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?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl by Celia Rivenbark

I'm trying to cover all my bases here, so, since I reviewed a book this week that I finished months ago, I'm going to do the flip side, too. I'm reviewing the book I finished today. Absurd? Maybe not for you, but definitely for me. I have always been the sort of procrastinator reviewer that a takes a few days between the completion of a book and the writing of the review. I was always of the opinion that this procrastination letting my thoughts about the book marinate a few days lead to better, more thoughtful reviews. And perhaps they did. Of late, though, the procrastination marination leads mostly to reviews just about never getting written. This is the type of madness with no method that simply must stop, therefore I am coming to you live (well, probably not live since this will most likely end up becoming a scheduled post - methodic madness!) with Celia Rivenbark's southern-tinged (marinated?) book of humorous essays.

Humorous essays? Really? Why, yes. Because for once in my life I actually knew myself and my own reading weakness. What is this self-awareness? Things really are getting crazy around here. I've alluded, on Twitter, to the fact that I have spent the last almost month slogging through The Grapes of Wrath in hopes of making a triumphant return to a book group I am more or less (but mostly less) involved in. When I was on the cusp of starting this lengthy classic novel journey, the lovely Emily from Wunderkind PR showed up in my e-mail box offering me You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl for review. A little light bulb flashed on above my head, and I thought, what better way to break up the reading of a lengthy classic (the likes of which I haven't tried in quite some time) than with some humorous essays. Of course, it didn't go exactly as I planned because I am no good at book polygamy, but once I flipped that last page of The Grapes of Wrath, I was all over these essays. I needed their light, readable, laugh out loud-ness to recover from my many weeks with the Joads and their many hardships.

The essays in You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl leave no stone unturned as they poke fun at everything and everyone from snuggies to crazed science fair parents to all the "Loonies on the Learning Channel" to society's weird obsession with cuteness that threatens to put Rivenbark's trademark snark out of business while everyone tunes into the latest YouTube viral video. In just a few pages each, Rivenbark's essays can have readers laughing out loud at a variety of topics as we try to keep up with Rivenbark's stream-of-consciousness rantings that swing rapidly from Oprah to the art of writing discipline with the sort of lengthy attention span that would only a gnat could envy. Rivenbark never lingers too long on harpooning any one subject, which is refreshing. (Especially after finishing The Grapes of Wrath)

You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl is the perfect antidote for too much deep, dark reading. Rivenbark's writing is compulsively readable, entertaining, and, at times, downright laugh out loud funny. If you've got a bitter sarcastic streak, a cynical eye for some (most?) of the clowns on TV these days, or you just need a breather from books that take themselves too seriously, definitely pick up a copy of You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl!

And just out of curiosity, if you're a blogger/reviewer, when do you write your reviews? Right away or wait a few days? (or months? LOL)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Touch by Alexi Zentner

Wow, last week passed in a whirlwind. I only got 2 days of Book Blogger Appreciation Week in before I got swept away. Thanks again to everyone who stopped by and left a comment, it was a pleasure to meet a bunch of new bloggers, and I hope to be paying many of you visits shortly. If you're one of a few new subscribers that have appeared since those lovely two days of BBAW, thanks for sticking around. I hope you will talk to me so I won't feel like I'm swimming around in a fish tank all on my own. ;-)

Now, I'm going to try something I've been very lax about doing in the past few weeks. We'll say weeks. We might mean months. Or something in between weeks and months. Is there something between weeks and months? Forgive me, I digress. I am about to attempt reviewing a book (!!) I read a good time ago, and I'm attempting to psych myself up for it, but really I may just be procrastinating.

Nonetheless, weeks months ago I read a book called Touch by Alexi Zentner. Previous to that I had posted a Waiting on Wednesday post about it, after which I fell profoundly in love with its cover in all its incarnations. Then, after hyping the book mercilessly to myself for a couple months, I actually got and read a copy which, unsurprisingly, did not measure up to all my self-hyping. So then I put it on the backburner for a long time, and then all the sudden here it is on the longlist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and I'm thinking maybe it's time to revisit Touch after all.

Zentner's debut finds Stephen Boucher, an Anglican minister, returned home to keep watch by his mother's deathbed. As Stephen waits for his mother's inevitable passing, he has many long hours to contemplate his past in Sawgamet and to reflect on how his and his family's lives are woven inextricably into the fabric of a place fraught with myth and mystery. From the moment Stephen's grandfather Jeannot is halted in his westward progress through the virgin territory of British Columbia by his dog Flaireur's refusal to go on any further, Sawgamet takes a firm hold of the Boucher clan.

Sawgamet is richly drawn, a coldly beautiful town filled with ghosts and the darkly magical, a character in its own right. In fact, the strength of this novel lies in Zentner's ability to imbue the gold rush town turned logging town into a place crawling with the mystical. It's easy to picture ghosts, some well-meaning most not, lurking in Zentner's frozen wilderness. Stephen's own memories of his childhood complete with a tragic accident and his grandfather's mysterious return after years of absence are melded with the stories he's always been told of his grandfather and grandmother, stories of impossible magic, burning chemistry, and unexplained treasure.

Stephen's memories ground the story in the realities of a logging town, filled with men carving out a living from the region's dangerous lumber industry. Try though he might, he can no longer cull the truth from the fiction, but the stories have taken on lives of their own, and it's the stories that make Touch soar. As much as the stories with their mythical proportions do transfix, Touch is one book that might very well benefit from one of those diagrams that map out the family tree that sometimes crop up within the first few pages of books. Perhaps with that, I would have wasted much less time and brain power trying to pin down who was related to who and could have dedicated myself to fully enjoying Zentner's tale, parts of which I'm sure went over my head while I was busy trying to figure out who exactly Stephen's uncle was married to. Also, it sometimes seemed that the characters, who should be ultra-sympathetic, sometimes held the reader at arm's length. While I appreciated their stories, I rarely felt like I was fully involved with them. Aside from my own obsessiveness about the family tree, though, Touch is a hauntingly beautiful tale filled with the elusive magic of storytelling.

Fancy hearing some other opinions?

She Reads Novels
Reading Matters
Book Bliss

Oh, how important are the reviews anyway? Wouldn't you pick up this book based on the pretty covers alone? Which is your favorite? Or are you that rare creature that really doesn't judge a book by its cover?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

BBAW: Interviewing Eva from A Striped Armchair!

It's day two of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and that means the time-honored tradition of book blogger interview swap day. On my third time out for BBAW book blogger interviews, I've finally gotten an interview partner whose blog isn't new to me. In fact, I've been reading Eva's blog, A Striped Armchair for at least as long as I've been blogging myself. As the years have gone on, I've become more and more of a huge fan of Eva's fantastic blog where I can always find a book recommendation to feed my hunger for anything from world lit to popular science. I'd be lost without Eva in my feed reader, so it's a particular joy and privilege to be interviewing her for BBAW today. So, without further ado...

How did you get started book blogging?

Over Christmas break of my senior year of college, I was surfing the
web and came across Iliana's book blog. I knew about blogs before as personal journals (I kept one for friends & family when I studied abroad), but I hadn't realised there were book blogs! I checked out her blogroll and was delighted to see that there were all these wonderful people on the internet who were happily nerding out about books together. Pretty soon, I decided I had to join in the fun, so I waited until January 1, 2007 and then started my own blog. I couldn't think of a good title, but I was too impatient to wait until perfect inspiration struck, so I just named my blog after my then-favourite chair.

You've been book blogging for quite a while now - longer than me and I feel like I've been book blogging for quite a while! I know there are times when it's been tough to keep at it, so what drives you to *keep* book blogging even when the going gets tough?

Not that much longer than you! :) But yes, it'll be five years come next January, which is insane to me: I'm not usually known for my follow through. What makes me stick with it are the friendships I've made with other book bloggers: they're such an important part of my life. They celebrate my triumphs and share my setbacks and in between fill up my wish list with the most wonderful sounding books. I also love having a more examined reading life, but really it's the people and sense of community that I can't live without.

What's the biggest change you've seen in the book blogosphere since you started blogging? What's the most the same?

Ohhh: so much has changed! Publishers and review copies are a much bigger deal, memes have become weekly events instead of one-time survey/questionnaire things, challenges have gone from shorter time periods to mainly annual and now seem to be going back to shorter 'events', feed readers are ubiquitous, read-a-longs have supplanted challenges in popularity, and of course the blogosphere has grown exponentially, which has led to more 'subgroups' of bloggers. But the love of books and reading is still what drives us: that combination of unabashed nerdiness and passionate bibliophilia still defines the book blogosphere to me.

What's one super-excellent book you probably would not have read if not for a book blogger (or few)?

If I think about this too hard, I'll be here all day, so I'm just going to say the first one that sprung to mind: The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. I'd never heard of Jansson before other bloggers mentioned her (in fact, I thought she was a man for the longest time), and I just loved that book! Definitely one I'll be rereading often in the future whenever I'm in need of some comforting.

Is there one book that you believe everyone should read? Which one and why?

Oh dear…too many possibilities, especially for someone as interested in social justice as myself! Too bad I can't think of one book that includes feminism, antiracism, environmentalism, and global awareness, hehe. See: I let myself think about this one, and now I'm just paralysed with indecision. But I'm going to go with Food Matters by Mark Bittman: it's a book that lays out the health and environmental reasons for cutting back on the animal products in your diet without mentioning the horrors of how animals are treated (Bittman assumes you already know that), and lays out smart ways of doing just that. Bittman himself eats vegan before 6pm, then whatever he wants for dinner and dessert. I often feel frustrated that vegetarian and vegan diets are seen as an either/or issue, and Bittman neatly solves that problem. He also includes a number of delicious recipes, and the book is just very inspiring! I think if everyone read it, we'd see a huge change in eating habits that could help solve the nastier aspects of factory farming. Or at least, a more rational discussion of the issues.

Lastly, what's the best piece of blogging advice you've ever given or been given?

Blogging is a hobby, "an activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure": keep it guilt free! :D

Thanks, Eva!

Monday, September 12, 2011

BBAW: Who Makes a Community

Today is the first day of the fourth year of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, an annual celebration of book bloggers and the role they play in "the promotion and preservation of a literate culture actively engaged in discussing books, authors, and a lifestyle of reading." I'll have a few of the daily post topics for you this week, but if you want to get closer to the action, head over to the BBAW website for more.

Today's blogging topic is all about community...

While the awards are a fun part of BBAW, they can never accurately represent the depth and breadth of diversity in the book blogging community. Today you are encouraged to highlight a couple of bloggers that have made book blogging a unique experience for you. They can be your mentors, a blogger that encouraged you to try a different kind of book, opened your eyes to a new issue, made you laugh when you needed it, or left the first comment you ever got on your blog. Stay positive and give back to the people who make the community work for you!

It takes all kinds to make a community, and I do so hate to single some out at the expense of others, but so it always goes. I think all of us who make the time to be a part of it have something to offer the book blogging community, but for the purposes of this post, I'm going to give a random sampling of bloggers who I think, off the top of my head, are exemplifying some great aspect of being a book blogger.

Power Commenter - Kathy at Bermudaonion's Weblog. Kathy is the kind of commenter that I can only wish to be. It seems like every blog I venture to comment on, she's been there already, and whenever I have a post that seems like it's going to get only a chorus of crickets as a response, Kathy's comments reassure me that I'm not just talking to myself. I'm continually impressed by how she is a rockstar when it comes to being engaged with the community of bloggerdom.

The Meme You Like to See in Your Google Reader - In a blogosphere riddled with weekly memes, Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish has got to be the best meme I've seen since Dewey's Weekly Geeks was in its hayday. The gang at The Broke and the Bookish does a fantastic job of cooking up great weekly topics, and the posts of the people that participate are always interesting, and I love that they often start conversations instead of just those "Oh, that sounds good" comments. From what I've seen, Top Ten Tuesdays are great for the community!

The Dystopian Diva and the Small Press Princess - Lenore at Presenting Lenore and Marie at The Boston Bibliophile are two ladies I'd love to single out because they show just how much buzz even one book blogger's voice can generate for a genre or a publisher when they're willing and able to put the time and effort into sharing something they love. Lenore, whose own dystopian YA novel will be published next year, just wrapped up Dystopian August where she reviewed many dystopian stories and interviewed countless authors to preview their upcoming books in this "genre," one I happen to love.

Marie showed her enthusiasm for Europa Editions, a great smaller press, with a two week Publisher Spotlight that included reviews of Europa titles as well as interviews with Europa authors and Europa's editor-in-chief. She then followed it up this summer by pioneering a Europa Editions Challenge.

The Thoughtful Reader - Amy at Amy Reads stands out as one of many bloggers who writes the sort of posts who make us think twice about taking books or publishing at face value. Her posts are the sort that start and continue conversations about things like diversity in publishing and authenticity in books.

All these bloggers are bright, shining examples of what the rest of us book bloggers are doing on a more limited scale on a daily basis - engaging with each other in community, sharing our passion for the books and publishers we love, and thinking critically about what we're reading, why and even how we're reading it.

Thanks, ladies!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Come In and Cover Me

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

I was such a huge fan of The Well and the Mine that I was super-excited to see a forthcoming novel from Gin Phillips!

Come In and Cover Me by Gin Phillips
Riverhead, January 12, 2012


When Ren was only twelve years old, she lost her older brother, Scott, to a car accident. Since then, Scott has been a presence in her life, appearing with a snatch of a song or a reflection in the moonlight. Now, twenty-five years later, her talent for connecting with the ghosts around her has made her especially sensitive as an archaeologist. More than just understanding the bare outline of how our ancestors lived, Ren is dedicated to re-creating lives and stories, to breathing life into those who occupied this world long before us. On the cusp of the most important discovery of her career, it is ghosts who are guiding her way. But what do two long-dead Mimbres women have to tell Ren about herself? And what message do they have about her developing relationship with a fellow archaeologist, the first man to really know her since her brother's death? Come In and Cover Me is the moving story of a woman learning to let go of the past in order to move forward with her own future.

Written with the same warmth and depth of feeling that drew readers to The Well and the Mine, Phillips's debut, Come In and Cover Me is a haunting and engrossing new novel.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Kid Konnection: A Storm Called Katrina

Every Saturday, Julie at Booking Mama hosts a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm trying it out for the first time because I'm also reviewing a real, live children's book for the first time. What else can I do when Peachtree Publishers sends them to my house and they are so lovely and colorful? Anyhow, what I'm trying to say is - be gentle, world. ;-)

A Storm Called Katrina by Myron Uhlberg, illustrated by Colin Bootman
Peachtree Publishers
Ages 7-11

Louis Daniel is a 10-year-old boy growing up in New Orleans who dreams of one day being able to play his beloved cornet just like the great Louis Armstrong. When Hurricane Katrina hits, Louis and his family have to hurry to escape surging floodwaters leaving behind everything, but Louis manages to grab his horn as they’re going out the door. Little does he know how handy it will come in for his family as they head for shelter at the Superdome.

A Storm Called Katrina is a gentle introduction for younger readers to the catastrophic hurricane. Uhlberg gives the briefest of glimpses at the hardest topics – coming upon a “pile of clothes” that once was a person, spotting an abandoned pet floating on the flood waters, and the degenerating conditions at the Superdome. Colin Bootman’s illustrations do a fine job of depicting the family’s treacherous escape from the flood waters and the chaos and suffering that soon ensued within the Superdome shelter. If I have one objection, it is that the ending seems too pat, even for a very young audience. It gives the impression that, even after escaping their flooded street on a floating piece of porch, it was a simple thing to just head home after the storm. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it seems misleading to reduce the aftermath of Katrina into a brief, happy “We’re going home.” Other than this, A Storm Called Katrina is a beautifully illustrated glimpse into a terrible event with a courageous and clever hero to boot.