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)