Monday, June 28, 2010

The Quotable Vera Wright

(Muahahaha - I will now distract you with profound quotes until I manage to finish and review The Vera Wright Trilogy by Elizabeth Jolley, which is both very long and very good.)

My father used to say that learning something was not really of any use unless it was fitted to some other thing which had been learned. Perhaps a better way of saying this is to say that facts should be linked and everything should then be applied to where it belongs in human life. This is true about fiction, he said then, fiction places people where they belong in society. There is no such thing he said as a dated novel. The novel set in a particular time gives a picture of that time with all the details of life as it was lived then. In any case he said human beings have not changed except outwardly in fashion where clothes and food are concerned and in the equipment they have learned to use. Love and hate and revenge, ambition, jealousy and grief are all as they have always been.
- The Vera Wright Trilogy: Cabin Fever - Elizabeth Jolley

Thursday, June 24, 2010

On Willpower or the Lack Thereof

I meant to have a book review for you today, but as usual, things didn't go quite as I planned. Instead, I've composed this bookish acquisition post in an effort to convince you that I need an intervention and someone to commit me to book addiction rehab.

It's library book sale season here in Nowheresville, PA, and for the first time in years, I skipped one. It was right after BEA, and I knew I didn't need a single book for years to come. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to skip two. I exercised some restraint in not being there for the very first hour on the very first day in hopes that by the time I got there, it would be all picked over and I wouldn't get much. Again, failure.

I spent about $20 less than usual, but then I usually spend around $40 at this particular library book sale which always seems to have nice, barely used copies of surprisingly new books. Now, if you've been to a library book sale recently, and I suspect that perhaps you have, you'll know that 20 bucks will get you an uncommon amount of lightly used books.

Without further ado - my secret shame, emerging for the first time from the box that I've been trying to pretend I didn't actually bring home with me (with occasional commentary):

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - a book I can't believe I don't already own.
America, America by Ethan Canin
The Age of Shiva by Manil Suri
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga - a book that caught my attention when it won the Man Booker Prize in 2008.
Coventry by Helen Humphreys - to feed my need for World War II fiction.
The Rebels of Ireland by Edward Rutherfurd - because I've got the first book in the Dublin Saga, so obviously I need the next one, right?
Unveiled by Francine Rivers - One of a series of novellas about women from the Bible. If I like this one, there's more where it came from!
The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly - Because I think this got some Orange Prize attention at some point, and I heart me some Orange Prize.
Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk - See above. I think.
Let Me Finish by Roger Angell - Even if this didn't sound really interesting, my shallow heart could never pass up the awesome cover on this book.
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith - I seem to recall the blogosphere being abuzz about this a while ago...
Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo - See above.
Bucking the Sun by Ivan Doig - I've had such a thing for stories about people in Montana ever since I went there and didn't stay like I was supposed to.
Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer
Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman - Same author as Downsiders which was a pretty good book.
The Schwa was Here by Neal Shusterman - See above.
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis - I'm pretty sure I've read about a zillion good reviews of this in one place or another. Despite it's not being my normal thing, I certainly have to try it, no?
The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis - I've always loved a good Newbery book, and this one is a Newbery Honor.
A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck - See above.

Only, uhm, 19. That's good right. Hardly any really. But where will I put them?

Have you read any of them? Which one should I read first? Discuss while I attempt not to mysteriously vanish for a week. Really. ;-)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

BEA Plunder the Vlog Part 2

Yes. It's me. Vlogging again. I considered the comments on the last post to be sufficient encouragement to try my hand at this again. If that wasn't your intention, dear commenters, do accept my apologies.

Here's the thing. I attempted to upload it to YouTube, two different ways and the video and audio still doesn't seem to me to sync up quite right. It's better than the last one, I think, but definitely still not quite right. Then I uploaded it to Photobucket and it came out quite nice, but it won't embed in this post. Then, in keeping with my M.O., I got frustrated and quit. The end result is that today...we have options. You can A) watch the not quite right version here if you're pressed for time and/or don't like having to do that extra click or B) click over to Photobucket and watch the better version there (unfortunately, I am also in the "better" version, but at least the words match up with the movements my mouth is making!). Of course, there is an option C) don't watch it at all, but who would want to do that when you have this golden opportunity to hear me awkwardly talk about books? Who knows when I'll get frustrated for good with all this video stuff and wander off to look at shiny things, never to be seen on your computer monitor again?

Also, if you choose options A or B, you might have to crank up the volume a little. I was A) making this at night when my whole household was asleep (it was late - which might also explain why I'm a little weirder in this video than the last one) and B) still learning how the webcam and accompanying microphone work without having the time to remake the same 9 minute video a dozen times.

I think that concludes all the apologies and disclaimers.

So now, either watch it here...

...or on Photobucket - definitely the better option.


Or, I suppose, you could just consult this list of the books I've rambled on about.

Let's Take the Long Way Home - Gail Caldwell
Dust - Joan Frances Turner
Cleopatra - Stacey Schiff
Molly Fox's Birthday - Deirdre Madden
If I Were You - L. Ron Hubbard
Salvation City - Sigrid Nunez
Oogy - Larry Levin
Voice of America - E.C. Osondu
The Last Princess and the Cup of Immortality - D.R. Whitney
The Gendarme - Mark T. Mustian
Saint Training - Elizabeth Fixmer
The DUFF - Kody Keplinger
Foxybaby - Elizabeth Jolley
The Sugar Mother - Elizabeth Jolley

Monday, June 14, 2010

Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky

Sascha Naimann is not like the rest of the people who live in her broken down apartment building in Berlin. They don't have dreams, or if they do, their dreams are stupid and shallow. Sascha, however, has two dreams, two important goals in life. One is to write a book about her mother, the other is to kill the man who murdered her mother.

Broken Glass Park is Sascha's story. It's obvious right from the start that Sascha is a different sort of narrator. She's not soft or sympathetic. Despite the bad hand life seems to have dealt her, Sascha isn't looking for pity. She's prickly at best and, at worst, downright cruel to the people who have the misfortune of stumbling into her path. Yet, she is intelligent. She is her half-brother and sister's fierce protector and a determined force in seeing that they are educated and brought up properly. She loves her mother as much as she hated her mother for her weakness and foolishness. She claims to loathe men, yet can't stop herself from wanting to be desired by them. Sascha is a study in contradictions and a narrator that is hard to understand and even harder to love.

Told from Sascha's first person point of view, Broken Glass Park is brutal. Bronsky doesn't shy away from uncomfortable subjects. She gives us glimpses of a certain sensitivity and nobility in Sascha, but never long enough for us to forget the narrator's angry, cruel streak. Just as Sascha doesn't let anyone in her life get too near, we, the readers, aren't allowed to get too near either, just stand to the side reading as Sascha battles her way through the remainder of her deeply troubled youth.

Broken Glass Park is a story that is undeniably well-told. Sascha's character, whether you like her or not, is vividly created in Bronsky's spare, straight-forward prose nicely translated from German by Tim Mohr. All her contradictions and her confusion are laid bare for us and despite being unable to love her, as a reader, you can't help but hope for a redemptive end to Sascha's story.

Unfortunately, however, I didn't love the book. While I read the whole thing and found the narrator's voice unique and at times captivating, I felt as if I were never fully engrossed in the story. The rough nature of the story and the narrator's prickly, cruel, self-destructive personality were often off-putting which kept me from being entirely taken in by it. More than once I found myself frustrated and perplexed by Sascha's actions, which inasmuch as it may be indicative of a strong well-written character, didn't make Broken Glass Park a particularly rewarding reading experience for me. It was real, and it was gritty, perhaps, a bit too gritty and real for my tastes.

(Thanks to Amanda at Regal Literary for a copy for review.)

Read some other reviews at...

The Boston Bibliophile
Jenny's Books
Alison's Book Marks

Friday, June 11, 2010

Get Outta Town!

Ugh. It's been one of those weeks. A week filled with work and obligations and distractions. A week that demands that you sneak in a little reading in between sleeping and working and appointments and disappointing social engagements. The sort of week, even, that wears you down a bit because even when you have the time to sit and read or write a book review or whatever, you find that you you don't quite have the energy and your foggy mind precludes you from reading intelligently or writing anything of worth, so you just go to bed and get up and go to work again. Have you had this week? (Have you seen this week? $500 reward for the capture and permanent removal of this week! And yes, I'd offer a better reward if I had it....)

Nonetheless, it's been quiet around here this week, and it's going to stay quiet for a little longer because...I'm getting outta town!

That's right. I'm getting out of here, and I'm taking this....

and perhaps this....

and maybe even this (the summer fiction issue - YAY!)...

and possibly even some other things that have pages to turn.

I'm not taking my TV, my dog, my computer, my phone, or most of the people I know. I'm going to enjoy a weekend of reading without all the distractions and diversions that come with living life as a grown-up now. I'm going to relax and really read until next week comes to call.

See ya Sunday. If I come back.... ;-)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

BEA Plunder the Vlog Part 1

I have a cautionary tale for you.

So, on my first day in New York as I was just laying down to enjoy a late afternoon nap on my bed in the Holiday Inn, in the moment just before sleep (or, well, maybe just before the maintenance guy started pounding on my door because unbeknownst to me, one of my light bulbs was slated for replacement) I remembered that my new laptop came equipped with a webcam. With the rest of my thoughts firmly fixated on the piles of new BEA books I would soon have to share with my readers, I thought to myself, "Self, I've got a brilliant idea! You should make a vlog!" The cautionary part here, of course, is not to let yourself make decisions on four hours of sleep after hours of fevered traveling, ARC grabbing, and meeting people you've never laid eyes on (in person) before. All of this being under-rested and taking giant leaps outside your comfort zone in just one day may well impede your good judgement, and yet, you won't be able to totally dissuade yourself from following through on your half-baked idea in weeks following.

With this in mind, I present to you, my first vlog, in which I chronicle just a fraction of the books I picked up at BEA. Hopefully I did everything right, and you can actually see it. Now, if this goes well, perhaps I'll do another (and another?) chronicling the rest. If it doesn't? Well, look for some nice photographs and a lovely list of the remainder of the enticing fall titles to follow.

Okay, there you have it. Be gentle. ;-)

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Backwards and Disordered BEA/BBC Recap Part 1

The box of BEA plunder arrived to much fanfare the day before yesterday. It (plus reading many other fabulous recaps) has done just what I'd hoped - jogged my fragile memory of the first day and a half. I promise I'll get to the books soon in a way that I hope will be unique, well, unique for me that is. I'm busy reacquainting myself with them in all their awesomeness and will share in short order.

So. Here was the problem with my first day in New York City: I didn't actually start the day in New York City. I started my day at around 5 AM at a Hilton in New Jersey that I'd gotten lost trying to find the night before. Through no fault of the Hilton's, I slept like crap and got up way too early in order to get myself and my suitcase on NJ Transit before rush hour proper. Thankfully, things from this point began to go better, but I'll admit to being in a slight fatigued fog for a significant portion of the first day.

I arrived at the Javits Center well before the exhibit floor of BEA opened, grabbed my badge, and was directed to the press room to get a holder and a lanyard. I proceeded to do so in a state of awestruck wonder, bypassing long lines awaiting the opening of the exhibit hall. Still with much time to spare, I stood in a lengthy line for Starbucks and then began to consider the possibility of getting in the other long lines mentioned earlier until, penetrating through the fog, it dawned on me that, hey, if I go back to the press room with my good old press badge, I can skip the line completely. This positioned me well to get squished to death in the early morning "ARC grab" at the booths of major publishing houses, which, in my ignorance, I proceeded to do. I just managed to escape with my life, and, uh, an enormous bag full of books. I ended up skulking dazedly through the booths accumulating assorted plunder for an indeterminate amount of time. Once I'd begun debating the merits of dragging my tote bag behind me instead of carrying it on my shoulder, I paid a shamefully early visit to the shipping room where I snagged a box and prime spot for the plunder.

Already tired, I reconsidered going to a panel that I had ruled out in my scrupulous (and failed) schedule-making, the Dystopian Fiction panel featuring Ally Condie (Matched) and Sigrid Nunez (Salvation City) among others. It was there that I met my first bloggers I've ever actually met in person in the history of my blogging career who probably had no idea that this was such a banner moment: Amanda from The Zen Leaf and Trisha Eclectic/Eccentric.

Sadly, while the blogger meeting thing was awesome, the panel left a little to be desired, especially considering a certain author's comments whose name and comments I won't reiterate. I slunk off about midway through to cheat on the Dystopia panel with the YA Crossing Over panel, which featured, if you couldn't guess, authors who write books for both young adult and adult audiences. On the panel were Melissa Marr author of the Wicked Lovely series, Jennifer Donnelly author of A Northern Light and the upcoming Revolution, Jeri Smith-Ready (Shade), Stephanie Kuehnert (Ballads of Suburbia), and Michele Jaffe (Rosebush, Stargazer). I thought this one was really interesting. All gave an overview of their most recent or upcoming books and an excellent discussion was had on the difference between adult and young adult audiences, how these authors are making themselves accessible to both, and how all or most dislike that books are divided into young adult and adult categories in bookstores at all.

After that it was time for lunch with book bloggers! I met up with Amanda and Trisha again as well as with Nat from In Spring It Is the Dawn, Sheila from Book Journey, Laura from I'm Booking It, and Reagan from Miss Remmers' Review. The food court was packed and expensive, but we were all loathe to leave the Javits with so much BEA stuff going on on Wednesday, so we all sat down on the floor with our overpriced lunches, exchanged cards, and chatted - lovely ladies all!

(*subliminal message* Sorry....this post is huuuuge, too.)

After a few more minutes haunting the show floor, it was off to YA Editors' Buzz featuring buzzworthy titles for the fall such as Plain Kate, Firelight, The Duff, Matched, and, darnit, I'm forgetting one but I think it was about vampires. Anyhow,the editors were all very enthusiastic, shared funny stories about how they acquired the titles, and made me that much more excited that I did manage to lay my hands on all of the above except Plain Kate, which I'd also love to read at some point.

Shortly thereafter, my paltry amount of sleep from the night before proved to be totally insufficient and I ran out of steam. After one more drop at the box of plunder, I hopped the next shuttle bus for my hotel, and nearly fell asleep during the close to 45 minutes it took the bus to go the few blocks to my hotel. Frustrating though the length of the bus ride was, I did meet some nice people while we were waiting to finally arrive, and I did get back in time to fit a short nap before dinner.

A small group of bloggers including Amanda, Trisha, Avis of She Reads and Reads, Amy of Amy Reads, and I went out for some Indian food. We had a great time talking, watching a Bollywood video, and, even better, watching Trisha and Amy watching the Bollywood video. The food took a while, and we got way too much of it, but a good time was had by all. And I "borrowed" this photo from Amanda's blog to illustrate my story since I am a woeful failure at photo taking despite carrying my camera everywhere.

(From left to right - Amy, Trisha, me, Avis, Amanda)

Finally, Wednesday night Harper Collins had a reception for bloggers at the Algonquin Hotel where I met bloggers galore and an author or two, too. I'll spare you the lengthy list, but I know I had a great time meeting Kathy of Bermudaonion's Weblog, Amy of My Friend Amy, and Natasha of Maw Books among many, many others. It was a great time meeting so many bloggers all in one room, but it was also crazy hot, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't eager to try out my bed at the Holiday Inn.

Refreshed by a good night's sleep, I was at the Javits early for yet more of the same, except a bit more laid back than the first day, and I didn't feel like a total zombie. I did not run or push, but I did get a few (ha!) more ARCs and actually had the chance to slow down a bit, stop by some smaller publishers and actually talk to people at a few booths, an experience sorely lacking in my Wednesday experience and actually quite enjoyable. If I'm able to make another trip to BEA in the future, I definitely hope to get enough sleep for the first day, be less shy, and take more time to talk to the people I meet on the exhibit floor. I definitely didn't quite hit the ground running in that respect, and it's one of my only regrets when it comes to my BEA experience.

I think this brings us to where I left off with the shipping of the box and the standing in the lines enumerated in my previous post Part 2, if you missed it!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman

I like to go to prison in the springtime. It's not deliberate, really, I mean, how many people go to prison on a regular basis on purpose? Fear not, despite my unintended love for spending springtime in jail, I promise I don't have a criminal record. Other than a parking ticket or two, the record's squeaky clean. What I'm talking about here, is my tendency of late to read a really excellent, compelling memoir about prison and the failure of the American justice system while flowers bloom and birds chirp. It's hardly even something I realized I was interested in until I read my first "prison in springtime" book last year, Picking Cotton, a most excellent and revealing book. This year, as you may guess, the prison book is Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman. While prison is a place I hope to never go, and the justice system something I never hope to tangle with, having the doors to prison thrown open via the written word is something I find myself eager to embrace.

Orange is the New Black: My Year In a Women's Prison
by Piper Kerman
Spiegel & Grau

Piper Kerman is young, reckless, and lovelorn as a young Smith College grad when she allows her lover to pressure her into smuggling drug money. Soon after her one nerve-wracking foray into crime, she leaves her lover and returns to normal life in the U.S. desperate to forget her one indiscretion. Years on, living in New York with her soon-to-be fiance and earning a living as a freelance producer, Kerman is surprised and distraught when her past catches up with her in the form of two customs officers and a court date in Chicago, where she is charged with drug smuggling and money laundering. With the War on Drugs in full swing, making mandatory minimum sentences for any and all drug crimes regardless of circumstances at least ten years, Piper's best option is to plea guilty to her crime and hope for a much more lenient sentence. When all is said and done, Kerman finds herself reporting to Danbury, Connecticut for a year in minimum security women's prison.

What follows is Kerman's compelling, all-too-human story that uses her unique situation to lay bare the broken prison system and its often unexpectedly sympathetic captives. Within the pages, Kerman brings to light the awful feeling of exposure and powerlessness that come with a prison sentence. Despite being in a relatively low security portion of the prison system for a relatively short stretch of time, Kerman is struck by the humiliating rituals of the prison and her sudden downgrading to something less than human immediately upon her arrival within prison walls.

While Kerman doesn't excuse the crimes of the women she gets to know and even love within the prison walls, she does much to humanize and create sympathy for a subset of society struggling within the system. For many of the women she meets, making money in the underground economy is the only way of making any money at all, and the prison system does very little to help them succeed in a crime free life on the outside. As much as these women look forward to freedom, a feeling of trepidation lurks as they stumble through "exit" classes that do laughably little to address the practical aspects of living and working in a world that has continued to change in their absence. Kerman notes that the teachers of the classes, while occasionally well-meaning, could hardly propose a way of even finding an apartment in which to live upon release.

Orange is the New Black is at once profoundly revealing and effortlessly entertaining. Kerman has a vivid, honest voice that doesn't drift into self-pity but instead keenly observes the people around her both good and bad. She paints compelling and empathetic portraits of the prisoners that shared her life and made her time within the prison system bearable. At the same time, though, she shines a light on the dark corners of a life behind bars that most of us hope never to experience. Orange is the New Black is just the sort of book that people really do need to read, and it's just our luck that Kerman's book is nearly as entertaining as it is important.

(My copy's from LibraryThing Early Reviews, in case you're wondering!)