Tuesday, December 29, 2015

#AMonthofFaves : 10 Books That Made My Year

2015 has nearly drawn to a close, and it's been a rough one life-wise, but reading-wise it was certainly rewarding.  I think what's funny about my favorites this year is that so few other people seem to have read them, at least the ones that were published this year.  When I read great books published in the current year, it seems like they're never the same ones that everyone else is reading!  On a positive note, though, that gives me a chance to tell you about a few great books that maybe you haven't heard about from everyone and their mother......right? 

Anyhow, here is the top of the crop from my year of reading (in conjunction with a #AMonthofFaves).

 1. In a World Just Right by Jen Brooks - This book gets awarded the "Ugly Cry of the Year" award.  At first it's a strange little romance about a plane-crash survivor that can create worlds with his mind.  In one, his dream girl is his girlfriend, but what happens when the worlds start to meld together?  I never even saw it coming.

2. The Marauders by Tom Cooper - This one gets the "Surprise Hit" award.  When it first arrived, I thought I'd made a severe ARC requesting misstep.  However, this story of the hard luck people in a Louisiana bayou town turned out to be a hit for me because I've never been made to feel more sympathy for a bunch of less likeable characters, and I've never been so surprised at a book packing an unexpected emotional punch.

3. When She Woke by Hilary Jordan - I actually hate when I read a really great book at the beginning of the year because I know when it comes time to make this list, I'll nearly always forget to put it on the list because it seems like I read it an eon ago.  I loved Jordan's dystopian world where Christian fundamentalists dominate and dyeing people the colors indicative of their crimes has replaced imprisoning them.  Very believable world-building, very interesting retelling of The Scarlet Letter.

4. The Happy Christian by David Murray - Look!  It's a non-fiction title on my best of list, and it's not a memoir or even narrative non-fiction.  Be amazed!  This was a great read from last winter/spring full of practical ways to let God's promises make us more happy on a daily basis.  An ill-fit for my blog audience, perhaps, but a great fit for me as a human.

5. The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory by Stacy Wakefield - I fell in love with Sid, the narrator of this book, who is a girl caught up in the "romantic" idea of getting involved in the New York City squatter scene, which doesn't quite turn out like she expects.  The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory is a perfect slice of life book that follows Sid in her highs and lows with a little friendship and a little romance, nights when everything is perfect and others when everything goes wrong, but there's always a chance for a little happily ever after. 

6. Girl Underwater by Claire Kells - This one seems to have flown under the radar a bit, so all the more disappointed am I in myself for not having reviewed it.  It's the story of girl and the guy that dared to tell her to be true to herself, their survival of a plane crash and the long wait for rescue (with three young, newly orphaned boys in tow), and the aftermath. I loved Avery and Colin and their reluctant love story that emerges from tragedy.

7. Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum - I never fail to be captivated by stories set in World War II Germany, and this one didn't disappoint.  Those Who Save Us captures the moral ambiguities of surviving the war when a German woman, whose daughter is the product of her forbidden love affair with a Jew who has been taken away to a concentration camp, has an affair with a German officer to survive and to continue in the dangerous pursuit of supplying extra bread to the prisoners of the camp where her true lover is imprisoned.  

8. The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma - How to describe this book?  Eerie.  One ballerina in prison, one ballerina performing her final dance before she heads to Julliard, a prison haunted by a tragic event, guilt, innocence, and lots of lies.  I won't spoil it by writing more words.  It's way too good to be spoiled. 

9. The Visitors by Sally Beauman - I was a little daunted by The Visitors when I started reading it, lots of pages, small print, but I was totally captivated by this story of 1920s Egypt where the the last of the undiscovered tombs are being excavated in the Valley of Kings.  The narrator is a young girl who proves the perfect observer to the astonishing chain of events when Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered King Tut's tomb.  Beauman's story is the perfect blend of reality and fiction that left me feeling like I'd learned something and enjoyed every bit of it.

10. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson - I wrapped up my reading year with this one, and it was a fantastic choice.  After a slow start, I was totally engaged in this story of a princess turned queen, chosen by God for some feat of service.  I loved the narrator, Elisa, a young, pudgy princess who feels ill-suited to her role as queen and for whatever service may be required of her.  Watching her come into her own amid desperate times made this book positively unputdownable.

Which books have been the highlights of your reading year?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Charlie and the Grandmothers by Katy Towell

Charlie is afraid of everything.  Ever since the terrifying day when his father was killed in a mill accident, Charlie can't help fearing the worst.  Even when there seems to be nothing to fear, Charlie can't help concocting worst-case scenarios in his ever-wakeful, overactive imagination.  Most of the danger lives inside Charlie's head, but even his sister Georgie and their mother recognize the oddity of the numerous children leaving their neighborhood to visit their grandmothers and seemingly never returning. 

One night, darkness sweeps over their house and Charlie, still awake in the night, can hear a strange voice whispering to his mother.  Days later, the impossible is happening.  Charlie and Georgie's mother has taken ill and the two children are being sent away to their grandmother's house while she recovers, which wouldn't be so strange...if they actually had any living grandparents.  Instead of a charming getaway to the safety of their grandmother's house, Charlie and Georgie are plunged into the stuff of nightmares.  These grandmothers are distinctly evil, and only terrified Charlie is equipped to save them.

Katy Towell has crafted a deliciously and imaginatively creepy horror story for kids that worked for this adult reader, too.  Sure, the premise is unlikely.  Charlie's unnatural terror and weird attachment is a little exaggerated, but here, it works. 

While Charlie and the Grandmothers is undeniably unique, I couldn't help being reminded of books like Neil Gaiman's Coraline with a little James and the Giant Peach thrown in.  I love stories like this, fast-paced and full of adventure, where a kid left to their own devices in a world that should be heart-stoppingly petrifying finds his courage and steps up to become the hero of his own story.

(Review copy received at no cost in exchange for review consideration.)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

#AMonthofFaves : A Few of My Favorite Things (of 2015)

Today's Month of Favorites topic: These Are A Few of My Favorite Things in 2015 – eg. to eat, drink, wear, smell, see, do, enjoy, best thing I bought, most used gift received etc, favorite concert, outdoor activity, place visited, most squee worthy moment of the year, biggest change.

I have to admit, I won't be sad to see 2015 go.  It's been a year marked by injuries and injury recovery followed by other injuries and more recovery, and when I wasn't busy being injured (or recovering) I was working like a dog.  And when I finally finished working like a dog and was finally on the brink of a well-earned vacation I broke my ankle, successfully obliterating any semblance of normal life.  I'm still waiting to get back to normal life.  So, yeah, adios 2015, don't let the door hit ya.  

It's been tough trying to pick some favorite things out of the morass of this year, but good news!  I came up with a few! 

My New Apartment - Okay, so I'd lived here not quite a full month when I missed a few steps and see above, but solo living has its perks, like I get to live among my books now.  They're on shelves!  Where people can see them, and I can see them! And my apartment is big enough that 1000 or so books don't make it feel claustrophobic.  I can watch what I want on TV.  I can not watch TV and just read in the living room without being constantly interrupted.  My friends come over way more now.  Which is good, since I'm kind of stuck here.  Still.

That Train Concert - In between the injuries and the recoveries and the moving and the workaholism, I did kind of a bucket listy thing for me and got tickets to see Matt Nathanson, The Fray, and Train in concert.  I love Train and liked the other two acts, and it was a fantastic show and a great time with my cousin driving through the barren wilds of Pennsylvania and New York to get to the (beautiful) venue of Bethel Woods (original site of Woodstock) where they have the thickest grass and the most expensive bottles of water.

Movies -  Going to the movie theatre, is (yippee!) something you can still enjoy while you are fairly handicapped.  Since the movies are one of the only places I went for three months that didn't include x-rays, they easily make the list.  Highlights?  Bridge of Spies and Mockingjay the second.

Chopped - They put it on Netflix just in time!  Whose spirits aren't lifted by watching a professional chef attempt to create an entree from black licorice, kimchi, a species of mushroom that only grows in the hills of a war-torn African nation, and eye of newt?  Obviously, I made these ingredients up, but you get the idea.  

The Voice - It took me until I finally subscribed to Hulu Plus to finally get hooked on The Voice.  Love those blind auditions!

The Awkward Yeti - This was the best moment of serendipity of the year.  First, my friend had to get her gallbladder out, and then this happened to show up in my Facebook feed...

Picture credit: The Awkward Yeti

I looooove these comics.  They're pretty much all about bodily organs and pretty much totally relevant to everyday life all the time.  There is an Awkward Yeti comic for every feeling you've ever had.  There is a book, too.  I should get it.  What I did get was an adorable stuffed sad gallbladder for my now gallbladderless friend.  Too priceless!  

What's your favorite thing from 2015?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

#AMonthofFaves : My Reading Year

Wow, can it be December again already?  This year has flown past at a glacial speed.  (This sort of comment may make better sense to those with broken ankles.  Days go by so slowly, yet it still seems as if three months of my life have vanished with astonishing speed.)  Anyhow, no ankle sob stories today.  I was excited to see that Estella's Revenge, girlxoxo.com, and Traveling with T have brought back their December blogging event - A Month of Favorites.  They've got blogging prompts for most of the weekdays of December to help us keep up our blogging mojo even through this busiest of months.  If you'd like to join the fun, just click over to the one of the hosts' blogs to find out the schedule.

To kick things off, we're doing a little "my reading year" overview.  My reading year was...good.  One more book read and I will have surpassed my number of books read at the end of the year last year.  Astonishingly however, I tallied up my number of pages read this year and last year, and I kid you not, I am within 50 pages of my number of pages read last year at this time.  I might be a slow reader, but it seems I am consistently slow.  Ha!

Also, strikingly similar to last year is my ratio of books authored by females to books authored by males.  The girls have it, making up around 75% of my reading.  I did a good job of balancing review copies with titles from my stacks.  An even half of my reading was not furnished by a publisher for my review consideration.  This was something that I meant to be better about, so it's exciting to have not lost track of that goal over the year.

May was tops for both quantity and quality of books read.  Thank you busted back and beautiful weather.  August was the worst.  Thank you workaholism and ankle surgery.  Ugh.  Thankfully, what the ankle stole in August, it returned in September and October when there was a major uptick in reading.  Obviously.  Those who cannot walk, read.  That's how that saying goes, right?

Thanks to a mid-summer move into a new apartment, I purged around 400 books from my collection, and I also haven't read a single e-book since most of the summer my goal was to unload books that would need to be lifted. I feel a little guilty about leaving my Kindle in the corner (nobody puts Kindle in a corner!), but hopefully I can make a return to occasional e-book reading in 2016.  I certainly haven't taken a break from e-book buying.

On the whole, 2015 was a much better quality reading year than 2014.  There were a random few duds that if I could go back in time I would totally DNF.  That said, looking back over the past few months, while I haven't read anything that's totally knocked my socks off, the books I've been reading have been consistently good.  Here's hoping the trend continues (except maybe a, uh, "sock knocker" is in order before the calendar turns another page) for the rest of the year!

What has been the highlight of your reading year?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

I've been reading young this fall.  It seems that the randomizer by which I lazily choose my reading has been skewing toward YA surprisingly often this year, and I've rather been enjoying having my reading seasoned with YA again.  It helps too, that I finally did Dewey's Readathon again this October, which lends itself to YA reading.

The Readathon was a golden opportunity to finally dig into Linda Sue Park's A Long Walk to Water.  This one slipped into my collection on the occasion of my very first BEA and has been woefully neglected ever since.  A Long Walk to Water is a mere 115 pages (making it an ideal Readathon book), but it packs a punch.

Park tells, side by side, the stories of two young characters, Salva, a young boy in 1980s Southern Sudan, forced to run for his life when the war against the northern government comes to his village, and Nya, a young girl in nearly present day Sudan whose life is defined by her endless walks to and from a distant pond to supply her family with precious and hard to come by water.  When gunshots ring out near Salva's school, his teacher rushes the kids out the door insisting that they must not return to their villages and potential slaughter but flee into the bush alone.  What follows is Salva's perilous journey among strangers across dangerous terrain to the safety of an Ethiopian refugee camp.  Nya's village struggles to find fresh water that won't sicken people, but it's becoming more and more difficult, until strangers arrive in her village with an unexpected gift.

A Long Walk to Water is a short book, but a weighty one based on the true story of Salva Dut's terrifying childhood in his war-torn native country.  It digs into the harsh realities of war in Sudan caused by both rebellion against the northern government that wants to force its Islamic beliefs on the whole nation and the dangerous animosity between the rival tribes of the south.  Salva's story is both heartbreaking and often hopeless, but his refusal to give up and his coming of age under impossible circumstances are ultimately inspirational.   Nya's story seems almost out of place, at first, highlighting the practical implications of living in an area where struggling to survive is forced to be the top priority, but the dual stories come together to offer a touching and pitch perfect ending.

What's a short book that you have read that has had a big impact?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib

Samir and Nagla Al-Menshawy immigrated to the United States from their home in Egypt in search of the American dream.  It wasn't always easy, but in suburban Summerset, New Jersey, they thought they had found it.  Samir's medical practice was successful, the couple found fast friends in the family next door, and their children were growing up knowing the luxuries of American life.  But, when a heinous crime is committed by their oldest son, Hossam, the family is plunged into grief and the community they once felt a valuable part of turns forcefully against them.  In the Language of Miracles is the story of the Al-Menshawy family's struggles in the aftermath of their tragic awakening from the American dream that should have been their reality.

In the Language of Miracles is a story of faith and community: having it, finding it, losing it.  Mother Nagla struggles with her loss of faith in face of tragedy, her inability to match the piety of her mother and her best friend that increases her fear that it was a shortfall in herself that caused tragedy to befall her family.  Grandmother Ehsan is steeped in faith, perpetually murmuring prayers and waving incense, providing holy water for healing.  Her faith imbues her every action and is so genuine that it can tear down cultural walls but can't rescue her daughter's family from their grief and struggle.  Daughter Fatima is seeking her own path to faith, uncertain of whether to pursue her family's more Americanized ways or don the headscarves of her more religious friends.  Son Khaled is a different story completely.  Caught between the shame and treachery brought on by his brother's act and the expectations of a father whose hopes are now pinned upon him alone, Khaled takes refuge in studying monarch butterflies, how they migrate thousands of miles south to winter only to have a new generation of butterflies return north - a practice that seems to have parallels even in his own family.

Each of Hassib's characters is fleshed out and fully realized, from Khaled who is coming of age in the shadow of tragedy to his father, whose stubbornness makes him easy for readers to dislike, but his ultimate wish and goal to preserve the life and community he had striven so hard to attain, is ultimately sympathetic.  I wished for an ending that offered a bit more closure, but that should take nothing away from this book that seems in every way to be an authentic exploration of the immigrant experience, an honest portrayal of the Muslim faith, and a compelling picture of a broken family knitting themselves back together after tragedy.

(I received a copy of In the Language of Miracles from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

So, yeah, book reviewing, I should get back on that. I've been reading a bunch of a winners lately, not exactly anything 5 star knock my socks off awesome, but a few that have had my socks only hanging on by a toe.  ;-)

I think I'd like to start with The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma today, but I'm not sure of my approach because I think the reason I loved this book as much as I did was that I had really no idea what to expect.  I mean, I read the synopsis on the back and everything, but somehow when I actually got into the meat of the book, it was nothing like I expected.

Orianna "Ori" Speerling is a teenage ballet dancer from the wrong side of the tracks.  Her mom left when she was a kid leaving her the daughter of a single dad.  Despite her circumstances, she is unarguably the most captivating dancer in her dance school, possessing a natural talent and flair that cast everyone else in shadow, including her best friend Violet "Vee" Dumont who has the upper class trappings Ori will never have, but can't quite keep up with her friend in sheer talent.  Ori is a more loyal friend than Vee deserves, always holding herself back so her friend can keep up.  The two share everything.  Ori practically lives at Vee's house.  That is, until something happens, something that finds Ori in the Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center while Vee dances her last high school recital and prepares to leave for Julliard.  The rest of the story comes via Ori's cell mate Amber, a presumed innocent victim of the justice system, who has found an unexpected place to belong among the inmates of Aurora Hills.

Without saying too much, let me just say how perfect The Walls Around Us ended up being for this autumn time of year.  The story it tells wanders from guilt and crime and grief into the downright eerie, and I loved it.  The Walls Around Us is one of those books that, if the "Young Readers" wasn't attached to its publisher's name, it would be difficult to peg as a YA book.  Suma doesn't sacrifice complexity or artful prose upon the altar of the book's would-be target audience, something I always appreciate in a well written YA book.  Each of her characters are fully actualized from free-spirit Ori, to angry, insecure Violet, to the mild-mannered Amber who brings out the unexpected camaraderie she's found among the fellow inmates of Aurora Hills by narrating her bits with "we" instead of "I."

The Walls Around Us is a beautifully composed, disturbingly rendered picture of the disturbing truth behind a pair of "perfect" ballerinas that goes beyond guilt and innocence to explore the natural and the supernatural.  It easily weaves between past and present, knitting together a story that is otherworldly and unexpected keeping readers on the edges of their seats until the truth is out and justice can finally be served.

(Received my copy in a publisher giveaway.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday Featuring Bookgenie the Great!

This week at The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday, there is a special guest.  The Bookish Genie is on hand and ready to grant each of us our top ten bookish wishes.  I want my wishes to have staying power, so here are a few reading accoutrements I think would really brighten up my reading life.  Thanks, Bookgenie!  

1. Expandoshelves  - Come on, who doesn't want these?  They look like normal shelves and take up the space allotted to normal shelves, but they have hidden depths that hold zillions more books.  No more double stacking on your shelves!  No more feeling bad about those books that are still stuffed in boxes because you're all out of shelf space.  Expandoshelves, yes.

2. The Reformatter - Okay, so sometimes you want hardcovers because they look pretty on your shelves, right?  But sometimes you wish those same books were paperbacks so they wouldn't drag you down when you stuff them in your purse for reading on the go?  And sometimes you want your paper book to be an ebook and your ebook to be a paperback?  Or even audio?  So without spending lots of extra dough, I want to have the same book in all the versions.

3. The Speedier Readier Experience - I want to be able to read fast without feeling like I'm rushing.  And while I'm reading fast I want to have the same experience as if I were reading slow and savoring.  Is it so much to ask?

4. The Weight Transformer - When you put books in a box, like when you're about to move, could they suddenly become like an eighth of the weight you would expect? You know, so your friends and family will stop ridiculing you when you move?  That would be good.

5. The Eater Reader Forcefield - Some of us like to eat while we read.  Some of us are also slobs.  How about a nice little invisible forcefield to protect my books from their reader?

6. The Annotator Eraser - Sometimes it would be nice to be able to write in my books without feeling like I'm defacing something.  So I can underline stuff and write notes for reviews without leaving a messy lasting impact, once the review is written and I'm ready to send a book on its merry way?  Annotations begone!

7. The Ebook Deal Shock Collar - I mean, something has to keep me from pulling the trigger every time I see a half decent ebook priced at $1.99.  When am I ever going to read....even half of them??

8. The Bookstore Equalizer - Wherein we take a few beautiful bookstores out of the cities where they're struggling under the weight of colossal rents and magically move them to places where we're struggling under the weight of having startlingly few bookstores.  Sorry, high rent cities, how come you get to have all the fun anyway?

9. The Series Reader Time Machine - Gone are the days of waiting a year for that next book in the series.  Never again will you forget the details of books one and two while waiting for book three.  Just hop in your trusty time machine, snag copies of the rest of the series, and presto no more of those pesky unfinished series' dogging you through the years.

10. The Reading Time Stretcherator - No longer will the perils of having a job and human relationships keep you from having the time you need to read.  That's because the book genie can magically stretch, the uh oops, only ten minutes you managed to save to read before bed, into as many minutes as you want!  Yay, bookgenie!  How long I have wanted this!

Do you have any wishes for the Bookish Genie? 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Readathon - the Master Post!

Final Update

Reading Now: Charlie and the Grandmothers by Katy Towell

It's been __135__ pages and __150__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 7 hours

Cumulative Pages Read: 359

Books Completed: 2 - The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Okay, so my dinner break turned into a longer thing than I expected and I got no reading done between hours 10 and like 14 or 15, much to my sadness.  That said I did read until almost 1 in the morning and managed to wake up for the last half hour, too.  I finished two books and put a good dent in Charlie and the Grandmothers, too, which happens to be a fun middle grade horror story that turned into great Readathon fodder after I cracked the first 50 pages.

End of Event Survey

Which hour was most daunting for you?  14.  I had a big interruption and I wasn't sure I could get back into it, but I did.  Phew.

Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? A Long Walk to Water was a great short book, a quick read about a serious topic.  Charlie and the Grandmothers is a fun quick read, too.  Great for the Halloween season!

Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? This is a pretty trivial thing, but back in the jolly good old days there used to be a link up for all those swell Readathon TBR pile/snack pile posts in the days before the event.  I always thought they were tons of fun and always built up my level of excitement.  Can we have the link-up again?
What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?  Everything, I think?  I'm pretty sure my only problem was me.  Like usual.  ;-)

How many books did you read? I completed two and read a little over half of a third.

What were the names of the books you read? See above.

Which book did you enjoy most/least? Honestly, I'm not sure.  They were all good and very different from each other, so I can't very well compare.

If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? Er, cheer more people than I did this time?  Sorry folks, my cheering was pretty shoddy this time around.  :-/
How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? Extremely likely.  It'll all depend on my mood, I think!  Sometimes, I swear, it's more fun to just cheer all day than to get wrapped up in my weird Readathon neuroses of not reading as much as I want to be reading.  Sad, I know.  Also, true.  

Thanks again to Andi and Heather for all they do to keep this great tradition not just alive but thriving.  I do think Dewey would be thrilled to see what the Readathon has become! 

Hour 9 Update

Reading Now: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (with a side of Charlie and the Grandmothers by Katy Towell)

It's been __134__ pages and __160__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 4 hours 30 minutes

Cumulative Pages Read: 224

Books Completed: 1 - The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan

Eating?: Hot buffalo wing pretzel pieces is just about it, but it's almost time to break for a delicious roast beef sub.

I may have retired to my bed for a little this afternoon, for some more reading....most of which was done with my eyes open.  A timely text from a friend saved me from anything more than a brief power nap.  I started Charlie and the Grandmothers which seems like it's going to be a fun read for this time of the year, but then I got a little sleepy and switched over to something with less pages to keep me motivated.   I'm within a few pages of finishing A Long Walk to Water, a based on a true story novel about a South Sudanese refugee.  Break for cheering and dinner and then back to the books. 

Hour 4 Update

Reading Now: About to start Charlie and the Grandmothers by Katy Towell

It's been __90__ pages and __110__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 1 hour 50 minutes

Cumulative Pages Read: 90

Books Completed: 1 - The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan

Eating?: A Luna bar (breakfast of champions and/or lazy ankle break-ees), string cheese, and a celebratory piece of pumpkin pie!

Why celebratory?  Because I've finished my first book, of course!  Sure, I'm totally cheating because I was already 182 pages into Kelly Corrigan's The Middle Place when I got out of bed this morning, but who cares about that?  It's 11 AM and I've finished a book already.  Shockingly, the book didn't make me cry, though I did choke up a few times.  Oddly enough, the closest I came to spilling tears was while reading the acknowledgements.  Yeah, I don't get it either.  Probably a good thing though, crying makes you tired, and I've got lots more reading to do before I even consider a nap!

Off to cheer on some readers, and then it's on to my next book!


Good morning, one and all!  Surely it hasn't escaped you that today is the day of Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon, right?  I'm going to be participating fairly properly today with the snacks and the books and the Instagramming of bookish pictures.   I do believe I will stack my updates for today in the very post you see before you, in hopes of not alienating my last 2 subscribers (Hi guys!  Long time, no see!).  So on we go with the time-honored readathon tradition of....

The Introductory Meme!

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?   My very own living room in Danville, Pennsylvania

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
  Hmm...  The Fill-In BoyfriendCharlie and the Grandmothers?  I can't decide.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
  I've got some delicious hot buffalo wing flavored pretzels in the pipeline.  They may be a little sloppy for reading and eating, but I'm still looking forward to them.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
  Let's see, I'm Megan.  I work in Lab IT (well, sort of) for a big rural health system.  This is the first Readathon I'll be participating in from my very own apartment without the distraction of other humans.  Well, until dinner time at least.  Oh yeah, and I'm recovering from a broken ankle and subsequent surgery so I'm stoked to have something exciting to do that isn't something I can't do because I can't really walk so much.  OK, at all.  Believe me, the number of exciting things you can do declines rapidly when you're short a leg and your hands are occupied with crutches.  So this is a good day because today it's exciting to sit around!  Yay!

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?
  Read!  Haha, no, seriously.  For my last few Readathons I've dedicated myself mostly to cheering.  I haven't read for the Readathon in quite a while.  So reading on Readathon day will definitely be different.  I'm an oxymoron.  Or maybe just a moron.  To be determined.

Anyhow, that's me.  I'm off to read!  See you in a few hours!  Happy reading! 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell

Phew, there is a tough crowd and Goodreads and LibraryThing both that doesn't seem to think much of Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell, so I was pretty skeptical going in even though I accepted a review copy thinking this book sounded pretty fascinating.  Happily, I think I liked it a good bit more than a lot of people seemed to.  Usually the opposite is true where people looooove a book and I'm thinking, "What's the big deal?" so this was a pleasant change of pace.

Pretty Is tells the story of Lois and Carly May, the grown up victims of a child abductor, struggling to find their ways in the confusing aftermath of their abduction, a strangely idyllic time that was, nonetheless, fraught with fear and left an inevitable impression on the two that trails them into adulthood.  The book alternates between the two women's perspectives, illuminating their lives and their struggles as they mature, somehow always feeling more connected to their abductor than to their own families.  Lois grew from a beautiful studious young girl into a smart college professor who spun her abduction into a famous novel written under a fake name.  Carly May, a brash former child beauty queen, changed her name to Chloe and abandoned her father and wicked stepmother to chase fame in Hollywood.  Though the two haven't seen each other in years, the time of their abduction lingers fresh in their minds, and when Lois's book finds its own way to Hollywood, the two might finally have the chance to revisit their shared past.

Mitchell is a debut novelist, and with that considered, Pretty Is becomes that much more impressive.  Mitchell skillfully weaves together many different stories in one.  She brings her two damaged main characters to life, exploring their upbringings and their leftover traumas both from the abduction and the scars they carry with them from their own family lives.  At the same time, Mitchell is exploring each character's present, and even including a swathe of Lois's novelization of the abduction that proves particularly compelling.  As the novel becomes a movie and Lois starts a sequel and a mysterious student starts unearthing Lois's path, the stories pile up, but not all of them are equally well-handled.  The Sean the creepy student storyline, in particular, seems extraneous to the rest of the novel, a side show perhaps intended to reveal how troubled uber-controlled Lois's thoughts still are. 

Perhaps the biggest problem is that the "excerpt" from Lois's novel that fills out the middle of the book is so much more compelling that it makes the rest of the novel pale somewhat in comparison.  The pages in this section flew by in a way that Carly May and Lois's more introspective narratives do not.  That said, Mitchell's story layering style is ambitious and, on the whole, successful.  While I didn't love the characters, I was taken in by their stories and eager for the two to meet again and unpack their shared psychological trauma.  If you're looking for a page-turning mystery/thriller sort of novel, look elsewhere.  If you're looking for a deeper, more literary effort that does a fascinating job of illuminating the confused aftermath of an abduction, definitely give Pretty Is a try.

(I received a free copy of from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: My Fall TBR

It's time again to engage in that futile effort of trying to predict what I may read in the next season that is presently coming upon us.  This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic brought to us by The Broke and the Bookish is, of course "Top Ten Books on My Fall TBR."  Since I read from my own stacks almost entirely at random, this seemed like a good opportunity to share 10 review books that I'm particularly looking forward to and hope to get to this fall.  Here they are!

Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam - "A vibrant debut novel, set in Brooklyn and Bangladesh, Bright Lines follows three young women and one family struggling to make peace with secrets and their past."  I received two excellent-looking books from Penguin earlier this summer that are set to help me read more diversely.  I read the first one which was excellent, but I've still got this one to go! 

 The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks - This one just rolled into my mailbox.  I loved Year of Wonders, so I can't wait to see what Brooks does with the story of King David, you know...of Biblical fame?

Love and Other Ways of Dying by Michael Paterniti - I won this one from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers months and months and months ago, but it only just came.  In other news, this book of essays just got a longlist nod for the National Book Award, so I'm that much more excited to read these "ultimately uplifting" essays that "turn a keen eye on the full range of human experience."

Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade - Debut historical fiction - "In 1919, four-year-old Rachel Rabinowitz is placed in the Hebrew Infant Home where Dr. Mildred Solomon is conducting medical research on the children. Dr. Solomon subjects Rachel to an experimental course of X-ray treatments that establish the doctor's reputation while risking the little girl's health. Now it's 1954, and Rachel is a nurse in the hospice wing of the Old Hebrews Home when elderly Dr. Solomon becomes her patient. Realizing the power she holds over the helpless doctor, Rachel embarks on a dangerous experiment of her own design. Before the night shift ends, Rachel will be forced to choose between forgiveness and revenge."  Yes.

The Uninvited by Cat Winters - Here's a good token ghost story for the ghosty season of the year.  "
Ivy’s life-long gift—or curse—remains. For she sees the uninvited ones—ghosts of loved ones who appear to her, unasked, unwelcomed, for they always herald impending death. On that October evening in 1918 she sees the spirit of her grandmother, rocking in her mother’s chair. An hour later, she learns her younger brother and father have killed a young German out of retaliation for the death of Ivy’s older brother Billy in the Great War."

The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories by Anthony Marra - I'm not always the biggest fan of short stories, but something about these interconnected ones that start with a 1930s Soviet censor caught my eye.   

Early One Morning by Virginia Baily - World War II historical fiction in which a woman in occupied Rome rescues a boy from being deported, and the aftermath of that event.  

Marvel and a Wonder by Joe Meno - A man and his biracial grandson come together while chasing down the thieves that stole the horse that was willed to the man by mistake.  Sounds different, right?  And good!

A Master Plan for Rescue by Janis Cooke Newman - Historical fiction is apparently my thing this fall.  Set in 1942 New York and Berlin "A Master Plan for Rescue is a beautiful tale, propelled by history and imagination, that suggests people's impact upon the world doesn't necessarily end with their lives, and that, to some degree, we are the sum of the stories we tell."  I kind of dig stories about the power of storytelling, too.  This sounds like a winner.

Under a Dark Summer Sky by Vanessa Lafaye -  Because I'm not ready to let summer go, and also, more historical fiction!  "Huron Key is already weighed down with secrets when a random act of violence and a rush to judgment viscerally tear the town apart. As the little island burns under the sun and the weight of past decisions, a devastating storm based on the third-strongest Atlantic Hurricane on record approaches, matching the anger of men with the full fury of the skies. Beautifully written and seductive, Under a Dark Summer Sky is at once a glorious love story, a fascinating slice of social history, and a mesmerizing account of what it's like to be in the eye of a hurricane."

What are you looking forward to reading this fall?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Unfinished Reading

Wow, it's been forever since I did a Top Ten Tuesday.  Today's topic seemed like a great one to pick up with, however.  My readerly life is littered with series that I've started but not continued reading.  A lot of those series are even finished being written now.  This week The Broke and the Bookish are asking about all those completed series that we need to go back and finish reading.  Here are mine...

1. The Chaos Walking Series by Patrick Ness -  That's right, I, Megan of Leafing Through Life, have committed the cardinal sin of not having gotten past The Knife of Never Letting Go in my reading of The Chaos Walking Series. Admittedly, I didn't think I loved TKONLG as much as the rest of my book blogging brethren, but I never intended to quit the series. 

2. The Chemical Garden Trilogy by Lauren DeStefano - I loved Wither so much that I snapped up the other two books in the series as they came out, but I still have yet to actually read them.  I'm pretty eager to get back to this series, but I think I'll be starting over again at the beginning to refresh my memory.

3. Matched by Ally Condie - I picked up a copy of Matched at my very first BEA, and loved it.  Then I waited a year for the next book and never picked the series back up again.  I have all the books at my disposal now, so it's about time I got back to this one.

4. Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr - I loved Melissa Marr's faerie world when I originally read Wicked Lovely.  Now I finally have the rest of the books in the series.  Time for a binge read!

5. Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne - I'm loving this series about a bunch of kids fighting to survive the apocalypse in a department store. This is one series I can guarantee I'll be finishing, and soon!

6. Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready - Okay, I read Shade a good few summers ago, and I didn't love it, but I think I was falling out of love with paranormal YA after a summer over-saturated with it.  I think this is a series I might want to get back to and finish after all.

7. The Gemma Doyle series by Libba Bray - I devoured A Great and Terrible Beauty one Memorial Day weekend when I was hideously sick, and I loved it so much.  Boarding school and magic, always a winning combo, right? I finally managed to amass the other two books, so it's long past time to get back to this one.

8. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer - I read the first Twilight book before having done so practically instantly made you an object of ridicule.  I have the box set on my shelves.  Should I finish?  Or is this so five minutes ago?  LOL

9. Penryn and the End of Days by Susan Ee - I was so addicted to the first book of this series about a world overtaken by evil angels that I remember sitting in my car in the grocery store parking lot to finish it instead of putting it down to go do my shopping.  All three books are loaded on my Kindle now.  Can't wait to find out the rest of the story!

10.  The Last Survivors by Susan Beth Pfeffer - I looooooved Life As We Knew It and its impressively realistic view of the start of the apocalypse. Despite what appears to be widespread disappointment with the other three books in the series, I can't help wanting to return to Pfeffer's world where the moon got a little too close and wreaked havoc over the earth.

What series do you need to finish?  Would you encourage me to finish (or not finish) any of the series' above?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Loose Leafing: The Broken Ankle (Good?) Life

Good morning!  It's the glorious Sunday of a holiday weekend.  Honestly, I'm surprised that I even remembered that because I pretty much do the same things every day now regardless of weekdays, weekends, and holidays because ankle - still broken.  Or at least, still healing.  Even though I'm the sort of person specially adapted to stationary activities, being a reader and a blogger and TV fan to boot, I have to say this whole broken ankle recovery thing is still almost more mentally and emotionally taxing than it is physically painful.  Friday marked three weeks since the injury and my two week "surgiversary," and also two weeks since I've stepped foot out of my apartment.  It's definitely a struggle both to do anything for myself and to have to depend on others to do the many things I find myself unable to do, so there's really no winning.  It's a little too easy to get down and depressed when everything you used to do easily seems about impossible, but you know what?  At the same time I've found so. very. many. things (and people!!) to appreciate both big and small while I've been home bound, and that should make for some much better reading (and thinking!).  So, how about some broken ankle good stuff?

Netflix - Netflix is my home slice.  It has so much good stuff to watch.  Seriously.  I'm loving revisiting old episodes of Frasier, which has brought me a lot of laughs when I've needed them.  I also discovered the Chopped collection which is much more fun to watch when you don't have to wait through those "cliffhanger" commercial breaks.  Whose dish is going to be chopped? 

The Lion Sleeps Tonight radio  - Some time ago I made a Pandora station based on "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," and it is so great.  You can not be sad while listening to the upbeat hits of the 50s and 60s.  Trust me, you really just can't. 

Books - Obviously, right?  I just finished Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell, which I seem to have liked better than a lot of people.  Also, I'm working my way through the Monument 14 series by Emmy Laybourne, at the recommendation of my mom.  It's perfect fast reading YA post-apocalyptic goodness.  I'll have the second book finished today for sure.

Rejuvenating the blog  - I have been meaning to do this for sooooo long now.  It's been good to have the time to sit down and write some reviews again and, even more, to take the time to visit and comment on other blogs which I haven't really done well even when I was doing a better job of keeping the blog afloat. 

Friends and Family - I hope it's obvious at this point that these blessings are graduating from the small to the large.  If it weren't for my family and friends I would have gone insane probably about 2 weeks, 6 days, and 23 hours ago.  I have been incredibly blessed to have numerous family members and friends from church and prayer group stopping by, bringing food, encouraging me and distracting me.  My co-workers and my boss have been incredibly supportive (not to mention the generous PTO structure of my organization that is allowing me to get paid for the time I'm forced to take off).  Even my friends and family who live at a distance have been calling and texting and sending me care packages that lift my spirits.  My figurative cup has been running over with company and home cooked food and puzzle books and coloring books and cookies and candy and everything.  On one hand, I can't remember the last time I felt so helpless.  On the other hand, I can't remember the last time I felt so well loved.

My Mom and Dad - A step above the rest of the family.  ;-)  My mom and dad have done everything for me while I've been going through this.  They practically carried me to the car to go to the ER the night I broke myself.  My mom has selflessly dropped her life to be here helping me do things that used to be easy and are now impossible for me to do alone, dealing with my upkeep and occasional miserable moods, and running endless errands on my behalf.  My dad delivered me a Smart TV at the beginning of the broken ankle odyssey and has been holding down the fort at home to free mom up for me.  Hopefully I'll be getting better at this broken ankling soon, so I can give my mom some time back, but she's totally been my lifeline these three weeks.

So there you have it, my bright sided acknowledgements of everything that's been good about breaking my ankle.  What's good in your life this week?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy

Jacob McNeely was born to a life of crime.  His father is the meth kingpin of Cashiers, North Carolina, and half the county is in a league with him.  The other half knows to steer clear.  We meet Jacob on the night he would have graduated from high school if he hadn't dropped out and given in to the notion that he had no choice but to inherit the family business.  As the book unfolds, we meet the girl Jacob is head over heels for that he didn't break up with so much as set free.  We discover his mother, holed up in a shack, who is desperately addicted to the family merchandise.  Then, there are the folks that dare to double cross the McNeely family and have to pay the price.

The more Jacob learns about his father and his merciless ways, the more Jacob knows he's not cut out to follow in his father's footsteps.  When he gets another chance to win the girl he loves, Jacob finally sees a way out of the life that is expected of him.  Unfortunately, walking away might be harder than even he could ever imagine.

Where All Light Tends to Go should have been a huge hit with me.  I'm fresh from a binge watching of Justified, so backwoods Appalachian criminals are right up my alley.  Instead, I found myself disappointed with the book.  Joy is a capable writer, but Where All Light Tends to Go seems just a bit disingenuous.  Except for a few token country boyisms, if you will, Jacob's narration is almost too well spoken and even a little wooden.  When Jacob does stumble into some local vernacular, it smacks of Joy trying too hard to get his character to be a little more down home.  It would actually seem more genuine if Jacob referred to pants as pants every once in a great while instead of as britches, and not every police officer has to be referred to as a "bull." 

Jacob faces some considerable struggle in the pages of this book, but for me, Joy missed the mark when it came to garnering my sympathies.  Instead, I felt as if I was still watching this narrator from a distance instead of being truly involved in his story, despite the first person narration.  All in all, Where All the Light Tends to Go is a competent debut that didn't quite find its voice.

(Received my copy for free from the publisher via giveaway in Shelf Awareness)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Enthralled: Paranormal Diversions ed. by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong

July was the month of weird reads.  Honestly, I was moving and terribly busy and stressed both at home and at work and the usual things that have no problem holding my attention were well beyond my mental capacity for most of July.  Happily, a couple of books rose to the challenge of keeping my over-stressed mind from melting all over the floor while still serving as a good distraction from the madness.  One was Enthralled, a book of YA paranormal short stories that I picked up at my first BEA (which was ever so long ago now).  It's sat patiently on my shelves waiting for one of those moments when I decide I'm into short stories again.  Short stories, especially of the YA variety, were just the ticket for this crazy summer.

Enthralled features a wide variety of paranormal situations from a bunch of pretty big name YA authors.  Obviously, some stories were more to my taste and others less, but overall I found Enthralled to be an enjoyable collection.  Some of the authors' pieces were supplemental to their other published works and offered up a good enticement to dig into the authors' novels.  Melissa Marr's piece about the fairy Winter Queen taking a vacation with her (now mortal) beloved promises to lure me back to finish her Wicked Lovely series, for one.  Jeri Smith-Ready's selection drew on her characters from the Shade series and convinced me that I should give that series another shot since the short story, "Bridge," was among my favorites.  Another of my favorites was Carrie Ryan's "Scenic Route" which is set in the same post-apocalyptic world as her Forest of Hands and Teeth series, a world that I'm now ready to dig into sooner rather than later. 

Other stories stood alone, and I was sad to see them end and disappointed to find there wasn't more fiction out there with the same worlds and subjects that I could dash out and buy.  Ally Condie's selection, "Leaving" was one.  In just a few short pages she managed to create a captivating dystopian world and a couple of characters that made me hunger for more of their story.  "The Third Kind" by Jennifer Lynn Barnes was another great story about a pair of sisters unwittingly being swept into an otherworldly war that I'm certain would make a compelling novel.

A few of the stories left me cold, particularly the ones that were looking on the "lighter" side of paranormal but came off more ridiculous than funny. However, by and large, Enthralled was an excellent collection of diversions that proved to be the perfect opportunity for me to dip back into the waters of paranormal YA that I'd been missing without realizing it.

(Thanks to the publisher for giving away copies at that long ago BEA.)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Loose Leafing: Bouts of Books and Broken Ankles

Have you heard the one where I spent all of early summer getting ready to move to a new apartment and finally actually moving out of my parents' house?  Then the one where I spent most of mid-summer working like a dog at my job while the lab I work for got moved into its new quarters?  Then maybe the one where mid-August rolled around and I was thinking maybe I can breathe again, read more books, take up blogging again, go on vacation and enjoy myself a little before my favorite season slips away in the blink of an eye?  This weekend I thought there was totally a light at the end of my tunnel.  There was.  Unfortunately, it was a train.

On the very first night of the glorious long weekend I was about the take, I was rescuing a baby from a kidnapper ... I mean, I was rescuing a kitten from a tree... Okay, fine, I was badly underestimating how many stairs I had left to descend to arrive at the bottom of my new apartment's staircase while taking out the trash when I took a tumble and broke my stupid left ankle.  So, here I am with 6 or more wretched weeks stretching out before me of wearing a splint and hobbling around on crutches and generally being a massive invalid, and that's probably the best case scenario.  I feel stupid and in pain and kind of hopeless about the whole thing, and the stairs are no longer just a danger to the clumsy but practically an insurmountable obstacle between me and the wide world.

Happily, my family and friends have already begun to pitch in, bringing me food and medicine and otherwise assisting me in my time of infirmity.  So that's what I can see if I try to look on the bright side.  If I keep looking, I realize I have a million books here to read, and blogging is one of the few things I do that doesn't require much walking, so while vacation and, you know, actual happiness might be slightly beyond my reach, finally rejuvenating the blog (albeit a little morosely) and participating in next week's Bout of Books (how perfectly timed!) seem much more attainable.  So, here's my official letter of intent to participate...

Bout of Books

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 17th and runs through Sunday, August 23rd in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 14 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

So I'll be trying to do a little more reading next week instead of a little more binge watching TV series on Netflix while hosting my own pity party.  Wish me luck!

So, how's everyone's summer been while I've been slaving away at my life?  Have you ever broken a bone and lived to tell the tale?  ;-) 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

From the Stacks Reviewlettes

You guessed it, everyone, it's time for more reviewlettes so I can get rid of a few more books before I move!  I've been trying to be better about occasionally forsaking my abundance of review copies to sink my teeth into books that have been looming on my own prodigious stacks for too long.  Often, I let the randomizer pick one for me, just so I don't waste a lot of time on decision-making.  When you have as many books as I do, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the choice of what to read next, so I don't even bother giving myself the choice.

We'll kick off with The Martian by Andy Weir, a recently well-loved book slated to soon be a movie featuring Matt Damon.  What can I say about The Martian that hasn't already been said?  The answer is, not that much.  The story starts off with Mark Watney, the botanist/mechanical engineer in a team of astronauts investigating Mars, being accidentally abandoned there during a windstorm that his team believes took his life.  The rest of the book is the story of how the enterprising and entertaining Watney creatively solves the problem of being stranded on Mars while NASA tries to cook up a way to get him back safely.  The Martian is the true essence of science fiction, in that there is more legitimate sounding science in this story than I can ever recall being exposed to in a book of fiction.  In fact, there was so much science and math that it took me a while to get into the book, and I feared I would be bored enough by it to put the book down.  Happily, the intrepid Watney has a winning sense of humor and the suspense of wondering what he would do next when near-catastrophe after near-catastrophe befell him kept the pages turning.  Occasionally it seems as if Watney becomes a little bit of a "Marky Sue," the perfect astronaut, always knowing what to do next and greeting setbacks with ingenuity and unfounded optimism, however, there's no doubt that he's a lovable character and The Martian a very enjoyable book.  I very much look forward to seeing its movie!

Next up, there's A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton.  A Map of the World is an old Oprah's Book Club book that's been languishing on my shelf for (be still my heart) a decade or more.  I surmise that the randomizer was feeling snarky when it chose this one, since the book is around 400 pages, but if the print in my copy was a rational size, it would probably be more like 600.  In short, it's a real morale buster for the reader who is trying to slough off as many books as possible before moving.  However, and herein lies the "problem." I really liked the book.  The beginning finds hapless housewife Alice Goodwin waking up on her Wisconsin farm for the last normal morning before tragedy strikes.  Within the first few chapters, her neighbor and friend Theresa's daughter has wandered off to the farm's pond and drowns in the few minutes it takes Alice to hunt down a swimsuit and discover that one of her charges is missing.  I thought this incident would be the crux of the book, but as it turns out, the drowning is just the tip of the tragic iceberg that strikes the Goodwin family that year and changes their lives forever.  Admittedly, A Map of the World is a bleak book, however Hamilton is a wizard with words, bringing forth two equally compelling narrators in Alice and her husband Howard, expertly depicting the tumble-down farm and the daily struggle it takes to keep it going.  A Map of the World is a dense and introspective account of a family temporarily torn asunder that explores big themes like guilt and forgiveness while at the same time contemplating human connections that are strikingly universal but too easily threaten to give way under pressure.  A Map of the World takes a little extra time to dig into, but for readers who appreciate a good character study with a plot to back it up, it's definitely worth the effort.

(No disclaimers!  These books are all mine!)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory by Stacey Wakefield (review)

In early May, I totally hurt my back.  I was pretty much out of commission for the better part of a week.  This is the sort of thing that has started to happen to me with too much frequency, and also the sort of thing that only a few good books can make bearable.  It was just my luck that I had just started Stacy Wakefield's The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory when my injury befell me, and said book was of the most absorbing variety possible.

It's 1995 when Sid arrives in New York City determined to follow her dream of joining the thriving NYC squatting scene.  She imagines reclaiming a piece of a derelict, abandoned building to have a certain romance to it, and she shows up ready to take her place among the anarchists and punk rockers who have colonized the Lower East Side.  Unfortunately, she's a little late to the movement, the established squats of the Lower East Side are full, and it's already midsummer - not much time to make a home she hasn't found yet habitable before winter comes on.  It seems the only choice for Sid and the guy she wishes was her boyfriend is to move their search for a squat to Brooklyn where they throw in with a group of different sorts of squatters in an old bread factory in Williamsburg.

The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory is a strange and wonderful little book that I really enjoyed.  First, it's unique.  Wakefield really pulled back the curtain on an interesting time in New York City history that has gone under-explored.  Secondly, it almost has the feel of a very compellingly written memoir.  There's no clear theme or plot here, no preachy moralizing, just a zoomed in look at a very formative time of a very sympathetic narrator.  There's no clear beginning or end, no contrived-seeming progression of events.  Wakefield's novel feels very organic, and despite what would seem to be my comments to the contrary, it's a fast and engaging read with an ending that's not exactly final, but is satisfying nonetheless.  Sunshine Crust is gritty and real without being gross or off-putting.  It features a loveable narrator, one who's interested in falling in love but whose life isn't defined in terms of her love interest(s).     

The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory is the sort of book that I wish the New Adult genre had aspired to.  Wakefield perfectly captures that time in a young person's life when everything seems possible, when we still believe that with enough courage and sacrifice the lives we imagine for ourselves can become a reality.  Sid is perfectly idealistic, not looking to change the world necessarily, but believing that she knows what she wants, and that she can make it happen if she gives it her all.  What she gets as she follows her dreams, what we all get, really, is a lot of struggle, a lot of feeling like she doesn't quite measure up to the person she's trying to be, and a lot of loneliness punctuated with a few bright, shining moments where she really does feel like she's arrived where she'd always intended to be.  If you ask me, this is what it's really like being a new adult, finding the limits to the life you dreamed of, struggling to figure out who you are, what you're made of, and where you fit in the landscape of the real world when the safety net is torn away.

This is a great book and a perfect introduction, for me, to indie press Akashic Books (who generously provided me with a copy for review.).  Highly recommended for people who wish the New Adult genre would dig a little deeper and (and this is totally just a feeling I have rather than any rational reasons I can point to) fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

(Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for review consideration.)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

If You Like This, Try That Reviewlettes

 Remember when I used to talk about books instead of frantically trying to get rid of them before moving?  I figure I can marry up these two pursuits by reviewing some books that have been spending a bit too long on my desk.  I've got two great books to tell you about today, both of which put me in the mind of a couple of my favorite TV shows.  If you like your books to occasionally complement your TV-watching habit, today's post is for you! ;-)

 If you like Orange is the New Black, try....

Gonzalez and Daughter Trucking Co. by Maria Amparo Escandon - Libertad Gonazalez, ironically, is in Mexican prison.  Even more ironically, it's the first time she's ever had female friends and a home that's not on wheels.  Finding an unlikely family in the cells of the Mexicali Penal Institution for Women with its bizarre class structure and warden with a heart of gold, Libertad still finds it difficult to tell the story of her life and crime to the women that surround her, so she unconsciously decides to read it to them.  Pretending to read the library's books to her fellow inmates at her newly established Library Club, Libertad shares the tale of her life with her father, a man on the run from the Mexican authorities who drives truck to keep them off his trail, even though they became an imaginary threat long ago.  Escandon weaves a charming, unique modern day fairy tale of Libertad's parents' love story, her rootless life on the road with an overprotective dad, and the love she found that made her so desperate to leave life on the road behind that she ends up in prison.  Gonzalez and Daughter is a clever read about a woman who has to go to prison to find freedom.  Bonus points because the prison community comes to life and definitely smacks of the uneasy camaraderie found among the inmates on Orange is the New Black.  Definitely give this one a try!

If you like Criminal Minds, try...

The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood - I thought The Killer Next Door was a fascinating combination of literary fiction and mystery with a super-creepy serial killer that only a Criminal Minds fan could love.  Marwood's book brings the denizens of sketchy South London house full of pay by the month flats dramatically to life.  There's an immigrant, a runaway, an elderly woman unwilling to part with her rent control, a woman on the run from a moment in the wrong place at the wrong time, and, oh yeah, there's the normal looking guy that's actually a serial killer hard at work mummifying the remains of his kills within the confines of his flat.  If you're looking for a thrill a minute, twisty sort of book that you won't be able to put down, this might not be it.  It's no difficult task to guess the killer.  However, The Killer Next Door is a convincing story of how a houseful of strangers with secrets becomes a family, united against their scumbag landlord, all with a side of perfectly twisted serial killer.  I loved these characters, was taken in by the fringe of society where they exist, and loved the black humor that added a little levity to a dark story that doesn't end up seeming so dark at all. I love Alex Marwood's unique deeper take on the traditional crime thriller and look forward to whatever she comes up with next.

(Thanks to the publisher for my copy of The Killer Next Door in exchange for review consideration.  Gonzalez and Daughter is from my own stacks.)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Loose Leafing: Currently

Happy Sunday, world!  It's been a while since we've met which, of course, is my fault, as usual.  Big life changes are afoot, so I've been preoccupied with lots of tasks that don't usually enter my purview.  Let's get right down to it...

Planning...   to move!  I've finally put down a deposit on a little apartment of my very own.  It's farther from most of my family (but still close enough to drop by with ease) but way closer to work and church.  I haven't signed a lease to make it official yet, but I'm expecting to be moving in mid-July.

Purging...  as much heavy stuff as I can stand to part with.  There's nothing like moving to make the stark reality of how much of an overabundance of stuff you have really sink in.  As you may have noted, the book problem is a big one.  I have a lot of them, and they're heavy.  I can maybe fit half of my present book collection into my new digs and hope that my parents will put up with storing a few.  However, I'm trying to unload as many as I can.  There are presently 9 boxes of books awaiting donation on the couch behind me, another probably box and a half waiting to be packed up upstairs, and that's really the tip of the "things I should be getting rid of" iceberg.  Weeding out all my stuff (from heaviest to lightest) is going to be the order of the day for the next month and a half.

Purchasing...  all the stuff I don't have.  Like furniture, kitchenware, a TV, etc, etc.  See, I have all the wrong stuff.  I'm already having some luck, though.  Living in rural Pennsylvania offers its occasional perks, one of which is the opportunity to pick up some decent starter (*ahem* used) furniture and stuff at local yard sales.  Yesterday, I bought a couple lamps, a small kitchen table with chairs, a coffee table, a lightly used Keurig mini that's purported to work, and a lightly used Dyson vacuum cleaner that definitely works - all for under $150.  My grandparents have a sleeper sofa that they're willing to part with, and I am breathing a sigh of relief at not having to spend a fortune up front on furniture and other necessities.

Poking fun at...  San Andreas!  My mom and I love to go to the movies and have got to see a disaster movie at least once a year to enjoy the special effects.  Also, they're fun to make fun of, and we love that, too.  See there are only two qualities of disaster movies: good bad and bad bad.  They are always cheesy, overwrought, and unrealistic, but if they have sufficient cool effects and action to counteract the cheesy overwrought dialogue/acting, they can prove to be very enjoyable.  I'm happy to report that San Andreas definitely falls within the "good bad" camp providing thrills a minute and plenty of opportunities to make fun of cheesy scenes and all those stereotypical disaster movie scenes.  Definitely a fun movie to see at the theater with friends or family that don't take these things too seriously.

Pondering...  announcing an official blog hiatus.  I'm an especially busy girl this summer both at work and at home(s), and I'm wondering if I wouldn't be better off taking a little official break from the action here.  So busy am I that even the outlook for taking a real vacation is decidedly dim.  However, there's a stack of books sitting here that I'd really like to get reviewed so I don't have to take them with me, ergo the jury's still out on this one.

Packing...  nothing yet.  I'm not ready!  There's too much stuff!  And no boxes!  Agh!  Moving stress is already creeping on me.  I'd love to stay and chat, but I have to go continue attempting to cut my belongings in half so that I can pack what remains.

(This post has been sponsored by the letter "P" who knows that when you spot a trend, sometimes you should just go with it.)

Hope you're having a more relaxing Sunday than I am!  What are you up to this week?