Sunday, March 31, 2013

Loose Leafing: Happy Easter and Good Stuff

Happy Easter, everyone! 

I actually did my Easter celebrating with both family and friends yesterday.  Instead of having several Easter activities spanning two days, we compiled them all into one.  It was a fantastic idea.  Not only was it a nice low-key dinner, we also had fun dyeing eggs together, and celebrating my now eleven-year-old cousin's birthday.  Even better, yesterday's weather was beautiful, while today's is kind of drizzly, so all in all, yesterday was the perfect un-Easter and today is the perfect day to relax and catch up on some reading and blogging. 

After one day of nice weather and hope for some more in the near future, it's dawned on me how down in the dumps I have been about, well, everything.  With the return of decent weather, I've found a new drive to try and focus on the good things about life instead of being always mired in the less good things.  So, today I'm not going to tell you about how I'm playing a months long game of whack-a-mole with various physical ailments that seems not to be flagging or how my job will soon be piling on more work that might make it physically impossible to stay there in the long term, but I will tell you about...

Dogsitting.  I'm live-in dog/house sitting for a friend of an acquaintance again.  This has been one of those mixed blessings where it seems like it should be easy money, and in a way it is, but then a slew of unexpected events kind of put a wrench in the whole "easy" part - escape artist Yorkies, malfunctioning garage doors, an assortment of murdered small animals, etc.  Now, on the eve of the last day of what will probably be my last time dogsitting (they're moving away), I've come to enjoy the time to kind of put my life on pause, relax, step back, and re-orient myself in what's going on with me because I don't have to be bedeviled by the details.  That, and a little extra cash is nothing to sneeze at, too.  Even with all its bumps in the road, I really think I'm going to miss this. 

Getting My Picture Taken With the Easter Bunny.  A co-worker of mine and I happend upon the Easter Bunny in the halls of the hospital where we work on Friday, and we couldn't pass up the chance to nab him for a photo-op.  I truly can't remember the last time I had my picture taken with the famous Bunny, but it put a smile on my face.

Travel Plans.  Travel plans are always good and I finally have a trip to D.C. set in stone.  I'm looking forward to wandering museums, marveling at monuments, and dining on delicious food a few weeks from now.  Even better, it seems like this could be just the beginning of a good season of getting out of town!

The West Wing.  Speaking of D.C., how excited am I that I and the parents have re-subscribed to Netflix just in time to stream the episodes of one of my very favorite TV shows ever that I had totally forgotten was one of my very favorites.  Here's to a show that shows you that your jaded attitude toward politics is totally valid while at the same time giving you some hope that there might be out there in politics a few decent people who want to do some good for the American people in whatever way they can.  Watching it again, I'm pretty sure I might be able to blame Aaron Sorkin in large part for my political science degree that I'm putting to no good use.  I think younger me wanted to be as articulate and passionate as his characters.  Younger me also failed to notice that said articulate and passionate characters all had (fictional) law degrees from Ivy League universities and probably weren't getting anywhere paying their law school loans while they were busy serving at the pleasure of the President.  Oops.  My career aspirations aside, I freaking love this show, and it's put me off nearly all the shows that are actually airing new episodes right now

Keeping In Touch.  The whole living in somebody else's house thing that I've been doing this past week really helped eliminate most of the distractions that keep me from doing a better job keeping in touch with a lot of friends.  I spent a lot of Friday night phoning and texting some people that I'd been neglecting, and it was good to catch up with them, so good I hope to do it more often.  Turns out I miss these people.  They should all travel with me, and then we could have a good stuff double-whammy!

I think that wraps up the good stuff for now.  That's quite a bit more good stuff than I expected, as it so happens.   Here's hoping I can find so much good in the coming weeks. 

So, what's good in your life?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Leafing Lessons #2: Embracing Your New E-reader

After the success of last week's "class" on more purposeless reading, I've decided I might just as well keep preaching my various and arcane bookish lessons at you.  It's far more easy and entertaining than doing the practical work of, you know, reviewing books I've read.  This week we'll delve into how to love your new e-reader, the gadget that maybe you thought you'd never have much less actually enjoy having.

Disclaimer:  It is possible, nay, highly likely that you will find little to no useful advice in this post, but with any luck, you will be mildly entertained.

Further disclaiming:  Once again we're enjoying frenetic changes of point of view in which the words "I" and "you" both pretty much refer to me as I give sage advice make excuses for my odd bookish behavior.  But maybe also actually you, too!  Carry on being perplexed. It's all part of the fun.

  • Buy Cheap Ebooks.  Download free ones.  It's fun, it's easy, and very often, I've found, you can come by unexpectedly excellent reads on the cheap.  Deals abound - I heart Daily Cheap Reads and also when April at Good Books and Good Wine writes up her Fill Your Kindle posts.  Also, you can get lots of classics for free and then read them in a font size that won't cripple your eyesight forever. 

  • Um, then read some of those books.  Sure the little cover pictures are fun to look at, but once in awhile it might befit you to read some of those excellent and exciting books taking up residence on that book buying device of yours.  Ask me how I know.

  • Let not your conscience trouble you about your fresh ebook obsession.  Do you feel like a poop for holding out so long on getting an ereader only to quickly dismiss all your objections to abandoning the paper books of your youth for their e-cousins?  Fret not, just open your wallet a little wider and buy all the books, paper and plastic (?) alike!  Extra points for buying the e-book version of the paper book you already have, and vice versa, of course.  Is your obsessive tracking of the Kindle Daily Deal and the monthly $3.99 and under specials making you feel like a nutcase because you actually wake up early on the first of the month to see what new treasures await?  Additionally, do you feel occasional guilt for feeding the Amazon machine? Fear not, any money spent on books and any excitement felt about books is never wasted.  Also, everybody knows you're a nutcase already.  Just go with it.

  • Slurp up a few "Read It Now" selections on NetGalley.  All the fun of reading and reviewing e-galleys before they're available to the public without that unpleasant fear of rejection or that vaguely disgusting feeling of selling yourself to publishers by talking about how you are universally loved (or, uh, not) across sixteen types of social media where you post insightful content (or, ummm, not) with stunning, nearing on robotic regularity (or...well...not). Maybe you can work up to requesting books later,  when your self-esteem has increased, and after you're caught up with all the paper ones.  Quit laughing.  I can catch up any time I want.  If I quit my job...and sleeping...and eating...  Wait, I can read and eat at the same time.  Put eating back on the menu.

  • Revel in being able to turn pages with no more than your pinkie knuckle.  Do you have a serious need to peel and eat an orange but can't bear to put your book down long enough to do it?  Now you can! Just make sure you don't get any juice on your pinkie knuckle or you might find yourself trying to "turn pages" with your markedly less dexterous elbow which is mildly more challenging.

  • Get in the Cloud.  And welcome to the 21st century where you can sync your reading across six different devices (or whatever) that are about 74.5555% smarter than even you can contemplate.  I mean, I've got no great love of reading books on my iPhone, but it feels good knowing that if I'm stuck waiting somewhere without a book with me (horrors!), my trusty Kindle App can save my foolish @$$ from certain boredom unless I've fallen into a scary 3G dead zone. 

  • Find excuses to travel.  Then when you say things like, "I only got this thing so when I travel I don't have to lug around my weight in books just so I'll have an appropriate amount of reading options while away from home," it will no longer be total crap.  And you get to travel.  Without any lasting damage to your spinal cord.

  • E-books?  Ebooks?   Are you bewildered by whether you need to use that pesky dash between your "e" and books or reader?  Me too.  You should probably use a mixture of the two and hope no one notices.  Extra points for then drawing attention to the already obvious fact that you are a dolt. 

This post brought to you by my Christmas Kindle Paperwhite, an obsession I never thought I'd have.

Now, if you wanted to recommend a few more sites where I might find decent ebooks on the cheap, that would totally not be enabling me.  That would just be a really nice thing for you to do.  Just saying.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Come In and Cover Me by Gin Phillips

Ren Taylor has been haunted for most of her life.  Ever since her older brother was killed in a car accident when she was twelve, he has been lingering on the fringes of her life, a comfort to her as her family disintegrates in his absence.  As an adult, Ren becomes an archaeologist bent on re-creating the stories of people who lived ages ago.  It's then that she discovers that Scott isn't the only ghost she can see.  A girl, an artist of a long dead race, reveals herself to Ren and leads her to a career-making discovery.  Years pass with no more sign of the artist's work until the portentous phone call of another archaeologist who may just have unearthed the key to the rest of Ren's artist's history.  When Ren joins the dig, her ghosts are closer than ever, but clinging to them might cost her a real chance at love in the here and now.

Come In and Cover Me has most certainly cemented Gin Phillips as one of my favorite authors.  While it might not quite equal her debut effort, The Well and the Mine, which would be incredibly hard to equal, Come In and Cover Me has Phillips' talent on full display.

First of all, the setting is stunning.  I have to admit that I don't read many books set in the American Southwest, and Come In and Cover Me practically has me wanting to go pay it a visit.  Phillips' descriptions of both the unexpectedly lush canyon and the desert terrain where they are digging are absolutely stellar.  It's not often that I'm so captivated by a place in fiction that I wouldn't mind spending the day digging for bones and pottery in the hot desert wind.  The days and nights Ren spends at the ranch digging for, what is for them, buried treasure and discovering a romance blooming between herself and the other archaeologist on site, Silas, practically glow with the kind of surreality I associate with good memories.

Next up are the characters, each of which is carefully crafted.  Ren is a tightly wrapped package that spends the entire book being unwrapped.  One moment she is prickly and closed off, the next she is alive with passion, and still the next, she is desperate for love.  She's as often unlikeable as she is loveable and sympathetic.  In other words, she's entirely realistic.  Silas is Ren's near opposite, an open book eager to discover Ren's past by sharing his own.  When it comes to work, she's driven by people, and he's driven by data, and their mostly friendly arguments and testing of each other is pitch perfect.  Their chemistry is instant, but their relationship has a slow build that satisfies.  Both of the main characters are great, and Phillips gives them a strong supporting cast, too.  Ed, a retired government employee who took on archaeology later in life, has a straight-faced sense of humor that entertains, and Paul, the young wanna-be archaeologist is both earnest and awkward alongside the rest, and creates a natural avenue for answering some readers' questions about archaeology. The characters' interactions are so natural that you can't help wanting to pull up a chair to their campfire to enjoy their company awhile.

Finally, Phillips reveals herself to be gifted at weaving many stories into one.  The way the book unfolds slowly unpacking Ren's stored-up grief while examining the scars and struggles it leaves her facing in the present all while opening up a window on the life of Ren's artist is downright artful.  The shifts in the story are never jarring, and while the talking to ghosts is a little odd at first, Ren's interactions with them reveal her passions and the lessons she has yet to learn.  The way Phillips peels off layer after layer to get at the heart of Ren's story reminds me of another of my favorite authors, Maggie O'Farrell.

Come In and Cover Me is a well-crafted narrative, seasoned with history and magical realism, that explores one memorable character's journey out of grief and into learning to love again.

I can't wait to see what Gin Phillips comes up with next!

(Many thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest review.)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Tops of My Spring TBR Pile

There are all kinds of great books coming out this spring, and even more great books that have been out for ages that want reading this spring.  Today's Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and Bookish is asking us what books are at the top of our spring TBR lists.  Here are ten books I'm excited to read this spring!

1. The Mapmaker's War by Ronlyn Domingue -"In an ancient time, in a faraway land, a young woman named Aoife is allowed a rare apprenticeship to become her kingdom’s mapmaker, tasked with charting the entire domain. Traveling beyond its borders, she finds a secretive people who live in peace, among great wealth." Okay, so this sounds a little more fantasy than I was expecting, but I'm still very curious!

2. The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag - Okay, so it's a house where the main character gets 99 days to turn her life around with the help of talking portraits featuring former residents like George Eliot and Beatrix Potter.  Why yes, that does sound very interesting indeed.

3. Taken by Erin Bowman - I was very excited when this one showed up on my doorstep from Harper Teen.  Dystopian YA about a place where all the boys vanish at midnight on their eighteenth birthdays.  Yes, please.

4. The House Girl by Tara Conklin - I just started this book about a slave girl in Virginia whose story overlaps with a modern lawyer's case to get reparations for descendants of American slaves.  Looks promising!

5. A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty - I've been loving Jaclyn Moriarty's books since I read Feeling Sorry for Celia to take a break from required reading in college. It's a little different because it's a fantasy set partially in a world where colors are dangerous entities and partially in our world with a crack in between.  Sounds fantastic! 

6. Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw - I kind of "oopsed" into a review copy of this one through Library Thing's Early Reviewers.  I'm kind of so dismally behind on things they've sent me in the past that I figured if I just requested a few to remind myself of my interest in them, I wouldn't even stand a chance of actually getting chosen for one.  I did.  What better opportunity to rehab my Early Reviewer reputation than to start with this book about five Malaysians looking for a better life in Shanghai?

7. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami - Ti over at Book Chatter is hosting a spring read-along this spring, and I'm considering joining up.  I think I'd like to have some company for my first Murakami. 

8. The Registry by Shannon Stoke - William Morrow Paperbacks sent me an e-mail about their "New Adult" books, and this one struck my fancy. "In this patriotic new America, girls are raised to be brides, sold at auction to the highest bidder. Boys are raised to be soldiers, trained by the state to fight to their death.  Nearly eighteen, beautiful Mia Morrissey excitedly awaits the beginning of her auction year. But a warning from her married older sister raises dangerous thoughts. Now, instead of going up on the block, Mia is going to escape to Mexico—and the promise of freedom."  If this is what New Adult can be, I'm definitely interested!

9. Fever by Lauren DeStefano - The last book in the Chemical Garden Trilogy just came out, but I haven't yet read the second one.  I loved Wither, so I'm looking forward to catching up with the rest of this series. 

10. The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Xu - I dipped into this one recently, but I wasn't quite ready to dig into something quite so literary yet (again).  It's about a man injured in a hotel explosion in Shanghai who loses his ability to speak Chinese.  Reviews are mixed, but I'm still curious.

What are you looking forward to reading this spring?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Leafing Lessons #1: Reading Without Purpose

This morning I sat down to write a book review.  Instead out popped a tongue-in-cheekish "advice" column of my recently learned bookish lessons.  I so enjoyed writing it that I might make a feature of it.  It's likely you won't find any great new ground-breaking wisdom to enrich your blog, your life, and your reading, but with any luck both you and I will be amused, and I will remember my own good advice to myself.  Herein you will also get to enjoy the astonishing wonder of my very favorite point of view, the second person, wherein the "you" obviously refers to me but could refer to you also.  Behold the perplexing wonder of the second person! (This should also serve as an apt warning not to pen your debut novel in the second person.  Kids, only try this at home.)

Just because you bought that book for 99 cents for your Kindle doesn't mean you have to be suspicious of it.  Okay, usually it does.  We live in an age where everything "worth having"  seems to always be getting more expensive, and quickly.  Usually when you spend 99 cents on something you get what you paid for: crap.  But not always.  Sometimes you luck into something good.

A trusted book blogger is worth their weight in books (and more!).  Sometimes when you're browsing the Kindle Daily Deal and you see a book that sounds like it might be right up your alley, but you're kind of afraid because it's only 99 cents, and it might be total garbage, all you need is the trusty Book Blogger Search Engine to tap into all those who would lead you down the correct path.  With extra kudos to those who you know write a negative review of a book they didn't love once in a while, so you can be extra-confident that when they sing the praises of a book, they're totally giving it to you straight.

It's okay just to read what you want to read when you want to read it.  It's wildly liberating, actually.  At least three quarters of the book bloggers reading this who have posting schedules as long as both their arms put together, a to-review pile that takes up a few shelves, an immense list of challenges to conquer, not to mention those 16 readalongs they've signed up for are now struggling to wipe the bewildered looks off their faces.  I'm talking to you!  I see you!  I know you, fellow book blogger.  I am you.  Sometimes if you happen to start a book that you're not "supposed" to be reading and it really grabs you, just keep reading.  It will remind you of the jolly good old days when you just read books for the hell of it before you started trying to make reading into an unpaid career with all sorts of rules and schedules and deadlines to meet.  It will reboot your love of reading and maybe poke your enthusiastic inner blogger who inexplicably went missing after a year or two of gleeful blogging, leaving behind the "routine and obligation" blogger you became. 


It's also okay to delay going into the grocery store and sit in the parking lot with your car running like a creeper if you have only 5% of that really good book left, and you want to read it without any interruptions from anybody.  Even if it makes you late, and people start to wonder if you got lost coming home from work. It's also acceptable to only mention that you're late because you had to stop at the grocery store when your friends and family call wondering where you are.  Divulging the "creeper with a Kindle" part of the story is totally optional.  If you can't keep quiet, perhaps you'll only want to tell the true bibliophiles in your life or maybe you'll keep quiet and save the dirty details for your book blog, you big Kindle creeper, you. 

You forget this, but paranormal YA almost-romances are good for the soul and should be read on a semi-regular basis.  A few summers ago I devoured paranormal YA like it was candy, and I really like candy a lot.  I can't figure out why I stopped. Reading paranormal YA, that is, I'm still eating plenty of candy.  (Small voice mutters in the background, "See Exhibit A: Reading as Unpaid Career").  And I'll admit that maybe YA paranormal almost (and actual) romances perhaps aren't as great for everybody's soul as they are mine, but I bet there are some slightly more plot-heavy lovelies that don't require you to wade through pages of flowery, if excellent, prose and employ your many powers of deductive reasoning and just let you enjoy a story without having to do too much work.    Don't forget to read these once in a while.  Your reading doesn't always have to be so gosh durned purposeful all the time, for crying out loud.

These lessons brought to you by Angelfall by Susan Ee, which I (you?) may have purchased from Amazon for a measly 99 cents at the recommendation of several trusted book bloggers, who I was very right to trust, of course.  Sorry, it's not 99 cents anymore, but the price is still extremely reasonable, just in case you want to try it out for yourself.  Careful, though, it might just make you into a Kindle creeper like me.

Have you learned any reading lessons this week? 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Series I Want to Start Reading

I'm pretty excited about this week's Top Ten Tuesday.  As it turns out there are about a zillion series that I want to start reading, but haven't gotten around to quite yet.  There are about a zillion more that I have started that I need to continue, but that's another topic for another day.  This whole series thing is a slippery slope, I'll tell you.  Here are the top ten series I need to start - hopefully sooner and not later!

1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - I've had a good chunk of this series taking up space on my shelves for some time.  So long that I'm actually getting rid of all but the first book because they're all immense hardcovers, and I'm convinced that maybe I'll have better luck if I just read them on my Kindle! 

2. The Dark Tower by Stephen King - I have almost all of this series on my shelves, too, but have never read more than the first few pages of The Gunslinger. 

3. Divergent by Veronica Roth - This is one of those books I had to pick up because everybody seems to be so in love with it, but it's been waiting on my shelf for a year now.  Fail.

4. Delirium by Lauren Oliver - This series is just wrapping up, and this book was one of my first Kindle acquisitions when I got it at Christmas.  Looking forward to getting into this one!

5. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz - Before my dad drives me crazy about reading them!

6. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl - What with all the movie excitement, I may have purchased all four of the books when they were a Kindle Daily Deal a few weeks back.  Now, here's hoping I actually like them!

7. Shades of London Maureen Johnson - I may have grabbed The Name of the Star when it was the Kindle Daily Deal last Sunday.  I'm pretty sure all the bloggers I follow loved it, and the next book in line just came out.  Time to get on it!

8. The Flavia de Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley - Pretty much all of my blogging friends seem to love Flavia, too.  I finally managed to score a copy of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie at a local library book sale not long ago, so I can finally get started!

9. Shatter Me by Taherah Mafi -  I'm so right on the edge of going on a YA reading spree.  I've been reading lots of YA blogs about all the great books coming out in the recent past, but I haven't been reading much of it.  I think my Kindle is opening the door to a new period of YA obsession, and I kind of can't wait.  This is one that I was super excited to see on sale for Kindle (and I may have a slight obsession with buying books on sale for my Kindle.  I'm not sure you may have noticed...LOL!)

10. Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi - See above comment. ;-)

What series are you excited to start reading?  And even better yet, what other series would you recommend I read? 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace

Jason Priestley is feeling kind of pathetic.  He's living over a video game shop, next to that place that everyone thought was a brothel but wasn't.  In between writing snarky reviews for the free paper they hand out on the train in London, he keeps busy watching his ex's dream life unfold via Facebook while he...eats soup.  By all accounts, Jason is trapped in a horrible rut, waiting for his real life to start while he drinks bizarre Polish alcoholic beverages with his best friend and roommate Dev, who keeps his customer-free retro video game business afloat with the profits from his father's Brick Lane restaurants. 

Things are going along more or less miserably when Jason has a run-in with a girl, because there's always a girl.  He helps her get into a taxicab with an inordinate amount of stuff, and is left with the memory of her smile, the lingering sense that he should have asked her out for a drink, and one disposable camera.  When Dev convinces Jason that they have to develop the photos, Jason's suddenly hurtling down a rabbit hole toward laughable lunacy and self-discovery as he sets out to find the girl in the pictures and the hope she left behind. 

I didn't like Charlotte Street as much as I'd hoped.  I was hoping for a laugh-out-loud funny, twisted love story.  What I got was the tale of an irritatingly immature guy who through a series of mostly unrelated events matures to the point of being tolerable but not for any reason that is readily apparent.  While bumbling one's way to self-actualization might be the way it happens, I didn't find that it made for an especially compelling story. 

While Charlotte Street was amusing, I didn't find myself laughing so much as being almost squirmingly uncomfortable with all the awkward scrapes Jason stumbles into.  I struggle with the kind of humor that relies on your relating to a character having crushingly embarrassing, shamefully awkward moments.  Even on TV, when other people are laughing, I find myself inwardly cringing.  This books is full to the brim with those sorts of sitcom scenarios that I find uncomfortable rather than hilarious, which is, I'm sure, more a problem with this reader than with the book itself.  Humor is one of those things that is so subjective that it's hard to please everyone, and I'm sure the humor found in Charlotte Street has the potential to appeal to a large audience, that, uh, maybe doesn't so much include me.

I loved the premise.  I loved the beginning of the story where he has the hope of meeting the girl.  I even continued chuckling at some of the humor devices Wallace kept falling back on throughout the length of the book, like how Jason is not that Jason Priestley, and the apartment being next to the not-brothel. I even liked the ending and how it seemed oddly more feasible than much of the meat of the book.  Unfortunately, the middle meandered for so long that the story bogged itself down and left me longing to turn the last page for all the wrong reasons.

(Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest review.)