Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Television and Reading

I've been thinking about television and reading and how I feel about the two a lot recently.  I walk Chief when I get home from work and now that it's getting dark earlier I'm realizing how many houses in my neighborhood have the television on when I walk at night.  Almost every house has that flashing blue glow coming from their windows. 

When people ask me how I read so much, my first response is always that I don't watch much tv.  I also have to admit that I have an issue with TV as the focal point in people's houses.  In Luke's and my first house, you walked directly from the front door into the living room.  It drove me crazy that we had a big screen tv and that our furniture faced the tv.  I feel like it screamed "this is what we value."  So in our new home, we decided that the TV would go in the basement.  When you walk into our home, the first thing you see is our living room, where we display books and where, I hope, the furniture is inviting for conversation as opposed to mindless vegging.  It's not so much something that I note in other people's houses as it is something that I hate in my own home.

I realize that it's somewhat hypocritical of me to enjoy books that are, in some cases, the written equivalent of Jersey Shore, while frowning on mindless TV consumption.  But I still do.  It's not that I never watch TV, or that when I watch I only watch educational programs (I love the Real Housewives), I just don't like it to be the focal point of my home - the thing that my furniture centers around, the thing you notice first when you walk inside.  I like that our house now says we like music (the piano) and books (the library) and eating together/conversing (the furniture layout) not that we like to sit and look at the glowing blue box. 

What do you guys think?  Am I a judgmental overthinker?  Or do you feel the same way?  Is it something that has ever occurred to you?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Book Review: You Are My Only

You are my only is a story told in alternating voices, Sophie's and Emmy's.  Sophie is a teenage girl who knows nothing other than being on the run with her mother.  She isn't allowed to leave whatever home they currently live in and is subject to her mother's obsessions, especially with the "No Good" that they must constantly be on the alert for.  Emmy is a mother who takes a few steps away from her baby only to find her daughter missing, with nothing left but a yellow sock.

Not a fan.  Almost every other review talks about how "poetic" the writing is, but for me it just felt like the author was trying really really hard to sound "poetic".  Instead every single character comes across as if they are either mentally handicapped or psychologically unstable.  And I do understand that some of the characters are supposed to be crazy.  And I also understand the Sophie has no way of being "normal" having been brought up in isolation.  But Emmy, Joey (the boy Sophie meets), and Joey's family all speak so "poetically" that they sound crazy (or stupid) as well.  Overall the entire thing read to me like the author was trying so hard to make her narration sound poetic and unique that she missed out on any believability.

Entertainment Value
My issues with the writing really overcame my ability to enjoy the book as a whole.  It was an awkward read with awkward wording that, for me, constantly inserted the author into the story.  Instead of focusing on how awesome and interesting the story was, I was thinking about how hard the author was trying to sound literary.  It didn't work for me at all.

Overall, I wouldn't recommend it.  It had a great premise, but I really did not care for the writing, I didn't like the characters because their voices were so inauthentic, and the ending tried too hard to be literary.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: Children of Paranoia by Trevor Shane

This book is really hard to explain.  It's dystopia, kind of, and scary, kind of, and a thriller, kind of, and espionage, kind of.  It's set in our world, but with a secret war being fought (if you're familiar with the game Assasin, it's kind of like that).  There are two main rules: You can't kill anyone under eighteen and you can't kill civilians.  The main character, Joseph, is an assasin for what he is convinced is the "good" side.  He doesn't know why he's fighting or who he's fighting against, all he knows are the names he's given as targets. The actions of each side are disguised from civilians as accidents or random violent crimes.  Joseph has been trained to kill and he's good at what he does, but everything changes when he meets Maria.

I really enjoyed the style and thought the author accomplished exactly what he wanted.  The action starts on the first page and never lets up.  I was tense throughout the entire book, which is exactly what I want in a thriller.  My only complaint was that the "moral" of the story was a little heavy-handed in parts (War. What is it good for?  Absolutely nothing.)  Other than that, I was into the characters and loved the continuous action.

Entertainment value
Again, it's a perfect thriller.  It's a very unique idea - not the straight up dystopia but also not the typical espionage/spy/assasin book either.  I'm usually not into the whole war/Tom Clancy/spy games genre, but the dystopian twist in this one made it much more appealing to me.  It's a quick read, and completely engrossing.  I'm probably going to end up forcing it on Luke.

I forgot to post this in my original post, but I want to make sure it's included.  I was privileged to get to read this one as part of a Crazy Book Tour.  You can find a list of other blogs that will be reviewing it as well as information about the book here.  Also, check out the video trailer here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Review: Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks

I'm not sure if it's just me or if it's a publishing trend, but I seem to have read several books this year dealing with pedophilia/sex offenders.  This one was less focused on pedophilia and more focused on what happens to those who are labeled as sex offenders.  It tells the story of Kid, who is in his young twenties and is arrested for soliciting sex with a minor.   He actually reminds me of many of my students - emotionally, socially, and intellectually immature. 
He goes to prison and we meet him immediately after his release.  Because he is on probation, he cannot move away from his home in the Florida Keys, but he can also not live within a certain radius of any place where children gather.  His record keeps him from getting jobs, apartments, etc and he winds up living with a group of homeless sex offenders in a tent city.  There he meets a man named The Professor who is doing research on sex offenders in the tent city - but who is hiding secrets of his own.

This falls in the "literary fiction" genre and it fits in well.  It's not exceptional for the genre, nothing leapt out at me as really amazing, but it was better writing than you're going to find in the typical popular novel.  I don't have much to say good or bad about it.

Entertainment Value
I was more interested in the idea of the book and the thoughts inspired by the book than the book itself.  For example, I do think that the way we label sex offenders is flawed, although I'm not sure what exactly I would change.  It's important to protect families and children, obviously, but, as in Kid's case, it seems that in some ways the sex offender registries keep those who could be rehabilitated from having a chance at living normal lives.  So that premise interested me, but the way the book addresses it was much less interesting than I had hoped.  It focused more on the story with the Professor and the secrets surrounding his life.  When those secrets are finally revealed they are much less interesting than what the reader is led to imagine.  The entire Professor plot point, which was a majority of the novel, really took away from the issues the story could have addressed for a much more interesting and thought-provoking story.

At the end of the day, I just don't recommend it.  I had to force myself to finish - and had I not been halfway through by the time I realized it wasn't going to get better, I probably would have given up. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review: Triangles by Ellen Hopkins

I've read and enjoyed most of Ellen Hopkins' YA books, so I was pretty excited to see that she planned to release an adult book, also written in verse.  I was able to score an ARC through Atria's Galley Alley program, and the book was released yesterday, so you can also find a copy in stores now.  Like the title implies, it's a book about love triangles in adult relationships, specifically committed adult relationships.  It follows three women - two married and one single - whose lives intersect in various ways and form triangles with the men in their lives.

Hopkins pushes boundaries in her YA works and I think it's fair to say that she does so in her first adult book as well.  It's well done, similar in style to the verse novels she writes for teens.  As I've said before in reviewing her writing, the poetry can be, at times, gimmicky, but she makes her points well and I love that she is bringing poetry to readers who probably typically stick to prose. 

Entertainment Value
Again, I think it's similar to what Hopkins writes for teens, but with an adult audience in mind.  The issues she brings up are so appropriate for where I think our society as a whole is - the indulgence, the focus on making yourself happy regardless of what that means for others, the attempts to fill a life void.  The characters were not always likable.  In fact, I found myself really hating one of them, and at times really disliking the other two.  The character I hated was the most obvious example of someone who is living for her own desires and disregarding everything but her own happiness.  I appreciated that Hopkins showed a realistic portrayal of what happens when someone decides to cast aside everything and everyone in search of making herself happy - and how it can backfire. 

The issue of adultery is addressed well.  I have a hard time reading books where adultery is portrayed lightly and shown as a solution to loveless marriage - where a character has a justified affair because she doesn't "really" love her husband and then rides off into the sunset with the man she cheated with.  That's not ok for me.  But Hopkins doesn't take that route.  While she refrains from moralizing or preaching at the reader, she honestly shows the inside workings of why a person would cheat and the ripple effect that cheating can have on people who may not seem to be directly affected.  This certainly isn't a book that shows a happily ever after escape from loneliness or problems in marriage.  I think it shows the sad reality for many people who have an emptiness that they are looking to fill, and the damage that can be done to families when a parent decides to put their own happiness over the family.  OH and it totally reminded me of the Casting Crowns song "Slow Fade" if you are familiar. 

One note to readers is that it's also a pretty graphic book.  Like I mentioned before, Hopkins is known for her edgy teen fiction and her adult fiction takes that a step farther.  I had some o.O moments as I was reading.  If sex scenes turn you off, you may find yourself skipping some pages. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Book Review: Don't Sing At The Table by Adriana Trigiani

This is my first book by Trigiani, even though I think I own almost every single one of her novels.  After reading this one, I'm going to need to make reading them a priority.  This is more of a biography/memoir of her two Italian grandmothers and the legacy they left her through their lives and the advice they passed down to her.  I really enjoyed the differences (and some similarities) between the advice given to Trigiani by her Italian Catholic  grandmothers as opposed to what I learned growing up from my Southern Belle grandmothers.

It was typical memoir writing - the point of the book wasn't that the writing was especially lyrical or literary, just that the author conveyed the lives and inspirations of her family, which she accomplished well.  I do have to admit that as much as I enjoyed the book, I had a few nit-picky grammar moments, mostly related to subjects and verbs not agreeing.  Not something that turned me off from the book, but just something that jumped out at my inner English major.

Entertainment Value
I think this would probably make a good bedtime read.  It's perfect for picking up and reading chapter by chapter.  It's not a story that is unputdownable, but it's perfect for picking up and reading bit by bit as you have free moments.  It's full of great stories about her grandmothers and the issues they dealt with as immigrants and widows, as well as full of fun tidbits of advice they shared.  I definitely recommend picking it up and giving it a try.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

PSA for my reader friends

I didn't have time to post any reviews today because I was sucked into a book this morning and was reading every second I could sneak it in.  In honor of the October 25th release of Nightshade, book two in The Poison Diaries series, the first book is available free online for a limited time.  Check it out here.  It's an incredibly fast read that I'll be reviewing in full later, but for now, I'll just say that both Bestie and I read the whole thing in our down times today and are A) baffled and B) anxious to see what's going to happen next.

I think it's actually a pretty smart marketing move for Harper Collins.  It's a book I wouldn't have picked up off the shelf in a store, but now that they've pulled me in with a free read of the first book, I'll be preordering the second to make sure I find out what happens next.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Book Review: Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

Impulse, like all of Ellen Hopkins' books, is a story in verse.  This story focuses on three teenagers who have all been hospitalized for suicide attempts.  Each one has secrets to hide and they form a bond as they deal with some extremely difficult issues.  Serendipitously, I discovered that Hopkins' latest YA book, Perfect, is a sequel to this one.  I'm anxious to get it and see what happens next for the teens.

I have a hard time analyzing Hopkins' writing.  On the one hand, she's doing something that not many other authors or poets are doing - YA or otherwise.  Stories in verse are unique and she does them well.  On the other hand, it's not great poetry.  It's gimmicky and cliche at times and not something I think you'd hear a lot of literary praise for.  But I don't think Hopkins is going for critical praise as much as she is going for appeal to the audience, which is young adult.  So I have to applaud her for taking poetry to a group that doesn't get much exposure to poetry and for doing it in an appealing way.  So, while she's not going to be winning any literary awards, I think her writing is extremely successful for her purpose and intent.

Entertainment Value
Definitely entertaining, if not always believable.  If you are a teen in a book by Ellen Hopkins, you are facing some seriously obstacles.  It's almost like being an animal in literary fiction - you aren't just going to suffer, you are going to suffer in every imaginable way.  That's not necessarily a criticism either - Hopkins' whole "thing" is appealing to teens who are struggling and creating characters they can identify with.  And these characters go through the teen experience to an intense degree: rape, homosexuality, religion, sex with teachers, molestation, sibling rivalry, etc, etc, etc.  And that's just in this one book.  Very soap opera, but on a teen level.  Lots of drama, but with heart, if that makes sense. 

I'm definitely looking forward to reading Perfect.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

In My Mailbox (24)

Welcome to another week's In My Mailbox, hosted by The Story Siren.  I got a couple of new books this week AND I've got some non-book-related sewing projects to show you that I'm just a little bit proud of.

MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche from Ballantine, which is a Random House imprint.

Burned by Thomas Enger from Atria as part of their Galley Alley promotion.

Children of Paranoia by Trevor Shane from Crazy Book Tours

Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia by Blake Butler from Harper Perennial (I'm already reading this one)
And here are some photos of me modeling my latest sewing project: I used a Pintrest picture for inspiration and kind of did my own thing in sewing some infinity scarves.  For work I wear almost exclusively black, white, and grey because it all matches and I can get up and grab something out of the closet and go.  So maybe having some scarves in prints and other colors will help a little on the style side of things.  I've used a sweater (the burgundy) and a tank top (the pattern) so far - but I'm such a hoarder, I have a ton of other clothes that don't fit anymore that I plan to make into scarves - or maybe I'll find some other inspiration.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Review: Dear Bully

Dear Bully was published as a response from YA authors to the recent attention that bullying has been receiving in the press.  It contains stories, essays, and letters from authors who were bullied, saw others bullied, or were bullies themselves - and it encourages teens that things will get better.

I was lucky enough not to experience extreme bullying as a child or teen.  I homeschooled through elementary school, and my homeschool community was awesome.  Being different wasn't something that led to bullying - in my world being different was cool.  That was why most of our parents were homeschooling - so that we could have the freedom to be individuals, to spend time on the things that we were interested in, to devote ourselves to developing individuality. 

I went to a private Christian school for middle school and high school, and it was a pretty big culture shock.  Being different was not a good thing at my school.  Being a small school, there wasn't really a cool crowd, there was just part of the group and not part of the group.  Please don't get me wrong, I wouldn't say I was bullied, especially not to the extreme that so many teens are facing.  People didn't laugh at me (much), make fun of me, phsyically or emotionally torment me - I was just ignored.  And for the most part I was pretty happy being ignored.  Sure I got tired of being told that I was quiet (yep I sure am) or that I blush easily (again, yes, I have noticed that myself more than once and don't need it continually pointed out).  And by the time I graduated I was ready to come to blows over the phrase "come out of your shell" (it's not a SHELL it's a PERSONALITY and it's not changing - I will never be a run around, squealing, life of the party person), but I wasn't harassed or called names.  And while I can remember lots of crying  because I felt like no one liked me or that something was wrong with me because I was different, it was nothing compared to the stories of what these authors endured and saw happening at their schools. 

While my experiences do not even approach actual bullying, I do want to express my heartfelt agreement with those who tell teens that it will get so much better.  Going to college was life-changing for me.  Suddenly I was in a place where I met people who wanted to get to know me not just in spite of my being different but because I was different.  And even as the homeschooled-weirdo-book lover that I was, my college world was big enough that I wasn't the only one who was different. 

My one disagreement with some of the authors in the book was in the idea that the childhood bullies will remain ignorant hicks who will have outlived the best days of their lives by graduation.  And you will be successful and able to rub it in their faces.  This just isn't true.  Sometimes the popular evil girl from high school grows up to be a popular super successful evil co-worker.  And you might not grow up to be famous.  I don't think success and overcoming bullying means you get to rub your awesomeness in your bully's face.  I think it means not caring.  It means learning to love who you are and not minding if your high school bully goes on to become President or runs the Junior League and still has a million friends.   If you can learn to be happy in your own skin and not feel the need to change, then you overcame the bully - regardless of who has more money, influence, friends, etc.  Overcoming is no longer being controlled or impacted by the ignorance and general evil of bullies.

In my case, overcoming means I stopped caring about my nerdiness and started enjoying it.  It means I made friends who either liked the same things I like or just like me and don't care if I listen to country music and obsess over Dr. Who and don't talk a lot in large groups.  It means being ok with not having a hundred million friends and having a few very close friends.  It means I don't care if I don't have weekend plans because I like staying home and reading books.  And here's the best part: when I stopped caring, my life became so much easier.  The cute boy that I liked and didn't think would ever notice me because he was so popular?  He noticed that I had fun doing my own thing and that I wasn't afraid to look uncool.  And now I spend my free time snuggling on the couch and watching Battlestar Gallactica with a man who thinks I'm awesome, hanging out with people who accept me for who I am, and enjoying whatever I darn well feel like enjoying.  THAT is my success.

If you are a teen, if you work with teens if you know teens, if you wish you could relive your teen years - this book is a must-read.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Book Review: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

One of my favorite book genres is books about books.  I can spend hours reading lists of books, literary analyses of books, and books about people who love books.  This one is actually fiction, but it fits perfectly into the category of books about books.  It tells the story of two Chinese city boys who are sent to a remote village for "re-education" during Mao's Cultural Revolution.  There, they discover a hidden stash of Chinese translations of Western books, and the beautiful daughter of the region's only tailor.

Excellent, especially the descriptions.  I could picture myself in the village with the boys and I could feel their joy when they discovered the secret stash of books - and their desperation to get them at any cost.  It is literary in tone, but not in an inaccessible way.  And because it is short, it's not as intimidating to those who don't typically read literary fiction or works in translation (it was originally published in French).  This is a great introduction to literary fiction if you're afraid to jump in with a longer book, but I'd also recommend it for those who typically read and enjoy literary fiction - I can't imagine that you won't be impressed with the writing quality.

Entertainment Value
Obviously, this is not an action-packed, on the edge of your seat to find out what will happen next novel.  It's certainly not plot-driven.  I'm not even sure I'd say it's character-driven.  It's beautiful writing-driven (that's a new thing I just made up - someone put it in a textbook and give me credit).  With the exception of the Seamstress, I wouldn't say the characters really evolve, and it's not a book where a lot of things happen.  It's about the moving power of words, the importance of stories, and the life-changing properties of imagination and knowledge juxtaposed against a setting where creativity and knowledge are not only discouraged but cruely punished.  For me, that was entertaining.  But I have read reviews where the book is described as slow, and I can see that, for those used to fast pacing and intense plotting, this would seem less interesting.  I highly recommend that you read it knowing that it is a book that is about ideas, not a book that is about a plot (although the plot perfectly enhances the ideas the author is trying to convey). 

One note from this book: has anyone else noticed that things do not bode well for animals in literary fiction?  It didn't mess up the book for me, but there is a scene in this book where an animal dies a pretty awful death.  And it made me start thinking about animals in literary fiction and how they always seem to die or suffer in really terrible ways.  If you are an animal and you are in literary fiction, your outlook is grim.  Would it really be that un-literary to have a happy animal that does NOT die/suffer torture?  Can you think of any books that prove my theory wrong?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What I Read In September

Hello, Reader Friends!  I'm pretty excited about what I read in September - I read quite a few really good books.  Not all of the reviews are posted yet, but I'll link to the ones that are, as usual.

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt (already owned)
The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson (review)
You Are My Only by Beth Kephart (review through NetGalley)
Divergent by Veronica Roth (bought through All 4 Alabama - maybe the first time I've ever paid over retail)
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie (bought used)
Impulse by Ellen Hopkins (gift)
Feed by Mira Grant (gift)
Dear Bully by various YA authors (review)
The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe (review through NetGalley)
Hell's Belles by Seale Ballenger (bought used)

I also started by did not finish Forbidden by Ted Dekker.  Since I didn't finish it, I don't count it in my statistics

Total books read in September: 10
Total books read this year: 80
Total pages read: 28,727
Total saved by reading what I already own, buying used book, using the library, and reading review copies (I get this number by adding up what I have spent on the books I read and subtracting that number from the retail cost of those books): $781.43

As far as my personal life goes, there are no major changes or any big news to report.  I already wrote about Decatur Book Festival, which was my big September event.  I had planned on attending National Book Festival, but ended up deciding not to go because of migraines.  The migraines are the main reason I have done nothing of any real interest this month.  I had a bad reaction to a medication and have had almost daily migraines as a result.  I'm off the medication now and will hopefully have fewer migraines as the medicine leaves my system.  So basically I spent a bunch of time sleeping and laying in the dark.  The great news is that I'm already having fewer migraines AND the weather here is finally bearable!  I'm looking forward to October and finally getting to wear my boots!