Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pub 08 Challenge Completed

I simply had to post about this. The Pub '08 challenge is the one and the only of all the challenges I've attempted this year that I've actually completed. Actually, I completed it with flying colors reading some 17 books published in 2008 when the minimum required was 8 and reviewing all but one of them. I hear there's a Pub '09 challenge on tap for next year, so I guess I'll have to join that, too. Then maybe I'll be able to say that I succeeded at *two* challenges, but then I probably shouldn't start counting chickens before they're hatched...

Anyhow, here's the wrap-up...


Have You Found Her by Janice Erlbaum
The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari
The Cactus Eaters by Dan White
Black Wave by Jean and John Silverwood
Queen of the Road by Doreen Orion
A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs
Home Girl by Judith Matloff
Tears of the Desert by Halima Bashir


Widows of Eden by George Shaffner
Three Girls and Their Brother by Theresa Rebeck
The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
Ellington Boulevard by Adam Langer
All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan
Sweetsmoke by David Fuller
When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale
Aberrations by Penelope Przekop

My favorites are tough to choose as there are a bunch of really good books here, but I'd have to go with Sweetsmoke for fiction and Tears of the Desert for non-fiction, but if I broke my categories down any more than that I would just continue picking favorites until I had a huge list. Keep your eye out for the Second Annual Leafy Awards if go in for huge lists.

My least favorites? Probably Black Wave for non-fiction and Aberrations for fiction. Both books had their good qualities but didn't work as a whole for me.

Monday, December 29, 2008

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

Ah, methinks the Christmas reading funk has come to an end. Which is good, because it seems that Christmas has now passed. In keeping with my (new) tradition, I finished a great (if emotionally wrenching) book on Christmas day itself. That book is How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. And, I'll tell you, it was so good that I didn't even notice that it had nary a quotation mark until at least halfway through.

How I Live Now begins with the 15-year-old and obviously troubled Daisy arriving in England to spend the summer with her aunt and four cousins that she barely knows. Leaving life in New York where the weight of people's pity that her mother died in childbirth combined with life with her "evil" and now pregnant step-mother is a relief for Daisy whose desperation to be loved mixes all up with using self-starvation as a weapon against parents who don't seem to understand. Daisy finds solace at her Aunt Penn's isolated farmhouse where her odd but affectionate cousins wrap her up in their idyllic world where school consists of reading books and communication is totally possible even outside the limitation of speech.

I made up my mind to ask Aunt Penn some of these questions when she came back from Oslo but I guess what you really want to know are the things you can't ask like Did she have eyes like yours and When you pushed my hair back was that what it feels like to have your mother do it and Did she ever have a chance to look at me with a complicated expression like the one on your face, and by the way Was she scared to die.

As the summer wears on, Daisy is sure that she's found a place she can belong in the Back of Beyond with her cousins, Osbert, the eldest, who feels some responsibility for the rest but can't be troubled to do much about it; Piper, the youngest, who eagerly sweeps Daisy into their lives with her disarming sweetness; and twins Isaac and Edmond, the former who seems to be able to talk to animals but is strikingly wordless among people and the latter who Daisy feels a bit more for than is generally acceptable in a cousinly relationship. Even as Daisy begins to live her truest life, it is crumbling around her as a war sneaks into the countryside, upending all of their lives forever.

...sometimes I forgot to count Isaac because he could go days without saying a single word. I knew Aunt Penn wasn't worried about him because I heard her say to someone that he'd speak when he was ready to speak, but all I could think was in New York that kid would have been stuck in a straitjacket practically from birth and dangled over a tank full of Education Consultants and Remedial Experts all snapping at his ankles for the next twenty years arguing about his Special Needs and getting paid plenty for it.

How I Live Now is beyond description. The summary covers only the barest bones of a story that is surprisingly unique and oddly magical. Daisy is a brilliant teen narrator, obviously damaged and cynical when it comes to her life thus far and also desperately vulnerable and in need of love in a way few around her seem to understand. Her narration races along in stream of consciousness style with capital letters used frequently for emphasis in a way that is decidedly teenage. It crackles with insight and captures her cousins from an outsider's inside point of view, picking up on their sort of spiritual wavelength even when she is yet unable to be a part of it.

The beginning of the story paints her Aunt's run-down country farmhouse like a paradise and her cousins like Daisy's long lost soulmates, just as Daisy must see them. So, then, it is that much more jarring when a war begins in a decidedly non-traditional sense, slowly slashing paradise to pieces, separating the cousins, and subjecting them all to the harsh realities of an ultimately violent enemy Occupation. Even then, though, Daisy is finding herself and living a truer life than ever before as she discovers real love and learns that she would do anything to live for it.

I wanted to tell someone that this was it, the end, I couldn't go on any more with my own misery plus Piper's, which was so much worse. I felt full of rage and despair, like Job shaking his fist at God, and all I could do was sit with her and stroke her hair and murmur enough, enough, because that's what we'd both had.

Read it. It's awesome. It's definitely not the kind of book that you'll be quick to forget.

Read other reviews at:

Things Mean A Lot
In Search of Giants
Ink and Paper
Where Troubles Melt Like Lemon Drops

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dewey's Books Challenge

Despite my dismal failure at nearly every challenge I try, I'm going to have to give Dewey's Books Challenge a try, if only to try and honor her memory through reading. I'm sure you've all heard about this one by now, so I won't go on about the details - that's what the link's for! Anyhow, I'm going with option number 2 which is to choose and read 5 books that Dewey reviewed on her blog. Because I'm determined to succeed, I'm trying to make my list as easy as possible for me to accomplish, including mostly books that I already intend to read in 2009 and perhaps, uh, one that I've read already. Here's my list, which is, of course, subject to change upon my whims.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Thanks to Chris and Robin for hosting!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Redux

Greetings! Hope you and yours had a Merry Christmas!

We made lots of merry here at our house, and I'm wholeheartedly satisfied with my gift haul, and more importantly how much everybody else liked the gifts I bought them. Or, at least, how good of a job everybody did of acting like they really enjoyed the gifts I bought them.

I made a concentrated effort to buy at least as many books for gifts as I do most years and quite possibly more. For my mom, who loved Wally Lamb's previous two books, I grabbed a copy of the newest, The Hour I First Believed which she's already started to read. For my dad, we had the old standby, the yearly Odd Thomas release from Dean Koontz, Odd Hours, which he always enjoys. He's badly in need of a new author to love, so I'm trying to get him hooked on Neil Gaiman with a copy of Neverwhere, too. My grandmother, who almost never wants books, kept bringing up the good things she'd been hearing about Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, so naturally, I had to pick up a copy of that for her. Lastly, and my crowning achievement of the year, for my cousin who has just begun learning to read, I grabbed a copy of one of my very favorite childhood books, Animalia and made a severe annoyance of myself until my mom bought her a copy of Mo Willems' The Pigeon Wants a Puppy. It's so much fun picking out cool books for new readers. I hope she enjoys them as much as I do!

As for me, not too many books under the tree, but the quality was definitely there. The first gift I opened was a copy of Leif Enger's So Brave, Young, and Handsome which I've been dying to have since I knew it existed. I loved Peace Like a River, so I'm quite excited about this one. I also got a spiffy new copy of the new ESV Study Bible which the people at my church are simply rabid over, if indeed, it's quite correct to be rabid about a Bible.... Anyhow, it's full of awesome stuff, so I'm quite excited about that, too. My ever-thoughtful 10 year old cousin got me a book light. Now does that kid know me or what?

Another gift I consider to be quite bookish that I'm wildly excited about is my hunter green SLANKET! This is a great gift for when I want to read in my arctic temperature bedroom. As a matter of fact, cozily tucked into my Slanket I devoured the end of How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff last night after the holiday merry making had come to an end (and a few re-runs of House had been watched). Believe it or not, I've actually already written the review, but I'm going to save it for sometime over the next few days because I predict that next week is going to be pretty harsh on the old blogging time because some folks at work are taking some vacation which means that I get pressed into service at all kinds of weird hours. After which, I'll definitely need to drink some of the !wine I won in their mystery holiday giveaway drawing! which is doubly cool because I'm going through a real wine phase right now, which sounds kind of bizarre because I'm not much of a drinker at all.

All in all, a very satisfying holiday. The planets aligned properly allowing everybody to be in a fairly good mood on the holiday. Children were relatively well-behaved. Great gifts were given and received, and a sense of humor prevailed. Can't ask for much more than that. It's about time for me to leave for the matinee of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which will be, hopefully, as good as it looks.

So, what good stuff did you get for Christmas?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dude, Where's My Attention Span?

Brought to you in list form for the extremely attention span deficient.

- I've lost my attention span, and I can't seem to concentrate long enough to go looking for it. I'm hoping it will come back when I stop being busy all the frickin' time.

- I don't really like working full time. It's a real time suck. I do, however, rather enjoy the bigger numbers on my paycheck. A quandary, really. Especially during the busy holiday season when I could really use the big numbers but could also really use an extra hour or two. And no, my attention span doesn't attend work with me either, which is not good. If you see it, could you send it back?

- I read this other YA book a few weeks back, before Twilight. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan. I don't even quite know how to talk about it. I almost quit halfway through but was persuaded by the rather high rating on Library Thing and its shortness to persevere, and I liked it. It's a sweet little love story of two boys. The writing? A little bit quirky and quite absorbing. The love story? Great. Actually, the first time Noah and Paul go out, or I should say, stay in, would make a powerfully great short story. The weird not quite alternate universe peppered with things like a tranny homecoming queen/football quarterback, cheerleaders who ride motorcycles into the pep rally, and generally accepted homosexuality except for the one kid with the religious parents? This didn't work for me. I mean, here we've got this world that Levithan has created where pretty much everybody is cool with whatever sort of sexual preference you, um, prefer, but then there's this random rather important character whose intolerant parents won't let him be who he is. Somehow, it just doesn't seem to fit. Why is everybody cool about this kind of thing except for this kid's parents? If Levithan had totally tweaked reality and went the whole hog on this, I think I would have been okay with it, but there's this old-fashioned leftover from really real reality (did you follow that? I'm not sure I did) that kind of messes the whole thing up. Sure, let's envision an enlightened sort of life where everybody is free to be who they are and like who they like, that's swell, but if we're going to do that shouldn't we leave the "past" behind? There was just something about it that rubbed me the wrong way. Oh well. I liked the book, really, I did. It was a sweet story and once I managed to get over my issues with Levithan's slightly alternate reality, I did find the story quite enjoyable and that characters quite lovable.

- So I joined this book group with some people from church - actually it's more of literature group. We're reading A Christmas Carol. I have managed a sum total of 46 pages of this since I finished Twilight, and, uh, nothing else. I'm enjoying it, but have I mentioned that I have no attention span to speak of? Next up I have to decide if I have it in me to tackled Crime and Punishment....again. I'm hoping that someday they'll read some literature that I didn't read in high school.

- I'd almost given up hope, but this (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet) came in the mail today. I'm very excited about it. Really, very excited about it. The early, early reviews that I've read have been positively glowy. And it's so pretty. See the pretty picture? Oooooo.

- I've read astonishingly few books this year. I'm alternately embarassed and ashamed. I'm ready to gear up for next year and do better. It would definitely help if nobody in my family would go and have a near death experience right at the beginning of next year. Or any other part of the year for that matter. Do you hear that family? No brushes with death! I have books to read, you know! (Okay - this point is kind of sick and twisted - time to move on).

- I keep...like...winning stuff. It's starting to get a little crazy. I'm starting to wonder if maybe I should play the lottery, too. I mean, if only I could win the lottery, I could quit my job and have plenty more time to read... My wave of good fortune probably started a while back with Imaginary Friends which I won from Literary Feline. Then at the beginning of this month, I won The Teahouse Fire from Matt. Over the weekend, I scored a much-coveted Christmas bookmark and treats from Nymeth. And now today I found out that I've won Chartroose's four "Falling" books. How awesome are these people and their sweet giveaways? I'm so excited for the very super great mail days in my future. It all just kind of makes me want to give away stuff. And I will, but probably not until the new year - you know, that massive lull of winter months that come after Christmas. I need something to look forward to and I imagine so will you.

- I could make a lot of excuses for this post. Instead, I think I'll just publish it before I wander off to look at shiny things and forget to click the button....

Monday, December 8, 2008

Everybody's Doing It

You know, there's a bit of an fine line going with this whole book blogging thing because when I'm not blogging it usually means I'm reading and when I'm blogging too much, then that means I'm not reading enough to sustain my book blog.

What I'm trying to say is that I went Christmas shopping on Saturday in a vain hope of finding Animal, Vegetable, Mineral at the one local indie book store which has a definite sci-fi/fantasy bent with a few random bestsellers tossed in. To my great surprise, I found a copy and was able to "support the local indie" as I always say that I want to but rarely do. I don't buy many new books, and I buy even fewer new books from actual stores. Except for at Christmas, that's when I make up for my lackluster new book buying.

While I was there, against my better judgement, I bought one of these...

Because, I mean, who can really resist buying a book with vampires from a bookstore that actually has a "Vampire" section? Especially when you're an incredible sheep like me who just has to know what the big deal is. (Yes, I saw the movie, too, okay?) And it's been on my wish list for longer than you would guess...

Much to my surprise, I quickly cast aside everything I'd been reading and all the accumulated reading obligations this year has brought, and then let it devour my weekend whole. I accomplished nearly nothing this weekend apart from reading this book. I almost made it all the way through to the end, but alas, the work week came despite my great desire to stay in bed with the book. And then I worked 9 hours today, so the spell was briefly broken. But I intend to finish it. Soon.

No, it's not a work of great literary merit, nor, I believe, is it intended to be. It is, however, great and addictively escapist. I totally get the appeal. I mean, I need a few more books that will make me completely disregard everything else I might need or even want to do (even if I do notice offhand that maybe the main characters glare a little too often and that their attempts at verbalizing their feelings maybe get the slightest bit redundant even as I plow through the pages at an alarming rate). I get a kick out of how all of the first 10 widely "thumbs upped" reviews on Library Thing are wildly negative, and yet, it has an impressive 4.3 star rating among the general LT populace. Despite whatever flaws it might have, Meyer does know how to tell a good story - slowly handing out the details you crave and keeping you reading late into the night (or well into that time that you should have been balancing your checkbook or decorating your Christmas tree or even indulging in the ever-hallowed post-church Sunday afternoon nap - the best of the week I'll have you know).

Anyhow, all this leads me to believe that if you like this sort of thing, you will find it to be exactly the sort of thing that you will like. And I do. I like this sort of thing. Now, I'm off to go like it some more.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Missing You

I don't know what to say, but I can't just say nothing. I was shocked as was much of the book blogosphere to hear of Dewey's sudden passing last week. I've been reading Dewey's blog for just about as long as I've been a blogger. Though, I've never seen her, it feels like losing a friend. It is like losing a friend.

I can't say how much I have appreciated Dewey's enthusiasm for books, her great generosity, and most of all her many efforts to build our book blogging community. Many of my best blog friends I discovered because of Dewey's tireless efforts with things like the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon and the Weekly Geeks, and all them (of you!) are priceless gifts.

Thank you, Dewey, for everything you did and everything you were. You will be greatly missed.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale

Sooo...I was sitting here on this cold snowy sort of day contemplating whether or not the roads might be too bad to go to church since I don't get my good tires on until tomorrow. Oh wait, I was actually thinking about how I was going to write two lovely posts about how I was going to "clean the slate" and stop reading two books. Then I went in search of pictures for the posts and was distracted by the plethora of good reviews for the one and how maybe I didn't want to stop reading the other in the first place even though I was getting impatient with it. The one I find so unbelievable but like the writing, the other I'm not so into the author's writing but still want to hear the rather interesting stories he's collected. So, I've reached an impasse. Is it these books that I really want to give up on or is it me and the fact that I'm kind of in a depressed, whiny mood and eager for some sort of change even if it's just a total clean slate when it comes to the books that I'm reading? Being prone to indecisiveness in all things, I can't seem to make up my mind. This leaves me with but one possible action, and that's to review a book that I actually did finish and very much enjoyed, though there were some tense moments at the beginning when I thought I just wouldn't be able to get into it.

That book is When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale. At its beginning, I wasn't sure if maybe it would drive me crazy, but by the end I was quite certain that Kneale had done something brilliant.

When We Were Romans is the story of Lawrence, a nine-year-old boy from England, as told by Lawrence himself. As the story begins, Lawrence, his younger sister Jemima, and their mother have just returned from a triumphant trip to a distant grocery store where they were forced to go because Lawrence's mother, Hannah, is certain that her ex-husband and the children's father is stalking them with evil intent. Even a trip to the grocery store without any unfortunate happenings is cause for celebration. Still, though, Hannah is distraught that her ex is lurking around every corner turning the neighbors against her and her children and lying in wait to do them some unspeakable harm. In an effort to escape this lingering terror, she packs up the two kids and shuttles them off to Rome, the last place she remembers being happy where the small family moves from place to place to stay with Hannah's old friends.

Lawrence renders the tale of their trip to Rome in possibly the most authentic nine-year-old voice ever executed by a grown man. At the start, it's a bit of a struggle to get used to, seeing as Lawrence's spelling and punctuation errors are included. Dialogue isn't separated out into the lines but included in the larger paragraphs along with many of Lawrence's thoughts which are marked as quotes. Then, however, something happens and you might well find you've been swept away by this short novel.

Lawrence's quirks and idiosyncrasies with spelling breathe as much life into this novel as does the story itself. His narration is full of the petty concerns of a nine-year-old such as his irritation with his little sister, his obsessive desire to acquire an army of Roman soldiers despite the fact that his mother apparently has no money, and his conviction that the young son of one of his mother's friends is going to steal his hamster in throw him in the trash. More significant, however, is that the narration is also fraught with the keen perception that children have of even those things that should be beyond their understanding. Lawrence knows when his mother is getting a bit too close to one of her old friends, he picks up on the subtle change between his mother and her best friend when the friend starts to doubt the truth of Hannah's stories, and he even knows, though he hesitates to admit it, that there is something a bit askew about this whole trip to Rome.

So the Romens never did say that it was strange to do a trial for a dead body, in fact they didn't say anything at all. But after, when they all went home to their houses, when they sat down and ate their dinner and it was really quiet, so they could hear their knives go "clink clink" and the clock go "tick tock" then I think they all knew.

As with other well-liked books such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the unique narrator of When We Were Romans allows Kneale to add many layers to the story that couldn't exist if we were given a "typical" narrator. The story as filtered though Lawrence's eyes is one of excitement, mystery, and horror which leaves it to us to uncover just what lurks beneath the surface of seemingly ordinary events. Additionally, Kneale cleverly intersperses the real-time happenings with Lawrence's recounting of the things he's been reading, alternately tidbits about space for his school report and his reading from his Hideous History books about Popes and Caesars. These reveal yet more about Lawrence's personality and his uncannily perceptive way of thinking while at the same time proving all too relevant to the things that are happening to Lawrence and his family. (If can't guess, both of the quotes I've chosen are from these instances.)

There is lots of dust by the event horizon, its like a big disk, it goes round faster and faster until it falls in, so it is like water going down the plug hole. And d'you know just because its about to fall down the dust does a funny thing, it spits out lots of rays, they are X rays and radio waves, scientists can see them through their teliscopes, and they are awful actually. It is like the poor dust is screeming, its saying "oh no I'm getting sucked into this black hole, I will never come back, nobody will ever see me again, I will get squoshed flat, this is terrible" its like it is saying "help me."

Honestly, this is a great book that can't be captured by any review. It's short and it's sweet and even a bit sad, and it's also very smart and totally believable. Another of my favorite reads of the year.

Read other reviews at:

A Striped Armchair

Friday, November 28, 2008

It *knows*!

Wow, here's a post that has nothing to do with anything. I found this link to The Typealyzer over at Book Zombie. You type in your blog URL. It "reads" your blog and tells you your personality. Now, usually I try all these things that I find, get a laugh over them and move on to other things, but this thing totally has me pegged. Therefore I feel I must share because I find that it's a bit on the astounding side that it can "read" my blog in like half a second and pretty much spit out an utterly accurate description of my personality. I also think that it's cool that I must really come off as me on my blog if this thing is any indication. That's probably a good thing...

ISFP - The Artists

The gentle and compassionate type. They are especially attuned their inner values and what other people need. They are not friends of many words and tend to take the worries of the world on their shoulders. They tend to follow the path of least resistance and have to look out not to be taken advantage of.

They often prefer working quietly, behind the scene as a part of a team. They tend to value their friends and family above what they do for a living.

Seriously, it's kind of creepy.

Anywho. Hope all the rest of you folks in the US had a fabulous Thanksgiving and got to spend lots of time with the people you're thankful for doing the things you're thankful for! =D

Sunday, November 23, 2008

London Calling by Edward Bloor

So, once upon a time (okay, um, like a week and a half ago...), I had this brilliant (if not wholly original or especially imaginative) idea. Here I sat at my computer pondering the vastness of Google Reader and how uhm, every other blog seemed to be reviewing the same book. Now, I totally understand this - publishers and authors are looking to create a lot of buzz about books so that they can move some copies when it hits the shelves. This is perfectly understandable, as is the book blogger's desire to be "with the times" and reading and reviewing these newer books. And I've become a totally huge "offender" in this respect, too. I can hardly say that being a new book hound hasn't been an enjoyable experience. I've discovered a few gems in that way and stand to discover a fair few more. But all this other reading material that I've been busy accumulating over the rest of my life has really been getting the short shrift.

Well then, I thought, I kind of miss reviewing books that everybody on the earth isn't also reviewing at near about the same time. Hey, I bet books that were published before this year or even next year are probably still quite enjoyable. Huh, (now here's where the bright if unoriginal/unimaginative idea comes in...wait for it...), I should really read some of that stuff that I had sitting about on my shelves before I became a psycho "me want spiffy new books" book blogger. So (aha! I've got it!), I thought, you know what I'll do? I'll alternate - one spiffy new read (and review!) for every one equally valid book read from the great pre-exising Mountain of TBR lurking in every corner waiting to crush me. This, of course, only works if I actually comment in some way on the blog about the book I managed to pluck off Mount TBR and read. Oops. Now that I've actually gone ahead and finished my next "spiffy new book," it seems that I should really, in good conscience, should go back and say something about the very respectably decent Mount TBR read that I completed some time ago.

Of course, I intended to review it sooner. Alas, this past week was dysfunctional as every single week of mine seems to be lately. Somehow I managed to accomplish nothing especially meaningful "real life-wise" and yet still not A) keep up with the blogs in my Google reader (thought I did leave a thoughtful comment or few on the ones I *did* manage to peruse) or B) post a single freakin' word on my blog or C) finish another book. Okay, I just made the cut on that last one. That moves me up a bracket from abject failure to uh....average failure. But, please, that's enough about me and my complete inability to use my time wisely (unless of course, you count the daily two hour naps and the watching of things like "Top 15 Child Star Mug Shots" on TV as being a wise use of time...). I really must talk about this book so I can begin to assuage my feelings of failure before someone comes back to house to interrupt the peace and quiet that will hopefully enable me to so.

Edward Bloor's London Calling is a sweet YA read featuring the young John Martin Conway. Martin is stuck attending the private school where his mom works in order to give him the best of educational opportunity, but he'd just as soon go to public school rather than dealing with the rich, entitled jerks that terrorize him at All Souls Prep. The toxic atmosphere for a "scholarship" kid at All Souls combined with the death of his grandmother with whom he seemed to share a special spiritual connection are the straws that break the camel's back. Martin adamantly refuses to return to All Souls and resigns himself to residing in his basement bedroom after an embarassing altercation with Hank Lowery, grandson of General Henry "Hollerin' Hank" Lowery, a somewhat ambiguous figure of World War II whose family has done whatever could be done to cement his good, if possibly false, reputation.

Martin's existence in his basement bedroom is dismal and unlike living at all, that is, until the old fashioned radio he inherited from his grandmother begins to transport him back in time to London during the Blitz. There he meets Jimmy Harker who is determined to convince Martin to do "his bit." Whatever "bit" that might be, it's up to Martin to discover. Soon Martin finds himself doing extensive research to discover whether his encounters with Jimmy are, in fact, based in fact, or if he has begun to have elaborate historical dreams. In the process, Martin begins to live and enjoy life again, repair family ties, and even discover what he can do to help Jimmy even from the distant future. What emerges is a page-turner of a time travel story, a sweet coming of age story, and a good lesson about the significance of family ties and the importance of "doing your bit" to make a difference in the lives around you.

This was an enjoyable read for me as an adult, and I'm sure if the book had existed when I was in its target age range (probably the junior high age group, if I had to guess), it would have been one of my favorites. I always was big into historical fiction and a total time travel nut, so this was (and would have been) right up my alley!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sweetsmoke by David Fuller

As the Civil War tears a nation apart, Sweetsmoke gives us a glimpse into the life of Cassius, a clever favored slave on a Virginia tobacco plantation. While countless lives are lost on both sides of the conflict, Cassius is concerned for only one, that of Emoline Justice, a woman who stepped in to save his life when he had hit rock bottom. Emoline nursed Cassius back to health both physically and mentally and in the process gives him the dangerous gift of literacy. Knowing that even in the best of times no one would care to seek the killer of a freed slave like Emoline, Cassius knows that if justice is to be done to Emoline's killer, he must do it himself. Cassius's single-minded quest to find Emoline's killer takes him to many places fraught with danger including the secret outpost of a hunted spy and even north to the front lines of a major Civil War battle between men who, in Cassius's experience, are altogether too similar.

Cassius is a supremely engaging character. He is a bold and intelligent character who with his keen perception can surmise the motives and the drives of those around him. He knows his value and yet he struggles with what it means to be only property, someone whose life can change completely depending on the failure of a crop or even bad luck at a hand of cards. With the relationship between Cassius and his master, Hoke Howard, Fuller explores the backward thinking behind the institution of slavery in which the benevolent slave-owner provides for the slave who, by his very nature, could never provide for himself. Using Cassius, a perhaps unusually clever slave, and Hoke, a perhaps on occasion unusually morally conflicted owner, Fuller turns this myth on its head as Cassius cunningly manipulates those around him and appears to be the smartest of all the characters. And yet, we never lose sight of the fact that despite the considerable liberties he might be able to take, Cassius's existence is fragile, and that he is, at the end of the day, lacking one crucial aspect - freedom.

If Mr. Plume was ever to become Cassius's owner, Cassius would never again have the opportunity to consider independent action. He would be driven night and day and if he exhibited reticent behavior, this Mr. Plume would reach down inside Cassius with a sharp-edged spoon and scrape out of him any small dreams of freedom that he might have accrued. He was relieved when Mr. Plume looked away, but felt a raw sensations inside his chest that lingered.

Fuller spares no detail in his depiction of the Civil War era south. Though obviously carefully constructed with extreme care shown even down to the punctuation of the dialogue (quotation marks for the free, none for the slaves), the writing never feels forced or contrived. Instead, Fuller's Civil War south leaps off the page exposing a world populated with fragile southern gentility perched precariously on their clever, if oppressed, chattel. Through Cassius's eyes and Fuller's evocative writing, we can feel the heat of mid-summer in Virginia, smell the sweet scent of tobacco on the air, and even hear the sounds of a raging Civil War battle as if we were experiencing them first-hand.

This was killing on an impossible scale, and Cassius could not wrap his brain around the images in front of his eyes. He tried to remember that each one of these men had a life, a family, mother, father, children, fears and hopes and ideas; each one worked and dreamed and had once been a child, and now screamed in astonished agony. He lost his sense of reality, as if his intelligence shut down to preserve him from such madness. Unable to comprehend the meaning of such an immense horror, he began to see falling men as unreal, no different than the soldiers he carved. These were white men being killed by white men who were the same but for the color of their uniforms; mindfully, purposefully slaughtering one another by the dozens, by the score, by the hundreds, by the thousands. Cassius saw how easy it was to devastate a man's body and rob him of his valuable life. And yet, those who survived remained on the battlefield and fought on.

Cassius's mystery comes to an unexpected and satisfying, if not pleasant, conclusion. However, the heart of this book is not in the mystery. The heart of it lies in the character of Cassius and in the world in which he lives which is brought fully to life. Sweetsmoke does just what great historical fiction should do. It transports us to a time and place that we will never be able to experience and makes us feel as if we are experiencing it, not just being told about it in a book. Well done.

Definitely one of my top reads of the year.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Week or So in Books

Argh! It's been a week since my last post. Where does the time go? Seriously? D'oh, I've got to get rid of this job and this social life, really. No, just kidding. I actually rather enjoy making an idiot of myself attempting to learn to country line dance despite my lack of any dancer-ish skills. I'd do it again in a heartbeart or uh...in a week. But I digress.

Last weekend, I took a chunk out of my precious reading time to go uh...buy more books. Oops. Well, the Barnes & Noble gift card was burning a hole in my file cabinet drawer right next to the Old Navy gift card that I...ahem...forgot that I had. Isn't that great? Finding money (or equivalent) that you totally forgot you had? That Old Navy Gift Card brought a smile to my face and some pants to my butt. Really, though, we all know you're not here to hear about pants, so I'll get to the goods. Yes, everybody, I popped over to Barnes & Noble and bought some books that, well, everyone else already has. Without intending to, I also went all Sesame Street and stuck with the theme letter "R."

Let's see, I picked up a copy of Cormac McCarthy's The Road which I've wanted since before it was an Oprah book, I'll have you know. Everybody's forever talking about this and how awesome it is. Even the people who didn't think it would be awesome. So I had to have it, of course. Besides, I've got to read it before the movie comes out now, don't I?

Then, another that I had my eye on, Run by Ann Patchett. I don't count myself a "fan" of many authors because I don't revisit many authors. This is not intentional, it's just the way things usually shake out. Anyhow, Ann Patchett is among my favorite authors. I really liked Bel Canto, The Magician's Assistant, and even Truth & Beauty, so Run was obvious pick for the unintentional "R" themed book shopping day.

In keeping with said "R" theme, the four dollar copy of The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid on the remainder table jumped into my hands despite the fact that I'd already used up my gift card money. It's been on my wish list for a while, and I think the concept sounds very interesting.

So, that's all of the book purchasing. I also got a few oldies but goodies in the mail from some lovely Bookcrossers - Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes, Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult (one of the titles that has been languishing on my wishlist the longest!), and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

Election night was a challenge for me because I was just about to finish the first book I've really loved in quite awhile. So I had to alternate myself between watching the election returns and devouring the last 50 or so pages of Sweetsmoke by David Fuller. I was so in the mood to read some historical fiction and this was the perfect selection. Yes - I really liked this one, which serves many purposes. It provides a brilliant exit from my stay on the book blogger leper colony, breaks me out of my book funk, and gives you a break from my grinchy "this was just okay" book reviews. So yeah, look for that this week.

I'm also reading another book sent to me via the Early Reviewer program at Library Thing - In the Country of Brooklyn by Peter Golenbock. It's quite a tome, weighing in at about 300 more pages than I could ever have expected at a vast 661 or so pages. It's oral history about the significance of Brooklyn in, I don't know, say, the social evolution of the United States. It's an interesting concept letting the people tell their own stories, which are very engrossing, but all the filler narrative is badly in need of an editor to cut out all the redundancy and maybe give Golenbock some tips on organization. The jury's still out on this one, as I've still got oh, two thirds of it to go. But I will review it. Someday. When I finish it. I promise.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Aberrations by Penelope Przekop

All right. Here it is. The book that planted me solidly on the book blogger leper colony. The book everyone seems to have written glowing reviews of but for one or two people. It's even got a very respectable 4.12 out of 5 star rating on Library Thing. There are people out there saying this is one of their favorite reads of the year. So what's wrong with me? Oh well, here I go with the review, as promised. Please be gentle when throwing the rotten fruits and veggies, mmkay?

Angel Duet has problems. Her mother is dead leaving only photographs of clouds that serve as a centerpiece for Angel and her father's lives and an empty space where all the feelings associated with mother should have been. Her father, she discovers, is a liar. She suffers from debilitating narcolepsy that leaves her dependent on her father and her irritating would-be stepmother, Carla. She wants people to know and understand her intimately, like a mother would, but she holds people at arm's length afraid to let them into her life for fear that they won't understand her or will attempt to define her in terms of her illness. She's lonely and confused and searching for anybody who will help her fill up the hole in herself that can only be filled by mother. Her search leads her into the arms of a married man, the lesbian cousin of a friend, and into the arms of the boring and self-involved Christian who will ultimately give her a reason to look her own life in the face and fill in the blanks of her story that have plagued her for so long.

How I wish I had really liked this book like the rest of the blogosphere seems to have liked it. It's the first book that was ever sent to me for review that someone came to me to offer it. I sat down to read it with high hopes, and out of the gate found it, well, difficult. To be quite honest, had I purchased this book and plucked it off my enormous TBR pile, it probably wouldn't have passed the 50 page test. The first fifty pages are rough, filled with convoluted descriptions of the, at first, very unlikeable Angel's overdramatic thoughts and daydreams. Awkward and abrupt transitions combined with Angel's struggle to divide what is reality from what is dream confuse the narrative and make the story hard to get lost in. The seeming self-consciousness of the writing combined with the use of "cain't" and "thang" to communicate the characters' southern accents make the writing seem almost amateurish to me. Good writing is supposed to be a vehicle for a story, but the writing in the first fifty pages of Aberrations feels like just writing.

That said, by the time I reached the end of the book, I was almost glad I hadn't given up on it. As Aberrations progresses, the narrative sheds a good deal of its awkwardness, revealing a more heartfelt story with a main character that we have begun to sympathize with despite her many mistakes and weaknesses as she begins to rebuild from the ashes the life she thought she knew. Watching Angel grow into a character readers can care about and a whole person who has come to grips with the secrets of her past and the realities of her present is what gives this book a soul that will appeal to readers. Przekop has created a cast of characters that start out very shallow and unlikeable but end up as real people who have faced real problems for better or for worse - people that we can ultimately understand and sympathize with despite their many failings.

Oh, and since I usually go out of my way to note the effect of bad cover art on my desire to read a book, I definitely want to point this one out as an example of really great cover art. It's eye-catching, it highlights stuff from the book, very nice. Definitely something that I would take a closer look at if I cam upon it at a bookstore.

While I wouldn't exactly classify Aberrations as my cup of tea, many (okay most) book bloggers enjoyed it much more than I did. I would encourage you to read their reviews for a second (and third and fourth...) opinion that is wildly different from my own.

The Literate Housewife
Bookish Ruth
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
From My Bookshelf
Crescent Moon Book Reviews
Bookannelid Book Reviews

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Weekly Geeks #22 - Archiving

All right, all right. I know I teased everybody about my stay in the book blogger leper colony (okay, it took me more than three tries to spell colony - argh), but I'm afraid you'll have to wait just a few days more because despite being "demoted" at work, I've managed to fill up this whole week with a ridiculous amount of extracurriculars that have kept me away from the computer. I am also alternating between mild depression about the state of my life and, um, going about seeming completely unhinged. This is an unhinged night. Maybe not the best time to be writing a book review? It would either be really depressing or slightly insane, no?

I am, however, going to explore the archives of some Weekly Geeks as per Dewey's challenge for this week. Because, really, we all know how I need some more blogs in my feed reader that I desperately want to read but probably ultimately won't (or will very sporadically) what with my great dependability when it comes to bloghopping. But hey, this was fun anyway. It's always fun to get out and see who's new or uh, new to you.

Right, so Dewey asked us to journey out into the blogosphere, pick three Weekly Geeks, and comb through their archives in search of a post to spotlight. I tried to pick three that were pretty new to me, you know, so I could further burden my feed reader. So here it goes.

First, I paid a visit to Ali over at Worducopia. Onto my feed reader she has gone, which is pretty good, because I'm trying to be discriminating. Just like I am with free books. And free food. Maybe I should stop talking now. Anyhow, I enjoyed her post about what makes a memoir worth reading, especially given my unusual penchant for memoirs this year. Also, the post about the somewhat serendipitous discovery of a kids' author event at her local book store complete with free chocolate milk of all things, is pretty entertaining, too.

Up next is Joanne over at Book Zombie who ended up in my Google Reader not too awful long ago. Now, first of all, who doesn't love the name "Book Zombie"? (Disclaimer: The following comments are the loony observations of the author and the author only. They are not intended to reflect on Book Zombie and are merely the insane ramblings of yours truly). I equate book zombie-ness (or is it zombie-dom?) with how I feel after I've been luxuriating with a book all day and I finally put it down to do other things. I always feel a tad out there and otherwordly for awhile and a little like I walk around with arms outstretched, grunting creepily (say - I think I saw some book zombies at the end of the Read-a-thon, now that I think about it). I kind of enjoy being a book zombie but can see how it might frighten other people. And again, someone please stop me - I've gone on too long. I don't think this exercise was intended as an exercise in "stream of consciousness" writing, and yet, it is. Joanne's blog is pretty and she writes some very spiffy reviews like, for example, this one or, maybe, that one.

Then I bumbled on over to see Shelf Elf where I could indulge a bit in my thing for YA fiction of which she reviews much. I have to be honest, first I got distracted (because what am I if not distractable? Is that a word?) by the post with the link to the Peanuts Character Test because I was watching the Great Pumpkin Halloween special the other night. I was Sally - in case you were wondering. Then I got distracted and clicked over to the free rice vocab game thing where I screwed up the answer for "auspicious" not once but twice. 700 grains of rice later I returned to the task at hand. There's some sentiments about ARCs I can sure appreciate, and how about those microwavable bunny slippers?

Okay, well, that's done. Wanna read some other Weekly Geeks who are doing this? Ones who are perhaps feeling a little bit less unhinged than I am tonight?


Callista and Suey get brownie points because they "did" me. Hi, ladies, thanks for stopping by!

And, if you're uh, tired of me (No! It can't be!), you could go visit Rachel and Jessica for some totally Leafing Through Life-free bloghopping.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Wherein I Rant About Life and Perhaps Even Talk About a Book

It's been a long week. I'm wishing I could get a new job again, but I don't know where or if that's even a possibility given the economy of late. I just finished subbing in full time for a girl who just had a baby in a different part of my department. Nobody really thought she would come back to work - I don't think she even thought she would come back, but come back she did, so now I'm really out of a job that I legitimately liked and sent back to a job that, for the most part, is just something to get through to get my paycheck. Not only that, but after I'd done my best work, better than most even, my boss saw fit to remind me that I'm only "part time" (except for when, on a whim, he feels like he needs me to be full time) and take 20 hours per pay period out of my schedule. It was pretty much like being demoted when you've been doing better than good work, better work than many full-timers around you who don't seem to appreciate their good fortune in having a full-time job. It doesn't really give one much of an incentive to be a very good employee. Is it a total oxymoron to say that someday I'll find a job where my boss actually appreciates what I do? Or is that one of my naive, youthful beliefs that I'd do better to be disabused of as soon as possible? Either way, it's been pretty much a bummer of a week, and I haven't felt like doing much of anything (which may also explain why I punked out on that Weekly Geeks first line list - thanks to those of you who helped me - but I just kind of got bored and wandered off to look at shiny things). Well, the good news (if you choose to take it as such...) is that you may well be seeing more of me around here which could lead to more blog posts, more book reviews, more comments, and more responding to comments (which I have been sadly lacking in lately). The bad news is, well, I'll probably be resenting the extra time instead of embracing it for awhile because of my natural propensity to spend undue amounts of time obsessing over stupid crap that I'm pretty much powerless to change.

Luckily, I went out for dinner and a movie with some friends last night and it kind of shook me loose from my funk. So now, I'm semi-enjoying a stormy, crummy day by vegging out in front of the computer and with some books. I was out of town visiting with my old college roommates last weekend, so yet again, I missed the Read-a-thon. One of these times I'm really going to be able to get it into my schedule....I hope. But, I'll at least get back some of that reading time today because it seems the perfect day to engage in the doing of nothing productive whatsoever.

I've also been diligently attempting to switch from Bloglines to Google Reader. Yes, I'm finally taking the plunge. I finally got just fed up enough with Bloglines' perpetual malfunctioning when I realized I was missing posts from some of my favorite bloggers because it up and decided to just stop collecting them for no apparent reason and with no indication of its failure to do so until I thought, "hey, I haven't heard from so-and-so lately" who had actually, it turns out, been posting with some regularity. As with everything I do, I had to make it into a project and make sure I only brought along the blogs that I really think that I'm going to read on a regular basis, as opposed to bringing along all the blogs that I let their posts pile up and then mark them all as read without ever taking the time to look at them. Alas, only a few have failed to make the cut so I'm sure Google Reader is going to fill up with unread posts just as quickly as Bloglines did.

Sooo, now that you've been apprised of all the mild misfortune of my daily life, maybe I'd better actually talk about a book (because I do that sometimes...really). Being down and unmotivated all week, actually made it a great week for me to do something I don't usually do - read a novel that is absolute, total brain candy.

Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn by Sarah Miller (not to be confused with the uh...other Sarah Miller) is the story of Gideon's first year at prestigious and pretentious Connecticut prep school Midvale Academy as told by a female student there who has somehow managed to enter into Gideon's thoughts. The identity of the narrator is kept under wraps until the very end providing just the tiniest bit of suspense as we follow Gideon through his first year. It just so happens that in his first year at Midvale, the hapless Gideon ends up rooming with two big men on campus, good-looking, womanizing, pot-smoking Cullen McKay and quirky, vegetarian, also good-looking Nicholas Westerbeck. The two, upon finding that Gideon's virginity, despite one near miss, is very much intact make a bet as to whether Gideon will be able to get Molly McGarry, a girl within his "range," to go to bed with him by Halloween. Unfortunately, Gideon is distracted from his pursuit of Molly by the stunningly beautiful and far outside his reach Pilar Benitez-Jones who seems to be more into him than he could have ever expected. Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn is a fun romp as the more or less innocent Gideon gets sucked into Midvale's bizarre prep school culture where he learns its ins and outs and what makes its shallow students tick all while trying to bed preternaturally beautiful girls in part to win the friendship and respect of his slightly twisted roommates. It's not going to broaden your mind or increase your understanding, unless you happen to be wondering what sort of environment spawned those twisted bunch of frat boys at your private college which served as a haven for those who went to New England private school but couldn't hack the Ivy League. You know, the ones who would don their khakis and pastel shirts and golf across campus while in varying states of intoxication. Oh, what? That's just me? Anyhow, the book was fun. Read it for its escapism factor.

That's all I've got for today, but stay tuned for more on my stay in the book blogger leper compound where all the book bloggers who fail to be impressed by the books that the rest of book bloggers loved must lurk, wondering what it is they missed about that book that made everyone else love it so much.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

We Have a Winner

Congratulations Lexi!

You won the autographed copy of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin. Lexi, if you see this - please send your address to me at toadacious1 at yahoo dot com so I can arrange for the book to be sent your way!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Weekly Geeks #21 - First Lines

Dewey's got a fun Weekly Geeks game for us this week. We've got these 100 first lines from books and the goal is to identify the titles and authors of all 100, but we're not allowed to Google them. We have to know them, get them from other Weekly Geeks, or from our readers. So here are the ones I've got. If you know any of the many I'm missing - please share! I promise to give you credit - but hey - no giving me wrong answers (you *can* Google to double check). ;-) If nothing else, it was fun just seeing how many I could get!

1. Call me Ishmael. (Moby Dick by Herman Melville)

2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)

3. A screaming comes across the sky.

4. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. (One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

5. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. (Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov)

6. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. (Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy)

7. riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

8. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

9. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

10. I am an invisible man. (Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison)

11. The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble?—Do-you-need-advice?—Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard.

12. You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain)

13. Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. (The Trial by Franz Kafka)

14. You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. (If On a Winter's Night, a Traveler by Italo Calvino)

15. The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.

16. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. (Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger)

17. Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.

18. This is the saddest story I have ever heard.

19. I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly considered how much depended upon what they were then doing;—that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;—and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost:—Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,—I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that, in which the reader is likely to see me.

20. Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. (David Copperfield by Charles Dickens)

21. Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

22. It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

23. One summer afternoon Mrs. Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary.

24. It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.

25. Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. (The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner)

26. 124 was spiteful.

27. Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing. (Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes)

28. Mother died today.

29. Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu. (Waiting by Ha Jin)

30. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

31. I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man. (Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky)

32. Where now? Who now? When now?

33. Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. “Stop!” cried the groaning old man at last, “Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree.”

34. In a sense, I am Jacob Horner.

35. It was like so, but wasn’t.

36. —Money . . . in a voice that rustled.

37. Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. (Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf)

38. All this happened, more or less.

39. They shoot the white girl first.

40. For a long time, I went to bed early.

41. The moment one learns English, complications set in.

42. Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature.

43. I was the shadow of the waxwing slain / By the false azure in the windowpane;

44. Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.

45. I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.

46. Ages ago, Alex, Allen and Alva arrived at Antibes, and Alva allowing all, allowing anyone, against Alex’s admonition, against Allen’s angry assertion: another African amusement . . . anyhow, as all argued, an awesome African army assembled and arduously advanced against an African anthill, assiduously annihilating ant after ant, and afterward, Alex astonishingly accuses Albert as also accepting Africa’s antipodal ant annexation.

47. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis)

48. He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. (The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway)

49. It was the day my grandmother exploded.

50. I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. (Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides)

51. Elmer Gantry was drunk.

52. We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.

53. It was a pleasure to burn. (Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury)

54. A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.

55. Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes’ chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression.

56. I was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York, of a good Family, tho’ not of that Country, my Father being a Foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull; He got a good Estate by Merchandise, and leaving off his Trade, lived afterward at York, from whence he had married my Mother, whose Relations were named Robinson, a very good Family in that Country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer; but by the usual Corruption of Words in England, we are now called, nay we call our selves, and write our Name Crusoe, and so my Companions always call’d me.

57. In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street.

58. Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. (Middlemarch by George Eliot)

59. It was love at first sight.

60. What if this young woman, who writes such bad poems, in competition with her husband, whose poems are equally bad, should stretch her remarkably long and well-made legs out before you, so that her skirt slips up to the tops of her stockings?

61. I have never begun a novel with more misgiving.

62. Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.

63. The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children’s games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up.

64. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

65. You better not never tell nobody but God.

66. “To be born again,” sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, “first you have to die.”

67. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.

68. Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden.

69. If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.

70. Francis Marion Tarwater’s uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave and a Negro named Buford Munson, who had come to get a jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table where it was still sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian way, with the sign of its Saviour at the head of the grave and enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up.

71. Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there’s a peephole in the door, and my keeper’s eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me.

72. When Dick Gibson was a little boy he was not Dick Gibson.

73. Hiram Clegg, together with his wife Emma and four friends of the faith from Randolph Junction, were summoned by the Spirit and Mrs. Clara Collins, widow of the beloved Nazarene preacher Ely Collins, to West Condon on the weekend of the eighteenth and nineteenth of April, there to await the End of the World.

74. She waited, Kate Croy, for her father to come in, but he kept her unconscionably, and there were moments at which she showed herself, in the glass over the mantel, a face positively pale with the irritation that had brought her to the point of going away without sight of him.

75. In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.

76. “Take my camel, dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.

77. He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull.

78. The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

79. On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen.

80. Justice?—You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.

81. Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash.

82. I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. (I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith)

83. “When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets,” Papa would say, “she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing.” (Geek Love by Katherine Dunn)

84. In the last years of the Seventeenth Century there was to be found among the fops and fools of the London coffee-houses one rangy, gangling flitch called Ebenezer Cooke, more ambitious than talented, and yet more talented than prudent, who, like his friends-in-folly, all of whom were supposed to be educating at Oxford or Cambridge, had found the sound of Mother English more fun to game with than her sense to labor over, and so rather than applying himself to the pains of scholarship, had learned the knack of versifying, and ground out quires of couplets after the fashion of the day, afroth with Joves and Jupiters, aclang with jarring rhymes, and string-taut with similes stretched to the snapping-point.

85. When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.

86. It was just noon that Sunday morning when the sheriff reached the jail with Lucas Beauchamp though the whole town (the whole county too for that matter) had known since the night before that Lucas had killed a white man.

87. I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as “Claudius the Idiot,” or “That Claudius,” or “Claudius the Stammerer,” or “Clau-Clau-Claudius” or at best as “Poor Uncle Claudius,” am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the “golden predicament” from which I have never since become disentangled. (I, Claudius by Robert Graves)

88. Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I’ve come to learn, is women.

89. I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.

90. The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods.

91. I will tell you in a few words who I am: lover of the hummingbird that darts to the flower beyond the rotted sill where my feet are propped; lover of bright needlepoint and the bright stitching fingers of humorless old ladies bent to their sweet and infamous designs; lover of parasols made from the same puffy stuff as a young girl’s underdrawers; still lover of that small naval boat which somehow survived the distressing years of my life between her decks or in her pilothouse; and also lover of poor dear black Sonny, my mess boy, fellow victim and confidant, and of my wife and child. But most of all, lover of my harmless and sanguine self.

92. He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.

93. Psychics can see the color of time it’s blue.

94. In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together.

95. Once upon a time two or three weeks ago, a rather stubborn and determined middle-aged man decided to record for posterity, exactly as it happened, word by word and step by step, the story of another man for indeed what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal, a somewhat paranoiac fellow unmarried, unattached, and quite irresponsible, who had decided to lock himself in a room a furnished room with a private bath, cooking facilities, a bed, a table, and at least one chair, in New York City, for a year 365 days to be precise, to write the story of another person—a shy young man about of 19 years old—who, after the war the Second World War, had come to America the land of opportunities from France under the sponsorship of his uncle—a journalist, fluent in five languages—who himself had come to America from Europe Poland it seems, though this was not clearly established sometime during the war after a series of rather gruesome adventures, and who, at the end of the war, wrote to the father his cousin by marriage of the young man whom he considered as a nephew, curious to know if he the father and his family had survived the German occupation, and indeed was deeply saddened to learn, in a letter from the young man—a long and touching letter written in English, not by the young man, however, who did not know a damn word of English, but by a good friend of his who had studied English in school—that his parents both his father and mother and his two sisters one older and the other younger than he had been deported they were Jewish to a German concentration camp Auschwitz probably and never returned, no doubt having been exterminated deliberately X * X * X * X, and that, therefore, the young man who was now an orphan, a displaced person, who, during the war, had managed to escape deportation by working very hard on a farm in Southern France, would be happy and grateful to be given the opportunity to come to America that great country he had heard so much about and yet knew so little about to start a new life, possibly go to school, learn a trade, and become a good, loyal citizen.

96. Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space.

97. He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.

98. High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour.

99. They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did.

100. The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan

This book laughs at me whenever I try to sit down and write a review of it. I'm looking at its cover right now and it's snickering a little and saying, "You don't really have any idea what you're going to say about me, do you?" And I don't. A lot of people whose reviews I have encountered loved Songs for the Missing. I didn't, but I can't seem to peg the reason exactly why I didn't love it. I mean, I liked it, but then, it was just okay for me. Perhaps, despite their not having done so before, the reasons will become apparent as I write the review. Here's hoping.

In Songs for the Missing, Stewart O'Nan allows us only one stunningly ordinary chapter in the life of Kim Larsen before she vanishes without a trace. The one chapter is so barren of clues that we are left just as baffled as the family and friends left behind to dissect how Kim could have disappeared on that last seemingly ordinary day. O'Nan's story, however, is not about Kim. As a matter of fact, Songs for the Missing is not, though it might seem, even a book about finding Kim. Songs for the Missing is a picture of the ordinary people left behind when their daughter, their sister, their friend is just suddenly mysteriously gone.

Each character reacts in their own way to Kim's disappearance. Kim's mother, Fran, loses herself and perhaps even the spirit of her daughter in her incessant publicity campaign to continue the search for Kim. Kim's father, Ed, forsakes his job and even sometimes his family as he follows the action of the search, traveling to each new area where leads are discovered to hang flyers and look for himself, unable to return home and simply wait. Kim's sister, Lindsay, retreats in silence to her room where she takes refuge in books, e-mailing, and the family dog, none of which can replace the identity and future that she has been robbed of with the disappearance of her sister. Kim's boyfriend, J.P. and and her best friend, Nina, struggle with some shady what-if involving drugs and an ex-Marine, whose late discovery robs them of the right to even be involved in the search for Kim.

The reader is present for about three years during which there are some leads but no real news about Kim, and during which all the people she left behind are forced to consider how long is long enough to feel bereft and when, if ever, it is okay to feel okay again. Without any certain resolution, the characters exist in a purgatory where hope has gradually faded away to be replaced with a nothingness that forces them to re-create themselves in a world without Kim without ever knowing whether she is, indeed, dead, as many suspect or merely gone.

Songs for the Missing starts out a mystery and ends up as a penetrating character study of those who lost parts of themselves when they lost Kim. As such, O'Nan's writing shies away from the facts of the investigation in favor of probing the pysches of his characters. As a character study, Songs for the Missing is an undeniable success. Unfortunately, my own curiosity, efforts to pry loose some unnoticed detail that would prove the answer to the mystery, and desire to know the truth about what happened got in the way of my enjoyment of the book. Instead of wanting to know the characters left behind, my mind was focused on what happened to Kim. Because O'Nan skirts those details and offers up an ultimately unsatisfying conclusion to the investigation without ever probing the hows or the whys that keep Kim's fictional family up at night, I ultimately felt let down and as if I had missed something that, it turns out, wasn't there to start with. A certain mindset is called upon to appreciate this book, and I wasn't properly in it.

That said, O'Nan's writing is crisp and clean and beautifully grapples with the very human emotions faced by the characters in this uncertain situation. Having read Songs for the Missing, I'm certain it won't be the last of O'Nan's books that I will read. Then again, it probably won't be my favorite either.

My copy is an ARC. The book will be available for purchase (so says the back of the ARC) on November 3, 2008.