Monday, August 25, 2014

Bout of Books: Wrap-Up

Bout of Books

Wow, in terms of blogging, I had a lousy Bout of Books.  I wrote my sign-up/un-goals post and then disappeared from the blogosphere utterly.  The good news is, that's because I was actually reading.  I did a little better than I somewhat negatively predicted and read two books instead of a a mere one and I half.  I read...

Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert (325 pages)

and (finally!)

Divergent by Veronica Roth  (487 pages)

That's a total of 812 pages or roughly 2 and a half times what I would read in a normal week.  Not too shabby.  Plus, both books I read were excellent, fast-reading readathon picks and all-around excellent books.

 My mom (Bonnie!) who participated along with me read all 5 books she set out to read.  They are...

The Giver by Lois Lowry (180 pages)
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (163 pages)
The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan (211 pages)
Dear Zoe by Philip Beard (196 pages)
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (194 pages)

...for a total of 944 pages.  She enjoyed all five, but Bridge to Terabithia was her favorite.

All this reading has been fun, but now I have to get back to this blogging thing.  How come I can't do all these things at once??          

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bout of Books 11

Bout of Books

Here ye, here ye - here lies my intention to participate in the Bout of Books readathon taking place this week.  Last time it helped to re-energize my reading and my blogging, too, so here's hoping it will do so yet again.  My blogging life is toddling along more or less as or better than expected, however my reading life needs a little more love just about now seeing as the TBR books are threatening to overtake the house.

Here is the blurb from their handy-dandy website.

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

My goal?  Well, I hate goals actually, so my goal this time is to have no goals, to put no pressure upon myself to live up to some uncertain standard all you fast readers of the world can achieve with ease.  In my life, I've found that the more goals I have, the more disappointed I become when I can't quite achieve them, and suddenly I'm on the fast track to self-loathing when I haven't read all the books/lost all the weight/done all the exercising/achieved all the career status that I planned, ergo I can't be happy with anything that I have achieved.

I intend to spend more time reading than usual, and I have already actually deleted the stupid TwoDots game off of my phone in hopes of achieving a more stress-free and reading-full coming week.  I'm not sure if I will take the plunge into the mounting pile of review copies that is looming on my desk or whether I'll eschew bloggerly responsibility to, say, inhale the whole Divergent series in one gulp so I can stop being one of the last few dystopian YA lovers of the world to have read that.

Exciting news, too, folks, my mom, who was recently overtaken by an obsession with BookTube and, consequentially, a mad scramble to buy all the brilliant YA books she's been missing all her life, is also going to take part with me this time around.  I may or may not be hoping this is an indication that I might be able to persuade her to do the next Dewey's 24 Hour thon which I am always harping on her about.  But I digress, my mom (or "Bonnie" as she insists I refer to her for the purposes of this blog post) has, like, real goals for the Bout of Books (I guess somebody has to.)In this, her first official Bout of Books she intends to read the following:

She says, "Is that enough?"  Jeez, I hope so or she'll put my slow reading self to shame.  Also, I told her she'll probably have to budget some time for weeping.  Seriously, have you read any of these?

Here's hoping for a week of extra-excellent reading - wish us luck!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Loose Leafing: A Friendship in Bad Selfies

In case you missed the post where I guiltily admitted that if I didn't have the time to write up two or three posts on a weekend, the blog would almost surely go dark for a week, you've just seen it.  Or, wait, maybe you just didn't see it.  I didn't have time to amuse you with my bookish ramblings last week because I was busy catching up with an old friend who came to visit for the weekend.

 That's her (and me) at Walden Pond.
Methinks Thoreau would probably not be impressed.

With this friend, our relationship may be primarily defined by our penchant for taking ridiculous selfies.  I don't remember exactly when it started, but I know it started before "selfie" was made into a legitimate term.  We referred to them as the much clunkier "self-taking photographs." It could have started when I visited her when she was abroad in London while we were both in college.  We took a scenic and also hilarious bus tour through the Scottish Highlands and alienated most of our tour group by being irritatingly reclusive and refusing any and all well-intentioned offers from others to take our picture, instead favoring the juvenile inclination to take selfie "thug shots" at any and all historic landmarks.

Rockin' the porch couch is almost as scary as the future.

Whether it started there or not, I have a fine catalog of ridiculous photos of her and I with lots of chins making stupid faces.  There's the one where we're sitting on my family's discarded loveseat on my front porch in our graduation caps looking intentionally terrified either of the future or of what big hicks we looked like during that brief window of time when we had a "porch couch" to sit on. There's a winner from Thanksgiving where one of us is "drinking" out of the gravy boat.  We even went through a lengthy phase in which we would buy a disposable camera and take ourselves to a nearby amusement park where we would take selfies and crazy shots of each other on various rides.  Secure your loose items?  I think not!  Ergo, I have some fantastic pictures where we look utterly terrified by going through the train tunnel, a backwards taken shot of me being splashed on the log flume, and one of my personal favorites, a shot from the Great Bear at Hersheypark where I'm grinning like an idiot, and the location of the cloud behind me clearly shows that I'm upside down in the sky.  All this even before those great cameras that "officially" take your pictures on all the rides.

 She is a selfie taking professional from way back.

We proved this weekend that it doesn't matter how old you get or how many years its been since you rode a particular roller coaster, when you're a cheeseball like us, you never forget where the camera is, and you definitely don't forget to pose for it.  This past weekend, the first time on the coaster we both spontaneously yanked ourselves from average roller coaster enjoyment to give an enthusiastic thumbs up as we zoomed under the camera. The second time we planned a little better, and that shot elicited the rarest of instances.  We bought the picture instead of just giggling at it on the display screen.  Observe:

 Disclaimer: My face doesn't really look like that...

I hope you laughed.  I worked hard on perfecting that look.  It even got some laughs from the guy who was sitting behind us.

Here's a few other highlights from our weekend adventuring.

There's the cute one from the train...


 ...and also the one where I look like a scared photo-bombing phantom.


There's one thing you can say for Crystal and me - for better or worse, we'll always have stupid selfies!

Do you and your friends have any goofy traditions?  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

Stand back, world, I'm about to attempt to review an e-book.  This just in, I am absolute crap about reviewing e-books.  At this point in my sad, feeble blogging life, I am nearly always about 8 to 10 books behind when it comes to reviewing because reviewing books is hard and requires peace and quiet, and also I am a lazy procrastinator.  In an attempt to guilt myself into reviewing them, I leave all 8 to 10 books taking up precious real estate on my desk until I do right by them, so obviously, if I'm going to review a book, it's going to be one that's cluttering up my desk, right? 

Now, I have attempted to clutter up my desk with my Kindle, but it doesn't seem to have the right effect, and eventually it needed a charge, and it vacated my desk anyway.  Nonetheless, since NetGalley probably hates me (or probably should), I really should attempt to do the impossible and review e-books.  Speaking of impossible (watch out for this great segue), I thought it was going to be impossible for me to finally read Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink.  It's kind of a long book and non-fiction, too, which I tend to read at an even more glacial rate than my norm.  This is where I discovered another perk of ye olde e-reader.  Regardless of how long a book is, you can't tend to focus on it when you're reading it on a Kindle (or other device of your choice).  This was brilliant at keeping me from fixating on the length of the book instead of the quality.  Anyhow, let's try this review thing.

Five Days at Memorial, as I'm fairly sure you've probably heard, is Sheri Fink's non-fiction account of five days at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans during and following the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina.  Fink spends the first portion of the book re-telling of the events as they unfolded based upon the accounts of the people who were there.  It should be no surprise that under the natural disaster conditions things got ugly, but things got even uglier still through lack of disaster preparedness, abysmal communication, difficult circumstances for evacuation; all of which created a dire situation that put doctors in a position to decide who lived and who died.  The second portion of the book is dedicated to the aftermath: the investigation of what happened and why, the perspectives on who was right and wrong, and an account of the criminal proceedings against the doctors and nurses who decided that euthanasia was an option under the circumstances.

Five Days at Memorial is an impressive book.  The first half of the book, the part that offers a comprehensive re-telling of the events of the five days features the kind of writing that actually keeps readers on the edge of their seats.  Despite having some foreknowledge of the catastrophe, I couldn't help but rush through the pages, hungry to see whether the staff at the hospital could overcome nearly insurmountable challenges to evacuate their patients and staff.  The latter half of the book loses a little steam as it plunders the details of the investigation and criminal proceedings, but I was still impressed with the comprehensive look at what followed the disaster and the balanced perspective Fink offered.  Dr. Anna Pou, one of the most controversial figures of the events at Memorial, never looks completely like a villain or a hero in Fink's account.  Whenever you might be tempted to see her one way or the other, the perspective changes and any opinion you might have of her is conflicted again.

As somebody who has spent the last seven years working in a hospital, I was totally appalled by so much of this book.  I'm glad I didn't read most of it in public because I'm certain my mouth was hanging open in shock during much of the reading.  The appalling unpreparedness of the hospital, the inadequacy of communication and rescue efforts, the backward leadership of the evacuation, and the very obvious moral ambiguity of "relieving the suffering" of those who were thought to be close to death or even just too difficult to evacuate in Fink's account are jaw-droppingly shocking to read about.  That she could bring all this to light and still leave me with sympathy toward the over-burdened staff making morally questionable decisions is a credit to Fink's skill as a writer and journalist.  This book truly is a must-read for anyone who would be tempted to rely on the very fragile constructs of safety that we blindly choose to rely upon every day and for everyone who takes in disturbing disaster footage on television and thinks, "That could never happen here."  It can, and it did, and this is a book that displays it in compelling fashion.

(I received a copy of this book compliments of the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Top Ten Books for Readers Who Never Read Historical Fiction

Historical fiction has been one of my favorite genres of fiction since I was in grade school.  Occasionally, I wander off and forget to read it for a long period of time, but getting back to it is always like coming home.  This week The Broke and the Bookish are asking us to share some good reads for people who are new to our favorite genres, so here's a few must read historicals for the uninitiated. 

If you like YA...

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - Seriously?  You haven't read this yet?  For shame.  It's only the bookish person's Holocaust novel. 
2. Open Wounds by Joseph Lunievicz - I loved this underrated story of an orphan growing up in 1940s New York, learning to fence from thespians, and finding an unlikely savior in the guise of his disfigured, war vet cousin who turns up in the nick of time.  Lunievicz's book definitely brings historical NYC to life. 

If you're more into sci-fi/fantasy...

3. Kindred by Octavia Butler - Wherein an African American woman time travels between the slave-holding American South and modern times.  Scary stuff, and so good.

4. The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy - Or maybe you'd like a Holocaust tale made to mirror the Hansel and Gretel fairytale.  I know I did. 

If you need a side of modern with your historical...

5. The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi - A modern story and a historical story intermingle in this book that follows a girl being married off to an Afghan warlord and her ancestor who served as a harem guard in the king's palace.

6. The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen - One of my favorite Holocaust stories.  A young girl doesn't understand why her Jewish family celebrates the passover and why her grandfather has that tattoo of numbers on his arm, until she is transported back in time to experience the Holocaust alongside the younger selves of her older relatives. 

Or maybe you're a budding feminist/like a book with a strong female character...

7. The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin - Anne Morrow Lindbergh is no slouch, occasionally forsaking motherhood to fly with her famous American hero husband.  She's not afraid to stay home with the kids either, but when she needs time for herself, she's got the guts to go ahead and take it. 

8. I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe - Rosetta Wakefield doesn't spend the the days of the Civil War working on chores and waiting for bad news to come about her young husband.  Instead, she transforms herself into a boy and follows him into battle. 

9. A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly - Mattie has a new word of the day every day and is determined to use the money she's making working at a summer mountain resort for the rich to leave the family farm and go to college, even though there's a handsome young man that would prefer otherwise.

10. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles - The main character social climbs with brains, guts, and bookishness instead of butt kissery in early 20th century NYC. 

PS, these categories are totally mix and matchable. You could easily slide at least a few of these into a few of my arbitrarily chosen categories.

What are some books you would recommend to someone looking to sample your favorite genre?