Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Merry After Christmas!

Season's Greetings, all!

I hope you had a very Merry Christmas (or whatever else you might happen to celebrate this time of year)! I spent some great time with my family this year, and got a bunch of great gifts like a Wii Fit and the complete paperback boxed set of Harry Potter books that I've been itching to have ever since I had to give back the first five that I'd borrowed to read. I know I had a great Christmas season and an excellent holiday, but I am more than ready to get my life back on track. It seems I've been letting a ton of things slip, not least the blog you see before you, while I've been frantically bouncing between one Christmas thing and another.

This month has been a colossal blogging failure. That said, I have good news! I think its rejuvenation is on horizon because, you see, though I may not be blogging, I have been reading and enjoying it more than I have since something like a few months ago. I'm imaginging that this whole loving reading thing combined with that inevitable "I'm going to do everything better, faster, stronger, etc!" feeling that comes with the new year will help me get back on track.

I've been thinking about this year's reading and mulling over some loose blogging and reading goals for next year. Once I hash them out in my head, expect to see a post here. Hopefully if I actually publish a few goals this year, it will help me to keep to them a little better. I'm also considering the recipients for this year's Leafy Awards, to be bestowed early in the new year. And yet more, I'm considering, you know, actually reviewing some books here at some point. My reviewing mojo has been way, super off in the latter part of this year, and believe you me, the when and the how of book reviewing are two things I'm really working over for that goals post.

So what's new, everybody? Get any great bookish Christmas plunder? Do you have any admirable reading and blogging goals that I, too, can aspire to for next year?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Loose Leafing: Christmastopia!

Hello, blog, it's me, Megan! I know, content around here has been sparse lately. As usual, I have just buckets of excuses several of which involve me never being home, several others of which involve Christmas, still others of which can be blamed on the TV, and one more that can be blamed on Damn You Auto Correct! Well, that last one is pretty self-explanatory. Nonetheless, this week is likely to be more of the same, ergo, I am writing this post to assuage any fears that I may have just fallen off the face of the earth. Because I'm sure you were totally just worrying about that, right? Because you have nothing better to worry about? ;-)

First, Christmas. It's coming. I'm not ready. We got a (real!) tree that we decorated while drinking wine (one of the great new holiday traditions!). I've been to see a local production of The Santaland Diaries, and we even finally made it to the Christkindl Market in local Mifflinburg where we devoured delicious German foods, drank hot mulled wine, and purchased some items from local crafters all while marveling at things like an itinerant Christmas tree.

In between all this and you know, working at my job, I've managed to order a few presents, and even buy a few in person, but they are decidedly not enough, and I am totally stalled in the whole Christmas gift inspiration thing. Despite the fact that there are no good bookstores that I know of less than 45 minutes away from my house, buying the books is the easy part. ;-) I'm afraid, though, that I've stumbled into one of the pitfalls of online shopping. The books that I ordered from Barnes and Noble (in my valiant but only token effort to patronize an online business other than the dread Amazon) arrived without incident on Wednesday. Yesterday I tracked the CDs which departed for here via "Smart Mail" the same day. These CDs, if they ever get here, will be more well-traveled than I am. I live in Pennsylvania. The CDs started their journey in Kentucky, traveled to Maryland (almost here!), and then they went to..... California? There they have been cooling their heels cases (?) for several days now. I beg to differ on the assumption that this mail is "smart." If they don't start working their way back across the country tomorrow, somebody will be receiving an irate phone call from this Christmas shopper.

In other news, my mother, who doesn't share any of my reservations about Amazon purchased this beauty for our (male) dog for Christmas (in theory). Here is the promotional photo (compliments of Amazon.com):

Here is the photo that made my dad and I eat our words ($80??? It's pink???) as Rudy happens to thoroughly enjoy what we are now affectionately referring to as the "Barbie Hut."

Mom 1, Dad & Megan 0.

And here is what I stumbled upon this morning...

Rudy 1, Barbie Hut 0.

On the reading front? I'm finally giving myself the gift of The Hunger Games series this holiday season. Okay, actually my aunt (hello, stealth blog reader! LOL!), the one who always buys great books as gifts (see previous post), gave them to me last holiday season, but I am giving myself the gift of actually reading them this holiday season. So I can join the rest of the free world. And what says Merry Christmas more than a pack of starving teenagers slaughtering each other in a woodsy future arena? But seriously, I just finished the first book, and loved it as much as everyone said I would. Really, the only reason you're seeing me now is that I've briefly come up for air between books.

These are the perfect holiday season books because during this time of year reading time isn't found, it's made, so I needed something totally engrossing that would keep me reading despite the odds, and I've looked in the right place! Unfortunately, I've "made" my sleeping time into reading time, my blogging time into reading time, my eating time into reading time, my Christmas shopping time into reading time, my...well, you get the idea. This is killing my noble goals of closing out my backlog of reviews before the end of the year and giving my Christmas shopping a tendency toward the uncreative and easy to buy gift cards, but jeez, am I enjoying it!

How's December treating you? Are you crazy busy like me? What great books are getting you through?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Childhood Favorites

I'm late, I'm late! But this week's Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke and the Bookish is too good to miss. It's all about our childhood favorites, and I'm excited to share 10 of the best books I grew up with.

1. White Fang by Jack London - Okay, maybe it started with the movie with young Ethan Hawke, but I liked the book quite a bit, too!

2. Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder - When I was a kid, I had one of those tiny chalkboards, and one of the things I did to pass my lonely only child time when I was young was to transcribe Little House in the Big Woods on my tiny chalkboard, in small pieces of course. Is that weird? Okay, yes, but in short, I loved these books. I can't believe I gave them away when I got older!

3. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg - I love Chris Van Allsburg's books. This was my first one given to me by my aunt for Christmas. She was always the best at picking me out a decent book or few for the holidays. Van Allsburg's books are just magical. This one, Jumanji, Just a Dream...loved them when I was a kid, and I still love them now!

4. Animalia by Graeme Base - This is another great book my aunt got me. It's got it all. Stunning illustrations. A clever animal alliteration for each letter of the alphabet. And if you didn't feel like reading or ogling the pretty pictures, you could always search for the kid in the striped shirt hidden in every picture.

5. Goosebumps Series by R.L. Stine - I devoured these when I was a kid. Couldn't get enough of them.

6. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz - There's plenty of kids books out there with sugary sweet messages. This one tells it like it is. Some days just suck, but maybe (hopefully!) you'll laught about it later like you'll laught at this book.

7. A Break With Charity and pretty much anything else by Ann Rinaldi - I credit Ann Rinaldi with a healthy portion of my love for historical fiction. When I read her books, I felt just like I was in whatever portion of history she was telling about. A Break With Charity is about the Salem Witch Trials which are very interesting to start with!

8. The Cat Who... books by Lilian Jackson Braun - For whatever reason, when I was in middle school, the library just began getting nice, new copies of these books in, and I was totally hooked on them. I'd never even *had* a cat, but I had a great time reading about Jim Qwilleran and his feline sleuths.

9. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell - I can't believe I almost forgot this one. This story, told by a horse, is one I'd gladly read again.

10. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli - "Maniac" is an orphan who becomes a legend in his small town. He's super-fast, he can untie impossible knots, and hit the pitches no one else can. Here's another one that's due for a re-read!

Honorable mentions (meaning, I forgot them, and remembered them after the post went up and couldn't believe I'd forgotten them in the first place): Something Big Has Been Here by Jack Prelutsky (I can still recite the title poem from memory!) and Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein (If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hope, a prayer, a magic bean buyer. If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire... Love this book, too. Sooo much!)

What books do you have the fondest memories of reading as a kid?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher

That's why I'll never forget the first time I saw Kai. He was standing in the open road drinking a glass of water like it didn't matter - water from an old plastene cup.

When Vera first spies Kai, he is dumping the remains of a cup of water into the dust near her Republic of Illinowa home. This very act is unheard of, illegal, grotesque even, in a world where severe water shortages have divided what was the United States into several warring republics. In Vera's world, the Breadbasket of the United States has been transformed into desert, the moisture-less air is practically poison to breathe, and most adults can be referred to as "shakers" because the years of constant thirst have taken their toll. Kai is a mystery. The son of a driller, he travels in a limo with a bodyguard, yet relishes the humble company Vera and her family have to offer. He even claims to know the location of a secret river, something that has fallen to the status of mere myth in a world where people depend on the government's paltry rations of the world's remaining water to survive. Unfortunately, before Vera can figure out Kai's story or her feelings for him, he disappears.

The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher is a fast-paced, thrill a minute dystopian that leaves virtually every chapter at a cliffhanger as Vera and her brother, Will, embark on a desperate, often nearly hopeless journey to find Kai. In their journey, they come upon all kinds of humanity from the unexpectedly righteous to the dangerous to the greedy and merciless, all locked in a battle for water and wealth that must be won by whatever means possible. Stracher's world without water is terrifying. The greed and power-mongering caused by such a severe shortage of what we truly require to survive is realistically drawn. Stracher's vision of the political and economic implications of the panic caused by the dwindling of one resource nations once treated as infinite is wholly believable.

Unfortunately, much of the rest of the book isn't. Maintaining such a fast pace to the story results in a great many contrivances. The times that Will and Vera are saved from an impossible situation at the last possible second by an unlikely occurrence are practically innumerable. In fact, the very premise of the story asks readers to rely on a quickly and thinly constructed fascination with Kai's improbable knowledge of where to find water and a possible blooming romance between Vera and Kai. The beginning rushes through this crucial set-up period, and this makes Will and Vera's sudden eagerness to find and save Kai on their own seem that much more inexplicable. Vera herself is a lovable enough narrator that you can't help cheering on, but the lack of a very distinctive voice makes it seem that the story could just as easily have been narrated by anyone.

Until the politics and economics are fleshed out midway through the novel, Stracher's future feels a little flimsy, driven more by the awkward renaming of everyday things than by explanation. Inexplicably giving something old, a clever new name doesn't quite manage the daunting task of creating a future earth. For example, the pedicycles Will and Vera use to get around. There's no reason given to think that a pedicycle is anything more than a simple bicycle with a new name that seems meant to say "Hey, look, it's the future. We call things different names now." That said, I will say that the new name for synthetically produced avocados - quasi-vocados - put a smile on my face.

Despite some problems, The Water Wars is an entertaining, extremely fast-paced adventure that readers will race through. Stracher's got a good handle on the way human nature might restructure a world with a profound shortage of water - the wars that would take place, the companies that would spring up to take advantage of the situation, the bribery and thievery that would become a daily threat to society. For readers who might prefer a more action-packed dystopian story than the more slow-burning, character-driven ones that I seem to prefer, The Water Wars has all the right stuff, but this reader was left just a little lukewarm.

(Thanks go to the publisher, Sourcebooks, for providing me with a copy for review.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Or, "Look, Megan Read a Classic!"

Yes, this happens once in a while. I actually sit down and read a book that has gained some notice as a classic of literature. Usually, it's my book group's fault. I require a little extra motivation and explanation to attempt a classic, so when the book group that I on again off again participate in reads one that I already have on my shelf, I attempt to join in. That is how it came to be that I killed almost all of September reading The Grapes of Wrath which, I think, would throw a curve at the speediest of readers. You see, I like a good depressing book, but The Grapes of Wrath tends toward the downright frustrating, and September was a frustrating, depressing sort of month to start with, without dealing with the Joad family's Great Depression misfortunes.

Once upon a time, I read Steinbeck's East of Eden, and to this day, should you ask me to tell you my favorite books, it would make the list. In high school english classes whenever I was handed a reading list of classics from which I could choose my own book, rather than having a specific one assigned, I had an astonishing habit of picking books for myself that I loathed far more than the ones specifically assigned. I don't know if it was pure bad luck or if I just didn't know my tastes so well back then, but it was almost a guarantee that if I chose the classic myself, it would surely not be a good match for me. Then, one time, I chose of East of Eden, a doorstopper of a book that everyone thought I was crazy for attempting, and I somehow loved it. I remember tuning out everything going on in the cafeteria and even reading it at lunch, so absorbed was I in the story. Having enjoyed E of E so much, I've long meant to read The Grapes of Wrath, it being, arguably, Steinbeck's more widely appreciated novel. I'm sad to report that it didn't have the effect that E of E did on me, but that's not to say that I, too, didn't appreciate it.

(Ahem - be aware, there are probably a few spoilers in here somewhere...)

In The Grapes of Wrath Steinbeck tells the story of one family, the Joads, who have been evicted from their dry Oklahoma land during the Great Depression and have been forced to choose to migrate to California where there are supposedly jobs for the taking in a veritable land of milk and honey. Steinbeck introduces us to the Joads as they hopefully make ready to travel the width of the country in a cobbled together jalopy with what little money they were able to get from selling off most of their belongings. In dialogue rich with realistic dialect, we come to know Tom, recently paroled from prison for killing a man; his Pa, a man nearly beaten down from his circumstances; Ma, a woman with an iron will who will stop at nothing to keep her family from falling apart; his sister pregnant Rose of Sharon whose husband is full of dreams for their future; and Uncle John who has spent a lifetime trying to face or escape his imagined sin. Through the pages, readers come to an intimate knowledge of the family as they head west helping who they can though they are struggling to make it themselves. It's perhaps because readers come to know and love the family in all its strengths and its failings that makes The Grapes of Wrath a difficult read to swallow.

Each time it seems that the Joads might finally catch a break, the work dries up, the stream floods, the picking doesn't pay enough for even one decent meal. Tragedy follows in their footsteps, and it's infuriating because despite the fact that you know somewhere in your mind that things aren't on track to work out, Steinbeck's populist rhetoric and his assurances that the men are still angry, and therefore not beaten, gives readers reason to hope that things can and will turn around. There is always a growing impression that perhaps finally the men are ready to combine their great numbers to force the changes that will give them the chance at life they thought they were getting when they set out for California.

There is absolutely no subtlety nor any particular artfulness to be found in the Joads' story. Never for a moment do readers need to wonder where Steinbeck stands on the events that are taking place. Steinbeck is more than eager to hammer his points home as he preachily derides the corporate farmers whose tractors and hired hands eliminate the connection between men and the land that sustains them. He flays California landowners whose vast fields of hardy crops do nothing for the migrants starving for lack of work. He paints heavy handed pictures of people starving in Hoovervilles even while farmers discard crops to to maintain prices.

If, indeed, there is art in Steinbeck's American classic, it lives in the alternating chapters where Steinbeck interrupts his telling of the Joads' journey, to generalize the very much shared experience of the thousands of migrants who fled to California during the Depression. In them, he captures the haggling for a junk car, the staggering number of people heading west fed only on dreams, the growing anger of powerless men, the etiquette of camping, and even the dances that give struggling families a break, however brief, from their sufferings. In these chapters, Steinbeck lets the many voices be heard, he paints pictures with dialogue, and his words even carry the very rhythm of the dance.

There are many things to like and to dislike about The Grapes of Wrath. It is preachy, heavy handed, depressing, frustrating, perhaps even exaggerated, but it is also a profound, and perhaps even hopeful story, of a family's strength in the face of unbelievable struggle. Steinbeck's writing gives poetry to populism, and even now, The Grapes of Wrath has the enduring power to cause the righteous anger that can bring about change that so much of society still desperately needs.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pre-Thanksgiving Loose Leafing

Here it is, Loose Leafing take two, wherein I write about whatever I darn well feel like. Look for it to become a regular thing, because, well, I kind of like it. I've got pictures this time. Are we excited?

Choco-Turkey is ready for Thanksgiving. Are you?

It's hard to believe, I mean, really hard to believe that Thanksgiving is only days away and the holiday season is pretty much upon us. As far as I can tell, I've never been less ready. I'm usually a total Christmas nut, but I'm having a hard time wrangling myself into the mood for it despite the fact that I'm busy cramming my schedule full of Christmas-y activities. I got out my Christmas music this week when my new Glee Christmas Album came, but where I'm usually chomping at the bit for Christmas music, this year I'm kind of meh about even that. Here's hoping for some Christmas spirit, pronto!

In follow up from last time's Loose Leafing post, not only is the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree indeed taken from somebody's yard in a town across the river from where I live (10 minutes away tops), it also happens to have belonged to my mom's great aunt, which apparently I probably shouldn't admit to because in the interviews the family's done, they've made us all look like a pack of bumpkins. But, whatever, I'm totally famous by proxy now. You can have my autograph. For a small fee, of course. ;-)

I am getting excited about Thanksgiving though, especially with the arrival of Choco-Turkey. Choco-Turkey is, by far, the best of my family's newer holiday traditions. A couple years ago my parents and I were window shopping in a small local town and wandered into a Purity Candy store where we discovered that they make chocolate turkeys in all sizes. Obviously, when one sees a large chocolate turkey, one must have it, so we got one that year and have gotten one every year since. It drives my younger cousins crazy having to wait for someone to liberate Choco-Turkey from his wrap and chop him up into reasonably sized pieces, and with good reason, because Choco-Turkey is delicious.

Here's a sad, sad story. I can't wait for re-runs on TV. You see, I love TV too much, or at least my parents do, and since I live with them and am a sheep, I love it by default. During the summer months my mom mourns the loss of new TV episodes while I can barely contain my glee because, at last, I've got free time for other things, you know, like this reading and blogging stuff that I love so much. Each year, I am determined to add fewer shows to my TV watching plate which, this year in particular, has been a dismal failure. You see, there are too many good new shows that I just had to add to my already overflowing crop of old favorites. Now I'm hooked on Pan Am, Once Upon a Time, Revenge, and The New Girl in addition to all the old favorites - Castle, Criminal Minds, Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, The Big Bang Theory, The Mentalist and more(!!). Yikes! So, yeah, I need a few holiday season re-runs to get my life back on track and my Christmas shopping done. What excellent TV shows are you into this season?

In reading news - I am actually managing to fit in some of that too (thank goodness for lunch breaks!) - I finished The Legacy by Katherine Webb which I think I actually appreciated more for my being a slow reader (for a change). I'm near to finishing Cameron Stracher's The Water Wars which is entertaining with a few drawbacks. In between, I've been shuffling in a story or two by various authors from The Chronicles of Harris Burdick based on Chris Van Allsburg's mysterious illustrations. The stories are deliciously fantastical and not to mention slightly off-center, and I'm much enjoying my brief interludes with them.

Now, I'll leave you with a picture of my cat because that's what all the cool bloggers do, right? It's not a particularly good picture, I swear my house isn't that sickening shade of yellow, though I'm sad to admit that the carpet unfortunately is. I took this picture through the banister rungs on the stairs where Merlin tries to attract some love and attention and (now) photo-ops from unwitting passers-by.

Here's Merlin. That's his "fat, dark, and catty (not to mention legless)" look.

Hope you all have a great week and a happy holiday (if you're celebrating on Thursday)!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Have Been on My Shelves Forever

I like today's theme for The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday. It's all about those books that have spent many long years on our shelves but have never managed to get read. It definitely lead to the dawning realization that I have had some of my books for a looooong time, so long that I don't even know when or how I came into possession of them, only that I've also intended to read them for a loooong time. Here are some of my more long-neglected books...maybe you can help me decide if they're really worth hanging onto for that elusive future read!

1. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver - I think this one landed on my shelves back in the major heyday of Oprah's Book Club when my mother and I were discovering the wonderful world of literary fiction. I want to read it, but I've read so many mixed reviews that I'm kind of skeptical.

2. Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice - I can't remember a time when this book wasn't on my shelf. Most books I can at least remember when I acquired, not so with Interview With the Vampire. I saw the movie and liked it, and I've always wanted to give the book a shot, but then the mass market paperback has super tiny print that always manages to scare me off before I get very far.

3. A Son of the Circus by John Irving - This is the first of many John Irving books that I've purchased over the years that I've subsequently never read. Luckily, my mom's kind of a fan, so they're not all going to waste while they await my attentions.

4. Skeleton Crew by Stephen King - I love Stephen King, and I've even started this book a few times. The first story, "The Mist," I've read several times, and it's deliciously disturbing, but I never seem to get much further.

5. Seize the Night by Dean Koontz - I should probably just get rid of this one, but Dean Koontz is one I go to for easy (dare I say "comfort"?) reading whose books I tend to enjoy if I can manage to get past his wildly awkward metaphors.

6. Marlfox (Redwall Book 11) by Brian Jacques - The Redwall books were some of favorites when I was younger, but despite the fact that I've kept collecting them over the years, they've kind of fallen into that abyss between what I used to read and what I read now. I'd love to read the rest of the series, though, and this is about where I left off. In fact, I wouldn't mind reading this whole series all over again. It's full of good memories!

7. The Chamber by John Grisham - When I was in high school, I looooved John Grisham. I spent a few good nights with the likes of A Time to Kill and The Client. I haven't read Grisham in forever, but I can't bring myself to part with this one that my parents say is their favorite of his books. Unfortunately, I haven't quite managed to read it yet, either.

8. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts - As I was combing my collection for the long-neglected I noticed this one that's been gathering dust on my shelves for far too long, has an impressive 4.38 stars rating on Library Thing. When I stop being such a slacker about reading non-fiction, I think this one should probably be up first!

9. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - I've heard so many good things about this series that I have half of it sitting on my shelves. I've got a total thing for Scotland, so this is probably going to be right up my alley, but it's kind of hunormous and therefore inconvenient to carry to work for lunchtime reading and therefore has been sitting neglected on my shelves for far too long.

10. She Walks These Hills by Sharyn McCrumb - I started reading Sharyn McCrumb's mysteries set in Appalachia in high school, too, starting with The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter which I really liked. I've been collecting them ever since. Soon maybe I'll even read them starting with this one that I've had the longest.

So - those are the books that have been awaiting my reading attentions the longest. Have you read and loved any of them? Are there any I should just give up and chuck on the donation pile?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

It's hard to believe that 10 years ago, there was no Facebook. We didn't live to take the better, more exciting profile picture. We didn't endlessly overshare our lives in sentence-long status updates. There was no one writing on our Walls, "liking" our posts, or tagging embarassing photos of us. It wasn't nearly so easy to "stalk" the people we knew back when. In fact, it was nearly unimaginable to think that we'd share so much of our lives in a place where everyone could see. Imagine how much you could find out about yourself if you stumbled upon your future Facebook page years before Facebook was even invented, and then you've stumbled upon the clever premise of The Future of Us.

It's 1996 when Emma gets her first computer, and when her next-door neighbor, Josh, stops by to volunteer one of those America Online 100 free hours CD-ROMS, Emma dutifully waits out the hours long install, and dials up to the internet (Ah, the good ol' days!). Upon logging on for the first time, Emma mysteriously stumbles upon, you guessed it, a Facebook page for a woman that seems stunningly like her. In fact, it is her, only 15 years in the future. Thinking it's a stupid prank, Emma demands that Josh look, too, and soon the pair are wrapped up in their future lives which are being all-too-easily altered by even the smallest ripples of what they are doing in 1996.

The Future of Us is a clever tale that should have wide appeal. Readers from my generation who remember logging onto AOL for the first time with the sound of a dial-up modem ringing in their ears will get a kick out of all the vaguely nostalgiac references to the things that remind us of our own teenagerhood. I mean, who doesn't get a laugh out of the stone ages when we had to get off the internet if we wanted to make a phone call, at least until we got that coveted second phone line? Today's teenagers should fall in love with Emma and Josh, neighbors and former best friends whose relationship has grown more than a little awkward since some signals were misread and hearts were broken. It's easy to relate to these two teens who are neither super popular nor super losers.

Whether you're young or old, it's not hard to understand Emma's obsession with whether she'll be happy in the future and Josh's desperation to hang on to a future that's beyond his wildest dreams. The suspense of waiting for their next look into their futures keeps the pages turning even as the tension of preserving or obliterating their Facebook futures drives the two friends apart. Asher and Mackler's story pops with realistic dialogue and is a fun read that reminds us that happiness isn't out there somewhere waiting to happens, sometimes it's right in front of our eyes.

The Future of Us hits bookstore shelves November 21st.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Loose Leafing

Ok, so, once upon a time when I started my blog, I started it with the idea that it would be about my life and books. As the years went by, I started to buy into the lie that my blog needed to be focused, and that if I mixed in all these silly "life" things on my blog, my "book blog" would have no street cred. (Heh heh, a book blog with street cred. That's funny...). Then I made (over and over again) the stunning realization that I prefer book blogs where I get a glimpse inside the minds and lives of the blogger behind the book reviews. Given this staggeringly obvious realization, added to my dismal dirty little secret (shhhh, don't tell) that if I manage to read a whole 4 books in a month that's considered a big win in Meganland (yes, all you proper book bloggers put me to terrible shame), I've decided to loosen up and bring back the random life stuff. Probably once a week. If I can think of some good random life stuff.

- I went to the chiropracter this morning and when I scheduled my next appointment it came up for December 10th. December 10th! Can anybody tell me where this year went? And shouldn't I be out Christmas shopping??

- Today I faced one of my life's great fears. The automatic car wash. Stop laughing. I'm not talking about just any car wash that you drive into and the nice little automated arm goes around and sprays your car with any number of mysterious chemicals. I'm talking the one where you have to drive onto the little conveyor thing and put your car in neutral and it tows you through while any number of mysterious chemicals are sprayed on your vehicle and big floppy heavy duty cloths beat on your car and then some guy towel dries your shiny clean vehicle at the end. For some reason, I've always been mildly petrified about this particular car wash - maybe it's the stage fright of knowing when to put your car in neutral, how to maneuver your wheels into the conveyor-y grooves, when to drive away at the end. I mean, jeez, I don't want to look any more idiotic than some moron who would pay 13 freaking dollars for a car wash already looks. However, today I was feeling brave and forked over an exorbitant amount of money to try out the wash. It was not so terrifying, and my car looks like new, but now I have a new fear to face. Am I becoming one of these people who will actually pay $13 for a car wash? Jeez.

- One of the front page headlines on today's local (small town) paper has to do with conjecture that a big evergreen tree from what looks to be somebody's yard in the tiny town across from the river from where I live is being plucked for use in New York City's Rockefeller Center this Christmas. The transporting crew is the crew that normally does this apparently, and they have been taking care of said tree for months now according to the paper, and when asked about the destination of the tree, crews give a number for an NYC publicist. Could it be true? Magic eightball says....Ask again later.

Say, where'd you get that tree?

- Did you know that if you spend a grand total of two hours being wildly productive on a Saturday, it totally makes you feel like it's acceptable to do absolutely nothing of consequence for the rest of the weekend? I'm not sure if this is true, it's probably not, but if I don't accomplish anything until Monday, I'm pretty sure I won't feel too guilty.

- I think I'm trying to make a triumphant return to doing Zumba next week. I'm a little nervous because whenever I attempt to give Zumba a shot, one of two things happens... A) I attend the class, love it, get hooked on it, lose some weight and a month later the only class I have time to go to is suddenly and sometimes inexplicably cancelled forever or B) I manage to fall deathly ill or injure myself in some utterly unrelated way that renders me far too physically infirm to attempt anything more physically demanding than getting out of bed. Wish me luck, I'm afraid I'm going to need it.... ;-)

- Okay, a bookish tidbit for those that are hanging in there with me. I've been reading The Legacy by Katherine Webb since last weekend, and it is absolutely perfectly atmospheric and has reminded me how much I dearly love books where you get to roll around in the perfectly pitched atmosphere of the story.

So, what's going on in your life? Or perhaps, you'd like to recommend for me a few good atmospheric books...?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Had VERY Strong Emotions About

This week's topic for the Broke and Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday is all about books that inspired very strong feelings in us. I love doing the TTTs, but I'm starting to feel like I'm always writing about the same books. I'm always going on about the books that made me laugh or cry or both because those are usually the books I like the best, but I thought I'd take a different tack this week and write about books that made me angry. Not usually angry because they were so bad - just angry because they hit a nerve, or they're so realistic about the people are that I ended up "frustrated" angry, or maybe just angry that authors are using perfectly good books to push an agenda. Anyhow - here's a list of ten books that made me really angry.

1. House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III - I always tell people that this is a book I'd like to throw against the wall, and not because it was bad. Rather this book is my poster child for characters that are so vivid and realistic having a conflict that is so vivid and realistic that it actually makes you angry because you're so frustrated that they can't seem to get around themselves to solve their problem. Kind of like people in real life.

2. A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs - This book is all about Burroughs' father who is, to put it simply, an emotionally abusive jack@$$. It's so well written that there's no way you don't end up kind of terrified of and totally furious at this father who is so terrible to his own child.

3. The Rest of Her Life by Laura Moriarty - Here's another book that suffers from House of Sand and Fog syndrome. The mothers and daughters and their conflicts and misunderstandings and good intentions gone awry are so well-drawn that you can't help being frustrated that they just can't seem to love each other quite right.

4. The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty - A Laura Moriarty double whammy! The narrator in this book totally struck a chord with me. I related so much, too much even, so that every slight against the narrator made me angry on her behalf. But make no mistake, I loved this book. It was a good kind of angry.

5. The Law of Dreams by Peter Behrens - Okay, I, as a rule, enjoy depressing books. Depressing stories of the unfortunate Irish immigrants are often especially right up my alley. This one made me mad because it was actually too depressing. Even a sad story needs a bright spot or two once in a while.

6. The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman - And here we have the last book of the His Dark Materials series. I loved the first part of the series, but by the time the third book rolled around, I was kind of frustrated that Pullman's anti-religious agenda seemed to overwhelm the great storytelling.

7. No Matter How Loud I Shout by Edward Humes - Want to work up a righteous anger at the way underprivileged juveniles are dealt with by justice system? Read this book!

8. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult - The ending! I mean....jeez!

9. The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky - This book is about pretty much the nuttiest mother ever. If your jaw doesn't drop at just how ludicrous and anger-inspiring she can be, then this book would not be near so great as it is! Weird, huh?

10. The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine - And more righteous anger! Child sex slavery painfully realistically depicted. If you can read this book without getting angry, you should maybe probably be worried about yourself. Just sayin'.

Do you have any books that get you angry?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Dear Bully edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones

Happy Halloween, everyone! I don't have a creepy, gothic Halloween-y tale to share with you today, but that's not to say that I didn't read a book about something scary. There's not much scarier than a school bully, or a grown-up bully, or, well, any bully at all, and Dear Bully is chock full of them...

The statistics are staggering, jaw-dropping things. "Every seven minutes a child is bullied on a school playground, with more than eighty-five percent of those instances occurring without any intervention." Sure, everybody has probably dealt with a bully or been a bully sometime in their life, but bullying is so ingrained in our consciousness that it's foolishly viewed as some twisted rite of passage, a character-building opportunity to emerge on the other side as a stronger, thicker-skinned person, a person better equipped to deal with the difficult people life is guaranteed to throw at you.

Instead, though, we have hundreds of thousands of kids who are terrified to go to school lest they be bullied. Instead, we have kids who have been so isolated and demeaned by bullies at school and online that "a child commits suicide once every half hour" and more than 100,000 who bullies have made to feel so powerless that they feel they need to carry guns to school. If merciless torture of anyone who is even the slightest bit different is a rite of passage, then it is surely a rite that is far too heavy a burden on kids growing up today. Dear Bully is a compilation of 70 stories from YA authors about their experiences with bullying both as the bullied and as the bully. It is an assurance to kids that have been made to feel totally alone that they aren't and call to action for a nation that has turned a blind eye to bullying for too long.

The stories in Dear Bully come from a variety of well-known YA authors including Lauren Oliver, R.L. Stine, Alyson Noel, Megan McCafferty, and many more come in a variety of forms, as poetry, as stories, as letters, and even in pictures. Each is powerful in its own way, and the collection as a whole runs the full gamut of emotions, causing horror at the cruelty kids are capable of, tears at the bravery and kindness of those courageous few who were willing to step into the crosshairs of bullies to rescue their friends, and even smiles of relief at these many talented authors who emerged from their torturous days of middle and high school to take refuge in and write stories that would help the kids that they once were learn that the lies bullies tell couldn't be further from the truth.

If I have one complaint about some of the stories, it is that they depict mind-blowing abuse, show teachers and parents ignoring or brushing off bullying situations, describe how totally isolating bullying can be and then exhort kids to step up to stop it. While I understand the sentiment, this is one of the things that is so easy to write about in hindsight but so difficult to do at the time of the bullying. It's easy to say that you should tell the teacher or you should befriend the bullied or you should stand up to the bully, and really these are the kinds of things that should be done and should make a difference. That said, after you've just told a story where a bully beat you up or told atrocious lies about you that alienated all your friends, and the teacher said, "pull yourself together" when told the situation, it seems like a pretty hard sell to get kids to take a stand.

Aside from this one gripe that only applies to a few of the pieces, I would say that this collection is a must read for everyone who has ever dealt with a bully, been a bully, had a friend or a child who is or might be a victim of a bully's cruelty. The stories succeed in showing bullied kids that they aren't alone, that things do get better. Others reveal the intense regret that schoolyard bullies might one day come to feel once they emerge from an environment where being unique couldn't be more wrong. All endeavor to show kids that regardless of the pain words might inflict, they are worthwile and loved, that it's possible to stand up for themselves, and that doing what's right, even when it might be downright terrifying, can be the most liberating of all.

(Thanks to Eric and Co. at Planned TV Arts for sending me a copy of Dear Bully for review!)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Blogiversary Giveaway Winners!

With a guest appearance by Shoofly Pie! Okay, yes, that's kind of random, but on Saturday during the Readathon, I was munching on Shoofly Pie. This drew some curiosity from people who don't know what the heck it is and possibly a demand for a picture of said pie. Luckily, I hadn't quite finished it off, so here's a picture, because what Raych wants, Raych gets, and Raych wishes a picture of pie (okay maybe not this pie, but the other pie was previously devoured). ;-)

Okay, I didn't say it was a great picture. I was kind of in a hurry to eat it, you know. Anyway, Shoofly Pie is fluffy, molasses based pie. Most of the ones I've had have a kind of crumby topping, which is, it seems, not mandatory among Shoofly pies. It's apparently a Pennsylvania Dutch-y sort of dessert. My dad thinks it's "old" of me to like it, like I'm too young to appreciate a good Shoofly Pie.

Okay, enough about pie! I promised winners, and here they are!

Gwen B. wins a copy of The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Florinda gets the copy of The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta


Amanda snags the copy of Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister

Thanks to all who entered and wished me a happy blogiversary, I wish I had a book for all of you!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Read-a-thon Wrap Up

Reading Now: The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

It's been __45__ pages and __60__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 6 hours 50 minutes

Cumulative Pages Read: 318

Books Completed: 1 - Carry Yourself Back to Me by Deborah Reed

End of event meme

1.Which hour was most daunting for you?

Hour 9? I needed a power nap. Or perhaps Hour 17 when I decided finishing the book I was reading was hopeless and just gave up and went to bed?

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

I'd say The Future of Us because it really is interesting, but it kind of turned into my Read-a-thon archnemesis that eventually defeated me, so maybe not?

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

I dunno - twist more people's arms until they agree to cheerlead. ;-) That 69 cheerleaders to 442 readers is a pretty hefty imbalance. Not that the cheerleaders didn't do a great job! You all did...which is why I want more of you! Muah!

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

Loved the cheerleading HQ site. It was super helpful that it was updated to reflect those who signed up but didn't end up participating. It was always a drag having to click through a bunch of non-participants just to find one reader to cheer on. Great job on that, guys!

5.How many books did you read?

I finished one I already had started and was in the middle of two by the end of the 'thon.

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

See above plus Dear Bully Ed. by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones

7.Which book did you enjoy most?

The Future of Us

8.Which did you enjoy least?


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

I wasn't, technically. So I'll just say, Great job, Cheerleaders!

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

I love the Read-a-thon, and I'm sure I'll participate again if my schedule allows. That said, when I started participating in the Read-a-thon it was more as a cheerleader, and I think I might go back to that. It's fun being more involved with the community aspect of the 'thon. Plus, no matter how much I try to tell myself it's not a numbers game, I always end up a little depressed by what a slow reader I am. So, yeah, maybe I'll go back to cheering with a little reading on the side to save my sanity!

Did you participate in the Read-a-thon? How'd it go for you?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Read-a-thon Hour 14 Update

Reading Now: The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler alternating with Dear Bully Ed. by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones

It's been __92__ pages and __120__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 5 hours 50 minutes

Cumulative Pages Read: 273

Books Completed: 1 - Carry Yourself Back to Me by Deborah Reed

Eating?: Couple pieces of cheese and a piece of shoo-fly pie

And we've passed the midway point, so the mid-event meme!

1. What are you reading right now? Mostly The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
2. How many books have you read so far? I've finished one, but I didn't read all of it today.
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I'm not sure how much of the second half of the Read-a-thon I'll be awake for, but really I'm just hoping to finish at least one of the books I have started - The Future of Us and Dear Bully
4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? Not really. And I didn't quite free up the *whole* day...
5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Hmmm, my mom interrupted me to chat this morning just when I was getting started. I yelled at her but ended up chatting anyway. Then there was a quick trip to Pumpkinpalooza where I soothed my anguish at stepping away for the Read-a-thon by eating lots of yummy food
6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? I don't know why, but I'm always surprised at how little I manage to get read in a very long time. Newsflash - Read-a-thon day doesn't actually make you a faster reader.
7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? The Magic 8 Ball says "Ask again later."
8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year? I think maybe next time I won't read, and I'll just sign up to cheer. I love the reading, but I like to feel more connected to the internet-y goings on, too!
9. Are you getting tired yet? Not really. I may have had a short power nap this afternoon that got me back on track!
10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered? Nothing I can think of off the top of my head!

Read-a-thon Hour 10 Update

Reading Now: The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler alternating with Dear Bully Ed. by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones

It's been __91__ pages and __109__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 3 hours 50 minute

Cumulative Pages Read: 181

Books Completed: 1 - Carry Yourself Back to Me by Deborah Reed

Eating?: Triscuits, a piece of blueberry custard pie, glass of water (gotta stay hydrated!)

Very happy with my decision to alternate The Future of Us with Dear Bully. Actually, I've been going much heavier on The Future of Us, though. At first, I thought the tiny print in the ARC was going to be an issue, but the story of two high schoolers in 1996 discovering the Facebook pages of their future selves grabbed me, and I stopped noticing the print so much.

All the early internet nostalgia is so funny. It's hard to believe how much things have changed technology-wise since we dialed-up and installed that free for so many hours AOL for the first time! I can just barely remember my mom telling me to get off the internet because people might be trying to call on the phone. I'm kind of filled with nostalgia and stuff except for, uh, that really slow dial-up internet and the really slow computer I had to go with it... Glad things are speedier now or Readathon cheerleading would be a huge drag!

Speaking of cheerleading, I'm off to do some.

Read on, my friends!

Read-a-thon Hour 7 Update

Reading Now: The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

It's been __11__ pages and __17__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 2 hours 1 minute

Cumulative Pages Read: 90

Books Completed: 1 - Carry Yourself Back to Me by Deborah Reed

Eating?: French fries, Chocolate vanilla peanut butter fudge, fresh-squeezed lemonade, a steak sandwich, and a spring roll.

All right, you caught me. I obviously didn't get much reading done in the last few hours. I may or may not have wandered off to Pumpkinpalooza to eat a long lunch. I brought back fudge and pie for this evenings Read-a-thon eating, though.

A wise commenter or two said that Dear Bully is probably good for dipping into and out of, so I'm switching to The Future of Us for a while to keep it light. Now, enough slacking and back to the books!

Read-a-thon Hour 3 Update

Reading Now: Dear Bully Ed.by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones

It's been __79__ pages and __104__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 1 hours 44 minutes

Cumulative Pages Read: 79

Books Completed: 1 - Carry Yourself Back to Me by Deborah Reed

Eating?: Quaker Oatmeal Squares for breakfast and a snack of Welch's Berries 'n Cherries fruit snacks. Yum!

Despite obvious efforts from my parents to sabotage my Readathon, I have managed to get some reading done over the past 2 and some hours. I finished the book I already had started prior to the Readathon, Carry Yourself Back to Me which was good but I have to admit I definitely didn't love it. I'll give it points for reminding me that I need to read more books that leave me smiling instead of crying, though.

Speaking of crying - okay, maybe not quite crying but more like open-mouthed gaping, I just started and devoured the first almost 50 pages of Dear Bully, a collection of 70 authors stories about bullying. Ellen Hopkins wrote the introduction, and she included a few statistics that are just jaw-dropping no matter how many times you might encounter them. So far, I'm really impressed with these short pieces about being on both sides of the bullying situation.

I can't decide whether I wanna keep at it and read it straight through or just dip in and out of it all day and read another book in between. While I decide, I think I'll go do some cheering!

Keep up the great reading, all!


Good morning, all! It's time to read! That's right, today is the day of Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon. I am, of course, participating - this time as a reader. I will be tracking my progress today until, I'm guessing, midnight or so, so expect a few more posts than usual because I'm not that person who posts the one post and then updates it all day. I promise that by tomorrow all will be back to normal around here, so if you could care less about my reading progress today please accept my apologies and feel free to mark all these bad boys read tomorrow morning and we can go on about our normal, light posting routine.

All right, now that all the apologies are made - how about an introductory meme?

1)Where are you reading from today? - Bloomsburg, PA, USA

2)Three random facts about me…

- I'm being a punk today and starting out finishing the book I was already reading. I figure it'll give me an early boost because it's so much easier reading a book that you're already in the middle of. I've only got about 30 pages left. Okay, the truth is I meant to finish it yesterday and totally failed. What do you want from my life?

- I might take a little break to go to something called Pumpkinpalooza today. Probably for lunch. There will be pumpkin catapulting and pumpkin pie eating contests and pumpkin shot putting. I mean, you can't miss that, can you? Well, maybe you can, but the jury's still out.

- I really like Bath and Body Works hand soap. Okay, that's really random. And no I was not paid to say it. ;-)

3)How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? - 12ish

4)Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)? - My goal is to have fun!

5)If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, any advice for people doing this for the first time? - Don't get too caught up in the numbers game (see question above). I track my numbers, but I don't put too much stock in them. It's not a competition (even with myself), so getting caught up in comparing # of pages or books read is usually just an exercise in frustration. Just enjoy a day where you have the perfect excuse to do nothing but blog and read!

Now, I better go get reading! Hope you have a fantastic day whether you're readathonning or not!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: A Train in Winter

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

A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France by Caroline Moorehead

Harper, November 8, 2011


They were teachers, students, chemists, writers, and housewives; a singer at the Paris Opera, a midwife, a dental surgeon. They distributed anti-Nazi leaflets, printed subversive newpapers, hid resisters, secreted Jews to safety, transported weapons, and conveyed clandestine messages. The youngest was a schoolgirl of fifteen, who scrawled “V” for victory on the walls of her lycee; the eldest, a farmer’s wife in her sixties who harbored escaped Allied airmen. Strangers to one another, hailing from villages and cities from across France, these brave women were united in hatred and defiance of their Nazis occupiers.

Eventually, the Gestapo hunted down 230 of these women of the French Resistance and imprisoned them in a fort outside Paris. Separated from home and loved ones, these disparate individuals turned to one another, finding solace and strength in friendship; their common experience conquering divisions of age, education, profession, and class.

In January 1943, they were sent to their final destination: Auschwitz. Only forty-nine would survive.

Interweaving original sources, archival research, and in-depth personal interviews, A Train in Winter is the riveting narrative of this remarkable band of sisters, patriots whose love fortified them in the face of deprivation, horror, and death.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Everything Happens Today by Jesse Browner

You know, it's helpful when you're about to leave on vacation if the internet actually works, so you can, you know, line up a post or two for the time you're going to be gone. I meant to have this for you last week before I dashed off for a long weekend in Niagara Falls, but you know what they say about the best of intentions. I'm happy to report that the internet appears to be working again (yayyy!), and I have an excellent book to review for you - Everything Happens Today by Jesse Browner.

P.S. Thanks for all the happy blogiversary wishes. Again, if my internet hadn't been sucking for the last week or so I would have been way more interactive with all you awesome people. I'll announce winners for the giveaway tomorrow!

Wes is seventeen, but he feels much, much older the night that he takes the long walk home from an Upper East Side apartment to his house in Greenwich Village. For an average seventeen year old guy, the night he loses his virginity would be a momentous occasion. Wes, however, is anything but average as we come to find out during the course of the next day of his life as he reflects on losing his virginity to the "wrong" girl, nurses his terminally ill mother, tries to make a deadline for a revised paper about War and Peace, and attempts to cook a bizarre meal that will bring his whole fragile family to the table. In the course of one ordinary yet extraordinary day, Wes grows up and learns some important lessons all while readers are treated to a unique and extremely vividly drawn family and a main character whose unexpectedly deep thoughts about life and love appeal to our own experience.

Through much of the reading, Everything Happens Today inspires mixed feelings. On one hand, Browner's choice to write his novel without chapter breaks has the tendency to make Wes's narrative monotonous, and gives the impression that Wes's sometimes incessant navel-gazing will proceed in circles without breaks or ends indefinitely not unlike Borges' Library of Bable, an illustration Wes is particularly drawn to. On the other hand, getting inside Wes's thought-pattern and learning the reasoning that drives him is what ends up making Everything Happens Today stand out. Wes is a more or less typical teenager who spends a little too much time with his iPhone, wonders if he is good enough for the girl he loves (or if what he feels for her is even truly love), and gets frustrated with his family, but Wes is also a bookish, thoughtful sort of guy who loves his family sacrificially, wants to be a truly good person, and struggles with the decisions he's making as he works his way into an unstoppable adulthood where his dearest wish is that he not become his father. In short, Wes is a lovable narrator both despite and because of his perpetual over-thinking, and he will make readers root for him that he might come to an understanding and an acceptance of his life such as it is.

Even though Wes is the heart and soul of the book, Browner creates a cast of secondary characters - Wes's parents, his sister, his best friend, the girls he might or might not be in love with - that leap off the page. His beloved little sister comes off just as quirky and innocent as intended. His father shuffles through a life populated with broken dreams and unmet potential that Wes himself loathes. His ill mother is a fragile shell of herself whose former life is barely visible beneath her current circumstances. His friend is the perfect well-intentioned meddler. The girls he falls for are as much fully fleshed out characters in their own right as they are lessons in what love really looks like for the hapless Wes.

It would be lying to say that Wes's deep thoughts combined with their lack of chapter breaks don't make Everything Happens Today a little difficult to tackle. That said, what I've come to appreciate about the Europa Editions books that I've read thus far, is that they make me think and work at them a little before yielding what is nearly always a rewarding, if somewhat atypical, reading experience. I'm fully convinced that readers will fall in love with loyal, well-intentioned Wes, just as I did, and be caught up in and ultimately charmed by this unusual tale of coming of age today.

(Thanks to Julia at Europa for my review copy!)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Again for the First Time

Greetings all and welcome to another Tuesday with a great top ten topic from The Broke and the Bookish. A couple weeks ago we did "Books We'd Love to Reread," this week, a similar but really totally different topic - books we'd love to read again for the first time. I find that the books I want to reread are books I want to wrap up in and get comfortable, but the books that I'd most like to read again for the first time are ones that really made me feel something really strongly that I'm convinced probably can't be re-created quite the same way on a second reading.

1. After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell - I loved this book so much the first time I read it. I finished it on Christmas Eve a few years ago, and it made me ugly cry like no other book I've ever read. (I should mention that I do like that quality in a book.) It's so tragic...and hopeful, and the way the story's told just makes it punch you in the gut.

2. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien - Especially The Return of the King. I can't even talk about it without getting all spoilery, buth ah, so good. I wanna feel that way again.

3. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff - This seems to be one of those books that you either love or hate. There are cousins in love (which is shockingly not gross), no quotation marks, and an inexplicable occupation by some enemy. The narrator, Daisy, is so real and so cynical and sarcastic from the start, and she undergoes this huge transformation in this really unusual situation, and it's all incredibly profound and emotionally wrenching. And wonderful. Yeah.

4. City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell - This is a novel I read last year about Christian missionaries in China. I wish more people would read this (especially Christians), because it's so good, and the way it shows its characters (based on the author's grandparents) having their beliefs put to the test again and again and passing with flying colors is so refreshing and tearjerking.

5. The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen - This is the first book I ever read about the Holocaust. It's basically a time-travelly book-long reason to remember some of the darkest days in history. It sparked a fascination in me for all books Holocaust just because of how real it made it all for me.

6. The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy - And this is probably the best Holocaust novel I've read since. Somehow Murphy turns Hansel and Gretel into not just a believable Holocaust story, but a really, really powerful one. It does one of the things I love in a Holocaust novel and really shows you how ordinary people became heroes in the face of overwhelming opposition.

7. The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips - I loved the family in this book. I'd love to meet them all over again!

8. Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going - I swallowed this book in one gulp. It's all about a fat kid who thinks he's totally worthless and a kinda homeless guitar prodigy with a band that needs a drummer. I'd love to read this again and slower and just enjoy that moment when these two characters realize how badly they need each other. It's perfect.

9. Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger - This is one of those books that I feel like could never be as good as the first time. Once you know what happens at the end (even though you suspect it as the book progresses anyway), there's no going back, it just can't be as good as it was the first time. It's about an annoying but lovable kid who irritates a major league baseball player into becoming his friend. Told mostly in letters it is hilarious, heartwarming, and heartbreaking. Just talking about it makes me want to read it again.

10. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen - I read this book at just the right time. So much of Macy's story hit home for me that I found myself in tears again and again because I liked her so much and because I really felt like I could relate.

What books would you like read again for the first time?

P.S. On a side note - it's my blogiversary, and I'm giving away a few books. Check it out?

Sunday, October 9, 2011


It's hard to believe this day has come. It's even harder to believe I remembered that it came and am writing a post about it seeing as I usually am off looking at shiny things or other such distractions for the attention span impaired while my blogiversary skates by with little fanfair. I'm not forgetting this year, though. That's right - this week Leafing Through Life is four. Four years old. It was four years ago today that I wrote my first book review for my own little corner of the interwebs. Little did I know the journey that I was beginning and that I'd still be at it four year later.

You see, I, as a person, am not blessed with a great deal of stick-to-it-iveness when it comes to things that life doesn't require me to do. With a flightiness I've more than likely inherited from my mother, I have the tendency to bounce from obsession to obsession. I'm all in for a little while, but once the thrill is gone, I'm on to the new thing. Not so with book blogging. I've finally found a hobby that stuck to me. It's had its highs and lows, and I've neglected it for other pursuits along the way, but I've never abandoned it completely, and with good reason - it is, by far, the most rewarding hobby I've ever put my hand to.

As I start my fourth year of blogging, I just want to thank all of you have taken the time to read some of my ramblings here, to befriend me, to encourage me whenever things haven't been going well, to send me a book, to make me feel like what I do actually matters and generally make this whole blogging thing the most worthwile of pursuits. Thanks, also, for making the book blogosphere the great place to be that it is, so that even when I think I might ponder giving it up, the connections, the recommendations, the friends keep me coming back.

To show my gratitude (and also because I just haven't done it in a while), I've got a few books to give away, because hey, what's a good celebration without presents?

I've got two gently used ARCs of a couple of my favorite reads from this year that I'd love to share with some other readers...

Sparrow Road by Shelia O'Connor (Read my review)
Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister (Read my review)

and also a pair of (never used) duplicate ARCs...

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick Dewitt
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

The giveaway is open internationally. You can enter for all 4, but you can only win one. Just leave me a comment letting me know which ones you're entering for as well as some way to get in contact with you should you win. I'll take entries through midnight (EST) on Monday October 17th and will announce winner shortly thereafter.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Kid Konnection: Butterfly Tree

Kid Konnection is a Booking Mama's weekend feature dedicated to all things children's books.

Butterfly Tree by Sandra Markle, Illustrated by Leslie Wu
Peachtree Publishers
Ages 4-8

When you're making a memory, you want it to last as long as possible.

One September day, while Jilly is on the shores of Lake Erie throwing a stick for her dog, Fudge, she notices an orange cloud coming closer to the beach. At first, she worries that it's smoke from a fire or volcanic fallout or even an alien spacecraft. When she tells her mom about it, though, the two hurry off into the woods in search of the mysterious orange cloud. Just when Jilly is ready to turn back, the two discover an ordinary tree covered in orange leaves, but when Fudge races through chasing a squirrel, the tree suddenly bursts into a magical flurry of monarch butterflies.

Markle's verse vividly renders a memory of the migrating butterflies drawn from her own childhood. Her detailed descriptions capture the atmosphere of the woods and the magic of discovering something for the first time. Wu's illustrations are perfectly suited to the story. Her beautiful impressionistic paintings reveal the perfect cast of the light and the motion of a hundred fluttering butterflies but with soft edges that gives the sense of a rare, beautiful moment being viewed throught the lens of memory.

Young readers will be taken in by the bright colors and the suspense in the search. Older readers might well be reminded of the wonder and the opportunities for discovery that nature offered us when we were children and still today if we slow down long enough to see.

Beautiful book!

(Thanks to Peachtree Publishers for sending me a copy!)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ready to Read?

Arguably my favorite book blogging event is coming up in a few short weeks. Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon takes place on October 22nd this year, and as of yet, I haven't stupidly made plans that totally (or even mostly) prohibit me from spending a gloriously guiltless day of reading and blogging for as much of 24 hours as I can handle. The first Readathon took place in October 2007 when my was just a baby and was how I really started to meet some of the bloggers that I still love! Therefore, of course, I have a total soft spot for it.

I am busy at work assembling a pile of easy and absorbing reads to fill my Readathon day. I think I'm going to be aiming mostly at YA this time, because it's easy and also because I'm totally craving a bunch of YA since it seems to be very much lacking from my reading this year for no apparent good reason.

I hope you're planning on Readathon-ing this year, whether you're a veteran or a newbie. It's fun for all, and you only have to read as long as it's fun, and, believe me, it's fun for quite a while. You can enjoy the encouragement of cheerleaders as you creep into your 23rd straight hour of reading, or cheer on your fellow readers before you chuckle softly to yourself at the insane souls who are really going to stay up all night reading as you tuck yourself into your warm, welcoming bed (at a decent hour - LOL!) to sleep until it's time to catch up with everybody early the next morning when people are still reading.

That's my pitch - it's great fun and I hope to see you on Readathon day, so head on over and sign up to read or, if you'd rather, to cheer on the readers (which, is at least as fun as being a reader, if not occasionally more fun!).

So, will I be seeing you on Readathon day? =D

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Want to Reread

This week's topic for The Broke and Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday involves something I don't do a whole lot of - rereading. I've always been the sort of reader that's kind of once and done. I read a book, and then, much more often than not, I give it away rather than holding on to it. With so many great new books coming out every day and only so long of a life in which to read them, I'll admit that often, to me, rereading seems like a waste of precious time. That said, there are a few books (and whole series!) that I'd like to revisit sometime when (as they always seem to) my priorities change and I'm thirsting for something I know I've loved and stand to get more out of on a second reading.

1. The Harry Potter Books by J.K. Rowling - I know bloggers who have already reread these several times, maybe once for each new book coming out, or for the debut of a new Harry Potter movie. I've been tempted to do likewise, but have never really made the time, but I plan on it someday!

2. The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue - I actually gave this book an "award" for making me want to re-read it the moment I was finished with it. It's a fantastic lit fiction book about changelings with oodles of layers and nuance that I'm sure I could get even more out of on second reading. In fact, the author even sent me an extra copy so I can have the privilege of re-reading it. How awesome is that?

3. The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers - Another book I loved with lots of layers that could totally benefit from a second reading.

4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith - I read and liked this book when I was in middle school, but I'd love to revisit it as an adult.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - This is another classic that I read when I was much younger. Everybody seems to love it so much, but I don't recall being that impressed. I think reading it again as a grown-up would give it a much fairer shake.

6. The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques - I read a bunch of this series about the noble and heroic animals of Redwall Abbey when I was younger. I loved them and their great feasts and quaint way of speaking. I made my Dad read them. I have a few left to read in the series, but I feel like I need a refresher first.

7. East of Eden by John Steinbeck - I read and loved East of Eden in high school. I haven't read a Steinbeck before or since that I've enjoyed as much, but I barely even remember the bare bones of the plot. Time for a reread!

8. The Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder - I was crazy about these books as a kid. Crazy about them! A few years ago I finally gave them away, and now I desperately wish I hadn't. So many memories.

9. Insomnia by Stephen King - I went through a major horror phase in high school, and what's horror without Stephen King? I recall Insomnia being one of my favorites. I was totally fascinated by all the auras and things. If I can't revisit this one, I'd at least like to get back in touch with some new Stephen King books.

10. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene - One of my favorites of high school required reading. It's one of those books that impressed me with its ability to put a little hope in a hopeless situation.

What books are you hoping to reread?