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?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Loose Leafing: Good Stuff (In Pictures!)

Happy Sunday, all! 

Okay, let's be honest.  Sundays don't really make me all that happy.  By the time church is over it practically feels like it's time to go back to work, and I begin to regret all the things I didn't do or accomplish with my weekend time instead of being happy about all the things I did do, how the weather is beautiful, how the book I'm reading is the first one I've really been absorbed in in months, and how I got to spend some great time with my family.  With that in mind, I think it's time for a "good stuff" post that I so love when other people do but rarely do for myself!

 I had a nice long weekend this weekend.  I took off Friday to recover from a co-worker's vacation.  The weather was staggeringly beautiful and I spent a lot of time here...

...on our brand new porch.  This is not a great picture, but the porch is great. I've been heartily enjoying being all caught up in Glass Boys by Nicole Lundrigan while enjoying a warm (but not too warm) breeze on our sparkly new porch which still smells like freshly cut wood, which really has to be one of the best smells in the world if you try not to think about all the dead trees.  *shrugs*

Yesterday, I talked my parents into going with me to Knoebels, a small amusement park nearby that, despite it's somewhat modest size, is surprisingly famous because you don't have to pay to park your car or an admission fee.  We ate ice cream and french fries, played a game of mini-golf (I lost, like usual) as the sun was going down, and brought home a box of delicious fudge for a not ridiculous price.  This, a far cry from two weekends from now when I will be spending $8 (if I'm lucky) just to park my car at Hersheypark even before the hefty admission price, but Hersheypark has its perks, too, so it is what it is.  But it was a lovely evening at Knoebels.  It was a touch crowded, but it was a good-natured crowd which makes all the difference.  Do you know what I mean?

In other good stuff, I finally got to go to Baltimore a few weekends ago to see a baseball game at Camden Yards.  My dad's a longtime fan of the Oakland Athletics, so after years, actual years, of saying we were going to head down to Baltimore and take in a game, we did get to see the O's and the A's play, my dad's first time seeing his favorite baseball team play in person.  Lovely night, lovely seats...

...and a neat view from our hotel window when we woke up the next morning.

Before we headed out of the city, we took a walk over to the Baltimore Farmer's Market which lives under the I-83 overpass on Sunday mornings. There, you can get most any excellent food you can think of, plus books, plus some more or less valid life advice from some people who sell clothes out of a very funky decorated bus.  I guess they write up a new list of advice every week, so I had to capture that week's for posterity since it's limited edition life advice, after all. 

I think if you click on it, it'll get bigger and you'll be able to read it.  If not, then boy are we all going to look like idiots when we try to click on it....

Also good this week?  I'm learning to use Instagram on my phone, and trying to do part of Photo a Day August.  I'm loving it quite a lot, and it's making me look at things closer and pay attention to the world around me and so on and so on.  Plus, I just love looking at everybody's pretty pictures.  If you're on Instagram and would like to investigate my oh so very amateur attempts at photography, I'm toadacious1 on there. 

To whet your appetite (in more ways than one, perhaps), here's today's delicious dinner...Instagrammed!

So, what's good in your life lately?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books Since My Blogging Began

Today's Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish is an easy topic.  So easy, in fact, that I feel like I've made this same list several times over.  If you're a regular reader, you've probably heard me go on about these books at length, but just in case there's a person or two out there who I haven't regaled with my favorite books from the lifespan of my blog, here it goes (again).  ;-)

1. The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue - Literary fantasy about changelings and the boy they steal away to replace, but neither the changeling nor the boy can forget their pasts. It proves to be fascinating lens through which to examine memory itself.

2. City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell - Caldwell writes the fictionalized story of her grandparents who were missionaries to China.  If only the "Christian Fiction" genre produced half as good Christian fiction as this book, I would be a fan!

3. After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell - I love O'Farrell's style.  It's a unique unpeeling sort of style that pulls off the layers of the story one by one until suddenly you've arrived at the heart which is unexpectedly affecting.  AKA, this book made me cry like a baby.

4. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff - What can I say?  If you can have a girl whose voice is so cleverly narrated fall in love with her cousin, and it ends with me thinking that's sweet and romantic...you must be doing something right, right?

5. The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips - The characters in this book are so salt of the earth in such a genuine, uncheesy way that I couldn't get enough of them. 

6. The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by Thomas Mullen - Depression, bank robbers, and magical realism?  It's to die for, many times, if necessary.  ;-)

7. Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer - Hasn't everybody heard the story about how I was confused after reading this on all my plane flights back from vacation and for the evening following because I read it in one big gulp and started to feel like it was actually happening?

8. The Call by Yannick Murphy - Murphy's main character in this one is a large animal vet in New England, and the story is told entirely through his journal of his daily calls to different farms until tragedy strikes and it becomes so much more.  I totally fell in love with the way he thinks out loud to himself in the entries, and couldn't help, oddly, being reminded of myself and the way I think about things. 

9. Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going - This is one of those books that I didn't mean to read when I read it.  I just started and I couldn't stop!  It's a great story of the journey of Troy who goes from suicidal to finding his place all with the help of a drug addicted young guitarist who might just need "the fat kid" more than Troy needs him.

10. Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger - Hilarious and heartbreaking, and I thought I didn't like books told in letters. 

What's the best book you've read during the lifespan of your blog?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Bay of Foxes by Sheila Kohler

Is it so terrible, do you think, that I might have, just might have said yes to a review pitch for The Bay of Foxes simply because I fell in love with the cover that is just so right on several levels?  I mean, look at it, it cries out for reading!  Sure, the summary sounded decent, but it's the cover I really fell in love with.  Do you do such things?  Am I the only one?  Should I get serious now and write the review? ;-)

It's 1978, and Dawit has escaped prison and torture in his home country of Ethiopia only to become a destitute shadow hovering on the edges of Paris.  The well-educated son of an advisor to former Ethiopian royalty, Dawit is ill-equipped for life as a refugee in Europe where the best job he can hope for is the manual labor that he is not strong enough to do.  Haunted by memories of an idyllic childhood shattered when he grows to be a young man whose parents were killed with the falling of the monarchy, Dawit's life has declined into hunger and hopelessness, that is, until a chance encounter in a cafe with the famous author, M.

M., having heard Dawit's story and been reminded of the lost African lover of her youth, is determined to take Dawit in, and so she does.  She clothes him in her own expensive clothes, and allows him to work for her, answering her calls and her mail, until he finds that he can easily slip into her very identity.  She takes him from Paris to her summer home on the Italian Bay of Foxes, where he is reminded yet more of his homeland, and the two slip into an easy routine of writing, eating, and luxury.  But M.'s charity is not without its cost, and it's a cost Dawit finds himself unwilling to pay. However, going from poverty to luxury and back is not a journey Dawit is willing to take again, and his desperation to cling to his new life has disastrous consequences.

Kohler's writing is spare but creates just the right amount of surreality that seems to belong to Dawit and M.'s odd arrangement.  Readers can sense the rain outside the elegant apartment in Paris and feel the bright sunlight off the bay in Italy.  In Kohler's story, reality is turned slightly askew as Dawit's memories of prison and torture are held in contrast to his rather too good to be true rescue by M.  Kohler perfectly captures his twisted feelings about a life where the cost of a dinner for one could feed an apartment full of destitute refugees, gratefulness for this unexpected and unwarranted turn of good fortune, and desperation to cling to M.'s way of life without sacrificing himself to M.'s will. 

The Bay of Foxes is a story that seems impossible and possible at the same time, and it is unquestionably eerie watching as Dawit begins to transform himself into a better version of M.  There's a little of The Talented Mr. Ripley here and also a taste of Crime and Punishment.  Unfortunately, though, I wasn't blown away by this book. None of the characters are particularly likeable. Even Dawit, whose story is one of tragedy, fails to elicit the kind of sympathy one would expect.  It's a literary thriller, not fast-paced but with that slow-burning eeriness to it, and the whole situation upon which the novel is based hangs on the hairy edge of believability.  At the end of the day, though, it's Kohler's beautiful prose that seems to call paradise into existence at the same time as it plumbs the depths of the human psyche that will keep readers entranced and make The Bay of Foxes worth reading.

(Copy provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  Thanks!)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Picture of Me

This week's Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish is a little different, and a lot of fun.  The objective?  To come up with the Top Ten Posts On Your Blog That Would Give The BEST Picture of YOU (as a reader and a person).  I've been blogging for quite a while now, and this was a great opportunity to take a walk down memory lane and see what posts put me on display.  It would have been easy to pull out only miscellanous posts and no reviews, but, looking back on things, some of these reviews, typical as they may have seemed at the time of their writing, were defining moments for me as a reader and a blogger, so I decided to balance the miscellany with the reviews.  I'm looking forward to getting to know other participants by way of their 10 posts.  Without further ado...

1. An Ode to Quotation Marks - In which one of my bookish pet peeves is explored dramatically and at length.

2. A Stolen Child by Keith Donohue - Do you ever have that moment when you're writing a review and somehow you stumble onto the heart of a book even though you didn't realize you knew it?  That's what this review felt like.

3. Feed Reader My Enemy, Feed Reader My Friend - This post is just timeless.  I wrote this years ago, and I still feel this way about my feed reader and probably always will.  It's so me, really.

4. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness - Everybody I know loved this book.  I tried to write a real review of it, but decided it would be better to go the more candid route with it.  I ended up being super happy with how it came out because, somehow, it more coherently summed up my feelings about the book than it would have if I'd taken the normal review approach.

5. An Open Letter to W. Somerset Maugham - Just a clever little letter to the writer of my most-loathed required reading ever.  So much fun to write!

6. Aberrations by Penelope Przekop - This was, I think, the first book that was ever offered to me for review, and, as it so happens, this is the first negative review I wrote of a book that was sent to me for review.  Nobody likes doing it, but I think writing a successful and balanced review of a book that you really didn't love is a major milestone in the life of a book blogger who wants to have any "street cred" at all, and I'm still kind of proud of myself for getting over that hump, and fairly early on, too.

7. The Leafy Awards 2009 and 2008 - Nothing's more me than the Leafy Awards.  They're random, gushy, and (I'm told) occasionally hilarious.   They're not so much me unplugged as maybe me...unhinged, giving out my reading honors for the year in unique form.  Of the comments from authors that I've gotten, most of them were on the Leafys, not on those nice, well thought-out reviews I wrote of their books long before the Leafys, but on these posts, where I'm happily making an @$$ of myself offering up goofy honors.  LOL!

8. Black Wave by John and Jean Silverwood - That stat hound in me loves this post.  It's another fair and balanced review of a book that didn't make much of an impression on me.  Regardless of my feelings for the book, though, these people are all, like, famous from being on shows like "I Shouldn't Be Alive," ergo, this sucker is still driving hits to my blog like whoa.

9. Here's to Borders 120 - My weirdly personal tribute to the one bookstore to ever employ me, that now, sadly, is no more.   It was only 6 months...of the best job ever.

10. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray - I really got all lit crit-y on this one in a good way.  It's my most thumbs upped review on LibraryThing.  I may be somewhat proud of it.  Yes, actually, yes I am. 

What posts on your blog are the most you?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Loose Leafing: The Olympic Edition

Good news, world!  I actually finished a book this week.  For some reason, that's exceedingly rare for me lately.  Unfortunately, it wasn't The Stand, but I'm really truly hoping that's the next book I finish, and hopefully in short order, too.  So, hopefully again, there will be a review of a real book for you this week, and I can continue to call myself a book blogger in good conscience.

In the meantime, I will go on about non-bookish things.  I mean, there are at least two of you out there that don't mind it when I do this.  That's enough for me!

Things have been pretty busy here on the home front.  For one thing, I'm a total Summer Olympics junkie, so you must know how I've been spending most of my time this week.  I'll give you a really obvious hint - it's not reading or blogging.  ;-)  I've been loving the swimming and the gymastics (and the beach volleyball and the syncronized diving and the...), but really, what hot blooded woman doesn't enjoy watching some Olympic swimming?  And, also, I am that sucker that still just about cries when show the umpteenth video montage/half hour pseudo-documentary about the Magnificent Seven, so it was good to see the U.S. take home some gymnastics gold again.  I can still remember being in middle school staying up deep into the night watching Kerri Strug make her vault, and it just about being the best thing ever.  This time around wasn't quite as emotionally fraught, but it was still pretty darn awesome.

Despite the fact that I'm even feeling a little bit warm and fuzzy about Michael Phelps at the moment, my Olympic viewing experience hasn't been and sunshine and rainbows.  Random Olympic rantings, anyone? Ok, sure!

1. I can't wait for the Olympics to be in a time zone closer to mine.  That way I won't be subjected to internet spoilers, and maybe NBC will have fewer opportunities to screw everything up with their coverage.

2. Or maybe someone else can just pick up the television coverage ball next time around so we can see more sports and fewer video montages?  Maybe we can watch one sport for more than 15 minutes at a time?  Maybe you could show more men's gymnastics than just, like, floor routines and massive pommel horse fails?  I mean, do they even have the still rings anymore?  Where have the still rings gone, NBC??  I must know!

3. I miss being a kid and having nowhere to go in the mornings during the summer, never more so than during the Olympics, because, of course, all the best stuff is on after people with jobs who like to have somewhere approaching 7 hours of sleep have to go to bed.

4.  On Water Polo: Mad props to the athletes that have enough endurance to pursue this extremely difficult-looking sport.  Unfortunately, I don't have endurance enough to watch.  Does anybody else thing that water polo is kind of a snore?

In other news, I am also a total sucker for the sentimental/inspirational Olympic commercials.  I swear, I get more excited about these commercials than I do about Super Bowl commercials.  I mean, how about the one with the "But to their moms, they'll always be kids," one?  Does this not make you cry?  It definitely makes me just about cry or at least get chills.  Seriously, I just watched it again before I embedded it, and I know what's going to happen, and my eyes are all wet again.  Well-played commercial makers, well-played.

Hmm, well, I actually didn't intend this post to be entirely about the Olympics.  There is yet much randomness still floating around in my brain (and fun pictures to accompany said randomness!), but I'm afraid I've already gone on too long, and I'll have to save my trip to Baltimore and the adventures of Herbert the international spider for next time.  Oh well, I guess it's always nice to have something to look forward to, right?  ;-)
So, are you watching the Olympics?  What's your favorite Olympic sport to watch?  Is there an Olympic sport you're dying to see that NBC is choosing to forget even exists?