Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Family Sentence: The Search for my Cuban-Revolutionary, Prison-Yard, Mythic-Hero, Deadbeat Dad by Jeanine Cornillot

I know it's hard to believe, but I think it's about to happen. I'm going to review a book that was written for an adult audience. It's been over a month, but hopefully I've been the only one counting. We have my quest to catch up with LibraryThing Early Reviewer books to thank for this one.

Family Sentence is Jeanine Cornillot's tale of growing up with a father in prison. Growing up, Jeanine's world is sharply divided. There's the world she knows, the one where she lives in a house dominated by women in suburban Philadelphia where men are absent and foreign to her. The other part of her world is a little more uncertain. Summers, growing up, she spent with her Cuban grandparents in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. Most of her Miami relatives speak no English and Jeanine, despite being half Cuban, knows no Spanish. Despite having her cousins for interpreting, the language barrier and her decidedly un-Cuban looks make her own relatives a little foreign to her despite being bound by blood.

Jeanine's father, a self-professed Cuban revolutionary determined to free Cuba from Castro's rule, was in prison for all of the childhood she can remember for the crime of bombing an Air Canada ticket office. All that she knows of her father she learns from his infrequent letters and a few family trips to visit him in prison during her summers in Miami. All the rest, she makes up as she goes along. She worries and wonders about her father's life in prison, imagines a family reunion that she's certain will never happen while she's still a child, and she perpetrates tiny acts of terrorism in school hallways imagining the revolutionary blood that runs through her veins and bonds her to a father who she doesn't know and will never understand.

Family Sentence is a book about a girl growing into a woman and trying to piece together the disparate pieces of her identity. It's also the story of a girl trying to know a father who is distant and perplexing even when he volunteers answers to any question she might have. It's a story about reconciling the myth of a dad, who by his ideals and through a daughter's loving but ignorant eyes has become larger than life with a real person who has lived an imperfect life without the regrets readers would expect.

Cornillot tells her story with brutal honesty, painting the naive girl she was, desperate to look and seem more "Cuban" for a father who could barely be bothered to remember her when they were apart. She brings her young self to vivid life with many anecdotes of her young life complete with her girlhood imaginings and her childish quirks like her penchant for saying "that's a crime" about anything that seems slightly unjust. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems like the anecdotes get away from her, and that makes for the book's one flaw that it's easy to get lost in the individual anecdotes and lose track of where Cornillot is going with the larger narrative of her life with and without her father. However, the book seems to collect itself in its final chapters as Jeanine reunites with her father as a teenager and a young adult and all the myths and misconceptions she had about her father collide. Ultimately, Cornillot's is a compelling memoir that draws us into her life and tells a personal story that every kid who's ever idolized a parent only to grow up and discover a fallible human being can relate to.

Review copy received from Beacon Press via LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Having Myself A Merry Dystopian Christmas

Happy Day After Christmas everyone! I hope everyone that celebrates had a good time with family and friends, and I hope you found some good bookish plunder under the Christmas tree, too. I know I did on both counts.

As you can see, my Christmas bookishness came with a bit of a theme. I just finished Patrick Ness's excellent dystopian The Knife of Never Letting Go a few weeks ago, only to find it has a wicked cliffhanger of an ending (How rude!). Luckily, I had just enough time to slip the other two books in the Chaos Walking trilogy onto my Christmas wish list, and, thanks to my parents, I'm now the proud owner of The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men.

In other news, I'll soon be able to hang up my "I'm the last living human who hasn't read The Hunger Games" t-shirt for good. My aunt provided me with a lovely box set of all three of The Hunger Games series, so now I can enjoy that trilogy at will, too. In still further good news, I am the lucky owner of one new comfy rolling desk chair, so, as soon as we can get it put together (and you can pull me out of my dystopian YA haze), I will be able to enjoy my blogging in comfort, having cast off the threadbare chair that's been serving as our seat for about 2 years too long.

Of course, I had to make sure that my family members had some books to unwrap, too. My mom had been wishing for The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and The Help by Kathryn Stockett, so both of those made an appearance among the Christmas plunder. I've heard so many good things about both that I hope she'll let me have a go at them when she's finished! For my dad, I initially just got him the newest John Grisham title, The Confession. Then I was skimming my Shelf Awareness newsletter and saw that Tom Clancy had a new book out, and knowing that my dad was always a huge fan of Tom Clancy's from way back, I couldn't help picking up a copy of Dead or Alive for him, too.

How about you? What good books did you give and receive this year?

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Trouble With Half a Moon by Danette Vigilante

It's time again for my periodic sojourn into the land of middle grade fiction. It's not a place I visit often, but my experience with it has been more pleasurable than I could have expected. The Trouble With Half a Moon, author Danette Vigilante's debut effort, is a great continuation of that trend. It took me almost less than a full day to read it, despite being very distracted by recent life events of the sad sort. Even though it's a short book, it's one that packs a punch.

"I'm pleased you had mind enough to ask," Miss Shirley says. She walks over to the moon and uses her finger to trace where the other half should be. "Just because we cannot see this half of the moon doesn't mean it's not there," she says, studying me. "We know this without having to actually see it." She points to her eyes. Her fingernails are sparkly gold. "You have to believe it's there. Faith, young one," she says, balling up her fist, "is powerful."

When Dellie's little brother is killed in an accident, her life turns upside down and stays that way. Even though her brother has been gone for months, Dellie's mom still cries almost daily over his picture, and Dellie can't even walk to school without her father going along. She's hardly allowed outside for fear that something might happen. Dellie's home in the projects might not be the safest place, but what she wouldn't give for a little freedom to hang out with her best friend Kayla or to take a walk with Michael Ortiz and find out if he really likes her.

Little does Dellie know that life will get tougher before it gets easier. When a hungry little boy named Corey who lives on the first floor of her building shows up at her door, she can't help desperately wanting to save him from his neglectful mother and his mother's no-good boyfriend. She hopes almost without realizing it that saving Corey will absolve her from the guilt she carries about her brother's death, but at the same time she's terrified that he will believe in her and she will fail him like she thinks she failed her brother.

The Trouble With Half a Moon is a bittersweet story about a girl growing up with grief and a family going through the long process of healing. Vigilante presents Dellie in an engaging first-person narration that slowly reveals Dellie's many fears and the terrible guilt she carries with her without revealing the circumstances until late in the story. Even while pursuing her larger themes Vigilante doesn't spare the everyday details of Dellie's life. She vividly captures the embarassment and unfairness of bullying as well as the excitement and uncertainty of first "love" in a way that can make even an older reader feel all those feelings all over again. The heart of the book, though, is Dellie and her family's journey out of their grief. It's heartwrenching to see the fear Dellie has of loving after enduring such a loss, and heartwarming to see how a mysterious new neighbor named Miss Shirley and Corey bring Dellie and her family back to life.

The Trouble With Half a Moon releases on January 6th, 2011.

(Thanks to Stacey at Penguin Young Readers Group for my review copy!)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: We, the Drowned

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, February 9, 2011


Carsten Jensen’s debut novel has taken the world by storm. Already hailed in Europe as an instant classic, We, the Drowned is the story of the port town of Marstal, whose inhabitants have sailed the world’s oceans aboard freight ships for centuries. Spanning over a hundred years, from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the Second World War, and from the barren rocks of Newfoundland to the lush plantations of Samoa, from the roughest bars in Tasmania, to the frozen coasts of northern Russia, We, the Drowned spins a magnificent tale of love, war, and adventure, a tale of the men who go to sea and the women they leave behind.

Ships are wrecked at sea and blown up during wars, they are places of terror and violence, yet they continue to lure each generation of Marstal men—fathers and sons—away. Strong, resilient, women raise families alone and sometimes take history into their own hands. There are cannibals here, shrunken heads, prophetic dreams, forbidden passions, cowards, heroes, devastating tragedies, and miraculous survivals—everything that a town like Marstal has actually experienced, and that makes We, the Drowned an unforgettable novel, destined to take its place among the greatest seafaring literature.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Dose of Random Randomness #7

* Yesterday morning, instead of quickly cobbling together a Waiting on Wednesday post, I actually worked on writing a review. This is a step in the right direction, but uhm, yeah, another day slipped past with no post! I can't seem to shake my review writing funk. What do *you* do when you need to psych yourself up to write some reviews that have been waiting too long?

* Weirdness at work has been putting me into a funk and stealing my Christmas spirit. I've done a better job of shaking off the bad worky feelings this week, but jeez I have a lot of Christmas prep still to do that I was ignoring while sulking about my job situation for no especially good reason. We don't even have a tree yet! The good news is, I already bought a bunch of books for the holidays (for other people, not for me of course....LOL). The bad news is, that still leaves the hard task of thinking of less obvious Christmas gifts. ;-) What books are you giving this holiday season? I'd tell you mine, but then I might have to eat this post...

* I've set myself a goal to catch up with my backlogged LibraryThing Early Reviewer books. I've been very bad and let them pile up while I got distracted by newer and shinier things. I'm reading them shortest to longest thinking that should maximize results faster thus restoring me ever so quickly to LibraryThing good standing, but these things always backfire on me and tiny, short books mock me by not being fast reads. Oh well, I have the best of intentions...

* I won a #FridayReads giveaway on Twitter - definitely a fun surprise. If you're on Twitter and aren't tweeting what you're reading on Friday with the hash tag #fridayreads....why not? You get to tell the "world" what you're reading, and hey, who knows, maybe you'll win something, too.

* Series books with major cliffhangers make me crazy, especially considering I usually only have the first book of a series on hand until I read the first and decide if I like it. Let's just say, there's a few books I'm hoping to get for Christmas, too, but I wish it were sooner. On that note, I asked for The Hunger Games series, too, so I can stop being the last person on the earth (or at least the blogosphere) that hasn't read it. If someone gets them for me, that is.

* Why does the good, loyal dog always die (tragically) in stories? For that matter, why, in war movies especially, does that guy who dashes onto the battlefield to carry his wounded buddy back to safety always seem to die a terrible death? Whenever I see that guy dashing to the battlefield, I can't help but think, "Oh, there's another goner!" Loyalty and goodness don't really seem to come with the best rewards. Life lesson? Ugh, I hope not.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: The Illumination

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier
Pantheon, February 1, 2011


From best-selling and award-winning author Kevin Brock­meier: a new novel of stunning artistry and imagination about the wounds we all bear and the light that radiates from us all.

What if our pain was the most beautiful thing about us? In the aftermath of a fatal car accident, a private journal of love notes written by a husband to his wife passes into the keeping of a hospital patient, and from there through the hands of five other suffering people, touching each of them uniquely. I love the soft blue veins on your wrist. I love your lopsided smile. I love watching TV and shelling sunflower seeds with you.

The six recipients—a data analyst, a photojour­nalist, a schoolchild, a missionary, a writer, and a street vendor—inhabit an acutely observed, beauti­fully familiar yet particularly strange universe, as only Kevin Brockmeier could imagine it: a world in which human pain is expressed as illumination, so that one’s wounds glitter, fluoresce, and blaze with light. As we follow the journey of the book from stranger to stranger, we come to understand how intricately and brilliantly they are connected, in all their human in­jury and experience.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizel

Look, everyone! It's a book review. Now don't go getting used to this kind of thing... ;-)

Lenah Beaudonte has been alive, if you can call it that, for more than five hundred years. She has killed without mercy and assembled a coven of the most powerful, most dangerous vampires in the world and bound them together with magic. She has worn the finest fashions of every decade and has the literally eternal love of two vampires. But with eternal life comes eternal suffering and eternal longing for one thing: a human life. Lenah is dying to live even if living ultimately means dying. When the one who first changed her to a vampire finds the secret to returning her to human life, Lenah finds her greatest wish coming true. She returns to mortality as a student at a New England prep school where she quickly befriends Tony, an artist, and falls for Justin, arguably the most gorgeous guy in school, who glows with the life that Lenah has been missing. It's not long, though, until Lenah's vampire days come back to haunt her because the magic that binds her wicked coven cannot be severed, and she is doomed to be hunted by her most vicious creations. It will take everything Lenah has learned in just a few months of being human to save the people and the life she has come to love.

At first, I though Infitinite Days really wasn't going to work for me. I can't tell you how many times within the first 50 to 100 pages I was tempted to give up on it. I had a hard time buying Lenah as a teenager. As much as I loved and felt for Tony as a character, I had a hard time believing that anyone would be as blindly accepting as he was of the many things Lenah is inexplicably clueless about. Things that anybody who hasn't been asleep for the last hundred years would know about were overexplained. Also, the thought that you could be a girl who is over 500 years old and still fall for that perfect-looking prep school lacrosse player guy just like any other silly girl was, if not unbelievable, then at least disheartening. I didn't put it down, though, and I'm glad of it because once I got through the rocky beginning with only Lenah's vampire flashbacks somehow ringing true and drawing me into her world, Infinite Days really started to come into its own.

Maizel's vampires are not the romanticized, cuddly sorts of vampires popular in many books, they are cold-blooded killers driven to kill by their fury and resentment at being robbed of the pleasures of human life and left to exist for all eternity. Lenah is a well-drawn character who forces us to be both appalled at her actions and sympathetic to her trials as she tries to re-acclimate to human life in an unfamiliar place and time. Her struggle with her guilt from centuries of perpetrating horrors as she gains the human ability to truly feel and the flashbacks to her memories of love and loneliness and treachery in the life she lived as a vampire are rich and haunting. Set in sharp relief against Lenah's expansive past, the private school's petty rivalries and would-be bullying seem even more ridiclous and downright laughable. I'm also happy to report that despite my initial qualms about Justin as a love interest, Maizel does a good job of explaining Lenah's attraction to Justin as more having to do with how he pulses with life more than anyone she's met rather than his simply being "that guy" that all the girls fall for. Somehow Lenah knows that it is Justin who will be able to teach her how to truly live again, a lesson that she is most desperate to learn.

Ultimately Infinite Days is a compelling, fast-paced story of a vampire turned human whose newly-learned humanity might just be the key to her salvation.

And, of course, there will be a sequel. And, of course, I will be awaiting it eagerly.

(My copy provided by the publisher via Shelf Awareness. Thanks!)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday (Un)Salon: Bloggy McSlacker

This is the post where I warn you that I'll probably be indulging my inner (outer?) flaky, inconsistent blogger even more than usual for, well, probably the next month and some. I'm recovering from one of those weeks that I knew was going to be busy and was which was rapidly followed by one of those busy weeks that catches you totally by surprise. Which then segues into...Thanksgiving week? Thanksgiving already? Once I realized that, it dawned on me that my last non-busy week for the year had probably gone by without my even noticing.

The good news is, I'm still managing to read books at my same slow but steady pace resulting in my already reading the book that will make official my surpassing of last year's reading totals, which I am quite thrilled about last year's reading totals having been horribly (horribly!!) dismal. The bad news is that the time and energy for review writing has been considerably lacking and I've grown very behind again. I'm hoping that this week will offer up an opportunity or two to pick up the pieces, what with all the TV shows mostly going to reruns, but I promise nothing, given that the desire to sit down at the computer for any length of time after sitting at one all day is often absent. Plus, with the coming holiday, I'm sure this week is going to be busier than I'm expecting in my current optimistic view. Then come Christmas trees and shopping and assorted other holiday activities that will keep me (and you, too, I imagine) from having any of those delicious weekends where I can park myself in front of the laptop and churn out a few reviews at a time.

Now since I've regaled you with all my guilty excuses, how about the news in books? Last weekend I finished Gayle Forman's If I Stay, which, I was warned, would make me cry... a lot. I did cry, but not as much as I was expecting. I think all the warnings had me steeling myself a little for it, so my hardened heart wouldn't let me cry more than a time or two, thought I can see how there would have been many more opportunities for weeping had I not thus prepared myself. This week I'm reading, and hopefully finishing, Starting From Scratch by Susan Gilbert-Collins. I found it a little rough going at first, but it grew on me. I'm enjoying it, but I have the sense that it's only scratching the surface of things that could easily go much deeper. I feel like I end up saying that about a lot of the "family drama" set of books. I often think that maybe I should stop requesting or agreeing to review books that fall into that sort of niche, but then, when it's done well, I have the potential to like them so much.

In other news, my effort to stem the tide of incoming books is failing with flying colors. I'm not really buying books for myself (though I'm sure I'll be buying them as gifts!), but I haven't been able to resist requesting a few. Plus, now, of all times, I've gotten a few unsolicited copies to add to the burgeoning TBR pile. I've got it in my head now that I desperately need to finish off my backlog of LibraryThing Early Reviewer books that are none too early anymore, but that I am nonetheless obligated to read and review. I keep thinking that maybe if I get those done, everything won't seem so overwhelming. But who am I kidding?

This afternoon, I'm excited to be going to see the new Harry Potter movie. Have you seen it yet? Is it good?

What are you up to this weekend? Are the upcoming holidays getting you frazzled yet? ;-)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Leverage

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Leverage by Joshua Cohen
Dutton, February 17, 2011


The football field is a battlefield.

There’s an extraordinary price for victory at Oregrove High. It is paid on—and off—the football field. And it claims its victims without mercy—including the most innocent bystanders.

When a violent, steroid-infused, ever-escalating prank war has devastating consequences, an unlikely friendship between a talented but emotionally damaged fullback and a promising gymnast might hold the key to a school’s salvation.

Told in alternating voices and with unapologetic truth, Leverage illuminates the fierce loyalty, flawed justice, and hard-won optimism of two young athletes.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Green Books Campaign: Operating Room Confidential

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco- friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.

The campaign is organized for the second time by Eco-Libris, a green company working to make reading more sustainable. We invite you to join the discussion on "green" books and support books printed in an eco-friendly manner! A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.
It's been a while since I've done anything even mildly activisty or socially conscious on my blog (for shame, I know), so when I got an e-mail inviting me to be a part of the 2010 Green Books Campaign, I jumped at the chance. Since I'm still far too in love with my "old-timey" books printed on paper to trade them in for an e-reader, the next best thing seems to be to get on the bandwagon with printing books in as environmentally-sustainable a manner as possible.

The book I chose to read for the Green Books Campaign is Operating Room Confidential by Paul Whang. It is printed by ECW Press on FSC Certified paper, 98% of which comes from recycled materials. FSC certification ensures that forest products used are from responsibly harvested and verified sources (FSC.org). I chose Operating Room Confidential from a list full of intriguing environmentally friendly options because it plays into my day job, which I am forced to work at to fund my book habit. If you don't know, I work in a surgical pathology lab at a pretty busy hospital and, as a result, have a fair few interactions with surgeons. Besides still being in the dark about much of what happens behind the operating room doors, I was eager to see how Whang's impressions of surgeons matched with my own experience.

Dr. Whang is an anesthetist at a busy Toronto hospital and, as such, has the opportunity to observe the goings-on during many operations performed by a variety of surgeons. With a candid, conversational tone peppered with anecdotes and insider observations Whang guides us through a day in the operating room in a way that is both entertaining and informative. Whang covers topics ranging from the daily protocol of the operating room (the 5 second rule applies to nothing, for the record), the types of patients doctors fear the most (lawyers, other doctors, doctors' family members), personality types of the various medical specialties, as well as some cold hard information about what to expect if you, yourself, are about to go under the knife.

At the start, I very much enjoyed Dr. Whang's exposure of the daily happenings of the operating room. His observations and anecdotes are told with insight and wit, and I learned some interesting things, some of which confirm a good deal of what you see on Grey's Anatomy isn't so far beyond the pale. I definitely found myself in agreement with many of his comments on hospital hierarchy and the frustrating disconnect between administration and the people actually doing the hard work of caring for patients on a daily basis. I am, however, happy to report that my hospital differs from Whang's on the food front. He comments at length, in a very funny section, about the terrible lack of quality in hospital cafeteria food.

As I came into the home stretch of the book, though, it began to lose my interest a bit. Toward the latter end of the book, Whang spends a good deal of time giving us information, some of which is valuable and some of which consists of surgery details that I almost wish I could un-read. Whang's in depth description of his function as an anesthetist, what good anesthesia looks and feels like for the patient, and how to aid recovery with good pain management are valuable and, I think, comforting for those about to undergo surgery. On the other hand, his very detailed descriptions of, for example, the minutiae of knee or hip replacement surgery made me cringe and I would heartily recommend not reading these portions if you foresee these sorts of surgeries in your future. The idea of having one of these mostly routine procedures one day in my hopefully distant future distresses me more than ever having read the details.

I do think knowledge and a certain amount of preparedness is definitely helpful when it comes to undergoing and recovering from a surgical procedure, and Operating Room Confidential does a good job of providing us with this information. That said, though, there is a point past which ignorance is bliss, and I fear that, just a time or two, Whang's explanations go beyond that point. Other than these few instances, though, Operating Room Confidential is an engrossing and honest portrait of what goes on behind closed doors, both the good and bad, and I would recommend it to anybody who's ever been curious about the innermost workings of a hospital. The faint of heart might just want to skip that last chapter. ;-)

(Thanks to the publisher for providing my copy in conjunction with the Green Books Campaign).

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Dose of Random Randomness #6

- I am within one book review of being caught up with the review backlog that's been dogging me, yet for some reason, I'm writing this instead. I mean, jeez, if I finished that one review, I'd have to find something else to feel inexplicably guilty about, and we can't have that now can we?

- You know what I hate that other people seem to love? Choosing my next book to read. There's nothing I loathe more than finishing a book on the weekend, when I do the bulk of my reading, only to be left wasting valuable minutes trying to choose the next book and get into the meat of the story before my precious reading time gets eaten up by the work week. Instead of being enthralled by the possibilities, I'm paralyzed by the choice. This may be one reason why I don't read that many books in a year, or well, really get anything much accomplished....

- I got a letter in the mail from the New Yorker customer service center a few weeks ago that kindly refers to me as a "preferred New Yorker subscriber," and then oh-so-helpfully assures me that my subscription will be automatically renewed, and I will shortly receive my invoice for $49.95. Apparently, being "preferred" translates to having your subscription renewed automatically without your permission at a rate of approximately $10 more than is offered on their website for new subscribers. Jeez, New Yorker, don't do me any favors. I think I'll just go back to being a lame, un-preferred subscriber...or perhaps not a subscriber at all.

- I suck at quitting book acquisition cold turkey, and not for lack of trying. Despite my efforts to keep books from darkening my door so I can try to get the ones I have under control, they continue to arrive. And then, I, um, lose control and request one or two or, um, three. But that's still okay because I could have easily requested ten or twenty, right? See, yeah. I suck. No wonder the TBR is beyond out of control.

- I have a problem with collecting books by authors who I think I'll like without ever reading one to make sure that I'll like it. Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Pete Hamill, the list goes on....and on. I've encountered a few other nuts like me who do this lately, but how about you? Do you follow this bizarre pattern of insanity? What authors are you just collecting? ;-)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti

Looking back, oh how I wish I'd pillaged those leftover swag bags at Book Blogger Con for some more Deb Caletti books. If only I'd had a nice Sherpa to carry all my plunder through the crush of the NJ Transit crowd in Penn Station the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend. As it was, I barely made it out without being squished to death by the herd, but those missed Deb Caletti books still haunt me. I'm sure I'll find a way to acquire some more because I really liked Wild Roses and with The Nature of Jade Deb Caletti has definitely gone two for two with me.

Jade DeLuna never knows when she's going to have a panic attack. She's always on guard for for that tightening feeling in her chest that signifies that she might be about to lose control and humiliate herself. Jade's figured out a few ways to ward off the panic - lighting patron saint candles, picturing herself in a calm, barren desert, sucking on a cough drop, and watching the live webcam of the elephants in the zoo down the street. The routine of watching the elephants do what comes naturally soothes Jade's stresses away. Sometimes she can see the visitors to the elephants on the webcam, too, but none ever draw her attention until the day the young guy in a red jacket carrying a baby on his back catches her eye. Just seeing him on the webcam, Jade has an unmistakable sense that this stranger and the kid she assumes is his will somehow become a part of her life.

After a half-hearted attempt or two to "accidentally" meet him, Jade pushes thoughts of him to the back of her head to focus on her new volunteer job taking care of the elephants. Getting to know the elephants and their keeper is a welcome break from the troubles that are riddling Jade's parents marriage, unwelcome additions to her group of friends, and her rapidly upcoming decision about what college to attend. Between all the chaos in her life and her new found relationship with the elephants, the guy in the red jacket is all but a memory until the day he shows up again. Just as she'd supposed, soon Sebastian and his son Bo are becoming the best things in her life, and she feels more at home with the pair and Sebastian's grandmother than she could ever hope to feel at home with her real family. Unfortunately, there's more to Sebastian's story than first meets the eye, leaving Jade to make some decisions she'd never imagined.

Caletti has a great knack for voicing quirky first person narrators that are easy to relate to for girls both young and old. Jade has a compelling conversational voice that makes you feel like you've got a friend telling you a story. She makes it easy to see how the every day business of living can be downright terrifying if you think about it too much.

But the one thing my illness did make me realize is how necessary it is to ignore the dangers of living in order to live. And how much trouble you can get into if you can't. We all have to get up every morning and go outside and pretend we aren't going to die... We concentrate on having little thoughts so we don't have BIG THOUGHTS. It's like those days when you've got a really bad pimple but you still have to go to school. You've got to convince yourself it's not so bad just so you can leave the house and actually talk to people face to face. You've got to ignore the one big truth -- life is fatal.

Jade and Sebastian's love story is sweetly told starting with believable awkwardness and insecurity and evolving until they start to feel like home for each other. Caletti goes out of her way to emphasize the quirks and ordinarily mundane qualities that can make one person love another much more than words or looks. The portrayal of a teen dad who is in love with his young son and desperately wants to care for him no matter the sacrifice is refreshing. It seems the most natural thing in the world that when Jade begins to forget to worry about every little thing as she falls deeper in love with Sebastian and his family.

And so I had to go backward and come to know the person I loved. I learned he hated shirts with scratchy tags, that he knew everything about cars and read science fiction and spy novels. He could figure out what was wrong with a computer, draw sketches of buildings on napkins and phone books and spare pieces of paper, and often wore socks that didn't match. He hated to get angry, and instead just kept it inside until it came out in a rush that was near tears. His touch was gentle. He used the work "f--k" a little too often after he got to know you well, but rarely swore around people he didn't know. He liked anything barbequed - ribs, chips, hot wings. Sometimes he licked his fingers.

What's especially interesting about Caletti's books is that, despite the fact that she writes beautiful, romantic, realistic love stories, she never leaves her main characters to be defined by their relationship. The love story opens doors, teaches lessons, and ends uncertainly, but the change in Jade never stops being the focus. Caletti leaves us all with the correct impression that girls are stronger than they know and more resilient in the face of hardship than even they would expect, and that's a lesson that's a pleasure to learn from The Nature of Jade.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Heart of Deception

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Heart of Deception by M.L. Malcom
Harper Paperbacks, April 5, 2011


Leo Hoffman is a man of many contradictions. He is a Hungarian national with a French passport, a wealthy businessman with no visible means of support, and a devoted father who hasn’t seen his daughter in years. He is also a spy.

Recruited by the Allies to help lay the groundwork for their invasion of North Africa, Leo intends to do as little spying as possible; he just wants to earn his American citizenship, get to New York, and find his daughter, Maddy. But while Leo dodges death in France and Morocco, Maddy learns the truth behind her father’s mysterious past, and as she matures, this haunting knowledge compels Maddy down her own dangerous path of deception and discovery.

Spanning the years from World War II to the turbulent 1960s, this sequel to Heart of Lies tells the riveting story of a family struggling with the choices that war forces them to make, and the consequences that take a generation to unfold.

I read the first book in this series (that I was somehow unaware was a series), Heart of Lies, earlier this year. There were definitely some loose ends that it would be interesting to see tied up, so I'm excited at the prospect of this second book!

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger

It was funny to find that this week's Weekly Geeks theme fits oh-so-well with my week's reading. It's all about (at last) reading a book that you've been meaning to read for a long time that you can't believe you've waited so long to read because it's that good. It just so happens that this was the week that I chose to break free from my sea of obligatory reading and just read something that's been sitting on my shelves for a while. According to my calculations, Steve Kluger's Last Days of Summer has been cooling its heels (pages?) on my shelves since at least 2005, and now, having read it, I really can't believe that I let this gem sit around unread for as long as I did.

Told entirely in letters, notes, and news clippings, Last Days of Summer is the story of Joey Margolis and Charlie Banks. In 1941, 12 year old Joey is a Jewish kid living in a part of Brooklyn where Jewish kids, particularly ones with mouths as big as Joey's, aren't treated too well. Charlie Banks is the hot-headed up and coming third baseman for the New York Giants, and he'd just as soon slug a guy for calling him a name on the basepaths as he would hit a long ball over the wall.

Joey is a smart-alecky kid with uncanny persistence and a knack for writing letters to famous people that actually elicit replies, like his correspondence with President Roosevelt and his staff, for example. It's no shocker, then, that when Joey figures that Charlie Banks might well be the solution to his problem with the neighborhood bullies, Charlie hardly has a chance of resisting. Soon the two are sniping back at each other in letters. It's not long, though, until their real struggles start to work their way into the letters even if they are buried in snark, fibs, and tough guy-isms. Soon, Charlie is proving himself a worthy stand-in for Joey's father, a philandering factory owner with no time for anybody but himself and his new wife, and Joey is calling his hot-tempered hero out on his unsportsmanlike conduct.

Last Days of Summer is, perhaps, a profoundly implausible story, but that small fact never crosses your mind while you're reading it. Kluger gives each of his two main characters such vivid, believable voices that you can't help coming to care about each of them quickly. Only using letters, Kluger fleshes out an entire cast of characters that include Charlie's lounge singer girlfriend, Hazel MacKay, arch enemy of Ethel Merman; Joey's mother and his aunt, a Jewish stereotype of sorts who's always saying that if things go wrong "let it be on your head;" Joey's upstairs neighbor Craig Nakamura, his partner in entrepreneurial pursuits and tracking the movements of old Mrs. Aubaugh the "German spy" with the wooden leg; Charlie's teammate Stuke, famous for making the first unassisted triple play in 21 years; not to mention Joey's Rabbi, a patient if humorless man who gets more than he bargained for when the distinctly un-Jewish Charlie steps in for Joey's dad at Joey's Bar Mitzvah.

Given all this, it's not surprising that Last Days of Summer is laugh out loud hilarious to the point that you might embarrass yourself while giggling away during lunch break while you're at a table by yourself. What is surprising, though, is the way these characters work their way into your heart while you're busy trying not to laugh too loudly in public, how the story can be heartwarming without ever crossing the line into cheesy, and how, even when you guess the ending coming from a hundred pages off, it still takes you by surprise and makes you cry like a baby. I absolutely loved this story of a pair of unlikely buddies who needed each other more than they could have guessed and of two boys who ultimately teach each other how to be men.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Swamplandia!

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
Knopf, February 1, 2011


A triumphant debut novel and follow-up to Karen Russell’s universally acclaimed short story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.

The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline—think Buddenbrooks set in the Florida Everglades—and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, is swiftly being encroached upon by a sophisticated competitor known as the World of Darkness. Ava, a resourceful but terrified twelve, must manage seventy gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief. Her mother, Swamp landia!’s legendary headliner, has just died; her sister is having an affair with a ghost called the Dredgeman; her brother has secretly defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their sinking family afloat; and her father, Chief Bigtree, is AWOL. To save her family, Ava must journey on her own to a perilous part of the swamp called the Underworld, a harrowing odyssey from which she emerges a true heroine.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Twosome of Titles from Two Months Ago

I will catch up with my reviews. I will catch up with my reviews. I will catch up with my reviews.

I've got two YA titles left from August, and I'm thinking I can get away with writing more informal mini-reviews of the two of them. Of course, I suck at writing short reviews, so maybe this isn't the best plan, but here it goes anyway.

The first is Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman. Reading Full Tilt reminded me of staying up all night reading some juicy young adult horror novel by someone like R.L. Stine, except with more of a message. One night when Blake and his brother Quinn are at an amusement park, a mysterious worker in a ball-toss game slips him an invitation to ride, and an address. After a terrifying ride on the Kamikaze roller coaster, Blake's had about enough of thrill rides for one night and has no interest in going. When Blake wakes up and something is wrong with his brother, Blake knows he's got no choice but to check out the amusement park.

What he finds is a sinister game where riders have to ride five terrifying, life threatening rides before dawn to escape the black magical amusement park. Failure means being stuck in the park forever. Success is facing all your very worst fears embedded in what, from the outside, look like ordinary amusement park rides. Despite a niggling sense that the facing your fears angle is all a bit too after-school special, Full Tilt is an addicting book. The ride ideas and the way Blake's fears are woven into them are pretty ingenious, so ingenious that it takes a while even for Blake and, by extension, readers to figure out how exactly they relate, but once it's revealed, it makes sense. It's the first book I've read in a while that has demanded that I stay up late to finish because I just had to know what the next ride would be and if Blake would succeed in saving himself and his brother. If you're looking for a fun pageturner of a book with a serious twist, Full Tilt is definitely one to try.

The last unreviewed book of my long ago August of reading is Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready. I didn't dislike Shade, but I had really hoped to like it more than I did, and I really can't peg why I didn't, other than perhaps my summer love affair with paranormal YA was already starting to wear thin as August started to wind down.

Aura lives in a world where ghosts live right alongside the living, and anyone under sixteen can see them. Aura is one of the first, or perhaps the very first person born after the Shift, and anyone born after the Shift can see and talk to ghosts, while everyone born before it can't. The ghosts are mostly harmless, just searching for the absolution they need to cross over. They are limited in their power, can only visit places they've been in life, and are defeated by BlackBox technology that keeps them out of places they aren't wanted, like, the bathroom, for one. Some ghosts are so angry, though, that their anger gives them unusual dark power, turning them to Shades and making them a dangerous menace.

Aura's life is fairly ordinary, for a post-Shifter, that is. She helps her aunt as an interpreter for ghosts in court cases that will help them get justice and cross over. Her boyfriend Logan is in an Irish rock band. She goes to his shows. She knows she loves him, but she worries about whether she's ready to go all the way with him. Then, on his birthday and the day his band gets signed, the day that should be the best of his young life, tragedy strikes, and Logan turns into an angry purple-hued ghost.

I'll stop there for fear of spoilers, but Shade has all the makings of great paranormal YA. It's got a very detailed and well-thought out world, a love triangle (with budding rockstar boyfriend who's a ghost and a guy with a sexy Scottish accent!), mystery, thrills, and a sympathetic narrator to boot. There's no reason people who love paranormal YA won't love this book. All the elements were there, but somehow, when I read it, it just didn't click for me, which makes me think it was just me and my bad timing for reading it, which wouldn't be the first time such a fate has befallen a book and me. I will say, though, that I absolutely love that Smith-Ready compiled a soundtrack for the book on her website. Music is a huge part of the book, and she saved me the trouble of looking up all the songs she mentions (and I totally would have).

In lieu of my ringing endorsement, I give you...other peoples' ringing endorsements (of which, it seems, these are but a small portion)!

S. Krishna's Books
Presenting Lenore
The Story Siren

(If you're listening, FTC, Full Tilt is from my own collection, and I got Shade at an excellent YA Authors Crossing Over panel at Book Expo America.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Gendarme by Mark T. Mustian

Today on "Books that have been sitting on desk awaiting review for too long" we have Mark T. Mustian's novel, The Gendarme. It also falls into the category of "books I meant to review nearer the release date but failed at mightily." You could say that this is an excercise in measuring the strength of my long term memory, but for our purposes, I think we'll just call it a book review. ;-)

Emmett Conn is 92 years old, or so he thinks. After suffering a head injury during World War I, most of his prior memory was erased. Since then, he fell in love with a nurse who took a special interest in him, emigrated to her home country, and lived out his days working as a plumber and doing his very best to live the American dream and pass it on to his two daughters. Even as he has aged, he has stayed in remarkably good health, that is, until he begins to have seizures which reveal he has a brain tumor. Even more disconcerting, however, are his incredibly detailed dreams, dreams of a past that he's sure could not even be possible. He dreams of a time when his name was not Emmett, but Ahmet Khan, and he was serving as a gendarme escorting captive Armenians out of Turkey. He dreams of an Armenian girl who intoxicates him with her beauty and her mismatched eyes. What he has known about himself for decades tells him that these dreams can't be true, but the dreams are too real to deny.

Mustian expertly weaves together the two narratives, one the current life and the remembered times of Emmett Conn, the other the strikingly realistic dreams of the terrible journey out of Turkey with a band of suffering refugees riddled with merciless cruelty and an unexpected and forbidden love. The present day narration is a seemingly spot-on depiction of an aging widower. He recalls a life he considers to be well-lived, full of hard work and family. He wonders how he failed to pass on his hard-won life and rigid values to his two daughters who seem to care about him but fail to visit and seem all too willing to concede his care to strangers. He even makes wry, almost laugh out loud funny observations about his dearly departed wife's relatives, really the only relatives he himself has left.

The other narration fleshes out the details of an incident that is still a taboo topic for many Turks. It effectively transports us to a different time and a different place. It reveals the raw cruelty and the terrible suffering inflicted by the gendarmes on their captive refugees. At the same time, though, Mustian manages to put a very human face on a tragedy using a present-day narrator we have come to like who is seeing this all anew, but in a way that feels distinctly familiar. Emmett's disbelief and regret at the actions of his former self, Ahmet, casts the events in an atypical and disconcertingly sympathetic light as we even watch Ahmet change as he falls in love with this unusual girl that he never got the chance to apologize to.

The Gendarme is a brave and haunting portrait of yet another wartime tragedy that many would rather see pushed under the rug, but it is also a story of love that transcends even the worst circumstances. The Gendarme is a powerful book that definitely makes Mustian an author to watch.

(I got my ARC of The Gendarme at Book Expo America)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Dose of Random Randomness #6: The Post-Vacation Edition

- Yes, I went on a little vacation. I meant to tell you about it, but then I ran out of time what with all the packing and the preparing and my dog being sick and broken. Er, sorry. I was here...

- We rode the Metro, but we never changed lines at Metro Center *grumble, grumble.* We saw monuments and memorials, browsed museums, and watched the Yankees game at McGinty's (which is not really what people do there on a Saturday night while there is live entertainment, but hey, we really wanted to see the game). We even paid a visit to Kramerbooks where we browsed at length (my friend actually appreciates my book nerdy-ness!). (Un)Fortunately, I was able to behave myself and did not buy a book. It's an awesome place, though, and a place where I would eagerly buy lots of books if I were allowing myself to acquire books. (See below)

- That's because I've been contemplating one of those all-out book acquisition bans that I've never been able to bring myself to try before. My physical TBR is wildly out of control, and it's time I took some decisive action, and it may have to be to go off book acquiring cold turkey for a while. Maybe til the end of the year. Maybe longer. It definitely *should* be longer, but I don't know if I can force myself to do it longer. Getting books makes me happy, so not getting books could plunge me into a deep depression by Christmas, or uh, Thanksgiving. *sigh*

- This is the first time this year that I've been reading more than one book at a time. I'm about halfway through Deb Caletti's The Nature of Jade compliments of my BBC swag bag. I'm loving the animal behavior facts at the beginning of each chapter. But then when Operating Room Confidential by Paul Whang showed up in my mailbox for the Green Books Campaign a paragraph or two became a chapter and a chapter became half the book, and so I'm in the middle of that, too!

- I've only been to D.C. twice this year, but both (unintentionally) were during the 24 hour readathon. So bummed I missed it, but not bummed enough to miss out on a little vacation! I think I need to have my own lonely readathon and get some more books read. (See above about reducing the physical TBR)

- I have less than no interest in all those Pride and Prejudice sequels written by modern day authors, even the ones that everyone seems to love. Are there any types of books that even the most glowing reviews couldn't convince you to read?

Monday, October 4, 2010

City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell

I've reached out my hand to the BEA plunder box (yes, they're still in the box, okay? Where am I supposed to put them?) again and emerged with City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell. Once upon a time, many years ago I read Caldwell's other novel, The Distant Land of My Fathers, and while I don't remember loving it, I remembered liking it and that it left several intact images of 1930s Shanghai lodged in my brain that have ultimately led me to read other books about that time period in Shanghai. With this in mind, it didn't take much of a great leap to know that this book about American missionaries in China during the early 1900s might tickle my fancy, so I lurked by Macmillan's Book Expo America booth at the appointed time and snagged myself a copy. I expected that I'd probably like it, but little did I know that I was stuffing a copy of what would likely be one of my favorite reads, possibly my favorite read of the year, into that overflowing tote bag.

I loved this book in so many ways that it's actually difficult to review. It's difficult to separate the many ways it dug into my own thoughts and ideas and beliefs and touched me emotionally from its value as a book if you're, uhm, well, not me. Nevertheless, I shall try and hopefully convey to you what's so great about this book.

City of Tranquil Light is the story of young Will Kiehn, who, growing up as a Mennonite and a farmer in Oklahoma, hears the unmistakable call of God to serve as a missionary in, of all places, China. It's not something he wants to do or something he's even qualified for, but he can't shake that feeling that the God he loves and knows loves him wants him to go to China. Dreamy, clumsy, and homesick, 21-year-old Will is, at first, terribly ill-suited to his calling, but his mentor, Edward, and Edward's young sister-in-law Katherine, who travels to China for the first time at the same time that Will does, soon see a change being worked in him. Katherine, a nurse, has almost happily abandoned life in the U.S. to serve the Chinese who suffer from many ailments and also suffer from the traditional cures for those ailments. As she and Will work together under Edward and his wife Naomi's tutelage, to help and to share the Gospel with the local Chinese, Will and Katherine find that they are falling in love.

Before long, Katherine and Will are married and embarking on their own journey of mission work together. When they arrive in Kuang P'ing Ch'eng, the City of Tranquil Light, Katherine and Will don't know a soul and only have tenuous grasp on the local culture. Soon, Will is nervously preaching his first sermon to a crowd of Chinese, and Katherine is opening a makeshift clinic to help the sick. Little do they realize that the people with whom they are sharing their faith, will bless them richly as well. City of Tranquil Light is the story of how Will and Katherine become a part of Kuang P'ing Ch'eng's community told in both point of views, with Will's narration coming from his last years as he reflects upon his life and Katherine's view from journal entries written throughout their life in China. Theirs is a story rife with the heartbreaks of living in an inhospitable environment constantly troubled by famine, bandits, and war. It's also a story filled with the joy of seeing God's promises kept to a couple who often has only their faith to sustain them. It's a bittersweet story of missionaries who come to learn that even while they seek to serve their Chinese neighbors, their neighbors have much to offer them as well.

City of Tranquil Light is fiction's answer to all those kooky, ultimately harmful Christians/Christian missionaries found in life and in books who judge, exploit, and damage the people they should be helping, who force their beliefs down the throats of all without regard to their cultures or their everyday circumstances. The Christian faith displayed in Katherine and Will is real, and it's beautiful. It's marked by love and self-sacrifice and forgiveness. Instead of trying to force those around them to change, they focus on helping them, building lasting relationships with them, and freely sharing the faith and the God that sustains them. Katherine and Will's is a relationship that deepens and blossoms as they face the trials of life in China together, and their love story is heartrending. They love each other, they love their God, and the lives they lead speak of God even louder than the words that Will gladly preaches. Of course, their life isn't all sunshine and rainbows, and Katherine and Will and their growing congregation face often unbearable suffering, and crises of faith soon follow, but ultimately their passion for God, His promises and His faithfulness, never allow them to fall.

Bo Caldwell writes in the introduction (in the ARC, at least) that City of Tranquil Light is a novel based on the lives of her own grandparents who served as missionaries in China and Taiwan for many years, a story she always thought would be too dull to be worth telling. Thankfully, she changed her mind, and what results is an honest, genuine but never preachy, cheesy or overblown story of people who gave their lives to the work of spreading the Gospel in the vast mission field of China. It is anything but dull. It is a profoundly moving love letter of faith about a God who is always at work even if it is behind the scenes.

This book has plenty of merit for the Christian and the non-Christian. It's full of memorable characters that you can easily come to care about. It's a detailed rendering of historical China complete with well-researched cultural details. It's a realistic love story and even has elements of suspense as dangerous situations crop up. That said, for a Christian, this book is that much more powerful. I wept more than once at God's grace to these characters and displayed by these characters as well as the love they received in return - grace that I have seen in my own life and in the lives of my friends in one way or another. It accurately and heartbreakingly portrays struggles with faith and unbelief that plague even the most devout, well-meaning believer. It's a beautiful story of God and His faithfulness to His people who He loves beyond reason and sent His Son to save, and by the end I felt blessed for having read it.

Absolutely among my favorite reads this year (and probably beyond!).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Sea Change

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Sea Change by Jeremy Page
Viking, December 2


After experiencing a devastating tragedy, Guy sets out to sea in an old Dutch barge that has now become his home. Every night, he writes the imagined diary of the man he might have been—and the family he should have had.

As he embarks upon the stormy waters of the North Sea—writing about a trip through the small towns and nightclubs of the rural American South—Guy's stories begin to unfold in unexpected ways. And when he meets a mother and daughter, he realizes that it might just be possible to begin his life again.

Haunting and exquisitely crafted, Sea Change is a deeply affecting novel of love and family by an acclaimed young writer.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman

It doesn't take Vince Luca long in his life to find out that his dad is in the "vending machine business" or that the vending machine business has nothing to do with vending machines either. For one, he knows that his dad is an only child, but there always seem to be a few sinister-seeming Uncles around the house. That, and when his dad says a sarcastic good night to empty rooms, it's not hard to tell that the Luca house is bugged by the FBI. Yes, Vince Luca's dad is a mob kingpin, and it's causing Vince all sorts of problems, especially in his love life, like that time he took a girl to the beach, opened the trunk to get a blanket out, only to find one of his dad's roughed up debtors passed out in the trunk. Things are going to get worse, though, because Vince is falling for the daughter of the very same FBI agent that is trying to put his dad away for good.

Son of the Mob is a great blend of the hilarious and the serious. Vince is a sympathetic and funny narrator caught between his dad's line of work, which always seems to be getting him in trouble and the comfortable life he leads because of it. It's hard to take a moral stand against the mob when his dad's income from it is what's putting food on the table. The story is littered with oddly named Uncles and their expected and unexpected exploits. The back story of Vince's dawning realization that his dad's line of work is a bit different than all the other kids' dads, not to mention the scrapes he's always getting into because of it, are all laugh out loud funny.

In a strange sort of way, Son of the Mob is a convincing coming of age story. Vince has always had the mob in his life, but he's never worked out where he fits into his family's story. He knows that a criminal life isn't one he wants to lead, but he is still wrestling with how to reconcile that distaste for his dad's life with a son's inherent loyalty to a dad who, despite his illegal career, has taken care of him and cared about him all of his life. Vince's relationship with Kendra, the FBI agent's daughter, is less of a convincing love story than it is a plot device that throws all Vince's quandaries into sharp relief and forces him to face up to what his dad is doing and what he, Vince, is going to do about it.

Ultimately, Son of the Mob is a funny story with heart and a serious coming of age component that almost takes you by surprise.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Dose of Random Randomness #5

We haven't had much randomness lately. It's time to remedy this. Plus, my week has seemed so awfully long that I'm afraid I'm not mentally competent enough to write, like, a book review or something. So....randomness!

- I'm having one of those weeks where you get books in the mail that you'd kind of written off as ones you weren't going to get. It's an odd feeling, a cross between that glee you feel at finding money you forgot you had in that oft unused compartment of your purse and abject panic ("Where will I put these? When will I read them?")

- I dislike lunch foods that cannot be eaten with one hand. How am I supposed to hold the book open while I eat??

- I'm not sure how I'll ever be a mother, I mean, should the opportunity arise. I'm the most awful sort of germaphobe. When the people in my household are sick, I A) disappear or B) loudly object to touching the buttons of the phone or the remote control or other shared objects. Yes, I know, I kind of irritate me, too.

- My town plays host to the biggest fair in my state this coming week. It's such a big deal around here that I used to get the week off of school for it. I miss that. If you can't find me this week, it's because I'm off gorging on deep friend foods, playing Bingo for prizes that nobody wants (the best of which might just be an hour of free Bingo!) and reveling in small town Americana. Or maybe I'm just going for the Dock Dogs. Or maybe I'm just going because I can watch Dock Dogs while eating funnel cake and french fries and ice cream and, oh, well you get the point.

- Good news! I've read a second book this month now. This means I won't have to retire to my bed in a state of abject book blogger humiliation. But, uh, I might choose to.

- I think that Shelf Awareness dedicated issue about Gallery Books single handedly is going to add many books to my wish list. As soon as I read it instead of shallowly looking at the cover photographs and mindlessly musing that, "Oh, that's pretty. That looks really good."

That's all my randomness. Got any randomness you'd like to share? Come on, it'll make you feeeeel good.... ;-)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

It's September the 21st already, and I've read approximately one book this month thus far. It's my pleasure to blame this mild travesty on Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I mean, if it hadn't been for my lunch breaks at work this past week, I might have done no book reading at all. Is it wildly ironic that I had to go to work to get any book reading done?

The good news is, though, that though I've only read on book this month thus far, it was the right book. It's exactly the one book I committed to read for exactly the one reading challenge (R.I.P. V!) I chose to participate in this year. Now, you may think that reading one book for a challenge and reviewing it is not a lofty goal, but, uh, yeah, I like totally failed last year. So that I'm here, I've read the book, and now I'm on the cusp of reviewing it is far more impressive than perhaps you're thinking.

Her Fearful Symmetry, if not exactly my most beloved book of the year, was definitely a good fit for a creepy fall read in the R.I.P. challenge vein. I'm not even sure if I quite know how I feel about it yet. It was definitely creepy, but not in the deliciously creepy kind of way you're envisioning when you curl up with a ghost story on a crisp, breezy fall day. More just like creepy creepy bordering on the disturbing. Or maybe I just don't read enough creepy ghost stories to be able to judge properly.

I don't usually do this, but I've got to stop a second here and say something about the book itself. Regal Literary sent me a finished paperback for review, and I think the paperback is just scrumptious. The cover is beautiful and the softened edges of the photograph of the girl seem to fit the book just right. It's got pages that are just the right thickness, a great font for the chapter headings, and photographs of the cemetary divide the parts of the book. It was exciting just to take it out of the envelope and hold it in my hand, and all the extra well-done aesthetic touches added pleasure to an already enjoyable reading experience. Ah, I take so much pleasure from just holding a book in my hand, I don't know that I'll ever be able to make the switch to an E-reader! But that's a problem for another day. Today there's a review to be written!

When Elspeth Noblin passes away after a long fight with cancer, she leaves her diaries to her lover, Robert, and she leaves her flat at Vautravers right next to Highgate Cemetary in London to her twin nieces Julia and Valentina. There are a few conditions, though. Valentina and Julia have to spend a year living in the flat before they can sell it and neither their father, Jack, nor their mother Edie, Elspeth's twin, may step foot in the flat to visit their daughters. Though Valentina, the meeker of the two, has considerable reservations about moving to London from Chicago, Julia's fierce determination to move to London and for the twins to stay together as they always have, wins out.

The two set off for London and settle in the flat. Julia becomes acquainted first with the upstairs neighbor, Martin, a man who suffers terribly from obsessive compulsive disorder whose wife, unable to live under the burden of Martin's many compulsions any longer, has left him. Much later they come to know Robert, Elspeth's grieving lover and a guide and a scholar of Highgate Cemetary. A year in the flat is complicated, however, because there is much mystery about the broken relationship between Elspeth and Edie that still lingers, and Julia and Valentina are finding that always being together, living as two halves of a whole is not the life they're both dreaming of. As for Elspeth? Well, she might be dead, but it appears she's not exactly gone. I'll say no more for fear of revealing crucial plot points in a book that's about the slow revelation of its many mysteries.

Her Fearful Symmetry is a book that grew on me, and one I suspect might continue to do so. It started slow, and I wondered where it was going and if it would get there soon. It finally grabbed me somewhere in the middle, and I had a sense of where it was headed and was rather disturbed by it. I think, though, that I was ultimately won over by its resolution. At its heart, Her Fearful Symmetry is about human folly and best intentions gone awry and being granted wishes that don't turn out the way you'd imagined. At times it's a twisted love story, and at other times it's a sweet love story, but it most definitley is a love story. It's not a fairy tale sort of love story, but a real love story that shows love for what it is: a terribly messy emotion that doesn't make sense and makes us do things that are beyond foolish and beyond selfish. It's a mystery and a ghost story with a rich, creepy atmosphere and a book that, despite my occasional misgivings, I think I really liked.

Friday, September 17, 2010

BBAW: Future Treasures

Wow, I can't believe Book Blogger Appreciation Week is already drawing to a close. As usual, it's been a fantastic week full of crazed bloghopping, great discoveries of new to me blogs that will give my Google Reader another infusion of new life, and a chance to rekindle my excitement about books, book bloggers, and book blogging. As always a big thank you to Amy and her dedicated helpers who put so much work into making it all possible!

The last topic of the week is all about blogging goals.

This year has been full of blogging ups and downs for me. Leafing Through Life is rapidly coming up on its third birthday, and the book blogosphere has grown in leaps and bounds even since I started blogging. It's been incredible watching the book blogging community grow and watching book bloggers draw the attention of publishers and authors simply by doing what they do best - get excited about books. That said, I won't lie. It's been hard trying to keep pace with a rapidly evolving book blogosphere and trying to find my place within it. There have been times in the past year when I've thought that perhaps it had passed me by, and maybe I should hang up my book blogging hat, simply because I didn't and still don't have the time to be the blogger I want to be. Er...this is not very cheery. Hold on, I promise it gets better.

Then came BEA and then Book Blogger Con and then BBAW, and, even when I'm feeling the most down about my blogging or most slumpy about my reading, these kinds of things have a way of always getting me excited and reinvigorated. Meeting and building relationships with people who love books, learning about the latest in publishing, getting to share my love of books with people who actually appreciate it instead of scratching their heads and saying something to the effect of "Oh, I read stuff. I read an issue of Entertainment Weekly just last month!" - all things I love too much to miss even when I can't dedicate the time I'd like to it. It's also weeks like this week that remind me that what's so great about the book blogosphere is still what's so great about the blogosphere - the community. It's a pleasure to see book bloggers trying to get to as many posts as possible for them this week to leave comments and discover new blogs and make new friends. The book blogosphere is a community that's still warm and welcoming and doesn't want anyone to feel left out.

I don't intend to set a lot of goals. I don't like them. They make things seem hard and like work, and it's when I let it turn into a chore that I have to get done that I like blogging least. So there will be no hard and fast goals here, just some loosey goosey wishes and hopes for the future of me in the book blogosphere.

- First and foremost, I don't need another chore, and I don't want to make blogging and reading just another obligation I have to fulfill.

- Second, I want to be more consistent about posting, and if I can't always post as much as I'd like, I still want to be as consistent in replying to comments and/or paying return visits to commenters as possible. I want everybody who takes the time to comment here to know that I really do notice and appreciate them.

- Third, I want to be a better blog reader. I'm notorious for letting my Google reader get way out ahead of me and, without even realizing it, not commenting on even my most favorite blogs for weeks on end. I'd love to come up with a better method, so that I can be more regular about showing the bloggers I love I appreciate them by actually reading and commenting on their blogs more often!

- Finally, I want a banner. For the top of the blog. See it up there? It's so boring! Except for the After You'd Gone quote, still love that. I don't know if I'm going to try to resurrect my Paint Shop Pro skills or commission someone with more talent than myself, but if you visit me next year at this time, there'd better be something pretty or at least visually interesting there.

Hope you've had a great BBAW - I know I have. Thanks to everybody for making it a particularly fabulous week to be a book blogger! =)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

BBAW: Forgotten Treasure

If you've been book blogging for any length of time, or even reading book blogs for any length of time, I'm sure it doesn't surprise you when I say that some books really sweep the blogosphere. To open up your Google Reader and see what's going on with your blogging friends, you'll be exposed to reviews and chatter about the same book every five posts. I mean, Mockingjay anyone? Or perhaps you remember the whole Raven Stole the Moon thing? It's great to see worthy books get a boost from lots of book bloggers' enthusiasm, but today's Book Blogger Appreciation Week topic asks us to spotlight a book that we've loved that seems to have flown under the book blogging radar.

When I saw this topic, a book I've read this very year jumped immediately to mind. Looking back, I even commented on the unfortunate lack of book bloggers reading this book in my original review. I wanted all my blogging friends to love The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by Thomas Mullen as much as I did. The author's previous book The Last Town on Earth seems to have made a much bigger splash, if not in the book blogosphere, then at least in general.

So, this book, it's set in the Great Depression-era where Jason and Whit Fireson AKA The Firefly Brothers are becoming infamous for their bank robbing exploits, except it seems their time may be up because they've been killed and now they're waking up in the morgue. Yes, I did say waking up up in the morgue because much to their, and everyone else's surprise, the most definitely dead Firefly Brothers are getting a second chance and a third chance and, well, you get the idea. Okay, I know people either love or hate that magical realism element in their reading, but this book has got so much going for it that perhaps even the magical realism haters could see their way to giving it a chance.

First of all, it's an unbelievably compelling picture of the Great Depression. It captures the desperation and the depravity to which the average person was driven. It draws out this hero worship for bank robbing criminals who were, in the eyes of many of the people whose houses had been foreclosed on, vicariously exacting their revenge. Second, it's a penetrating look at family as it follows the brothers back to their home where their mother and other brother are living a more average Depression experience. All these characters have incredible depth and seeing how they interact, how old hurts are never quite forgotten, and how their love for each other manifests itself in unexpected ways that never turn out quite the way they're intended is a perfect and well-drawn picture of any family, even given the unique circumstances. Finally, it's got action. I mean, it's a book about bank robbers. They rob banks. They have tommy guns. They have to make daring escapes from the cops. They have hostages and lovers and hostages who become lovers. Add to that the fact that they seem to not be staying dead, and you've got a pretty decent amount of action to offset the deeper, darker parts of the book.

I loved this book. I loved seeing the bank robber myth and legend simultaneously built up with the brothers' unlikley resurrection and peeled away to reveal a pair of average guys going through a hard time, just guys with families and baggage and struggles who just happen to be infamous bank robbers. All right, I hope my shameless gushing has convinced you to seek out a copy of The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers, and I'm looking forward to discovering some more excellent forgotten treasures today around the book blogosphere.

What's *your* forgotten treasure book?