Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Dose of Random Randomness

- I went to get my oil changed on Tuesday before work. I took 9 packaged books along to mail at the post office between the oil and the working. However, for the first time in months, I forgot to put a book in my bag for me to read. I felt bereft all day. And what is it that people who don't read do on their lunch breaks? Just eat?!? Underachievers!

- I went to the grocery store after church on Sunday. I got a big salad from their salad bar....and a cake. The checkout lady laughed at me.

- I went to the drug store yesterday morning to buy, ahem, some feminine hygiene products. Mysteriously, a Nestle Crunch bar appeared on the counter next to them. That checkout lady laughed at me too and insisted that the latter was just as or more important than the former. She exhorted me to eat it slowly. Then I laughed at her.

- A guy from my town is a finalist in the cartoon caption contest on the last page of the New Yorker this week. Why do I feel like a traitor because I like the caption the guy from Bend, Oregon sent better?

- I love all the excitement surrounding the release of book prize long lists, yet, I rarely actually read the books. Here's lookin' at you, Booker Prize longlist. I would probably enjoy reading all of your titles, but I won't, because I just don't.

- Tomorrow I'll be posting my first book review of a book aimed at an adult audience since...June 14th! How did that happen?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Years of Red Dust

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

Years of Red Dust by Qiu Xiaolong
St. Martin's, September 28


Published originally in the pages ofLe Monde, this collection of linked short stories by Qiu Xiaolong has already been a major bestseller in France (Cite de la Poussiere Rouge) and Germany (Das Tor zur Roten Gasse), where it and the author was the subject of a major television documentary. The stories in Years of Red Dust trace the changes in modern China over fifty years—from the early days of the Communist revolution in 1949 to the modernization movement of the late nineties—all from the perspective of one small street in Shanghai, Red Dust Lane. From the early optimism at the end of the Chinese Civil War, through the brutality and upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, to the death of Mao, the pro-democracy movement and the riots in Tiananmen Square—history, on both an epic and personal scale, unfolds through the bulletins posted and the lives lived in this one lane, this one corner of Shanghai.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Intertwined by Gena Showalter

It seems like I'm having a bit of a paranormal YA summer. I bet this thrills all of you who thought they had me pegged as a different sort of reader than I turned out to be. As usual, I continue to shoot myself in the foot when it comes to "branding" my blog and having a nice concise answer to deliver when people ask me what kind of books I blog about.

I'll be honest. I never thought that paranormal YA would be my guilty pleasure. I love a vampire or a werewolf or a zombie as much as the next girl, but I never thought I would be that person who had read a book or two of half a dozen different series featuring such things, never thought it would be a genre that would capture me for any length of time. As it turns out, though, during the languorous, roasting hot days of this summer, it seems like the untaxing entertainment that YA books about vampires and werewolves and zombies (oh my!) have to offer is just what the doctor ordered. Perfect, pageturning little intermissions between the rest of everything my collapsing bookshelves have to offer.

Why all the preaching about paranormal, you ask? I'm sure you've already guessed. I'm about to review yet another paranormal YA title, and I wanted to prepare you and assure you that this is (probably? maybe?) only a phase, and I will move on to something else in due course. What that something else is, I can't guarantee. Perhaps when I begin reviewing carpentry manuals or anatomy textbooks or something, you will long for these days of werewolves, immortals, and disembodied souls. Of course, I'm just kidding about the manuals and textbooks....or am I? ;-)

Gena Showalter
Harlequin Teen

Intertwined is the first in a new series by Gena Showalter featuring Aden Stone, a hot sixteen-year-old guy who would be totally normal but for the four disembodied souls taking up space inside his head. Since his parents abandoned him as a small child, Aden has been bounced from mental institutions to foster homes to prisons and back again. Finally, he's landed at D and M Ranch, a home for troubled teenagers run by a former football player. Unfortunately, Aden's troubles have just begun. You see, the souls give Aden powers - powers to raise the dead, see the future, travel through time, and possess the body of another; and those powers are attracting creatures that Aden never believed existed. A few of them are on his side, but the others' motives could be far more sinister.

Aden knows the only way to stop what's going to happen is to find the four souls bodies of their own, and he may have just met the girl who could help him do just that, a girl named Mary Ann who inexplicably neutralizes the souls. Before he knows it, Aden, a guy who has never had so much as one friend is friends with Mary Ann, in love with a vampire princess, and at odds with a werewolf. All this, and he has to convince the owner of the D and M that he's changed his ways and is living a normal, upstanding life or chance being sent away yet again.

I'm so torn about Intertwined. Honestly, it was a bit over the top for me. There's more paranormal stuff in this book than you can shake a stick at. It fairly reeks of its Harlequin brethren which I abandoned shortly before I graduated from high school. Its male characters are all strikingly beautiful. Its female characters, even the would-be strong ones, seem to be always in need of protection, or, at least, so all the male characters seem to believe. It's all just a bit too contrived with problems a bit too easily solved by unlikley powers seemingly invented on the fly. I found myself more than occasionally irritated, even patronized by its wanderings into the ridiculous.

Ah, but wait. I also devoured the story with alarming speed. It's well-paced and packed with action and mystery. Its characters, including all of the souls Aden's mind plays host to, are a sympathetic bunch, even the ones who have slightly more evil leanings. I had an easier time buying one romance than the other, but both were played out in interesting and often unexpected ways. Showalter tells an absorbing story even if it does require a hefty dose of suspension of disbelief. All in all, Intertwined is a book that I have a hard time admitting that I liked, but I did. I'm sure I'll be eager to have the next installment, Unraveled, when it drops on August 31st, because, well, I have to know what happens to Aden and his souls, don't I?

(For the curious, I won this book from Robin at My Two Blessings in her BBAW contest last year. Thanks again, Robin!)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Take Me Home

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

Take Me Home by Brian Leung
Harper, October 5


Like many classic stories, Take Me Home begins with a journey home: Adele "Addie" Maine returns to Dire, a Wyoming coal mining town, 40 years after the deadly events that nearly took her life and drove her away without a word to her husband.

Years past: Headed West to stay with her brother Tommy, a young and feisty Addie arrives in Wyoming having been convinced along the way that the Chinese are half-man half-beast, devious creatures to be wary of. When Tommy falters at homesteading, the siblings look to the coal mines and Addie comes into close contact with one man in particular, Wing Lee. The bond between the two is a mere spark at first, hampered by the reality for both that a friendship would be impossible, forbidden, even in a territory where almost everyone is an immigrant. Together, Addie and Wing have a secret, and in protecting Wing's life, and fighting for what's right, Addie can’t find the answers to life’s most important questions. It's only in returning to Dire to bid farewell to a decades-ago friend, that Addie confronts the man she's certain tried to take her life, and at last learns the surprises and losses that await at the end of a difficult journey.

Take Me Home is a searing, redemptive novel that explores justice in a time of violence and the sweeping landscape between friendship and love.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

P.S. I've still got some books to give away. Take a look!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Enemy by Charlie Higson

Do you ever find yourself reading books that are surprisingly similar in one way or another that you never intended to? I realized today that I've not read a book that wasn't set in England for something like a month and half now. All my reading has been more or less British for a month and a half, and the connection only just now dawned on me. I wouldn't say that the books are terribly similar but for their setting, but I like to mix it up quite a bit, and it always surprises me when I've fallen into an unrealized pattern. The Enemy was the book that started the trend. It's the first and so far, only, book I've read of the BEA plunder, though I've just started another book that I could've gotten at BEA but got from a different source.

The Enemy is a young adult title set in a London decimated by disease that turns anyone over the age of 16 into a rotting zombie, unable to speak, and intent only on survival by devouring the healthy children who have managed to survive in a world where grown-ups really are the enemy. The story centers on two groups of kids who have taken refuge in two supermarkets, one in a poorer area and one in a more well off area, whose numbers are dwindling daily. When the two groups who are rapidly running out of food and supplies and are being daily threatened by encroaching grown-ups meet a strange new kid, they're forced to choose whether to unite their forces and have to decide whether to take a big risk for a chance at a better, safer life.

I found myself thinking repeatedly while I was reading The Enemy that it is a book that would be great for boys. It's got blood and guts and assorted unpleasantness. More importantly, though, it's got the pace of an action movie. Its crowd of characters is always fighting against zombie grown-ups and amongst themselves, and there are countless "action movie" moments where just when you think the hero is safe, the next threat is already being revealed. This emphasis on action and moving the plot forward can make the story seem a bit shallow at times. That said, though, given the action driven plot and the sheer number of characters in The Enemy, Higson does an admirable job of fleshing out an impressive array of main characters, giving us ways to understand who they were before and how they became what they are after the disease struck and civilization crumbled.

Even though I would hardly call myself the ideal audience for The Enemy, I really enjoyed it. It's definitely a fast-moving action-packed romp of a post-apocalypse story that even, for a few fleeting moments, contemplates the possibility of the survival of goodness, loyalty, and doing what's right even when the world has gone horribly wrong.

Read other reviews at...

My Favourite Books
Carrie's YA Bookshelf
Fluttering Butterflies
A Chair, a Fireplace, & a Tea Cozy

P.S. I've still got some books to give away. Check it out!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Free To Good Home: The Giveaway

Books....are....everywhere. Even ones I decided to get rid of long ago. There are piles in every room. There are A) the books I shouldn't have picked up at BEA, B) books I shouldn't have let people send me for review, C) books I shouldn't have purchased, D) books people gave me as gifts that I have no interest in, E) still lesser known ARCs that I've already read and F) random used books that I knew I probably wouldn't like and for some reason let people give to me anyway. They've all accumulated to produce an epic and mind-blowing explosion of books that is beginning to make living at my house among them and the rest of my assorted accumulated stuff a terror.

So fair readers, I am here to ask you a favor. Please take my books. This house is badly in need of a book purge, and my gain can also be your gain. I've chosen a random assortment to present to you in hopes that you'll take them off my hands. Some, I'd prefer went to bloggers because I somewhat mistakenly picked them up at BEA or accepted them as review copies only to find that they're not well suited to me, but I'd still like to see someone review them, even if that someone is not me. Others are fair game for everyone.

I've also decided that I'm not in the mood for a massive comment leaving, choosing, behemoth of a giveaway, so I'm going the first come first served route. If you see a book on the list and you want it, leave a comment to claim it, then send your snail mail address to toadacious1 at yahoo dot com. One per person please. Please note, all but the "BEA Mistakes" category stand the chance of coming with a Bookcrossing label in them. You, of course, are not required to journal them (even though I would like that), but I'd appreciate it if you would leave the label intact in case you ever happen to give the books away to people who might journal them. If the prospect of the book having a Bookcrossing label in it displeases you, please don't enter.

I love my international friends, but I also love having a few bucks in my checking account, so I will give away books to those outside the U.S., but only 3. Please put your country in your "book claiming" comment so that I will know when to cut off international entries. Also, please note, some books I've made U.S. only right off the bat because they're big heavy hardbacks or otherwise massive.

All right, I think I've covered all the rules and regulations and exceptions to the exceptions. Now, on to the books!

First the BEA mistakes. They look good, but not so good for me.

The first 4 are ARCs of middle grade titles coming in the fall from Little, Brown.

President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston
Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han
School of Fear: Class Is Not Dismissed! by Gitty Daneshvari
Tumtum and Nutmeg: The Rose Cottage Tales by Emily Bearn

Then, a nice hardback book that came in a tote bag that I didn't know contained a book!

The 72 Names of God by Yehuda Berg

And a book that was pressed into my hands at the last minute that seemed a bit a lot too sci-fi for my tastes...

Redemption Corps (An Imperial Guard Novel) by Rob Sanders

A few books I meant to review, but it didn't work out so well between us.

The Girl Made of Cool by Alan Fox
Now & Then by Jacqueline Sheehan

Review copies I've Read/Reviewed that need new homes:

Canvey Island by James Runcie
First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria by Eve Brown-Waite
Leaving Gee's Bend by Irene Latham
Black Angels by Linda Beatrice Brown
The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell
All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown (US only)
Willing by Scott Spencer
The Widows of Eden by George Shaffner
In the Country of Brooklyn by Peter Golenbock (US only)
The Glister by John Burnside
American Rust by Philipp Meyer
A Painter's Life by K.B. Dixon
Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Take them, please! If you don't want them, please tell all your friends, so they will take them. Thanks! =D

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Life in Short

If you've been reading Leafing Through Life for anything length of time, you may know something of my love/hate relationship with short stories made worse by the fact that rather than actually liking them, I have more of a propensity to just believe that I like them because other people seem to like them quite a lot. For the appallingly slow reader in me, short stories should be a nice break in the inaction, something I can swallow whole in an hour instead of nibbling at over the course of days, weeks, or, dare I say, months. Oftentimes they're even written by the same authors whose lengthy novels I crave. All the same, more often than not I find that they're either completely impenetrable to my lazy mind which doesn't want to dig deep to discover the (possible) meaning of something that's only a few pages long or like I've turned up at a five course dinner only to be given a salad with no dressing. Given this, I haven't been reading many lately, and the few I have, have been woefully disappointing featuring irritating or confusing characters and never reaching any satisfying conclusion or eliciting any sort of response in me whatsoever.

Then...then, I tell you, I read two of the shortest stories I've read in a long time, perhaps ever. So short, in fact, that it seemed less likely than ever that I would be able to glean any sort of meaning or enjoy any personal response to them at all. Thankfully, I was wrong, and just on the point of walking away from short fiction yet again, I find my faith restored in the potential power of saying something creatively in few words.

As usual, the two stories come from the gads of issues of the New Yorker that I keep lying around my house in the offhand chance I might want to make an attempt at enjoying a short story or desire to create the sort of educated, cultured facade that flipping through the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly simply cannot provide.

The first one was "The TV" by Ben Loory from the April 12 (2010!) issue, the other "Here We Aren't, So Quickly" by Jonathan Safran Foer (whose books I own but have, as yet, failed to read) from the recent summer fiction issue. "The TV" is a surreal tale about a man who doesn't feel like going to work and stays home one day. He doesn't usually take the time to watch TV, but on this day, he sits down to seek out something to watch, and oddly, he finds a show about himself. Not a show that he can relate to or is similar to his life, but a show about him going about his daily life. Soon he is watching himself on TV frequently and what originally appears to be a show just about his daily grind suddenly begins to change until all sorts of versions of himself are doing all sorts of things on TV. I don't usually go in for anything too surreal, but I found "The TV" to be oddly compelling.

Jonathan Safran Foer's "Here We Aren't, So Quickly," a mere one and a half New Yorker pages long, is terribly difficult to summarize. There is no dialogue, there is no real action, and there hardly seems to be a plot of any sort, and yet it's powerful. They style is unique. The piece is rather a litany of seemingly unrelated observations, characteristics, and actions that make up the people and events that make up a life.

I would hesitate to go any further in describing either story, but I will say that both of these tiny stories are absolutely striking in their ability to creatively and uniquely distil the big things in life; hopes, regrets, love, hate, possibilities, disappointments, and everything in between; into just a few words. They are both stories which have meanings that are immediately apparent, but also leave you questioning whether they might mean something different on a second reading, or have some totally different meaning for another person, in different circumstances, reading the same story. Regardless, it seems that both stories have the potential to elicit an intensely personal reaction in its readers that doesn't seem possible in so short a piece.

And I like it.

If you like, you can read "The TV" here. Unfortunately, my favorite of the two can only be viewed by New Yorker subscribers, but if you are one, check out "Here We Aren't, So Quickly".

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

It seems that I, again, have too many plates in the air and am dropping them. I envy those of you out there that manage to post every day, work a full time job, sustain an in person social life, raise kids, go on vacation, *and* still read and review more than 10 books a month. I am not you, but I would give my right arm...well, maybe not my right arm (I'd be nearly useless without it), but definitely my left arm for some of your secrets. Perhaps Megan, you say, you should stop going away every weekend, letting your bad influence parents talk you into watching hours of television, and sleeping for those 8 hours a night. Perhaps, Megan, you might also consider paper plates so there will be no dishes to do or writing blog posts and comments that aren't mind-blowingly longwinded. Nonetheless, here I am, pondering life and time and how to get more out of the little time that I seem to have left after work and dinner and errand running and cleaning up. I've not come up with an acceptable solution that doesn't involve stopping the world from spinning for a few hours in the evening, which is a bit unattainable at this time, so the only good solution is to quit babbling and write a book review before the moment is gone.

Aislinn has a secret. She can see faeries, and they're not very nice. In fact, many are more than a bit sinister and violent. To cope with her unusual gift, Aislinn has some rules. Don't talk to the faeries, don't speak to the faeries, and don't attract the faeries' attention. Aislinn has more or less fared well by following these rules, but when she unwittingly attracts the attention of a powerful faery who emanates the essence of summer, who won't be put off by her usual tricks, she knows the rules are changing completely.

Aislinn wants nothing more than to be a normal teenager whose only concern is whether to take her relationship with her friend Seth to the next level. Instead she finds herself breaking another of her rules and admitting to him that she can see and is being pursued by dangerously powerful faeries. Caught up in a war between summer and winter court faeries, Aislinn can use all the help she can get.

Wicked Lovely is the first in a series of books author Melissa Marr has penned about faeries the fourth of which, Radiant Shadows, was released in April. Though certainly a part of the burgeoning crop of paranormal young adult fiction on the market lately, Wicked Lovely stands out from the crowd. Wicked Lovely isn't just a fast moving plot. It's got good writing with intriguing characters, both good and bad, that are fleshed out and become sympathetic. While Seth is almost too good to be true when it comes to boyfriend material, Aislinn doesn't fall into the crowd of paranormal heroines who are irritatingly whiny or whose most defining characteristic is clumsiness or something similarly shallow. She is a strong and thoughtful main character in a story filled with captivating characters, both mortal and otherwise.

The story is well-paced, and each chapter begins with an interesting and relevant quote from books about faeries. Marr's attention to detail regarding faerie lore makes the world of faerie seem terribly real, and her ability to weave it all into a compelling story makes for an excellent read for young adults and older adults well. This is a series that I'm eager to follow.