Sunday, October 21, 2012

Loose Leafing: The Spider Says I Love You (and some winners!)

Meet Herbert.

Herbert is my pet (fake) spider.  He hails from a toy store in London where, with the exchange rate at the time, he cost me the equivalent of around $12.  He was purchased for the purpose of frightening my best friend's then boyfriend who was so arachnophobic that when we placed Herbert on his pile of plates in the kitchen cabinet, he decided that plates were for chumps, and he didn't need one after all.  Herbert came back from London with me and has become a star of the household as my mom and I tuck him into hidden places in an effort to scare each other, or at least make each other laugh.  If you're not paying attention you may find him lurking in your box of instant oatmeal packets or in the bathroom cabinet embracing your deodorant...

Why, pray tell, am I writing you a blog post about a fake spider?  It may have something to do with the fact that I've spent most of the week away from the computer and so have no reviews written.  It's hard trying to nurse your piece of junk spine back to health while getting ready to spend most of the weekend away in NYC, so the spider's all I've got in the way of interesting things to tell you.  It may be because the spider has become a twisted way of showing love, and I think it's kind of sweet and worth writing about.  Do you have any weird ways of saying "I love you" or do you just, you know, say "I love you"? 

I don't have much to say about New York City except that I enjoyed walking the High Line which I never knew existed until I read Pete Hamill's book, Tabloid City.  I googled it and saved it up for a sunny day, which Saturday definitely was.  I navigated the subway without too much trouble, but we still walked blocks and blocks and blocks and blocks on purpose.  We visited the most ridiculously ornate CVS drug store I've ever seen and had a waiter in a restaurant that could, in my judgement, stunt double for Robert Pattinson in a crunch. 

And now for the winners of my blogiversary giveaway...

Sarah will be getting a copy of The Stolen Child

Vasilly won a copy of The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers

Meg snagged a copy of After You'd Gone

I will be e-mailing each of you shortly for your addresses.  Please write back! 

Thanks to everybody who entered and everybody who wished me a happy blogiversary.  I appreciate each and every one of you and thank you for reading!  I wish I could give a great book to all of you.  Maybe someday.  Until then, you'll have to settle for the gift of random posts about fake spiders.  ;-)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Dewey's Readathon Wrap-up

Okay, so, I may have finished up my Readathon around 1 AM on Sunday morning, fell asleep reading, then got up and wandered off to do other things like go to church and the movies and never made it back to post the end of the event meme, which I feel like I just have to do even if I am too little too late.  Do forgive me my tardiness, and perhaps I'll even return with some, like, book reviews and stuff later this week.  ;-)

Which hour was most daunting for you?

16?  17? I think.  I was desperately trying to read the last story in the The Chronicles of Harris Burdick and mostly failing to keep my eyes open, though I did finish, I'll have you know.
Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale was absolutely perfect!  Fast-paced, excellent story, and an extremely lovable main character.

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

Honestly, I can't think of a thing.  I had a total blast this time around.  Seriously, I was really down in the dumps when I started, and it was so great to be distracted by all my great internet friends and a couple great books all day on Saturday!

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

I was really happy with the mini-challenges this go round.  In the past it has seemed like many of them have been just too time-consuming.  I'm usually looking for a little break, a little fun, not a lengthy creative exercise.  Thanks mini-challenge hosts for making your challenges nice and mini and tons of fun!

How many books did you read?

I finished two, but only one in its entirety on Readathon day.

What were the names of the books you read?

Princess Acacemy by Shannon Hale plus the last few stories in The Chronicles of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg (and company) and one story out of Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things.

Which book did you enjoy most?

Princess Academy

Which did you enjoy least?

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, by default, I guess.  It's a good book, but they're short stories.  Some are better than others, and all but one of the ones I read on Readathon day were just so-so.  Though the last one might have got a raw deal, what with me being half asleep and all.

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

I didn't do any "official" cheerleading this time, but thanks for all the cheers, guys!  My advice?  It's fun to get around and cheer for all the people whose blogs you've never seen before, but even more fun to cheer for your friends.  I often neglect my bloggy friends on Readathon day in favor of meeting new bloggers, but I spent a lot of time trying to get around to my buddies this time, and it made the experience that much more fun!

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

Extremely likely.  I like to do both read and cheerlead, but not on the same day, so I guess it'll depend on the sort of mood I'm in next time around.  Reading was definitely the right choice for me this time.  Cheerleading definitely was this past spring.  What can I say?  I'm unpredictable!  ;-)

Thanks to the Readathon hosts (and everybody working behind the scenes), to the cheerleaders, and to my blogging buddies for making another great Readathon experience! 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dewey's Readathon Hour 14 Update

Reading Now: TBD

It's been __117__ pages and __115__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 5 hours 36 minutes

Cumulative Pages Read: 314

Books Completed: 1!  Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Eating?:  Shish-ka-bob!  I live in a tiny town with not even one stop light, but there's a sports bar down the street that has great wings and the best shish-ka-bobs.  I had to take a little reading break to chow on them, but it was totally worth it!  I took a picture, but now that I'm looking at it, it's abysmal and you can hardly see them in all their glory, and alas, there are no late do-overs with food photography.  Just picture marinated and beef and veggie goodness!

My shish-ka-bobs and a little eye resting sufficiently rejuvenated me so that I've finished off the wonderful Princess Academy.  I couldn't have picked a better Readathon book for myself (and I didn't, LOL, thanks!).  I'm thinking of doing some short stories now.  The Chronicles of Harris Burdick has been languishing on my nightstand forever, maybe I'll finish that.  Or maybe I'll dip into Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman.  Or maybe (hopefully) I'll manage to do both!

Mid-Event Survey
1) How are you doing? Sleepy? Are your eyes tired? 
I'm feeling good, feeling strong.  I shouldn't say this.  Whenever I say this, I immediately start feeling tired.  If anyone asks, I didn't say this.  ;-)

2) What have you finished reading?

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale.  Approximately one book more than I finished last Readathon.  Go me!

3) What is your favorite read so far?

Princess Academy by default, but I'm confident it would be a strong competitor even if I'd read other things. 

4) What about your favorite snacks?

Chocolate peanut butter pie, but the ka-bobs win for "best dinner."

5) Have you found any new blogs through the readathon? If so, give them some love!
Agh, I've actually been sorely lacking in new blog discovery, been too busy re-connecting with old friends.  Maybe I'll remedy that here shortly.  :-)
Hope everybody's still going strong!  Keep up the great reading!  

Dewey's Readathon Hour 8 Update

Reading Now: Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

It's been __103__ pages and __101__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 3 hour 33 minutes

Cumulative Pages Read: 197

Books Completed: 0

Eating?: Oh, a few things.  But most importantly - chocolate peanut butter pie!

Okay, it had a rough five-minute journey from the restaurant to here, and my iPhone photography does it absolutely no favors, but I promise it was beyond delicious.  I would say that it will probably be my best Readathon food, but there is the promise of a shish-ka-bob this evening, so the jury is still out... 
I let myself get distracted from reading for quite some time my last break - visiting friends, doing mini-challenges, taking pictures to post to Instagram, and I'm probably about to do it again.  Also, I think that nap time approach-eth, but I'm trying to hold out, and Princess Academy continuing to be awesome is helping in that regard.
Hope everybody's still going strong!  I'm off for some cheerleading and then it's back to the book!
I'll leave with my cheerleading bookmark...

Dewey's Readathon Hour 4 Update

Reading Now: Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

It's been __88__ pages and __112__ reading minutes since my last update.

Total Time Spent Reading: 1 hour 52 minutes

Cumulative Pages Read: 88

Books Completed: 0

Eating?: Peanut butter and raspberry jelly toast and a cup of caramel vanilla cream coffee with enough sugar and half and half in it to disguise the fact that it's still a cup of coffee (said the girl who hates coffee but loves a good caramel latte)

I tell you, when I really need it to come through for me, always picks me a good book.  With the help of it and my LibraryThing library, I took a gamble and let it pick me a book since I am crap at making decisions.  I would not have picked Princess Academy for myself, but so far it's been a perfect choice, which is a good testament as to why I should not make my own decisions (LOL!).  I'm totally absorbed and the pages feel like they're flying by.  Actually, I didn't really even want to stop to update and consult the internet, but then I got interrupted anyway and figured now would be as good a time as any! 

I feel like I haven't participated in a mini-challenge since a few Readathons ago, so I'm joining one today.  Uniflame is looking for pictures of our Readathon snacks, so here is my breakfast first snack.  PB and J toast!  Yum!

My parents just went for breakfast, and I have begged them to bring me home a piece of pie from the restaurant.  Cross your fingers that there will be a piece of delicious chocolate peanut butter pie in my next update!  ;-)

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon!

That's right, it's Readathon day!  Being a glutton for punishment, I've signed up to read again.  I usually do better when I just cheerlead since I usually spend too much time in front of the computer and not enough in front of a book, but I like reading, so here goes.  A warning to those who read me in a feed reader, I am planning on posting an update every few hours.  If you're not interested in Readathon posts, go ahead and mark me all as read today, but don't leave me, I promise I'll be back to my normal low rate of posting by tomorrow.  ;-)
And now for the introductory questionnaire...
1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
At home in Bloomsburg, PA, USA

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
Guess what?  I have no book stack.  However, has helpfully chosen Princess Academy by Shannon Hale as my first book, and I feel pretty good about that!

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
I'm about to have some delicious raspberry jelly on some toast.  That's something to look forward to!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
Let's see, I'm 28.  I graduated from college with a degree in political science, but ended up working in a surgical pathology lab in a hospital, which is waaaay more science than political.  Blogging is how I get my creative jollies because I certainly don't get any working full time at my day job, and I've been at this blogging thing for a recently-celebrated five years.  In fact, if you need a break today, my 5 year blogiversary giveaway is still open, so check it out if you like.  I'm giving away some of my favorite books.  (And I promise that will be the last plug for the giveaway.  Really.  Just had to sneak it in there one more time.  They're my favorite books.  I want people to read them.  LOL!)

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
Like I said up there, I didn't make a pile of books today.  I've looked and I've thought about it, and as much as the pile gets me all excited for Readathon day, it usually disappoints me by the end with how little of my exciting pile I even touched, much less read.  So I'm trying it without the pile today, so hopefully I won't be bummed out when I only read, like, one book.  Oh, and no scheduled interruptions today - that's different than at least the last two times! 
All right, enough chatter!  I'm off to read. 
Happy reading, all!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Her Last Death by Susanna Sonnenberg

I have a confession to make.  I should have read this book several years ago.  I don't mean that in the, "This book was so good, I should have read it long ago!" sense either.  Back when I first started blogging, actually it's probably part of what got me going, I did the Elle Reader's Prize.  This used to involve any schmuck off the street filling out a form to apply, after which, if you were so fortunate as to be chosen, Elle Magazine would send you three books of their choice.  Then you, amateur book reviewer, would rank them and write eensy reviews of them with the chance that your very own reviewlette would appear in the magazine, which a few of mine actually did much to my excitement.  I read some great books this way, and some very terrible ones, too. 

Now, somehow I managed to do a fiction and a non-fiction jury in the same year.  I say "somehow," but this more than likely involves them asking me and me saying, "Sure, why not?" despite the fact that I'm more of a fiction girl, I mean, if you hadn't noticed.  Anywho, the whole 3 book thing went okay.  Two were great, the third was just okay but its full-length review has gotten me more blog hits than any other one post on the blog you see before you.  Then, though, then, at the end of the season there was the Grand Prix in which all 6 of the year's top books from the monthly juries would drop into your mailbox with a very limited time to read all and pick a favorite.  Turns out, when you do a non-fiction and a fiction jury, twelve excellent looking books would land on your doorstep.  This is staggeringly awesome, and also, how you say, hard to handle if you are a big, slow reader like yours truly.  I, ahem, picked a favorite, but I may have neglected to read all of my non-fiction selections.  I managed 4 out of 6 non-fiction selections, and as it turns out, I don't need to feel bad because, well, this one would not have unseated the one that I chose.  ;-)

Nonetheless, this book has been waiting on my shelves, and helpfully picked it for me.

Her Last Death is Susanna Sonnenberg's memoir of her rocky history with her mother.  It starts in what we are to take as the present when Sonnenberg has finally settled down to family life with her husband and two boys in Montana.  It's there that she gets the call that her mother has been seriously injured in car accident, and it speaks volumes from the start that when she receives the call, she doesn't believe it's true.  Sonnenberg faces the choice of whether to rush to what could be her mother's deathbed or not.  At its heart, Her Last Death is, perhaps, an excuse for why she eventually couldn't bring herself to go.  As Sonnenberg unpacks her memories of her effusive, overbearing mother who was addicted to painkillers, cocaine, and sex, who lied without a second thought, who stole her teenage boyfriends, who introduced her to cocaine at a young age, readers will find themselves ultimately sympathetic and disgusted with both mother and daughter.

I didn't love Her Last Death, but there is that certain something about it that drew me in.  Sonnenberg's writing is fluid and draws out the essence of her twisted childhood with skill.  Well-chosen anecdotes are strung together to reveal the dynamic of a dangerous mother-daughter relationship.  Sonnenberg actively loathes her mother, loves her, is frightened by her, is disgusted by her and is impressed by her.  She wants to hold her mother at a distance but has a daughter's desire to share her biggest news with her mother even if she knows hurt will follow every time she makes a connection.  Sonnenberg's memoir captivates with the same power of an Augusten Burroughs memoir, not because it's so enjoyable, but because it's well written and simply hard to look away from these train wrecks of lives so well depicted. 

I was enthralled by Sonnenberg's depiction of her early childhood with her wildly unpredictable mother.  However, as Sonnenberg herself grows to adulthood, having affairs with married teachers and escaping into meaningless sex, I lost much of what sympathy I had for her which made the latter half of the book a bigger challenge.  I was often disgusted by her behavior and unwilling to believe that her mother was at the root of the problem, which seems to be her desired angle.  Certainly, a bad mother can damage a child, but at some point, the child grows up and has to take responsibility for her own actions which it seemed to take Sonnenberg an awful long time to do.  Her Last Death is a fascinating and well-told story of a relationship, indeed it often is a well-balanced account of a mother's pros and cons, but when readers begin to lose sympathy for the memoirist, Her Last Death loses its bite.

(Does this require the old disclaimer?  I got this book for free from Elle magazine, like, four years ago in exchange for my honest opinion (which I failed to formulate because I only just read it now), but it was, well, four years ago, so who even cares?  There, we have been duly disclaimed, just in case.  ;-) )

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Leafing Through Life is 5!

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away or maybe just five years ago right here, the blog you see before you now was born with an abysmal post that was filled with too many ellipses and seemed doubtful that I'd continue at this for five months, much less five years.  Now I count people I've never laid eyes upon in person to be my friends.  I've read and reviewed countless books.  I've been to BEA not once but twice and put some faces to some friends and made some new ones.  My TBR pile is out of control and filled with books I would never have picked up without some helpful nudging.  My e-mail box runneth over in a way that I could never even have imagined with messages from people who, for some reason, want me to review their books.

I have been challenged, I've read-along, and I've been totally overwhelmed by my Google Reader.  I've got a bookish wish list that could reach about to the moon and back.  I've stayed up late into the night reading and cheerleading for Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon (and will again soon!).  I've seen bloggers come and go (and stay and stay!) and the book blogosphere go from a place where, even if you didn't follow everyone, you at least knew most people's names to a community where I couldn't even dream of even being passingly familiar with half the members.   I've been exhilarated and exhausted by it all.  Such is the life of a book blogger, and it's been my pleasure to be one for five years.  Thanks so much to everybody who's stuck with me and my blog even when I haven't been uber-dependable, and thanks all for inspiring me with your own blogs, for your great tastes in books, for commenting here and generally making book blogging the best hobby a person could have
Enough with all the sentimental windbagging, though.  Honestly, usually I forget my blogiversary.  I think of it a few weeks too late and let it pass without fanfare.  Who wants to hear me wax poetic about book bloggerdom anyway?  But five years, though, that's major, right?  So, I figure it's time for a giveaway of a few of my favorite books.  What better way to celebrate all the great books blogging has brought my way and my fellow bloggers and friends who have helped keep me at it all this time?  A few weeks back, I wrote a Top Ten Tuesday featuring the best ten books I've read since I started book blogging.  I'd love to send 3 different winners a new copy of one of those books, so check out the post, which has links to my reviews of the ten chosen ones.  Pick one out and fill out the form (Look, I learned how to make a form!  Who says an old dog blogger can't learn new tricks?) below if you want to win. It's open internationally, as long as The Book Depository ships to your country, until 8 am EST on October 21st, when I'll announce the winners.  There are no special requirements to enter, but if you wanted to spread the word, I'd sure appreciate it.  I'd like to, you know, actually have 3 winners.  ;-)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman

The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman takes us into the 1930s world of Patience Murphy, recently certified midwife, as she attends to a growing number of mothers around her West Virginia home.  Patience's adventures as a country midwife give us a cross-section of the population: black, white, rich, poor, young, old, and even Amish.  Seeing the many ways women cope with the impending birth is fascinating.  Some scream and fight against it, others dance with their husbands, nearly carefree until the last moment.  Patience assists with all kinds of births, hurrying off to places unknown at any hour of the day or night, often receiving nothing but gratitude in return for her services during the hard times of the Depression.  Patience's frequent calls to attend at births keep up the pace of a book to brisk clip, but in between Harman is hard at work drawing out a complex character in Patience herself. 

Patience has a much richer history than at first meets the eye, and Harman slowly leads readers into the dark corners of the past that has had her on the run.  Patience is no stranger to heartbreak or to tragedy, but her experience has opened her up to viewing all kinds of people as no different than her, which makes her stick out like a sore thumb among the racist whites of West Virginia who don't take kindly to her setting up house with a black girl, her new birthing assistant, Bitsy.  As Patience faces threats and troubles from all sides, she finds herself an unexpected ally in Daniel Hester, the local veterinarian, who threatens to poke holes in the shield she has erected to fend off those who might be too curious about her mysterious past. 

Aside from some minor quibbles about the redundancy that occurs in the rhythm of the book (birth, memories, birth, more memories, birth...), I very much enjoyed The Midwife of Hope River.  Patricia Harman has knit together a community of mostly lovable yet very different characters from the well-off wife of a local coal baron to the older, wiser midwife to the black community who takes Patience under her wing.  At the center is Patience who is a strong and well-developed character in her own right but also a lens through which to view the times.  Patience's life has brought her into the paths of lesbians, flappers, workers unionizing to struggle for their rights, coal miners trying to scrape out a meager living, coal barons losing everything to the market crash, and various and sundry "ordinary" people who dot the West Virginia countryside making a living however they can.  Through Patience's lens, both the 1920s the Depression era are brought to life.

Patience is a captivating character who I easily fell in love with.  She is strong, capable, and stands up for her principles, doing what her heart tells her even when it's dangerous and possibly deadly.  The Midwife of Hope River is a quick read and absorbing piece of historical fiction.  Here's hoping that Patricia Harman has a few more historical midwives up her sleeve!

Thanks to the publisher, William Morrow Paperbacks, for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest review.