Sunday, December 20, 2009

In the Country of Brooklyn by Peter Golenbock

Aloha, everyone! I'd apologize for my absence, but I think I already did that. I've been busy spending all my savings on Christmas presents and car repairs, and in a few weeks, I'll be busy spending the rest of my savings on a new car (unless there's one in my driveway on Christmas morning with a gigantic bow on it - ha! That's a nice fantasy...) and a new laptop (as for the old one? hard drive failing). Luckily I've still got my dad's relic (it runs Windows 98! YouTube is phasing out its browser! Ha!) to type out the occasional review and to hack away futilely at the backlog in my Google Reader (even with the occasional comment so everyone will know I'm still here...somewhere). Amid the strife that this month has brought me, I've also been engaging in lots of Christmasy fun in NYC and at day long Christmas parties and attending a delightful "holiday brunch" at work and, of course, listening to Christmas music nearly non-stop and have thus managed to regenerate a good deal of holiday cheer that I thought was lost forever from a week or few of almost laughable bad fortune which prompted my loving father to rename me "black cloud."

And today, I have even more reason to celebrate because I've finished it. My arch-nemesis review copy. Peter Golenbock's epically huge oral history of Brooklyn, In the Country of Brooklyn, which I so foolishly requested from LibraryThing Early Reviewers not realizing how ginormous it would be. Now this book has been skulking about in various states of "readness" for probably more than a year, serving as the considerable base of most of my "reading now" piles that I'm not actually reading. As a Christmas gift to myself, I decided to finally get this monkey off my back (or, well, at least off my bedroom floor) and give my sad and pathetic reading page totals a boost for the year with its well beyond considerable 663 pages. The two of us have such a long history, that I almost don't know how I'll finally review it, but I think I'll manage....

In the Country of Brooklyn is Peter Golenbock's compilation of dozens and dozens and dozens and possibly a few more dozen interviews he conducted with various residents of Brooklyn throughout its last almost-century of history. Through the spoken experience of various average and important personages of Brooklyn through the years, Golenbock attempts to give us a sense of an exciting and progressive place, home to the entire spectrum of immigrants that eventually found their way to the United States, that spawned a variety of political activists, sports heroes, as well as an impressive array of cultural contributions. Golenbock uses his interviews to comment on Brooklyn's struggle and ultimate willingness to integrate its diverse population, the struggle to get government to recognize and respond to the needs of its people, its present efforts to rejuvenate parts of the community that have fallen into disuse and disrepair, and, given its length, much, much more.

Golenbock must have taken an incredible amount of time to speak with his many subjects and transcribe their words, and it shows. This book is packed with the thoughts and memories of countless people connected in some way to Brooklyn. These interviews make up the meat of the book. Most are interesting, and many are downright compelling. In addition, there are past and present pictures of Booklyn as well as of each of the interviews' subjects which is another definite addition to this book.

That said, if you're going to read this book, read it for the interviews. Golenbock's background and assorted "filler" information is at times, unfortunately, downright painful to read. Golenbock's wild generalizations and obvious political intrusions will bother any serious historian and any average person who happens to disagree with his views. The book's organization is also sorely lacking. While the interviews are a pleasure to read, Golenbock seems to struggle to make them coalesce around any sort of main point. Indeed, some of the interviewees, while interesting, seem to have only the most fleeting of connections with Brooklyn which, it seems, Golenbock might have been attempting to include in an effort to define Brooklyn in a certain way that doesn't quite seem to pan out. Instead what we have is a massive tome that, once you've passed the midway point, seems to drag on to some uncertain destination that is never reached. With a good edit for page count and organization and perhaps an overhaul of Golenbock's background information, In the Country of Brooklyn, with all its potent first person accounts, could have packed quite a punch, but as it stands, it will leave real history buffs wishing for something a little more substantial.

Disclaimer: In the Country of Brooklyn was sent to me at no cost by Harper Collins/William Morrow in conjunction with LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wild Roses by Deb Caletti

I will finish In the Country of Brooklyn before the end of the year. I will finish In the Country of Brooklyn before the end of the year. I will finish In the Country of Brooklyn before the end of the year. I will finish In the Country of Brooklyn before the end of the year....

Oh, sorry. Didn't see you there. I'm just a little bit busy with my token, how you say, Old Year's Resolution. I've got just over 100 pages left, and I'm going to finish it. Mark my words, because you don't read more than 500 pages into a book and just wander off. 50, yes, 100, yes, 200, maybe. But 500? No. I'm too close to let it beat me.

But I digress. Really I'm here in an attempt to catch up on the back logged reviews. So, I give you my review of Wild Roses, which, I'll have you know, is the third consecutive book I've read this year with a main character named Cassie. This was entirely unintentional and not just a little bit strange.

Cassie is the narrator of Wild Roses, and her life has gotten just a little bit confusing. It started when her parents got divorced, continued when her mother remarried mentally disturbed world-famous violinist Dino Cavalli, and got even worse when Cassie met Ian, a young violinist whose playing melts Cassie despite her usually being impervious to the power of music. Dino is off his meds trying to produce new work for an upcoming concert, and slowly coming unhinged. To keep him sane and focused, Dino takes Ian, who is trying to get into a premiere music school, as a student. Soon, Cassie finds that all the confusing and difficult parts of her life are colliding.

I confess I had a Child of Divorce Reunion Fantasy Number One Thousand, where I for a moment imagined my father finding out that Dino really was a killer woman and that my parents would have to get back together. I saw them running through a meadow, hand in hand. Okay, maybe not a meadow. But I saw me having only one Christmas and one phone number and only my father's shaved bristles in the bathroom sink.

Cassie is a great narrator, strong and smart yet vulnerable, serious but with a biting and laugh out loud funny sarcastic wit. She comes off as pretty normal and well-adjusted, but behind the scenes she's struggling with the fear and potential humiliation that comes with living with Dino, with the occasional irrational fantasy of her parents reuniting, and of course, with her feelings for Ian and whether she is willing to let him get close even though she knows that his very circumstances guarantee that he will soon leave. She's a veritable everygirl trying to keep up the front of being fine while dealing with trouble at home, parents that can't quite be relied upon, and her first feelings of real love for Ian.

I couldn't believe it. I loved my mother and I loved my father, but there in that circle I felt something I hadn't for a long time. It was something I'd been missing, that I'd been long for without even realizing it. It was a sense of family.

Wild Roses definitely has it pegged. Life with the paranoid and mentally ill, life as a "Child of Divorce," and life as a normal girl falling for a guy she knows she shouldn't. Other than a slight problem with pacing that probably results from trying to cover each angle equally and a finish that seems to peter out more than definitively end, Wild Roses is a sweet and honest story about real love, trust, and learning to let people in.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Senseless Book Shopping for the Infirm

I do this sometimes. I use words and then I wonder if I know said words real meaning. Hence, when I casually plunked down "infirm" in the title of this post, I thought, does infirm really mean what I think it means? As it turns out, infirm has several definitions, more than one (all?) of which apply to me for the purposes of this post. So, in fact, my casual choice turned out to be just the word I wanted...and more. Here we have the definition as copied and pasted from

in⋅firm  /ɪnˈfɜrm/
1. feeble or weak in body or health, esp. because of age; ailing.
2. unsteadfast, faltering, or irresolute, as persons or the mind; vacillating: infirm of purpose.
3. not firm, solid, or strong: an infirm support.
4. unsound or invalid, as an argument or a property title.

I mean, how perfect. First of all, I'm feeling kinda "feeble in health." I've been trying not to get sick all week, and I thought I had it beaten, but then just on the other side of all the Thanksgiving festivating, I find myself all tired and stuffy-nosed and grumpy. In this state, I happened upon a nice, helpful announcement from Book Closeouts informing me that they're having a nice 50% off sale on fiction books. Not being "firm, solid, or strong" in my commitment to not buy any more books for my overflowing shelves (or do I mean "overflowing house"?), I happened over there and browsed the books to soften the raw deal of being ill on the weekend when I should be starting my Christmas shopping and relishing the anticipation of the upcoming Christmas holiday. Now I find myself with a good few books in my virtual cart and I'm feeling "unsteadfast, faltering, and irresolute" about just what to do about this, which is quickly followed up by some very "unsound or invalid" reasoning as to why I should just go right on ahead and buy those books.

So then, I have a mission for you, should you choose to accept it. Your goal? Talk me out of whipping out my credit card and buying the 9 books (whittled down!) I have in my cart at Book Closeouts which are obscenely cheap because of their (not just) Black Friday fiction sale. Tell me how I have no need of more books, how I should be either saving my money for any of several important causes or spending it on Christmas presents, how there is no space for new books. Tell me that "they're cheap!" and "But I've really wanted them for a long time!" are not valid reasons for buying them, nor is the excuse that "I'm sick and ordering books I have no space for will make me less sick/less bummed out about being sick." In other words, cure me of my bookish infirmity. Until then, I'll be hovering here with my mouse perilously close to the "purchase" button.



P.S. Sorry about the word verification. It was getting pretty spammy around here, so I turned it on. :(

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Black Angels by Linda Beatrice Brown

Wow, it's been a while since I've shown my face here. I'm sorry for my general blogosphere scarcity, but I would be remiss if I didn't tell you to expect more of the same. As the holidays descend with alarming quickness (can it really be Thanksgiving next week?), and all of my belongings seems to be breaking down or requiring extra attention (do I own them or do they own me???), and the prospect of a few weekend outings loom large in my future, I can say with pretty good authority that you probably won't be seeing a good deal of me until, perhaps, after Christmas.

However, this is not an official hiatus notice, just a perhaps unnecessary heads up. If I do manage to crop up, I promise I'll have a book review or few for you as we approach the end of the year whenever I can reasonably manage it (AKA whenever I reasonably feel like it), as I am a good few behind. As a matter of fact, I quite intend to have one for you today.

A while back I read a great review of Black Angels by Linda Beatrice Brown by Susan at Bloggin' 'Bout Books. So great, in fact, that instead of simply adding it to my wish list and moving on as is my typical practice (sorry, bloggers!), I actually commented that I would be adding it to my wish list. In due course, Susan gave my name to Stacey at Penguin Young Readers, and I found myself in possession of a review copy. (Oh FTC, I hope you're "listening"!). So thanks to Susan and Stacey, and now on with the review!

Black Angels is a historical fiction account of three children who for various reasons find themselves lost and alone during the waning days of the American Civil War. First Brown introduces us to Luke, an 11-year-old slave running away to meet other runaways whose goal is to head north and fight for the Union. Then we meet Daylily, a nine-year-old slave girl, alone in the woods having witnessed an act of unspeakable violence. Finally we meet 7-year-old white Caswell, who is fleeing his burning home in search of his probably-dead mother. After their first rainy night alone, the three find each other in the morning, and figuring that without each other they will be totally alone, they form an unlikely trio and determine to head north to safety, or so they hope.

When the ragtag trio, in a moment of desperate need, happen upon a mysterious Indian woman, their paths are changed in more ways then one. She feeds them, clothes them, and seems to know the vast potential that lies inside each of "her" children. As the war drags on into its final days, her wisdom and love will prove even more invaluable than her provision.

Black Angels is a captivating tale of three children who become the forerunners of the many people who have helped heal our nation from years of hatred and prejudice. It teaches the timeless lessons that there are bonds much deeper than blood or color, that we are all essentially the same, and that love gives us the power to overcome in a world that doesn't always understand. It offers younger readers an unflinching but not overpowering glimpse of the Civil War and the miserable years of slavery and the extreme racism that continued long after the war had ended, but at the same time it employs its characters to show readers how wrong it all was and give them hope for our nation's and even humanity's future.

My one complaint would be that the book occasionally dabbles in preachiness, but the instances are few and don't take much away from the book, and for that matter, might not even be so noticeable depending upon the age of the reader. Other than that, Black Angels is a big hearted, beautifully crafted tale of the American Civil War, and I'd wholeheartedly recommend it to historical fiction fans both young and old.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Fireman's Wife by Jack Riggs

Sooooo, I learned something from the Read-a-thon. I learned that I miss reading one book at a time, just one so I can be caught up in just it instead of spreading my attention too thin trying to be engrossed in a few at a time. So, it's back to one book at a time for me, and I like it, but we'll see how long it lasts. Somehow it feels like you're getting more read when you're reading more than one book at a time, though I'm starting to see that, for me, that might not be true.

Anyhow, that's enough with the personal interlude. I'm still wildly behind on my reviewing. Well, for me, I mean. So, on with the show!

Cassie and Peck Johnson's marriage is falling apart. In fact, it's probably been falling apart since it began when Cassie became pregnant with their daughter Kelly during one lovedrunk summer at the beach. Disowned by her Baptist minister father, Cassie is forced to leave the mountain home she loves and her hopes of a college education to move to the sweltering South Carolina low country. There she all but loses her identity in the everyday struggles of raising a daughter and trying to love a fire chief husband who seems to be more involved with his crew than his family. Cassie isn't sure what she wants from life, but she knows that to find out, she'll have to escape strong, steady Peck and his beloved low country, the ties of which she can always feel tight around her.

Sure that this time, really, is the time she is leaving for good, Cassie sets off for the mountains with Kelly and Peck's friend Clay determined to escape from the life that has bound her for so long. Soon, though, she learns that getting away isn't so simple as simply packing her things and driving away. When unexpected events occur, Cassie finds that the new life she's pursuing isn't quite what she'd imagined and maybe not what she's searching for at all.

Told in chapters alternating between Peck and Cassie's perspectives, The Fireman's Wife is a story of a marriage collapsing under the weight of its own past. At the start, the novel is less than captivating. Its choppy, belabored beginning chapters populated by characters who come off as selfish and none too likeable make for rough going. Riggs' beginning is a bit forced and a little too obvious in the telling, and his two main characters don't exactly leap off the page. Luckily, however, as the story continues, it shakes off many of its problems. By the midpoint of the book, Cassie and Peck are more genuinely fleshed out and readers are more involved in their story and their problems. The alternating viewpoints manage to successfully present both sides of an argument that the two never really manage to have. Even the mountains and the low country come to life so that readers can share in the characters' deep love for the essence of their respective homes. Ultimately, readers can't help but pull for the two to heal the damage of their shared past and find a way to reconcile their differences.

The Fireman's Wife is not the perfect novel, but if you can look past some of its ticks (a clunky first fifty pages, an occasional awkwardness in the first person present tense narration, and perhaps an irritating overuse of the expression "pissed off"), it is a sweet story that reminds us both that love isn't always easy, but is worth it, and how sometimes to love another, we first need to know and love ourselves.

(This is a review copy compliments of Random House via LibraryThing Early Reviewers.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Thoughts on Stardust

Wow, that post title sounds really profound, doesn't it? Let me disabuse you of this notion of profundity. I intend merely to expound upon my reading experience of Neil Gaiman's Stardust (in unintentionally highfallutin' vocabulary) because it has been so long since I've read it, at this point, that a legitimate review seems near to impossible.

For one, I have the feeling that Stardust defies a plot synopsis. It's a fairytale. There are a lot of ins and outs that probably won't make sense until you peruse the pages. Boy has one night stand with girl in Faerie world which happens to be just across the way (or the wall if we want to be perfectly clear). Union results in son. Son, not knowing his true origins, sets out for the land of Faerie to retrieve a fallen star for his one true love, so that she will marry him or at least maybe give him the time of day. Hapless hero soon discovers, amid numerous action-packed side stories of brothers fighting to the death for their right to rule and witches trying to replenish their beauty and immortality, that, oh yeah, maybe his one true love is not his actual one true love, and his actual one true love is, well, someone rather unlikely. I think you get my drift. It's a fairy tale! To say too much would spoil its magic, so enough with this plot synopsis stuff!

We talk of the kings and queens of Faerie as we would speak of the kings and queens of England. But Faerie is bigger than England, as it is bigger than the world (for, since the dawn of tme, each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn't there has taken refuge in Faerie; so it is by now, by the time that we come to write of it, a most huge place indeed, containing every manner of landscape and terrain). Here, truly, there be Dragons.

This is a great story. So great in fact that somebody made a movie out of it, not that great stories are necessarily required for some dingbat to try to make a movie out of a book, but I digress. And the movie Stardust? Well, I saw it first, and I wish I hadn't. If I had read this book before seeing the movie I probably would have loved it. Having seen the movie, which is not completely true to the book but not too untrue to it either, kind of wrecked the book for me. It was like watching an episode of one of your favorite TV shows, but it's a re-run. I enjoyed it, but already having an idea of what was going to happen kind of took away from the experience. It seems like this feeling, also, exempts me from being able to write a legitimate review of Stardust as well.

There's no doubt that Gaiman really created a great story here, though, a story that works equally well, if you ask me, in the book and on screen. I loved the movie, and most of that can be chalked up to Gaiman's vivid and imaginative storytelling. And it's a fairy tale! That somebody wrote recently! For grown-ups! Even the thought of it is rather delightful!

Now for some really, utterly random thoughts that will only make sense to those who have read the book and/or seen the movie:

I liked how in the movie, the dead brothers were funny, but I also liked how, in the book, each time the dead brothers spoke, it was likened to some passing sound - the rustle of a curtain, the breeze blowing through the bushes, etc.

I missed the we'll say "more interesting" aspects of the Captain's character as played by Robert De Niro in the movie.

I also kind of enjoyed the juiced up movie ending, with the thing and the thing and the drama and the action, and the other thing that happened, all of which I can hardly even allude to for fear of the inevitable spoiler. Well, actually maybe it was a bit too Terminator, and the book's somewhat softer, gentler arrival is actually preferable. I can't decide.

I have, however, decided that I would like movie Stardust for Christmas, and that book Stardust can't unseat Neverwhere as my favorite Gaiman.

If you happen to be looking for an actual review, I might recommend...

Becky's Book Reviews
The Bluestocking Society
Trish's Reading Nook
Musings of a Bookish Kitty

And you? How about you? Have you read Stardust or watched it? Or both? What did you think? How does the movie compare for you, if you've seen it? Will you buy it for me for Christmas?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Er...Pardon That Life-a-thon

Okay, so when I posted that Read-a-thon wrap-up last Sunday morning, I definitely wasn't thinking "oh hey, well, this will be my last post til next week." In fact, I was hoping to have a post Read-a-thon review-a-thon week in which I would catch up on my reviews which I seem to be getting more and more behind on, and filling in the extra time visiting the new faces I saw here on Read-a-thon day and slightly after.

Rather what I got is a Life-a-thon, which is when your job and, well, your life kick your butt mercilessly all week so that you feel like everyday is like running a marathon and you ran out of energy and the will to continue three days before. You know, the kinds of days when the only thing you feel like doing when you get home is taking a long nap and watching TV or something else that requires similarly little brain power. So yeah, all my blogosphere "high" left over from the Read-a-thon dissipated all-too-suddenly. Nonetheless, I (in no particular order) bought some cheap books, slept a lot, watched a good baseball game that ate into the extra hour of sleep I was supposed to get (and was totally worth it), did some pseudo Trick or Treating, and drank a fantastic milkshake, and am feeling semi-recharged. Given that, I should probably be writing a review or five right now, instead I'm writing one of these posts about life and reading randomness.

Much to my surprise, I actually finished a book amid all the lousiness that was last week. It's The Fireman's Wife by Jack Riggs which I probably should have read and reviewed some time ago, no really, some time ago for LibraryThing Early Reviewers. I had started it and put it down a few different times because the first 50 pages just aren't catchy. I was concerned that the writing wasn't ever going to flow and I wasn't going to care about the characters, but once I finally got through to the middle of the book, I was pleasantly surprised. There were definitely some flaws, but overall I suppose it was a pretty good story. More later when I write the actual review.

And as for the books I bought to soothe myself about my rotten week? I knew you'd ask. My parents and I were poking around a town about an hour from where we live, and we ended up at a big (BIG!) antique store. Now, most antiques don't really thrill me, so imagine my happiness to find they had a book sale going on in their basement. Needless to say, I looked at books while my parents ogled the antiques. Honestly, the selection was pretty poor in the grand scheme of used book sales, and I really thought I was going to strike out, but then there it was glimmering, a diamond in the very rough, Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a book I've wanted to get my hands on for so long that I probably should have just bought it new or got it from the library. Now, I don't have to. I also may or may not have picked up Runaway by Alice Munro because I feel like I've heard good things about her short stories, A Spectacle of Corruption by David Liss because he wrote The Coffee Trader which I liked, and Hanna's Daughters by Marianne Fredriksson because who doesn't love a good generational saga? And that's all I found. Which is probably a good thing.

Anyhow, here's to next week being a better (and more productive) week around here! Hope you all have a good one, too! =D

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Read-a-thon Final Update and End of Event Survey

Wow - I guess it's all over. I obviously packed it in quite a while ago, once I got kicked from the computer room and consequently lost access to my great support group, the magic was lost. Anyhow, here are my final statistics and the end of event meme. Hope everybody had a great time and hope you're all getting some much deserved rest now!

Reading Now: -----

It's been __86__ pages and __69__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 8 hr 51 min

Cumulative Pages Read: 494

Books Completed: 2 - The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty and Freewill by Chris Lynch

Eating?: Had a little Mango Melon Lifewater to propel me through the last bit of my Read-a-thon

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

I suppose Hour 16? I finished my book and couldn't get on the internet anymore, so that was curtains for me. If I'd had access to a computer, I might have tried for a couple more hours, but I'm not sure!

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty definitely made a great one for me this year.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

Can I beat the dead horse and say "can we bring back the consolidated feed page?" again? Other than that, I thought it was perfect, just perfect!

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

I think the cheerleaders worked really well. You guys were awesome, and I imagine Eva's clever organizing helped. I had a pretty constant stream of cheerleaders all day, and I imagine it was really beneficial to have certain segment of readers to focus on at a given time. Though I didn't cheerlead officially this time, I know I was really overwhelmed in the spring, so the planning and the narrowing the focus seemed like a good plan to me - and I got cool comments from an even bigger variety of people as a result. I think. Maybe. I don't really know. I've never done this reading thing before... ;-)

5. How many books did you read?


6. What were the names of the books you read?

Freewill and The Year of Secret Assignments

7. Which book did you enjoy most?

The Year of Secret Assignments by a long shot.

8. Which did you enjoy least?

Haha - it almost seems like this is meant for someone who's read more than two books. Oh right, yeah, the rest of you don't read as slow as me? Riiiiight. Um, my least favorite, by default, Freewill by Chris Lynch.

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

I wasn't really a cheerleader, but I thought all you Cheerleaders did a fine job. My advice is to keep on being awesome! ;-)

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

Wow, this is actually a tough one for me. Well, not the first question - I mean the second. I'm very, very likely to participate in a Read-a-thon again, of course. I really liked being a reader and picking out my pile of books and getting caught up in the anticipation, but then on the day of, while I was enjoying my reading, I was kind of bummed that I didn't have too much time to get out and read everybody's updates and cheer them on. Hey, maybe I'll do what I did this year: cheerlead for one and read for one. Yeah, that sounds like a good plan. We'll see how it goes.

Many thanks to everybody whose hard work went into making this another great success! I had a brilliant time reading, cheerleading, being cheered, joining the mini-challenges (and even winning one! Thanks, Tara!), et cetera, et cetera. Looking forward to the next one already!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Read-a-thon Hour 15 Update and Honoring Dewey

Reading Now: The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty

It's been __60__ pages and __62__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 7 hr 42 min

Cumulative Pages Read: 407

Books Completed: 1 (Freewill by Chris Lynch)

Eating?: Nothing (can you believe it?)

I wasn't going to update again so soon. I kind of wanted to wait until I'd finished my current book. It's getting to be kind of a downer that I'm still reading this book even though I am really enjoying it, and it seems to be going quickly even though, uh, it apparently isn't because I've got to be about the slowest reader on the planet. *sigh, grumble, mumble* P.S. If I vanish in the near future, it's not necessarily because I have quit for the night (though it could be that, too), it may just be because my dad sleeps in the room where the computers are (it's a long, boring story), and I will be sent packing.

With that in mind, I definitely wanted to slip in Eva's Honoring Dewey Mini-challenge before I get booted from the computer room.

I vividly recall the first Read-a-thon and my first brushes with Dewey. Hers was one of the first blogs I got up the guts to actually comment on. She was one of the first to comment on my blog with any regularlarity, at a time when book blogging wasn't quite as popular as it seems to be now and my posts and reviews were often met with the sound of crickets chirping. It means so much to you at that time to have someone saying something to you on your blog and making you feel like maybe it's worthwile to continue because, hey, somebody is reading. Her comments were always thoughtful, and it was always an unexpected pleasure to find her comments on my blog. I mean, what was this blogging "rockstar" doing commenting on my little old blog? But, of course, I know that she was never caught up in her own awesomeness that way that I am (we are?), and that was part of what made her so special. I know that many were much closer to her than I was, but that doesn't mean that she didn't have a profound impact on me just the same.

I was a baby blogger at the time of the first Read-a-thon, probably not even two months old. I remember I was too shy or too busy or too something to really sign on to participate officially, but I was determined to unofficially cheerlead, which I did. I credit that first Read-a-thon with my official entry into the book blogging community. That's when I really started coming out of my shell and commenting on other blogs, and when others started coming here. I can't remember which exact blogging friends came from my slacker participation in that first Read-a-thon, but I do think that Eva was one. Regardless, it put me on the path to more serious book bloggerdom, and helped me to get out and about and ultimately meet the people that make the book blogosphere so special to me today.

I remember it hitting me like a ton of bricks when I heard that Dewey was gone. It was hard to believe that somebody I'd "known" practically since I'd begun this blogging thing, somebody who'd been the cornerstone of my whole book blogging experience, was there one day and just gone the next. I remember how hard it was to explain to my parents why I was so sad, but even if I didn't really know her, I did *know* her, in a way.

This whole Read-a-thon thing is so bittersweet now, as many others have said. Dewey gave us a great gift in it, and it's a privilege to see it grow and thrive even in her absence, knowing that it was her great brain child and that many of us carry on with it expressly in her honor. Thanks, Dewey, for showing me that blogging was fun, for helping us to build a community with staying power, and for giving us a bi-annual day of reading to share with each other and remember that, at the end of the day, regardless of anything else, we're all here because we love to read. You were, and still are, the best of the best.

Read-a-thon Hour 13 Update and Mid-event Survey

Reading Now: The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty

It's been __62__ pages and __52__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 6 hr 40 min

Cumulative Pages Read: 347

Books Completed: 1 (Freewill by Chris Lynch)

Eating?: 1 piece fried chicken brought by dad from the grocery store, the rest of the Dr. Pepper, an oatmeal raisin cookie, handful of actual movie theatre popcorn (also compliments of dad and mom who elected to share it)

It seems like I'm doing less and less reading now and more and more...other stuff. I'm gonna do this mid-event survey here, and then it's right to the books.

Mid-Event Survey:

1. What are you reading right now? - Still The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty.

2. How many books have you read so far? - 1 and 1/2

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? - I doubt if I'll be going for all 24 hours, so I dunno if I'll even be able to get another one started. Maybe Life as We Knew It? World War Z? Wild Roses? I dunno!

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? - Not really. Just had to remember not to make any plans with anybody!

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? - Not too many, the parents were gone for most of the day, so they didn't disturb me too much. I just had to trade in the recliner for my bed for a reading location. My biggest interruption was probably when dad brought dinner, but I needed the break and some normal food anyhow!

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? - I'm surprised by how quickly the day has gone by! For some reason, I was sure it was going to drag, and it's not - it's flying by!

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? - The only thing I kind of wish we had was that consolidated feed page we had for the spring one to aid my unfortunately minimal cheerleading efforts. That was pretty nice and it helped me visit more people that I might not have visited.

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year? - I'd probably start the Read-a-thon with a book that I'd actually been told was good instead of an untried, untrue book. That and I'd probably hire a little math gnome or something to keep track of my progress because I'm becoming less and less confident of my ability to calculate such things and am concerned that my numbers might be total fiction and I might not even realize it. Zoinks.

9. Are you getting tired yet? - I've actually been going pretty strong all day, but now that you mention it, my eyes are feeling a little droopy. Stupid Dr. Pepper isn't really doing it's work. Maybe I need to go back to the Lifewater!

10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered? - I don't think so.... I'm pretty sure I'm not doing anything particularly new and innovative that others haven't already done!

Keep up the great reading and cheerleading all! =D

Feed Me Seymour! Mini-Challenge

Nicole from Linus's Blanket has a fun mini-challenge going on right now. She's looking for passages involving food from the books we're reading. I've got one. Now it's not all that descriptive, but it does involve food and is kinda funny. The book is Jaclyn Moriarty's The Year of Secret Assignments, and this particular passage is a mock legal statement of sorts from a character's lawyer father recounting the "investigation" after she and her friends use his pricey vintage wine to cook up some chicken casserole.

Here it is...

Emily: Oh, hang on. Wait a minute. We made a chicken casserole for dinner when you were away at the start of the holidays! Remember? At your conference?

Me: Did you? Lovely.

Emily: No. It wasn't very good in the end. Anyway, we thought some wine would make it better.


Emily: Lydia got a couple of bottles from the cellar, but I told her to get the older, dustier ones 'cause you probably wouldn't miss them. That's okay, isn't it?


Okay, that does it for my entry. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming!

Read-a-Thon Hour 10 Update

Reading Now: The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty

It's been __95__ pages and __100__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 5 hr 48 min

Cumulative Pages Read: 285

Books Completed: 1 (Freewill by Chris Lynch)

Eating?: Just a few more pretzels and a couple of sips of the lone Dr. Pepper I allowed myself for the day.

I've found a real winner in The Year of Secret Assignments. The pages are flying by, well, for me they are. A faster reader than I probably could have finished it three times by now. Nonetheless, it is just the sort of compulsively readable book that one needs for the Read-a-thon. And, if I didn't mention it, it's hilarious. I'm approaching the halfway mark and looking forward to getting back to it.

My parents returned from all their errands, so the dogs were barking and the TV was playing, and they were, like, talking to me and stuff, so I retired to my bedroom for some more reading. Much to the credit of Jaclyn Moriarty's book, I didn't feel compelled to sleep despite the over-coziness of my environs.

We're approaching the halfway mark - hope everybody's still going strong! Thanks all you cheerleaders for stopping by - I'm mightily enjoying your comments and would reply if I wasn't supposed to be, um, reading.

Now, I'm off for a little cheerleading and mini-challenging before I get back to my most excellent book.

Read-a-thon Hour 6 Update

Reading Now: The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty

It's been __74__ pages and __90__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 4 hr 8 min

Cumulative Pages Read: 190

Books Completed: 1 (Freewill by Chris Lynch)

Eating?: More Lifewater, 2 Tastykake chocolate peanut butter kandy cakes (are these really just a Pennsylvania thing or do people I know just lie a lot?), one of those microwavable chicken pot pies that has like 8 zillion calories, bowl of Breyers chocolate chocolate chip ice cream. (Hmmm...think I'm good on food for a while?)

Possibly my eating binge could stem from my mild disappointment with Freewill. I mean, it was really well done, but it's one of those books that I just don't feel like I "got." And it was pretty intense, so now I'm opting for some brain candy, The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty. It's all written in letters, and it's laugh out loud funny, so even though it's a little longer, I'm hoping it will fly by.

In other news, it's such a rainy day here in northeast PA. I couldn't have picked a better day to spend reading if I'd tried. There's something lovely about turning pages while it's windy and pouring outside. Does it feel to anybody else like this day is going by too fast? And will I continue to feel like that a little later? ;-)

Happy reading!

Read-a-thon Hour 4 Update

Reading Now: Freewill by Chris Lynch

It's been __61__ pages and __87__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 2 hr 38 min

Cumulative Pages Read: 116

Books Completed: Still 0

Eating?: Sobe Lifewater Fuji Apple Pair and Snyder's of Hanover Buttermilk Ranch flavored pretzels (yum!)

Wow, Freewill is way more intense than I was expecting. The mystery is coming clearer, but I'm still waiting for that obvious tell-all moment where all the questions it's asking work themselves out, and I hope there is one or else I'll probably just end up confused. The 2nd person narration is definitely an interesting device and is definitely what makes this book tick. It's almost like the narrator talking to himself, but it's not illuminating at all, in fact, I trust him less than he seems to trust himself, which is not all that much. I'm sure that by my next update I'll be finished with it, and I sure hope that I'm satisfied.

Nonetheless, I'm sorely in need of a breather, so I think it's time to do a bit of cheerleading and mini-challenging and possibly change into a different set of comfy clothes.

Hope all you readers and cheerleaders are having a good time!

Read-a-Thon Hour 2 Update

Reading Now: Freewill by Chris Lynch

It's been __55__ pages and __71__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 1 hr 11 min

Cumulative Pages Read: 55

Books Completed: 0

Eating?: 1 bowl Banana Nut Cheerios, 1 bowl Oat Cluster Crunch Cheerios

Turns out Freewill can probably be lumped into the "unusually written" category of my Read-a-thon pile, too. Turns out it's written in second person (You!), which is not something I've encountered a lot of in my reading. It's a strange story about a 17-year-old guy who's carving things in a wood shop class that he's sure he shouldn't be in, crafting things out of wood that he doesn't remember. It seems that something profoundly awful must have happened to him, but what it is remains a mystery. The style is so weird, the narration so unrealiable, and the mystery of his circumstances so engrossing that I can't help stopping myself every once in a while to try and figure it all out....

Are You Ready For Some Reading?

- Big pile of books? ~ $50
- Big pile of tasty junk food? ~ $17
- One sort of functioning computer (plus one "backup")? $1000+
- Reading and blogging only for one whole day? Priceless!

The Read-a-thon has finally arrived. Today's the day when an astonishingly large number of book bloggers read and blog for 24 hours or at least as many of 24 hours as we can manage. I will be updating throughout the day with my progress, so if (horrors!) you are not interested in the Read-a-thon, be aware that this amount of posting from me in one day will not likely be repeated anytime in the near future and bear with me today.

Here's the Hour 1 meme to kick it off...

Where are you reading from today?

Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania

3 facts about me …

- I have two dogs (dachshunds) and a cat.
- I spend 40 hours a week being a "rockstar" histology lab assistant at a major nearby hospital. It's okay (nay, expected) if you have no idea what that is, I wouldn't have either until I started working there. ;-)
- I can't seem to keep myself from singing and occasionally dancing whenever a good song comes on the radio wherever I am.

How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?

16 give or take a few. And believe me, that many will not be necessary.

Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?

At this point, my only goal is to have fun. =D

If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, Any advice for people doing this for the first time?

I'm a newbie as a reader, so no words of wisdom yet.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going

Considering the fact that I've been rhapsodizing about this book since about the moment I opened, it's probably about time I actually wrote the review.

So it's not a stretch to be standing on the wrong side of the yellow line giving serious thought to whether people would laugh if I threw myself in front of the F train. And that's the one thing that can't happen. People can't laugh. Even I deserve a decent suicide.

When Troy Billings meets skinny, semi-homeless, punk rock guitar prodigy Curt MacCrae on the subway platform he's contemplating whether throwing himself in front of a train would constitute a decent suicide. Soon Troy is buying lunch for his quirky, unreliable, dirty would-be savior. With a little lie, or so he thinks, here and there, Troy, the Fat Kid, finds himself being unwittingly propelled way outside his comfort zone and into Curt MacCrae's band. Thus begins Troy's journey to discovering that people aren't always what they seem including himself.

In Troy and Curt, Going has created a pair of all-too-human, realistic, and awesome characters. In the first person narration, Troy's voice is totally convincing. The story is full of his self-effacing wit, his considerable doubts and fears, his total befuddlement that this school legend of sorts, has, for some reason, chosen him, the Fat Kid to be his drummer. Troy barely sees himself as person, rather as the Fat Kid, and that someone considers him capable of doing something, anything other than huffing or jiggling or any of the rest of that "Fat Kid" stuff, catches him terribly by surprise.

And Curt. Curt is a brilliantly drawn character as well. Here's a kid that projects this self-assured street smart "I don't care what you think of me" sort of vibe, and yet, through Troy's eyes, despite Troy's total ignorance of it, emerges this scared, vulnerable, homeless kid for whom the only certainties in life are that things won't work out and that people can't be counted on. Troy needs someone to teach him his own worth, and Curt needs someone to be rock steady, and little does either of them know that that's what they need much less if they can be that for each other.

"That moment when you see through all the bullshit?" he says a moment later. "That's what punk music is all about. That's what anything great is all about. We're all just stuffing out faces, no matter what we look like, and people need to figure that out. When you can play that moment, you've got it."

This is a great story. It hooks you from the moment it begins. It's an unabashed look at really real characters. K.L. Going sets such incredible scenes and conveys poweful moments with few words, but not too few, and it all just works, and it definitely sees through all the bullshit.

I laughed, I cried, I loved it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty

This is my second Reading at Random book, which is part of my quest to read books from my own library totally at random.

Now that I've read The Center of Everything, I've officially read two books by Laura Moriarty, and I can honestly say that I have a terrible love hate relationship with them. When I finished The Rest of Her Life, the first of Moriarty's books that I've read, I thought I didn't like it. I put it down thinking, "well, that was unsatisfying." Then, it marinated in my head for days and days and stuck with me in a way most books don't, and I'm afraid that The Center of Everything is going to do the exact same. Now, none of this is to say that these two books are bad books, rather they are two very good books with characters whose thoughts and feelings and heartbreaks became my own thus making the books weirdly personal for me and so that much harder to review.

I leave her books feeling like I know Laura Moriarty's characters, and I feel their pain, and I can absolutely relate to them in impossible ways. It seems, then, that Moriarty's books cut me so deep that it actually makes them hard for me to read and hard for me to say that I "like" even though its obvious that Moriarty is the best of writers, capable of engaging readers like me in ways beyond the ordinary. I never cried, but my heart broke over and over again for Evelyn, the main character of The Center of Everything, and for several other characters as well.

Evelyn is growing up in Kerrville, Kansas, which for all intensive purposes is, even on the map in her classroom, the center of everything. Evelyn has a childhood crush on the bad boy next door, loathes the cool girl in her class, and so badly wants to grow up and fulfill her potential so she won't turn out like her mom, whose string of bad decisions has alienated Evelyn. This is the story of Evelyn's life as told by Evelyn herself as she navigates life's rough waters into adulthood, and it's a very stormy sea. Nothing terribly extraordinary happens within these pages, but Evelyn's candid, believable voice pulls readers into her story and makes them feel for her and for the people around her as she rides out the frequent heartbreaks and occasional joys of growing up. Evelyn has a lot to learn about love, about compassion, and about the gray areas that lurk in our daily lives where there just doesn't seem to be any definite right or wrong to go by.

I don't say anything, but in my head, things have changed. I've drawn a line between us, the difference between her and me. It's like one of the black lines between the states on maps, lines between different countries on the globe. They don't really exist. You don't really see a long black line when you cross from the United States into Mexico, from Kansas to Missouri. But everyone knows where they are, and they are important, keeping one state separate from the other, so you can always tell which one you're in.

Moriarty's knack for portraying the blunt reality of life is unequaled. She allows us no safe place and rubs salt in all the raw wounds of any of us who have ever suffered broken hearts or embarassment or disappointment. She always shows and never just tells with her writing. Moriarty's characters are needy but proud and selfish, and when they desperately need each other the most, they can't seem to keep from missing each other's advances or hurting each other even more. In other words, within the pages of The Center of Everything they become absolutely real, living, breathing people that we come to care about. When they start to make peace with their lives, we breathe a small sigh of relief because if they can, maybe we can, too.

I definitely recommend this, if only for Moriarty's ability to capture the powerful story that lurks even in the most ordinary lives.

How about you? Have you ever read a book (or books) that touched a nerve with you? A book that you knew was good but was still hard for you to read?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

It's the Read-a-thon Bookpile! (and some winners!)

Next Saturday commences Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon (and I'm so excited!!). I've been involved before, but I've never actually read for the Read-a-thon. That is, until now (And did I mention how excited I am??). Yesterday, I had a great time shuffling through my stacks picking a bunch of books at random. Isn't it nice how they arranged themselves artfully and took a picture for you guys? The ones that made the cut are decidedly waaay more than I'll get read especially considering I don't plan to be awake for all 24 hours, but I'll have a lot of options! I tried to mix it up and get a good variety, and I hope I'm not paralyzed by all the options come Read-a-thon day. This crazy bunch of books doesn't even include the two books that I'm currently reading, so, who knows? Those might get some play, too. Anyway , here's the list, with assorted commentary.

First up we've got the short story contingent. I don't have the best record with short stories, so it's kind of small...

> Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (for R.I.P. too!)
> Imaginary Friends by Various Authors (hey, this one snuck into the pile after I'd finished picking!)

Next up, we have a category of books which I'll refer to as "Books Written in Unusual Fashion." You know, letters, news excerpts, interviews about the apocalypse, et cetera, et cetera. This category is made up of...

> The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty (I loved her Feeling Sorry for Celia, hope this one's as good)
> The Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger
> World War Z by Max Brooks (Would be an unplanned edition to my R.I.P. challenge list if I got to it)

Next up, "books for grown-ups that I felt sort of obligated to choose."

> The Aerialist by Richard Schmitt(in light of recent talk of circus books and all)
> The Song Reader by Lisa Tucker (one of her others was a speedy read for me, so what the heck?)
> My Pet Virus by Shawn Decker (This is the token non-fiction pick. It actually looks like an easy read despite it's heavy topic)

And last, but most certainly not least, a big bunch of YA!

> Black Angels by Linda Beatrice Brown
> The Sledding Hill by Chris Crutcher
> Intertwined by Gena Showalter (Lots of pages but otherwise looks pretty brain candy-ish)
> Indigo by Alice Hoffman (has the distinction of being one of the thinnest books on my shelves - a good morale booster, in other words!)
> Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Gosh, I've been meaning to read this for, like, ever)
> If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson (Seems like lots of bloggers I've been reading lately are very into Jacqueline Woodson, so I dug this one out of the pile)
> Trigger by Susan Vaught
> Wild Roses by Deb Caletti
> Freewill by Chris Lynch(to feed my innner Printz-aholic post-Fat Kid Rules the World)

There it is - my monster pile that's making me wish the Read-a-thon was going to start right now.

Have you read any of these? Are there any you think I should definitely ax? Do big book piles help you or hurt you on Read-a-thon day? (On one hand, it'll be nice to have the variety, on the other, I'm kind of worried about not being able to choose even of these few and losing time. LOL!) Do you start with a longer book or a shorter book or whatever takes your fancy when you sit down to read on Read-a-thon morning? Wow, isn't my mind inquiring today? ;-)


And now - what a few of you have been waiting for! Here are the winners of the blogiversary giveaway...

In the Beauty of the Lilies goes to Hazra of Advance Booking

The Cactus Eaters goes to Debi of Nothing of Importance (Muahahaha! Guaranteed point, Debi! LOL!)

The Wednesday Sisters goes to Debilyn of Debilyn Reads


Don't Call Me a Crook! goes to Alyce of At Home With Books

Thanks everybody for entering (and for your blogiversary wishes, as well!) and congrats to the winners. I'll send out e-mails, but if you winners happen to see this before I get an e-mail out to you, do send me your address, and I'll mail out the prizes this week.

Now I must skulk off to catch up on my book reviews before catching up on them is totally impossible!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Weekly Geeks: Recommend-fest!

This week's Weekly Geeks tasks sounds like too much fun to pass up. Here's what it says...

I wanted to talk this week about book recommendations. Where do you go for book recommendations? How often do you challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone? How often do you read outside your favorite-and-best genre? How often do you try a new-to-you author? How often do you take a chance? This week, I'd like to offer you a few opportunities.

So your assignment this week, if you choose to play along, is to ask your readers for recommendations. Choose a genre--any genre--and ask for recommendations. You can be as general or as specific as you like. Consider it as an "I'm looking for...."

The second part of the assignment is to write a list of recommendations and share them with your readers. Choose a genre--any genre--and share your list of favorites. I think of this as "If you're looking for...."

Okay, here's my thing. I love (LOVE!) historical fiction. Well done historical fiction about just about any time period makes my heart go pitter pat. One portion of historical fiction that I've never particularly gotten into, however, is that whole historical fiction sub-genre involving kings and queens and knights and court intrigues et cetera et cetera and so on. I see these sorts of books getting glowingly reviewed all around the blogosphere by lovers of historical fiction, and yet, I can't bring myself to go out and get some and give them a try. Your challenge? Recommend me some that are really worth trying.

Or, if you're up for an even narrower challenge that really won't broaden my horizons at all but will make me love you forever, recommend me a book in which the circus plays a major part, fiction or non-fiction. One that everyone hasn't heard of, by this, of course, I mean, not Water for Elephants. I've got a real thing for circus stories, and I'd love to add a few to my collection!

In exchange for your kind recommendations, I give to you Historical Fiction I've Ranked With 5 Stars on My Library Thing Shelf (that isn't about kings/queens/knights/court intrigues, of course)

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy. If I can't convince you, let Nymeth!

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich

Small Island by Andrea Levy

The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips

Sweetsmoke by David Fuller

Okay, that's not many. But they are all super, super good!

P.S. Can I interest you in my Blogiversary giveaway?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Leafing Through Life is Two! And a giveaway!

Well, can you believe it? Here I am two days after my blog's 2nd blogiversary only just realizing it passed me by without any fanfare or my even remembering it at all. It could be that I was so busy reading Fat Kid Rules the World which was every bit as awesome as I expected. It could be that I went to the dentist yesterday and had all four of my wisdom teeth yanked out and have been a little hopped up on tylenol with codeine which, instead of making me sleep a deep blissful sleep, actually make me kind of paranoid and insane. No fair. This may also help to explain this post and how I'm not sure if it makes any sense and how it's definitely not profound in any way. Anywho, the point is I've gone and missed my own blogiversary.

And I feel bad. I feel like maybe I need to buy my blog some flowers...

Or perhaps some jewelry?

Maybe a cake?

Or some chocolates?

Or, better yet, some books to make up for my indiscretion!

Two years of me doing something I don't absolutely have to do is a very, very long time in Megan years. So truly, something must be done to celebrate this remarkable occasion, something that doesn't involve excessively morose self-reflection as has become so common around here.

*looks around for inspiration*

Ah-ha! I've got it! Since I probably wouldn't still be doing this if it weren't for all of the fine bloggers and enjoyers of this book blogging community, I'll celebrate by giving you guys the books I don't have room for any more! Well- maybe not all of them - just the ones that I've read. But which ones of those? Perhaps only ones that I've reviewed on my blog as this is my blogiversary and all. *shuffles off to find a few*

Okay, I've got a few here. Two reviewed this year and two favorites from last year!

In the Beauty of the Lilies by John Updike which I reviewed yesterday. Bought new, read once. See if you can uncover the nuggets of Updike's genius!

Don't Call Me a Crook! by Bob Moore - a once read review copy. And yes, he is a crook!

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. I reviewed this ARC and then gave it to just about every woman in my family to read, so it's looking a little well-loved - because it is!

The Cactus Eaters by Dan White. Another of my favorites from last year - hilarious tale about this guy and his girlfriend who decide to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and get even more than they bargained for. My copy is kind of a "bare bones" ARC. It's bound kinda weird, but the pages look just like they would inside of a normal book!

Some or all of them might come with Bookcrossing labels in them. Journal them or don't, but don't be surprised to see the labels on the inside cover.

All right, four books to choose from. Enter for as many or as few as you like, however, the limit is one win per customer. Open worldwide. Leave a comment on this post to enter, and make sure you let me know some way to get in touch with you if you win. Enter by Friday, October 16, and I'll pick the winners over the following weekend. Oh, and since I'm doing this in part to celebrate the fact that in these two years people have actually been reading the crazy stuff I write and like being my friends and stuff, if you've ever left a comment in my two years on any post prior to this one (even if you leave it chronologically *after* I post this post - this one's for you, lurkers! Come out, come out wherever you are!), I'll give you an extra entry.

It's been a pleasure blogging with all y'all these two years, and here's hoping for another good year..and another...and another........ ;-)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In the Beauty of the Lilies by John Updike

I don't know why, but today, all of the sudden, I have the compulsion to review In the Beauty of the Lilies by John Updike. It was my book group's pick for July, and I did manage to finish all 491 pages of it in time for the meeting, though I can't say that I had all that much to contribute to the discussion. Since then, it's been lying on my bedroom floor unreviewed, alone, and abandoned.

In the Beauty of the Lilies is Updike's treatise on religion and American culture masked by the saga of several generations of the Wilmot family and wrapped up in the growing movie industry. The book has only four chapters, each one focused on the a member of each generation. To start, in 1910, we meet Clarence Wilmot, a Presbyterian minister who finds that his faith has suddenly abandoned him. Even as he tries to seek out God and look for Him where he has found Him in the past, he is most assured that the God to whom he looked for his whole life's needs and his livelihood does not exist, has never existed. Unable to so much as preach a sermon, he soon finds himself relegated to selling subpar encyclopedias door to door, even to his former servant, in an effort to support his family even as his very life seems to ebb and his only refuge becomes the movie theatre.

Where Clarence leaves off, his son Teddy begins. Teddy is an insecure boy without goals who grows to be an underachieving man uncertain of his place in world and petrified at the thought of one day becoming a "rube." What he doesn't realize is that, "rube"-hood seems to be what life has in store for him. Forever impacted by his father's loss of faith and slow descent into death, Teddy has no time for God, and yet his story is perhaps the sweetest. When he marries his wife, a cripple, they have a child, Esther, Essie for short, who he and his wife shower with all the love they have to give which is no benefit to her. Secure in herself and confident that nothing will be denied her, Essie leaves her Wilmot name behind to pursue a career in the movies as the very famous Alma DeMott. Forever having love affairs and caring only about advancing herself at the expense of others, Alma believes that God exists and cares only for her selfish needs. Self-centered as she is, Alma makes a terrible mother to her son Clark who, in a desperate attempt to assert himself and do something meaningful after a meaningless, shallow childhood, joins a religious cult. It is with Clark that the Wilmot saga comes full circle until the thing that seemed to capsize the Wilmot family will be the very thing to heal it.

In the Beauty of the Lilies is a most complicated book. One can't help but feel that Updike is trying to accomplish many things with this narrative, and yet, by the end, trying to grasp his many meanings is an epic chore, and without this meaning, In the Beauty of the Lilies leaves a sour taste in your mouth. After so much depression and strife in the lives of the Wilmot family members, readers desperately desire more hope for them, and for us, than Updike seems to have to offer. Updike writes in long, dense paragraphs, and the lack of many chapter breaks in the book seem to make it that much longer and denser.

Many of Updike's characters are terribly difficult to sympathize with, but each is well-drawn with his or her motives and actions and flaws explored to their deepest extent. The writing is beautifully crafted and full of captivating descriptions and turns of phrase that can be both impossibly witty and wildly ironic. There's no doubt that Updike is a master of his craft as he expertly weaves together his saga of a struggling American family set against a backdrop of a centuries old faith that provided a foundation for our nation and Hollywood films that create an impossible and unrealistic standard of American life that have shaped our nation's psyche in ways that even we fail to realize. Updike uses Hollywood both to pace his story through the decades and to reveal an American people obsessed with stars and the idealized version of reality they project even as they abandon the Christian ideals that once grounded them and enabled them to endure the hardships of everyday life.

In the Beauty of the Lilies is not a book that I would recommend to the casual reader. It is not a happy, pleasant book. It requires a good deal of work to understand and even then leaves a lot of ambiguity that the reader must resolve. It's a book that definitely benefits from a group discussion and a careful eye as to what Updike has done. It's a book that I would be hard pressed to say that I liked, but all the same, it's a vivid story of realistic people that lodges itself in the memory, so much so, that now, months later, I'm writing this and barely needing to consult it. Perhaps it is destined to be a sort of classic and in it, Updike has revealed bits and pieces of what the critics claim is his "genius," but as for you and me, we'll probably be lucky to understand even half of it.

Did any of you fine readers ever read this one? If so, I'd love to hear what you took away from it!

If you haven't, have you ever read a book that you thought must be incredibly profound if only you could understand it the way it was meant? Or am I alone out here? ;-)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fair Week Mish Mash

Phew - this week has been a real marathon, and it obviously hasn't been a marathon I've been running here in blogland. This evening finds me taking a break from the Sunday Scramble, which is my friendly term for my frantic efforts to catch up with everything from blog reading to cleaning in a few hours before the next work week starts, to actually write a post. Fair warning, the first part is me going on about my week, the second is the more bookish part. Choose one or read both (or run screaming in horror!), the choice is yours!

This week was Fair week. Yes, that's Fair with a capital F. You see, each year our town hosts the biggest fair in Pennsylvania starting, oh, usually the last Saturday in September and spilling over into October. One stat I heard this week is that it is the 22nd largest in the U.S. which isn't too shabby considering my town is pretty small. It so happens that I'm generally a lunatic about going to the fair, and this week I proved it with reckless abandon. I think 6 out of the 9 possible days to go, I was there eating deep fried foods, tour guiding fair newbies (mostly my co-workers), seeing Sugarland in concert (excellent!), and watching the Dock Dogs competition which is new to the fair (and also awesome!). What's more fun than devouring a dozen funnel cakes and watching a bunch of dogs jump really far off a dock into the water? Perhaps, you think many other things would be more fun. I, however, had a fantastic week, though I am totally beat. P.S. If you like dogs and the Dock Dog thing comes to some place near year, you should definitely see it. I could have watched for hours. I did watch for hours.

My freakishly extensive fair going didn't leave much time left over for reading, though I'm still plodding (and I mean plodding) through Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Angel's Game for the R.I.P. challenge. It's a little too easy to put down, but not so easy to put down that I would consider giving up on it. The jury's still out on it.

Despite my lack of a considerable amount of reading, more books did arrive at my house this week at a nice steady rate of about one per week day.

First came:

Intertwined by Gena Showalter. It's a giveaway win from Robin at My Two Blessings. I first read about through an ad on Shelf Awareness, where I ended up reading an excerpt from the first chapter. It's just the sort of fast reading guilty pleasure I need from time to time, I think.

Next came:

Black Angels by Linda Beatrice Brown - an ARC from Penguin. Susan at Bloggin' 'bout Books first tipped me off about this book with her excellent review, and I knew it was something I was going to have to read. It's her I've got to thank, in part, for the galley in my mailbox, too, so thanks Susan! =)

Up next:

2666 by Roberto Bolano. I've been curious about this one for a while. Thanks to Frances at Nonsuch Book and her Book Blogger Appreciation Week giveway, now I've got a copy which I will hopefully read when the big old Picador readalong thingy (which hasn't quite launched yet) comes along. Even though it's such a delicious looking read, it should definitely be good to have some conversation and encouragement (read: deadlines) to go along with it since at 893 pages it's quite a considerable tome.

And last:

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going from a a BookCrosser. I think I remember even from my pre-blogging days Susan from West of Mars just raving about this book, and so it's been sitting on my wish list. Now, I've got it, and let me tell you, it's accomplished quite an incredible feat. I nearly never start reading a book the moment I get it. It gets logged and then it goes to sit on the shelf gathering dust with the rest of its brethren for an indefinite amount of time until a not predetermined time. Well, Fat Kid Rules the World was waiting by the computer for its logging, and don't you know I read the first chapter? And then I read more, and more and I'm totally hooked. Troy the self-proclaimed Fat Kid has an incredibly engaging voice and it just took me right in. This should deepen my conviction that any book that has that Printz medal hanging out on the cover has a 99.9% chance of being totally awesome. Further gushing, I'm sure, to come.

In other news, I've been cruising the 24 Hour Readathon site from time to time thinking maybe, just maybe this will be the one where I actually read. I don't think I have any plans for the appointed weekend, so that's one road block out of the way. I don't think I'll probably be able to manage the whole thing without sleep - you don't even wanna know me without my 8 hours of sleep - but I could probably manage 16 or so hours...couldn't I? It would be a good chance to catch up on all the reading I've neglected, right? And play with all the book bloggers? Oh, I don't know. I'm such a committment-phobe. I need to go think about it a while. I'll probably sign up, like, the day before, or chicken out and settle for cheerleading....

Sunday, September 27, 2009

First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria by Eve Brown-Waite

Once upon a time, and you may remember this if you've been with me a while, before BBAW, I used to, you know, actually review a book from time to time. First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria has been patiently waiting on my desk for an opportune time that just hasn't come. Its very presence there has been causing me a good deal of guilt and strife. So much guilt, in fact, that I found myself thinking the other morning in the shower about reviewing it, and then I began writing, in the confines of my barely awake mind, what I considered to be an excellent review. Now, I consider myself to be a great multi-tasker, but writing reviews in the shower simply poses some logistical difficulties that are rather impossible to overcome, which is why I'm sitting here now with barely an inkling left in my memory of what it was that I was going to say in my fantastic "barely awake mind review" which means we'll have to settle for this mediocre barely awake blog review.

Eve's joining of the Peace Corps was a long time coming. When the "I'll-be-joining-the-Peace-Corps" line begins to get a little thin, she knows it's time to finally go through with it. She's got one problem, though. She seems to be falling for her clean cut, "epitome of a good guy" Peace Corps recruiter, John. As her departure date nears, she wants less and less to follow through with her pledge to spend two years in a developing nation and more and more to stay with her one true love. Unfortunately, scrapping the Peace Corps probably means scrapping her relationship with John anyway, so it's off to Ecuador for Eve. Once there, she finds the experience to be even less rewarding than she expected as she has more than a little difficulty convincing people to actually put her to work. Finally, she finds a niche taking homeless boys back to their families, but soon after an unexpected tragedy reveals a secret from her past that has her returning to states and her future husband.

The meat of this book, though, is when John takes a job with CARE in Uganda. Here Eve's committment is put to the test as she is forced to take a chance on another developing country and adjust to life in a rural Ugandan outpost noted for its excess of guerilla activity. Here Eve will learn that compared to everyone else she is rich, gigantic bugs are a daily reality, and malaria is much easier to come by than a telephone.

Brown-Waite has an easy, conversational writing style that invites us into a very troubled African nation without simply focusing on the trouble. Brown-Waite truly brings the people of Uganda to life for her readers. Her stories are often laugh out loud funny and point out the quirks and celebrate the culture of a nation, that though struggling, seems to be filled with an unexpectedly optimistic, joyful people. Unlike many memoirs of Africa, Brown-Waite's manages to reveal the many issues facing Uganda without marinating us in a dark, dismal reflection on the "unsolveable" problems of a nation afflicted with extreme poverty and disease.

First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria is a captivating and heartfelt love story of how Eve Brown-Waite fell first for a man and then for a nation. Brown-Waite's journey from inept bush housewife looking for a purpose to a thriving expat with a passion for this rather backward Ugandan community was a pleasure to read. Here's hoping that she is already busy writing about her adventures in Uzbekistan and beyond, as I would gladly go along for the ride!