as he was, backward across the counter.  Like Harrison Ford facing a leap from the top of a dam in The Fugitive, Chuckles threw himself and the bird over the side.  It was a blur of cold, dead meat and fur, and it landed with a thud on the polished concrete floor.

Though the situation combined with Clementine's wry sense of humor make for some good laughs, Losing Clementine surely isn't all about getting cheap chuckles at an unsual situation's expense.  Ream takes her time fleshing out Clementine's character, and while Clementine certainly isn't a totally lovable sort, Ream puts readers into Clementine's shoes and helps them to understand her.  She's frustrating and selfish and manic and sad, but she's also creative, impulsive, and passionate in a way that will make you root for her as she peels off the layers of her life, discovers some very unexpected things, and has to decide whether the new life she's discovered on the doorstep of her death is worth living. When all is said and done, Losing Clementine is an odd twist on an old question, "What would you do if you knew you only had so long to live?" where living might just be a viable option after all.

Thanks to the publisher (William Morrow Paperbacks) for providing me with a copy for review!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Springing Into My TBR Pile

Greetings one and all.  Forgive me my long unplanned intermission.  I have been engrossed in escapades of fitness alternated with overeating not to mention the countless hours of being an obsessive hypochondriac but that's a story for another day.  Actually, that's a story for no other day, but that didn't really sound good with the rest of the paragraph.  Nonetheless, despite my physical (hopefully?) non-problems and the fact that it's hard to eat or work out while typing, I'm going to try to bounce back into this blogging thing.  I've got a couple reviews that need to be written up, but we all know that a review is too lofty a goal for the repentent lazy blogger to attempt right out of the gate, so I'm looking to The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday to provide me with some brain and blog fodder for today.

Luckily, this week's topic is easy peasy.  We're listing the books that we're hoping to read this spring.  If there's anything I'm just full of it's hopes and good intentions when it comes to my reading, so I give you ten books that I'm hoping to enjoy this spring.

1. The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina Melveny - This one's about a woman (!!) practicing medicine in 16th century Venice.  The blurb says, "Filled with medical lore and sensuous, vivid details of Renaissance life, The Book of Madness and Cures is an intoxicating and unforgettable debut."  Sounds great, right?

2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - Seriously.  I have been meaning to read this and not reading it for so long now.  What's wrong with me?

3. Fever by Lauren DeStefano - I picked up a copy of the sequel to Wither for my birthday.  I'm not so much of a series reader that I'll run right out and buy the next book when it comes out, but I fell hard for Wither and I'm looking forward to see where DeStefano's goes with the love triangle she started in Wither.

4. Divergent by Veronica Roth - I definitely had a great big dystopian birthday because I finally grabbed a copy of this one, too.  Seems like everybody who loves a good (?) dystopia is talking about this book, so I'm looking forward to enjoying it.  The blurb?  "In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives."   Definitely an interesting set-up!

5. The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen - This was one I was all set to do a Waiting On Wednesday post about when what should appear in my e-mail box but an offer for a review copy.  I'm already seeing great reviews like this one at The Magic Lasso, so I'm eager to get to this one. 

6. Gossip by Beth Gutcheon - Beth Gutcheon is one of those authors whose books I seem to collect but not read, so I bit the bullet and requested this one for review so I'd finally have no excuse but to read something by her.  I'm kind of excited because if I love it, I already have a few more of her books on my shelf to enjoy.  Blurblet? "An astute chronicler of everything that makes us human, Beth Gutcheon delivers her most powerful and emotionally devastating novel to date. Gossip is a tale of intimacy and betrayal, trust and fidelity, friendship, competition, and motherhood that explores the myriad ways we use and abuse 'information' about others—be it true, false, or imagined—to sustain, and occasionally destroy, one another."

7. Glow by Jessica Maria Tucelli - "Shot through with Cherokee lore and hoodoo conjuring, Glow transports us from Washington, D.C., on the brink of World War II to the Blue Ridge frontier of 1836, from the parlors of antebellum manses to the plantation kitchens where girls are raised by women who stand in as mothers. As the land with all its promise and turmoil passes from one generation to the next, Ella's ancestral home turns from safe haven to mayhem and back again."  Sounds historical and epic, two words that make this reader's heart go pitter pat.

8. White Horse by Alex Adams - "Thirty-year-old Zoe leads an ordinary life until the end of the world arrives."  The whole world ending thing is an automatic "yes, please" for me in reading lately.  Is that weird?  This one's about a woman on the run in a world where humans are no longer a viable species.  Yes, please.

9. The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe - This is a YA dystopia I was very excited to win in a giveaway over at Bermudaonion's Weblog. "When sixteen-year-old Kaelyn lets her best friend leave for school without saying goodbye, she never dreams that she might not see him again. But then a strange virus begins to sweep through her small island community, infecting young and old alike. As the dead pile up, the government quarantines the island: no one can leave, and no one can come back."  Quarantines are one of those plot devices that can make for some interesting storylines.
10. Cruising Attitude by Heather Poole - I've always been fairly obsessed with commercial flying, maybe not so much the reality of it, but the idea of it.  I'm the one who loves people watching at airports, loves imaging where this or that flight is going (and who's on it!), and wonders what it's like to fly for a living.  Getting to go behind the scenes with a flight attendant sounds like fun to me!

What will you be reading this spring?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Loose Leafing: It's Complicated!

Have you ever had one of those weeks where it seems like everything is about 10 times more complicated than it needed to be?  Last Sunday was my birthday, so I, with much more foresight and common sense than I displayed last year, took some time off to enjoy it.  Last year, I worked on my birthday, had a miserable day, and vowed never to do it again.  This year I overcompensated by taking a four day weekend and going to a concert, but I digress. 

It is the fate of a 3 day work week to do its level best to complicate your life enough that it feels like a 5 day work week or perhaps an even longer one (horrors!), so of course, we had to have a long, complicated discourse on just what to do to celebrate my birthday.  I mean, there's nothing more celebratory than taking an hour or few to decide just what to do for your birthday and with whom to do it that ultimately seems to leave nobody happy despite the fact that it ended up being a perfectly acceptable celebration of my next step on the journey to being old and geezerly.

So, with the birthday thing decided, next came the further complications of a week without mercy.  Very sadly, one of my co-workers lost her father to cancer this week, much more quickly than even she (or anybody) really expected.  Besides being heartbreaking, this comes with yet another slew of complications that involve lengthy and circuitous conversations about who's going to work late to cover her shifts, what kind of gift we're going to send (Everybody already sent flowers!  That gift's too untraditional!  That's too personal!), and who should go to the funeral and how long it's appropriate for them to stay, and who's going to ride with who to the funeral home... and on and on and on until you just want to grab some people by the shoulders and shake them vigorously while bellowing, "JUST MAKE A DECISION ALREADY!"  Ultimately, birthdays were planned, gifts were sent, and funerals were attended, but we definitely didn't make it look easy.

Despite the black cloud hanging over the week, I was definitely grateful for it and a few days off from the whole "earning a paycheck" thing that life often necessitates.  The break was way overdue.  Plus, I finally got to do something I'd been hoping to do for years, see my favorite indie band, Enter the Haggis, in concert with Gaelic Storm.  Unfortunately, having a bizarre affinity for not-so-mainstream music comes with some drawbacks, and I literally had to bribe my dad to attend this musical extravaganza with me by buying both his ticket and a steak dinner just so I wouldn't have to attend alone.  The good news is, it was a great show.  I loved both bands, had an incredible time, and even had the opportunity to meet most of the band members and get some autographs.  Had a few of my brain cells been functioning, I would have gotten some pictures, too (fail).  I would do it all over again (bribery included) just to bring such joy to my inner fangirl who only very rarely shows her face.  And the bribed dad?  He had a great time, too, that punk.  Maybe next time he'll go of his own free will?  ;-)

This week has been less complicated, so what are the chances that next week won't be complicated at all?  Too much to ask? 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: The Orphanmaster

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

The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman

Viking, June 19, 2012


It's 1663 in the tiny, hardscrabble Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, now present-day southern Manhattan. Orphan children are going missing, and among those looking into the mysterious state of affairs are a quick-witted twenty-two-year-old trader, Blandine von Couvering, herself an orphan, and a dashing British spy named Edward Drummond.

Suspects abound, including the governor's wealthy nephew, a green-eyed aristocrat with decadent tastes; an Algonquin trapper who may be possessed by a demon that turns people into cannibals; and the colony's own corrupt and conflicted orphanmaster. Both the search for the killer and Edward and Blandine's newfound romance are endangered, however, when Blandine is accused of being a witch and Edward is sentenced to hang for espionage. Meanwhile, war looms as the English king plans to wrest control of the colony.

Jean Zimmerman brings New Amsterdam and its surrounding wilderness alive for modern-day readers with exacting period detail. Lively, fast paced, and full of colorful characters, The Orphanmaster is a dramatic page-turner that will appeal to fans of Hilary Mantel and Geraldine Brooks.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Thoughts on Oh My Stars by Lorna Landvik

Or, "The blogger objectivity debate comes home to roost." must have a sense of humor because it was supremely funny that Oh My Stars by Lorna Landvik happened to be the book that I was reading the most recent time the whole "blogger reviews aren't objective enough" thing came up.  A thing which, from my reading of it, has much less to do with actual objectivity and subjectivity than it does with some bloggers liking to get out their snarky face from time to time and have a roast/public shaming of an author whose book they found to be atrocious.  I, of course, don't sanction the whole merciless snarking of any unfortunate authors under the guise of "reviewing" their books regardless of whether said books are or aren't atrocious in one person's or even several people's opinions, but I do think a review is by nature subjective, and nothing could illustrate that better than my experience with Oh My Stars. 

Really, it shouldn't take any measure of genius for you to realize that what you're getting here when I review (if I dare be so bold as to call my discourse on books here reviewing, which, um, I do) a book is my opinion.  I can dress it up all pretty with flowery language and the occasionally overused pretentious book reviewerly phrases.  I can back it up with what I consider to be solid evidence from the book itself.  I can balance the "good" and the "bad" aspects of the book for you and event point out the more winning aspects of some of the books I really didn't end up liking at all, but at the end of the day, you're getting one thing.  My opinion.

So, here's Oh My Stars, the story of a young girl named Violet growing up during the Great Depression.  She was never a pretty girl to start with, and when she loses her arm in a factory accident (this is not a spoiler, it happens on pretty much the first page of the book), she can no longer bear the torment of schoolmates and family alike who malign her missing arm, her horsey face, her somewhat freakish height.  Determined that life is no longer worth living considering that nobody loves her, not even her no-good father, she gets on a bus and sets off for California where she has decided to pitch herself off the Golden Gate Bridge.  Before that can happen, the bus wrecks in a nowhere sort of town in North Dakota, and the path of Violet's life changes forever.  Before she knows it she's managing a the hottest new band that's breaking down barriers to racial integration all over the states and finding love in a place she never would have expected.

If I were going to sit here and type you up an "objective" review of Oh My Stars you would probably wonder why I even passed the 50 page mark without jettisoning it in favor of more quality reading.  It would be no great challenge to snarkily tear it page from page telling you all about how Landvik relies on a healthy dose of stereotype, depends on you to suspend a great deal of your disbelief, and exaggerates her characters to caricature-like proportions at times.  I could point out that the things that happen to Violet are always either so very bad or so very good that it seems totally improbable.  I could ponder the lack of a realism in that a band composed of both white and black members could play clubs in the Deep(ish) South in the 30s and somehow play such good music that nobody got killed.  You could then comment that "gosh, this book sounds rotten.  I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole," and we could close the door on the whole matter.

There's just one thing, though.  I really liked it.  Despite its many flaws, if I had to pick my best book of the year so far, it's likely this one would take the cake ahead of several books that in writing and style are technically much better.  But, Oh My Stars, it just has a certain je ne sais quoi that I quickly embraced.  Maybe it's Landvik's conversational writing style that flows without interruption and makes the book hard to put down.  Maybe it's the foreshadow-y way she uses Violet's first person voice looking back on events interchangeably with a third person that gives the bigger picture as events unfold.  Maybe it's the characters who, when not wandering about in caricature-ville, are original, compelling and lovable.  I loved Kjel's optimism and his willingness to love even the most unlovable.  It was refreshing to read about a guy who was good but not perfect. I loved Austin whose expansive vocabulary is the exact opposite of what people would expect from a black man in the 30s.  I even loved Austin's prickly brother Dallas, who could be funny as often as he could be cruel.  Watching Violet blossom from the closed up, hopeless, angry person she started out as into the strong, funny girl who can negotiate contracts with club owners is also a pleasure.  The unlikely foursome's idyllic summer together seemed as enchanting to me as if I was there myself, and I was swallowed up by the lives of three passionate musicians on the road making a name for themselves.  I was so taken by Oh My Stars that I laughed and I cried, and I was sad that it was over even if my objective mind could recognize flaws popping up all over the place.

What's a good, objective book reviewer supposed to do with that?  I'm not sure if I would have recommended this to myself much less to other people.  Objectively, I would have to acknowledge this book is far from perfect, but my good old-fashioned subjective opinion in hindsight is that it's a fine read that I'm so glad I didn't miss.  I guess that leaves it up to you to decide!  ;-)