Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Truly Brief Follow-Up (AKA This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things)

As a result of some discussion amongst book bloggers, and in relation to my earlier post from tonight, I did some Googling and found some things I'm not too thrilled with.  Namely a site selling a picture of me and one of the dogs as wallpaper (downloaded over 650 times) and a Prezi filled with images of me and my husband.  

I'm honestly not sure what I want to do or how to proceed.  I love my little blog so very much and I am really not ok with the idea of shutting it down.  I also love posting personal things and sharing what's happening in my life.  Unfortunately, there are some things that aren't worth risking.  So, I'm undecided about where to go in the future as far as personal posts are concerned.  

For the moment, I'm taking down personal pictures, particularly those that include family, friends, and their children (which were all posted with permission).  I don't want to offer stock images and never mention my personal life, but I also really don't like the idea of people selling images of me and my family or using them in presentations without my knowledge.  Does anyone have any ideas or suggestions?  I'm open to pretty much any or all of it.

So, as usual, Luke talked me off the ledge last night in regards to internet privacy.  Does it royally suck that someone took images of me and my family and used them without permission?  Yes.  I do feel icky about my picture being out there on people's computers or used in classroom presentations without my knowledge or permission.  That said, there's a balance to consider.  

First of all, a picture of my dog doesn't even come close to comparing to a picture of a child or a family member.  I will be working over the next few days on removing images of my niece and nephew and any other friends and family from the blog.  I'm also going to be taking steps to remove any posts that include information about where I live and the names of any family members other than Luke, who has his own internet presence and is unconcerned about creepers.

As far as images of myself, my dogs, my books, and my husband - I'm going to go on a case by case basis.  The thing is, I'm getting a LOT of positive things out of posting about my life.  I have fallen in love with the Instagram yoga community and don't want to miss out on participating in hashtag challenges and the positive reinforcement I get from a community of people encouraging me to work hard and be strong.  The same applies to the book-loving community and my blog followers.  

I think the amount of ick I feel knowing that someone took pictures of me and my dogs and used them for something really weird (who wants a low-quality snapshot of a random dog as their wallpaper?) is outweighed by the pleasure I get from participating in online communities.  That said, I will be looking carefully at every image I post on any social network to determine whether or not I'm willing to put it out there for use without my permission.  Kids, family, and friends are always off limits from now on, unless they're fully aware of how their images might be used.

A Brief (Not Really) Administrative Note

I've added this to my review policy, but also wanted to include a post here as well.  I've been getting a ton of requests lately for promo posts, book blitzes, cover reveals, and the like.  To be frank, I'm just not interested in those sorts of posts.  I don't like to read them on other people's blogs and I'm not going to have them on my blog.  I post only reviews of books that I've read in their entirety.  So if I don't finish a book or never get a chance to read it, you won't see it reviewed here.  You also won't see any purely promotional posts.  So please, do not keep emailing me requests to reveal your cover or feature your trailer.  I'm sure it's all amazing, but that's just not where my site is headed.

A lot is going on in the book blogging community that may affect the way I accept review requests in the future, but for now, I'm still open to all review requests from traditionally-published authors, publishers, publicists, and media types.  I'm not currently accepting any requests from self-published authors and I don't typically accept e-book submissions.

I try to respond briefly to all review requests, even if I choose not to accept the book for review, because I appreciate the time and effort put into sending these out and the hopes the author has for the book.  That said, and you can find this a bazillion other places, but for your convenience:

Do Not:

  • Address the email to "Dear blogger", "Dear site manager", or "Dear {insert name of some other blogger you are mass emailing}.  My personal favorite comes from a publicist who regularly addresses emails "Dear Dexter" (Dexter being my dog).  I don't mind that one too much because they send me fabulous books, but it's just an example of how very off some emails are.
  • Forget to BCC the other names of bloggers you are mass emailing, ensuring that I see you have put no time or thought into who you're sending to
  • Send the entire book as an attachment
  • Forget to include pertinent information about the book, like its title (yes, that happened in an email yesterday), the author's name, and a brief summary of the book
  • Address the email to me by name or mention the name of my blog.  Bonus points (and a guaranteed reply and thoughtful consideration) are awarded to those who mention what they like about my blog and why they think it's a good for fit for this book in particular.  It doesn't have to be an essay, but if you say "I saw you reviewed X and enjoyed it, my book is similar", I'm much more likely to sit up and notice.
  • Include all of the information relevant to your book without sending me the entire text or its equivalent.  At the very least, include a title and author name with a link to the Amazon or Goodreads page.  I also like to see cover photos and publication information, but I can find those myself if you include a link.
  • Feel free to talk books to me, or to include something more personal.  I recently had an interaction with an author who pitched a book that, due to a family loss similar to the plot of the book, I wasn't ready to review yet.  She replied to tell me that my family and I are in her thoughts and it meant the world to me.  Her book is now on my TBR list, despite the fact that I couldn't read it at the time, because she showed that she thought of me as a person and not just a publicity machine.
And that's the crux of it.  With all the turmoil going on in the blogging world,  I guess I just feel the need to reiterate, as many bloggers are, that I'm not a publicity machine.  If I agree to accept your book for review, I'm not signing a contract.  My main goal is to tell other readers about books I read and whether or not I think they will enjoy those books.  I love giving amazing authors publicity, but that's not why I blog.  Please keep that in mind as you send me requests and I'll keep my reviews honest and focused on the books themselves and not on the authors.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review: I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

From Goodreads:
Jude and her brother, Noah, are incredibly close twins. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude surfs and cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and divisive ways - until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as an unpredictable new mentor. 
The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they'd have a chance to remake their world.
I'm going to do my best to write this without shrieking or flailing and just stick to the facts about how well-written this novel is.  What I found most amazing was how clearly I could picture every scene and every character in this book, despite the fact that Nelson doesn't include a lot of description.  I'm quick to admit that most of the time when I read, I have vague pictures of things in my head, but I focus more on what's happening than on how it "looks" in my mind.  I think the reason I found this one so easy to picture was that the characters are just so very real.

That doesn't mean that I think the characters were entirely believable - I spent the first chapter feeling really weird about Noah and the way his mind works.  I'm still not willing to say that I think she captured a believable voice with him.  But the point of a novel isn't always realism.  And I think that in this one, the character of Noah is so much more than having a believable teenage voice.  He represents something, and his language reflects that.  

Once I got used to the metaphorical language and brilliant artistic images that are thrown around so perfectly, I just fell in love with who Noah and Jude are and how they relate to each other and to their family.  It's something I continue to find myself thinking about a mulling over even after having finished the book, because there is just so much there in terms of the ideas that Nelson is putting out, in addition to the compelling story and lovable characters.

Entertainment Value
I feel almost sacrilegious comparing a book, especially a YA book, to Bel Canto, which is my very favorite book ever.  Bel Canto was the first book I read that literally took my breath away and I am thrilled to report that Jandy Nelson replicated that amazing experience in this book.  It's just beautifully done.  The words are beautiful, the story is beautiful, and the meaning of it all is, yep, beautiful.  I've found myself retelling scenes in my head throughout the week, while I'm not reading, just because thinking about it is that much fun.  And I don't necessarily mean light or fluffy fun, because it's hard to read at times and deals with some really difficult subject matter.  It was fun in the way that something that pulls at your heartstrings and makes you sit up and pay attention is fun.

I really can't think of anyone I wouldn't recommend this book to.  I think there's something there to appeal to all readers, including those who aren't typically drawn to YA.  I recommend going into it with an open mind and not expecting to find the characters to be accurate depictions of your average teen.  Noah and Jude are anything but average, but I think the amazing writing and the deeper meanings more than qualify any suspension of disbelief required.

Thanks to NetGalley for provding a copy for me to review.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Book Review: Man V. Nature by Diane Cook

From Goodreads:
A refreshingly imaginative, daring debut collection of stories which illuminates with audacious wit the complexity of human behavior, as seen through the lens of the natural world

Told with perfect rhythm and unyielding brutality, these stories expose unsuspecting men and women to the realities of nature, the primal instincts of man, and the dark humor and heartbreak of our struggle to not only thrive, but survive. In “Girl on Girl,” a high school freshman goes to disturbing lengths to help an old friend. An insatiable temptress pursues the one man she can’t have in “Meteorologist Dave Santana.” And in the title story, a long fraught friendship comes undone when three buddies get impossibly lost on a lake it is impossible to get lost on. In Diane Cook’s perilous worlds, the quotidian surface conceals an unexpected surreality that illuminates different facets of our curious, troubling, and bewildering behavior.

Other stories explore situations pulled directly from the wild, imposing on human lives the danger, tension, and precariousness of the natural world: a pack of not-needed boys take refuge in a murky forest and compete against each other for their next meal; an alpha male is pursued through city streets by murderous rivals and desirous women; helpless newborns are snatched by a man who stalks them from their suburban yards. Through these characters Cook asks: What is at the root of our most heartless, selfish impulses? Why are people drawn together in such messy, complicated, needful ways? When the unexpected intrudes upon the routine, what do we discover about ourselves? 

As entertaining as it is dangerous, this accomplished collection explores the boundary between the wild and the civilized, where nature acts as a catalyst for human drama and lays bare our vulnerabilities, fears, and desires
Last year I discovered George Saunders and Karen Russell and immediately fell in love with short stories all over again.  I've always enjoyed them, but hadn't really read many since college.  Saunders and Russell both did something so unique and quirky and twisted with their stories that I couldn't stop reading and pretty quickly devoured their backlists.  This year, the honor of authors blowing me away with slightly bizarre, twisted short stories goes to Cook.  They're just brilliantly done: the perfect length, just the right characterization, and that twist at the end that the whole story hangs on.

Entertainment Value
I can't get these out of my head.  Each one is a bit more shocking than the next, and I've found myself mulling over them endlessly.  There are so many subtle elements to each story that I feel like I could draw a different conclusion each time I consider a story.  I love the way that each story could have so many different layers and meanings.  It's a book that made me wish to be smarter, in a very good way, so that I could wrap my head around what the stories are trying to say.  I'd absolutely love to take a college course on short stories that includes this collection.

If you like Saunders or Russell, this is an absolute must read.  It's also going to appeal to those who are already familiar with the author (a producer from This American Life) and those who enjoy short stories.  And I think it'll also be good for those who enjoy magical realism and the exploration of people facing off against nature, whether that means the actual physical elements or the hidden nature of humanity.

Thanks to TLC for having me on the tour.  You can click here to see the other stops!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Audiobook Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

From Goodreads:
Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.

Maybe that was always beside the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?
Rowell continues to amaze me with the diversity of her writing, particularly her characterizations.  She's done high school well, college well, young professional life well, and now married life.  I love that she doesn't have a schtick.  If you didn't know she was the author, you wouldn't read a paragraph and recognize the characters or the dialogue or tone from any of her other books.  She just does women, particularly, really, really well.  This book is no exception.  Her characters are lovably flawed and truly believable.  There's something to identify with in all of them.  As with her other books, she also manages to walk the line between cheesiness and heart, humor and cliche with no missteps.

Entertainment Value
For me, this was the right book at the right time.  It's really nice every now and then to be reminded of why I love being married, and this book is like a love song to marriage, especially the hard parts of marriage.  I think there's a pretty broad appeal for readers too.  It focuses on marriage, but it's not something that I think you wouldn't enjoy if you aren't married.  If you live and have relationships with anyone, there are parts of this book that will speak to you.

Incredibly well done.  I loved the narrator and thought her voice and acting were perfect for the book.  My only complaint was that I couldn't speed through it the way I would have zipped through if I were reading - although that really worked out to benefit me.  I got to soak in every word.

I can't say enough great things about Rowell in general and this book in particular.  It totally deserves all of the excellent reviews I've seen and I'd be confident in passing it on to pretty much any of my readers.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Book Review: Confessions by Kanae Minato

From Goodreads:
Her pupils killed her daughter. Now, she will have her revenge. 
After an engagement that ended in tragedy, all Yuko Moriguchi had to live for was her four-year-old child, Manami. Now, after a heartbreaking accident on the grounds of the middle school where she teaches, Yuko has given up and tendered her resignation.  
But first, she has one last lecture to deliver. She tells a story that will upend everything her students ever thought they knew about two of their peers, and sets in motion a maniacal plot for revenge.  
Narrated in alternating voices, with twists you'll never see coming, Confessions probes the limits of punishment, despair, and tragic love, culminating in a harrowing confrontation between teacher and student that will place the occupants of an entire school in harm's way. You'll never look at a classroom the same way again.
Alternating voices can be hard to get right, as can works in translation, but I consider this one a success on both counts.  I loved how the author used each voice to reveal another layer to the story and the characters.  The translation is also done well - there were a few moments that sounded very American/British and I wondered if the original work was different/less Westernized, but it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book.  And of course, with any thriller, the most important part is that it keeps me guessing.  This one had me going in circles and the ending left me shocked, just the way I like it.

Entertainment Value
Perfection!  I couldn't put it down and it kept me guessing till the end - what higher praise is there for a dark, twisted thriller?

Yoko Ogawa's Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales was my first experience with reading Japanese thriller/horror fiction.  While Revenge includes more fantasy elements, Confessions was right up my alley in terms of realistic domestic suspense.  It was absolutely chilling and full of love-to-hate characters.  If you like Gillian Flynn, you really need to explore the world of Japanese thrillers in translation.  It's a genre that I'm going to be really pushing into, given my great experiences with Ogawa and Minato.  I just hope that more of Minato's works will wind up translated - I'm going to be keeping an eye out!

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Bit More Yoga Business

I was so surprised and pleased by the amount of response I got to my first post about discovering yoga.  I'm still happily yoga-ing away, as you can tell if you follow my Instagram account.  I've found the yoga community to be so incredibly welcoming and encouraging, particularly to beginners like myself.

Several of you mentioned that you had thought about trying yoga but were intimidated or afraid to go to a class.  Others have said they just don't know where to start.  And while I'm certainly not an expert by any means, I thought it would be nice to put together a little link collection of places to go to check it out for people who are as new to it as I am.

The main thing I want to say is that it won't be for everyone and that's ok.  I think the most significant thing I've gotten out of my yoga experience so far has been the realization that I needed to find what fit for me.  That said, I'd encourage you to keep looking.  I had lots of reasons not to try anything (I'm overweight, I'm clumsy, I'm not athletic, I'm taking medications that cause weight gain, I have motivation issues, etc, etc, etc).  But I'm so glad that I took the very small risk in the great scheme of things and made my health a priority.  I'm reaping the rewards every day.

Ok, so, where to start?  My first suggestion is YouTube.  It's a great place to get beginner-oriented information without the commitment of any money.  Another benefit is that you can do it in the privacy of your own home, without anyone watching.  No social or financial risks necessary.

I recommend starting with Yoga with Adriene.  She has some great videos that include everything from short practices for complete beginners to a Foundations of Yoga playlist that includes detailed tutorials of all the basic poses.  And her Bedtime Yoga video is an absolute dream.  Absolutely anyone can do it and it feels amazing.

Some others I love are:

Yoga by Candace.  If you're as new to yoga as I am, I recommend starting with her Gentle Yoga playlist.  She posts a really good mix of pose-specific tutorials and full-length practices.  I also love reading her blog.

Eckhart Yoga.  This may sound silly, but there's just something about their voices that I find so completely soothing I can barely stand it.  Most of these videos are shorter, which is great when you're just getting started or don't have time for a full length workout.

Cosmic Kids Yoga.  If you've got kids, this is a must-watch.  I want a kid for no other reason than to do these yoga videos with him/her.  Each video uses yoga poses to tell a story and you get to pretend you're going on an adventure as you complete each sequence.  It's super adorable.

If you've spent some time on YouTube or you've tried it out and think you're ready for more of a commitment, YogaGlo is where it's at.  It costs $18 a month and it works like Netflix.  You have access to hundreds of videos from teachers at various levels and with focuses ranging from runners and cyclists to complete beginners.  It includes all the major styles and expressions of yoga and, my favorite, has a huge collection of Yin/Restorative (read: feel good) videos.

If you're ready to commit to something more social, I will always recommend checking out your local YMCA.  But I love that I'm supporting my community and feel like I'm giving back through my membership.  It's also been less intimidating for me than going to a studio - I felt comfortable in a class populated with other absolute beginners and senior citizens.  You also get to make use of all the other gym features, which has been nice for me.  I get to keep swimming and have access to gym equipment as well.  Plus, your membership can be used at any Y, which means I can still use my membership when I'm travelling.

That said, the options at the Y are certainly much more limited than they would be at a studio.  If you're going to be devoted, or you want classes every day, or you're looking for a specific style then a studio would probably be the way to go.

I think I'll keep posting about my yoga journey here occasionally and I'd love to answer any questions you have about getting started or being a yoga newbie!