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....