Thursday, October 30, 2014

Book Review: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving

From Goodreads:
Perhaps the marker of a true mythos is when the stories themselves overshadow their creator. Originally published under a pseudonym as The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories gave America its own haunted mythology. This collection of larger-than-life tales contains Washington Irving’s best-known literary inventions—Ichabod Crane, the Headless Horseman, and Rip Van Winkle—that continue to capture our imaginations today. 
To be fair, I have to start this review by saying that the marketing and blurbs for this one are a bit on the misleading side.  It was pitched as a "riveting must-read for fall" and as the basis for the tv show Sleepy Hollow.  So that appealed to me, as well as the idea that these stories form the foundation for what would become American short story writing.  It turns out that even the words "other stories" are a bit off the mark.  This is actually largely a collection of essays centering around Irving's travels in England.  It does contain "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and one or two other actual stories, but it's almost exclusively travelogue and commentary on mores and literary themes in the early 1800s than it is short stories.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the read, as you'll see in my review below. I just think that if you choose it based on the creepy cover, the comparison to the tv show, and the idea of early American short stories, you may be disappointed by what makes up the majority of the book.

Obviously, Irving is considered a classic in American literature for a reason.  I was very impressed with how engaging his writing was and how accessible and intriguing the stories were, given that the time during which they were written.  As with any collection, there were stories and essays I enjoyed more than others, but I found them all to be remarkable time capsules describing how people lived, celebrated, and mourned in the 1800's.

Entertainment Value
Again, as I realized these were mostly essays, I worried I'd become bored.  I was surprised to find how perfectly apt many of his comments on society and particularly literature were for the modern day.  There's a great essay where he imagines a conversation with an ancient book in an old library that I felt like I might hear on any of the book-related podcasts I listen to.  And I was shocked by his essays on American Indians and their treatment by white settlers.  I was amazed that people were realizing so early that they were facing serious abuses, and also saddened to see how little was changed in the way they were treated, despite essays like Irving's.

While it wasn't at all what I was expecting, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this collection.  Irving reminded me of an early Bill Bryson, and I think those interested in society at that time will be fascinated by this collection.  That said, there are only a few actual short stories and they contain less creep than the cover and blurbs imply.  I'd recommend it more to those who are interested in travelogues or the time period than I would to those looking for a thrill.

Thanks to Penguin for providing me with a copy to review!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Scanning the Backlist (3)

This my own personal backlist consisting of authors I've reviewed on the blog.  I took the time to go back through every author I've reviewed and checked out his or her backlist - and for some, even found new books I hadn't realized were released.  Each week I'll be featuring a Scanning the Backlist post with a few more authors whose backlist titles have made it onto my TBR.

Julia Heaberlin
I originally picked up Lie Still because it's cover was so very similar to Gone Girl, which I loved and because the blurbs compared the two.  While I didn't find much similar content between the two, other than the suspense aspect, I thoroughly enjoyed the tale of mean girls all grown up and a mysterious stalking.  It's a bit more on the Lifetime Original Movie side of things, but y'all know that just means I love it all the more.  She's only got one book in her backlist, Playing Dead, but it looks just as appealing as Lie Still:
“Dear Tommie: Have you ever wondered about who you are?” 
The letter that turns Tommie McCloud’s world upside down arrives from a stranger only days after her father’s death. The woman who wrote it claims that Tommie is her daughter—and that she was kidnapped as a baby thirty-one years ago.
Tommie wants to believe it’s all a hoax, but suddenly a girl who grew up on a Texas ranch finds herself  linked to a horrific past: the slaughter of a family in Chicago, the murder of an Oklahoma beauty queen, and the kidnapping of a little girl named Adriana. Tommie races along a twisting, nightmarish path while an unseen stalker is determined to keep old secrets locked inside the dementia-battered brain of the woman who Tommie always thought was her real mother. With everything she has ever believed in question, and no one she can trust, Tommie must discover the truth about the girl who vanished—and the very real threats that still remain.  
Rebecca Hunt
Hunt's first novel, Mr. Chartwell, is a brilliant portrait of depression, told as the story of an enormous black dog that visits both the narrator and her boss, Winston Churchill.  It's beautifully written and tells the story of depression in a unique and magical way.  While her next book, Everland, isn't technically backlist, since it was written after Mr, Chartwell, it's backlist in terms of not being a new release.  And it's one I never would have discovered without having taken on this project.
1913: Dinners, Millet-Bass, and Napps - three men bound not by friendship, but by an intense dependence founded on survival - will be immortalised by their decision to volunteer to scout out a series of uncharted and unknown islands in the Antarctic, a big, indifferent kingdom.

2013: Brix, Jess, and Decker - three researchers with their own reasons for being far from home - set out on a field trip to the same ancient lumps of rock and snow, home to nothing but colonies of penguins and seals.

Under the harsh ultraviolet light, as all colours bleach out, and the world of simple everyday pleasures recedes, they unknowingly begin to mirror the expedition of 100 years ago.
Louise Millar
Millar is quickly becoming a go-to author for me.  I loved both Accidents Happen and The Hidden Girl, so of course I've been scoping out Millar's backlist for thrillers in the same vein (see Julia Heaberlin above).  While I wish there were more, I'm happy to see that there is one backlist book I haven't read yet, 2012's The Playdate.

 You leave your kids with a friend. Everyone does it. Until the day it goes wrong.
Single mother Callie has come to rely heavily on her best friend Suzy. But Callie suspects Suzy's life isn't as simple as it seems. It's time she pulled away - going back to work is just the first step towards rediscovering her old confidence. So why does she keep putting off telling Suzy about her new job?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book Review: Love at First Stitch by Tilly Walnes

From Goodreads:
Tilly Walnes demystifies dressmaking for the generations that have never been taught to sew. Written for novice stitchers by the author of the popular sewing blog Tilly and the Buttons, this book presents the sewing basics in an informal style, with Tilly's friendly and encouraging voice cheering the reader on throughout. Instead of overwhelming the novice dressmaker with theory, this book is about learning by doing. 
Each chapter presents practical tips and inspiration to guide you through creating a made-to-measure garment from one of the seven versatile and adaptable patterns included with the book, which can then be personalized to suit your individual style. Peppered throughout the book are Tilly's top sewing tips, including everything from what to look out for when buying--or borrowing--your first sewing machine, to how to behave in a fabric shop so that you appear like an expert, to techniques for pressing perfection.
I was super excited to see that Walnes, who blogs at Tilly and the Buttons, planned to release a book. Her website is one of my very favorites when it comes to sewing.  She's just so down to earth and approachable in her style and has a little bit of something for everyone, from the complete novice to the more experienced seamstress.  I was even more excited to have the opportunity to review this one for my own blog.

The very first thing I did when I finished this book was to add it to my Christmas wishlist.  It's one that I absolutely must own, especially since it comes with patterns and step by step directions for making some of her most popular pieces.  She starts things at the most basic level with a scarf and builds up to more difficult dressmaking pieces.  The pictures included throughout are a huge help to those, like me, who are really just hobbyists.

In addition to giving specific pattern instructions and tips, the book also includes lots of general sewing information, including tips on choosing a sewing machine, learning to thread your machine, and advice for choosing sizes and customizing patterns.  It's such a great place for a beginner to start, but it also includes information that will appeal to those who have been sewing longer.

My one problem is with the sizing in the book.  It's really intended for smaller sizes.  At my current size I would need to modify almost all of the patterns in the book in order to be able to wear them - and I'm not a good enough seamstress to know how to do that.  It'll take me losing a few more pounds to make many of the patterns in the book work, but there's enough here to appeal to me that I plan to purchase the book even if the weight doesn't come off.

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

Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: This Is the Water by Yannick Murphy

From Goodreads:
In a quiet New England community members of the swim team and their dedicated parents are preparing for a home meet. The most that Annie, a swim-mom of two girls, has to worry about is whether or not she fed her daughters enough carbs the night before; why her husband, Thomas, hasn't kissed her in ages; and why she can't get over the loss of her brother who shot himself a few years ago. But Annie's world is about to change. From the bleachers, looking down at the swimmers, a dark haired man watches a girl. No one notices him. Annie is busy getting to know Paul, who flirts with Annie despite the fact that he's married to her friend Chris, and despite Annie's greying hair and crow's feet. Chris is busy trying to discover whether or not Paul is really having an affair, and the swimmers are trying to shave milliseconds off their race times by squeezing themselves into skin-tight bathing suits and visualizing themselves winning their races.

But when a girl on the team is murdered at a nearby highway rest stop-the same rest stop where Paul made a gruesome discovery years ago-the parents suddenly find themselves adrift. Paul turns to Annie for comfort. Annie finds herself falling in love. Chris becomes obsessed with unmasking the killer.

With a serial killer now too close for comfort, Annie and her fellow swim-parents must make choices about where their loyalties lie. As a series of startling events unfold, Annie discovers what it means to follow your intuition, even if love, as well as lives, could be lost.
I've read a lot of reviews that mention how off-puting the style of the book is.  It's written in second person and many of the sentences start with the line "This is the...".  It took me a couple chapters to get past it, but once I settled into a rhythm, the style didn't bother me at all.  While it didn't bother me, I did wonder if it was really necessary beyond just being a writing device.  It's something new, but I didn't get a sense of it serving a purpose.

Entertainment Value
It was fine.  Not exceptionally intriguing, other than the interest inspired by the style.  I've seen it referred to as thrilling and fast-paced and it wasn't really either of those things.  The identity of the killer is revealed at the beginning and most of the "thrilling" aspects, regarding the killings, take place off the page.  The majority of the book, particularly what the reader actual sees, is character development.  It was much more about suburban ennui than it was about a thrilling mystery.  That said, I still enjoyed the story, especially all of the swim team moments.  If you've swam on a team before, you'll appreciate the way it's portrayed.  I was less into the characters, didn't really find any of them particularly likable, but also not fun to dislike.  I just didn't care all that much about them.

It was a decent diversionary book, but it's not going to make it onto any list of recommendations or must-reads on my part.  It's just ok.  If I hadn't read it, I wouldn't have been missing anything, but it wasn't bad enough that I wish I had my time back.  If you're into the swim team thing, give it a read, I guess.  But don't knock yourself out trying to get your hands on a copy.

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.