Friday, March 30, 2012

Blog Discussion: A Question for My Readers

Earlier this week my friend Laurel and I were talking about writing book reviews for our blogs and which parts are the most difficult.  For me, the hardest part isn't expressing my opinion, but summarizing the book.  When my blog first started, I skipped this all together and just wrote my opinion and linked to the Goodreads page.  But the more I read the blogs of others, the more I felt like I appreciated reviews that gave a short summary of the book on the page.  Clicking through gets old if you're reading several blogs in one sitting. 

It takes me FOREVER to write my summaries though.  Like, I struggle through each one.  I don't want to sound like a 5th grade book report, you know?  All of my reviews seem to start with "Title Of The Book is about..."  Or "Main character is a ____ dealing with ____."  It's like an episode of Reading Rainbow.  OR, and I just noticed this recently, like half of my posts start with some variation of "How cute/gorgeous/artsy/inspiring/etc is this cover?"

Some bloggers just C&P the publisher's copy from GoodReads or Barnes and Noble (with appropriate credit of course), but I've wondered how readers feel about that.  Do you think that's taking the easy way out?  Which do you, as readers, prefer: reading a short and sweet publisher's summary for the basic idea of the book and then reading detailed blogger opinion or a blogger taking the time to come up with his or her own summary, even if that part is tedious?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Book Review: Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty

Laura is the single mother of two young children.  When her oldest child, Betty, is killed by a hit and run driver, she is devastated.  She is also horrified to learn that the man responsible for the accident is walking away with no consequences.  She decides to take matters into her own hands - to find out whatever the man loves and to take it away from him.

Very good.  I think the plot is the real highlight of this story, and the writing does a great job of highlighting the story and the characters.  It's not something to jumps out as particularly amazing, but in this case, I think the characters and the plot made up for that.  I have no critiques of the writing and I think the author did an amazing job of keeping the reader guessing.

Entertainment Value
I was into this one from the very first page.  I really like (and like to hate) all of the characters, and I like how gradually they are revealed to the reader from different levels.  As more of the story and the history is revealed, we see that we may have prematurely judged some characters.  I like that in a book.

This is one I certainly recommend.  I would classify it as women's lit because I feel like it's broadest appeal will be for women.  It's narrated by a woman and deals largely with the emotions that come from being a wife and mother.  However, I hate to use women's lit because that brings to mind a certain stereotype that doesn't really fit this book.  This one leans more to the literary side of fiction and away from what I would consider straight up women's lit.

One note: A large portion of this book deals with Laura's husband's affair and subsequent abandonment of her for his mistress.  As much as I loved this book, I wish I had known that up front.  Affair books make me really uncomfortable.  It's funny because Luke always knows when I start saying "If you ever..." that I must be reading a book where a character has an affair.  I'm really glad I read this one, but had I known how much of a role the affair plays throughout the book I may not have picked it up.

Thanks to TLC for allowing me to be part of the tour.  Click here to see reviews from the other bloggers on the tour.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Losing Clementine Giveaway

In all of my Hunger Games excitement over the weekend (yes, I saw it more than once), I completely forgot that I've got a copy of this one to give away!  I received both a finished copy and an ARC of this one, so I'm determined to share the love.  It's a book that deserves to be read. 

I had originally planned to give away my finished copy and keep my ARC because I am loving and benevolent that way for my Reader Friends.  However, I decided to go ahead and read the finished copy first so my review would be of the finished version.  I always sleep with whatever book I'm reading in bed with me, because I usually fall asleep in the midst of reading.  The night I was reading this one I fell asleep and dropped the book off the bed and it landed all funny with the spine and pages bent, but I didn't know because I was sleeping and it was like that all night and (pause to gasp for breath) the book cover is all bent and ugly now.  So I'll let the winner decide if they want the pristine ARC or the bent-covered, spine-twisted finished copy.  Sorry to let you down on this one Reader Friends.  Believe me, I was appropriately horrified when I woke up and saw what had happened.

In order to win, just leave a comment with your name and either a link back to your blog, email, twitter, something so I can contact you!  Bonus entry for shameless flattery because I can always use a little pick me up.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Hunger Games Premier!

You guys know I can't let this slip by without a mention right?  I mean, we're all aware of the super-fandom exhibited on this blog in the past.  If somehow you managed to miss it, here's a recap:

I made my own Hunger Games Christmas Tree ornaments
I drove to Washington, DC to see Suzanne Collins at the National Book Festival
My friends and I shot our own version of the games in the backyard
And more of our own HG
And even more
We came up with a playlist
And a potential cast list
And we wrote HG themed haiku
And cried like a baby at the end of Mockingjay

It's safe to say I really love these books.  So, obviously, I've been dying for the movie to come out and Bestie and I, along with some other plans, had big plans for costuming.  We bought out tickets early and last night we all got together to enjoy the movie and dress ourselves up.

As far as the movie itself goes, I'm just going to say that I loved it.  I'm sure you can find a TON of reviews analyzing every aspect of it, but I'm not going to go through all that on here.  I thought it was perfect.  If you somehow managed not to go at midnight last night, GO NOW!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Book Review: Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream

Clementine is an accomplished artist who has spent her adult life struggling with bipolar disorder.  When the book opens, she's decided to give up.  She's given herself thirty days to get her affairs in order and then she plans to kill herself.  We follow her last thirty days and see Clementine prepare herself for death, and in that preparation hope to see her find something to live for.

Amazing.  I was especially impressed because this is the author's debut novel.  The book is at times both hilarious and heartbreaking.  I love the character of Clementine, and, although I don't suffer from bipolar disorder, I could completely empathize with her depression.  I think the author did an amazing job of writing a believable fictional experience with mental illness.  There wasn't a moment in the book where Clementine's character wasn't real for me.

Entertainment Value
Again, I love this book.  I loved Clementine and I very much identified with her character.  I also thought her relationship with her ex-husband was portrayed realistically and with a balanced view of both sides - someone who has a mental illness and someone who is in a long-term relationship with someone who is mentally ill.  I was hooked from the beginning and enjoyed every minute of the story. 

I can't recommend it highly enough.  I think it has a really broad appeal as well: I'd recommend it to those who like humor, chick lit, women's lit, YA, and "issue" books.  It really spans a broad range of interests.  It takes the heaviness of the subject matter seriously, but it has enough humor that it's not depressing. 

A big thank you to TLC Tours and the publisher for giving me a chance to review this one.  Click here for a list of other stops on the tour.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Book Review: Dancergirl by Carol M. Tanzman

When I need brain candy, there is nothing I love more than a good "issue" novel.  You know what I mean: it deals with a very of the moment/ripped from the headlines topic.  Bonus points if it would make an amazing Lifetime Original Movie.  And this one would.  It's about a teenage girl whose life revolves around dancing.  She has a candid moment at a concert that is caught on video and goes viral online.  She suddenly becomes super popular and agrees to let her friend film some more videos of her as "dancergirl".  Things get out of control when she realizes that she is being filmed without her permisson in her home.  Suddenly she is forced to deal with the very real danger of an online stalker who knows where she lives and every movement she makes.

Ok so we're not looking at the next major award winner, but we are looking at decent writing.  There are some believability issues (the complete lack of adult interaction, the hand to hand combat performances by teenagers in life-threatening situations, etc) but I didn't find that it took away from my enjoyment of the story.  There was nothing that distracted me from the plot, which exactly what I was looking for and what I think the author was going for with this book.

Entertainment Value
Very Lifetime Original Movie in the absolute best way.  I was intrigued, horrified, and appropriately tense, but not in a way that would keep me up at night with fear.  I was 100% dedicated to the story and truly cared about the characters.  And there were no slow points or lapses where I felt like the story needed to pick up.  And while, for me, it was purely mind candy - I didn't find anything challenging or particularly long-term thought provoking - I think it could be something that would provoke some good thoughts/discussion with the YA age group it is intended for in regards to online privacy, exposing too much of yourself, the cost of putting your life in the open, etc.

I definitely recommend it.  Especially if you're like me and can't handle adult horror/hard core thriller books.  It's great suspense, but not too intense and without the violence and gore that usually goes along with adult-genre-stalker-novels. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

In My Mailbox (33)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren featuring new books bloggers have added to their collections.  It's been a few weeks since I've done one of these so I actually have quite a few books to show off.


From the used book store
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Under the Covers and Between the Sheets: Facts and Trivia About the World's Greatest Books by C. Alan Joace and Sarah Janssen
Book Lust To Go by Nancy Pearl (this completes my Book Lust set!)

From the library sale:
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
My Losing Season by Pat Conroy

Breaking Free: Making Liberty in Christ a Reality in Life by Beth Moore
Saint Augustine by Garry Wills

Beach Music by Pat Conroy
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
The Last Girls by Lee Smith

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult

Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez
In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason

From an indie bookstore in Rossville that was going out of business:
I Remember Nothing And Other Reflections by Nora Ephron

For Review

From William Morrow:
I, Iago by Nicole Galland 
Secret Heroes: Everyday Americans Who Shaped Our World by Paul Martin
The Bond: Our Kinship With Animals, Our Call To Defend Them by Wayne Pacelle

Arranged by Catherine McKenzie

From TLC and Simon and Schuster
Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty (TLC tour)
Illusion by Frank Peretti (Simon and Schuster)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Book Review: Hystera by Leora Skolkin-Smith

Oh my, Reader Friends.  Coming up with a review for this one has been quite difficult.  It took me two weeks to actually read the book (my apologies to the author and to Trish at TLC for my being late with the review).  Our main character is Lilly, who is being admitted to a mental hospital as the book opens.  She is suffering from delusions after a tragic accident involving her father and a souring relationship with a married man.  The book is set in the 1970's and the abduction of Patty Hearst plays a role in Lilly's delusions.

I was honestly just not a fan of the writing.  It was SO flowery and SO effusive and SO trying to be literary that it made no sense to me at times.  I read parts aloud to Luke hoping it would be more clear to him, but he was as baffled as I was.  The narrator at one point hears the rain coming down outside her window and compares it to the sound a babying peeing into a soft blanket.  Uh, what?  I don't have much of a frame of reference for the sound of babies peeing into soft (or rough or any other kind) blankets, but what a weird mental image.  And that wasn't the weirdest.  I mean I get not wanting to use cliches or trite similes, but in her attempts to find new ways of describing common experiences, the author just went a little overboard.

Entertainment Value
This is typically my kind of story.  I like stories about people who have mental illness and I like mental hospitals and rehab facilities as a setting for stories.  I think mental illness is fascinating (psych minor in college - woohoo!).  So, the book intrigued me on that level.  Unfortunately, I was bored with the actual book.  The idea was interesting but we were so deep in Lilly's delusions that a lot of the book just didn't make sense.  The parts that did make sense weren't all that interesting.  Lilly does whole a lot of sitting around and talking about really mundane topics with other patients in ways that don't really advance the story or make any difference.  Also, the sexual aspects of her mental illness were also very prominent.  Another reviewer on Goodreads used the word "subtle" and I was shocked.  To me, it was anything but subtle.  It was SO in your face Freudian that it was tiresom.  Lilly's main delusion revolves around a "bulb" that she imagines between her legs.  To overcome her fear of intimacy she must learn to control her dream orgasms (and now I will have a million hits from people searching for "bulb porn").  It was just bizarre and overt sexualization of EVERYTHING EVER in a very literally Freudian way.  Penis envy, Electra Complex, etc, etc, etc.

I cannot recommend it.  I just can't.  It took me two weeks to read it and it's under 200 pages.  It's a book that made me actively try not to find time to read.  There are some very good reviews of the book on Goodreads, and I'd suggest you check them out if the idea of the book intrigues you, but this one just was not for me.  Also, in fairness, I feel compelled to tell you that I am (so far) the only reviewer on the tour who hasn't raved about the book, so please take a look at those reviews as well for a balanced opinion. 

Thanks to Trish at TLC for sending me the book to review and click here to see the rest of the tour hosts.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book Review: More Beauty, Less Beast by Deborah M. Coty

This book came along for me to review at a pretty good time.  Since January, I've really been working hard on my appearance.  Which makes it sound like I had some sort of self-confidence breakdown, although that's not exactly the case.  I've always had a pretty healthy self esteem regarding my looks.  I'd like to be thinner (along with pretty much the rest of everyone I know), but mostly I just want to be stronger and healthier.  So anyway, I jumped at the chance to review this one, because it seemed to fit this year's theme of internal and external healthiness. It's a book of short essays or devotions relating to being the best person you can be inside and out.

I was pleased overall with the writing.  It's about on par with other women's devotionals I've read.  I honestly can't really say I was blown away, but I wasn't bothered by the writing style either.  It reminded me a lot of Barbara Johnson, another Christian author whose humorous but still insightful non-fiction I've enjoyed.

Entertainment Value
I think this one would be better read as a devotional than the way I read it, which was straight through, beginning to end.  I enjoyed it, but I think I would have gotten more out of it had I read each devotion on its own.  That said, I think this is a book that would appeal to a variety of readers.  It's intended for women, obviously, and also for Christians.  Each essay is very overtly spiritual and I can't imagine that it would appeal to those who aren't already believers.  While I was very pleased with the book overall, I do have to mention one small annoyance.  The author continually used "Papa God" to refer to God and it drove me nuts.  I mean, I know God is our Father, but that phrase just seemed too "cutesy" to me.

I recommend it to Christian women.  If my church had a library, I'd definitely include it in that collection.  Cute, funny, and some good insights.  Definitely worth the short time it takes to read.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity Group for the chance to review this one!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Book Review: Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto by Gianni Rodari

Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto is an Italian fable that has been popular in the country for years.  It is the story of an old man, Lamberto, who discovers the secret to life is having his name spoken repeatedly.  He hires a team of employees to constantly speak his name and quickly rediscovers his youth and vitality.  But his nephew, eager to inherit his fortune, wants to discover his secret.  Not only that, but his island villa is taken hostage by a team of terrorists with bizarre demands.

It's really hard for me to evaluate the writing of a work in translation when I don't speak the original language the book was written in.  I feel like it's difficult to say whether or not Rodari was a good author when I'm actually evaluating the translation (in this case, done by Antony Shugaar).  Regardless of that hesitation however, this edition of the book is charming.  There weren't moments of awkward language use or portions that were difficult to understand, so the translation was obviously done well.  And I was thoroughly impressed by the intricacy of the story.

Entertainment Value
Adorable.  It's pretty short and has precious illustrations, so it won't take you long to read.  I read it in just a couple of hours during breaks at work.  It's an interesting story and, with all the new imaginings of fairytales that are so popular right now, I think this one fits right in.  It's a take on fable-telling that I haven't heard before, with that "universal truth" feeling behind it, but with a more modern take. 

I recommend giving it a try, especially if you're into children's literature or fables or are enjoying all of the current updated fairytale stories.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher, Melville House, for providing a copy for me to review.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Book Review: Girls Like Us

Rachel Lloyd grew up in England and was a victim of the commercial sex industry as a teenager in Germany.  She has since moved to the US and devotes her life to helping young American girls who are the unheard victims of sexual trafficking.  They are not kidnapped and taken overseas, but are victimized right here in our own country.  The plight of these girls, frequently black or Latino, goes unnoticed and unmonitored because our culture identifies "teen prostitution" as less significant than domestic sex trafficking of minors.  This book is a heartbreaking examination of the domestic sex trade and the children who are victimized by it, although they are frequently not recognized by the government or our culture as victims.  Lloyd shares her story and the stories of countless young girls she has helped through GEMS, her non-profit organization devoted to helping the victims of the domestic sex trade.

I was really impressed with the quality of Lloyd's writing.  I think she's combined accessibility for a wide range of readers with valid, well-conducted research.  A large portion of the book is anecdotal - stories from Lloyd's personal experiences and from the lives of the girls she works with.  The heart-to-heart story telling will appeal to readers who would be turned off by facts and figures and works well to bring out the emotional aspects of the domestic sex trade and its effect on children.  However, it's also obvious that Lloyd knows what she's talking about for those are interested in the statistics and research that back up these heartbreaking stories.  She documents all of her research and cites all of her sources, which means that interested readers can follow up on the studies she uses.

Entertainment Value
This is, of course, a book that it's hard to say you were entertained by, since it's main topic is the sexual exploitation of young girls.  However, I will say that it's a book that I couldn't put down.  I was fascinated by the tragedy that's taking place in our own country that we are so quick to gloss over as "teen prostitution" or a choice that is willingly made.  Lloyd's own story is both heartbreaking and inspiring. 

I highly recommend this book to pretty much everyone.  It's interesting and moving and will hopefully change the way you look at the domestic commercial sex industry.  Also, if the topic interests you, check out the documentary that has been made on GEMS called Very Young Girls.  I saw it several years ago and was very moved.  You can also click here to see the GEMS website.

Thank you to TLC for letting me be a part of the tour for this one.  Click here to see the list of other participants.

Monday, March 5, 2012

What I Read in February

I fully intended to make this a vlog, but I've come down with a nasty cold and sore throat and just wasn't up to that much talking this weekend.  Plus I didn't really feel like getting dressed except for church and our date night - I managed the spend the rest of the weekend in sweatpants and it was heavenly!  On to the books!

In February I read:

James Madison by Garry Wills
Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
Killing The Black Dog by Les Murray
Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto by Gianni Rodari
Spin by Cathering McKenzie
Only You, Sierra by Robin Jones Gunn
Delicacy by David Foenkinos
What Happened to Hannah by Mary Kay McComas
Dancergirl by Carol M. Tanzman
Agorafabulous! Dispatches From My Bedroom by Sara Benincasa
Come and Find Me by Hallie Ephron
This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman
Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

Total Books Read in February: 13
Total Books Read This Year: 22
Total Pages Read This Year: 5974
Total Saved Through Reviews, Library, and Books I Own: $262.77

Agorafabulous Winner

Congratulations to Jenny (with a y) who won a signed copy of Agorafabulous by Sara Benincasa.  I'll email Jenny and she'll have 48 hours to contact me with her address before I choose another winner.  Thanks for entering, everyone!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Book Review: Come and Find Me by Hallie Ephron

Come and Find Me is he story of reformed hacker Diana, who, after losing her boyfriend in a traumatic accident, refuses to leave her home.  Instead she lives her life through the virtual world of Other Life, an online role playing forum where she conducts all of her personal and professional business.  She runs a successful online security company with her partner Jake, who was her boyfriend's best friend.  Her only face to face human interaction is from her sister, who mysteriously disappears.  Diana must overcome her fears to rescue the one person she has left in her world.

The writing in this one got off to a pretty rocky start for me.  The author is setting her entire world up around this online universe and she pretty much immediately uses internet-speak incorrectly.  Internet-speak can be annoying enough on its own, but when it's used incorrectly by someone who is supposed to be this hacker/internet-genius in the first chapter, it's really annoying.  For the record, if you are online and you want to abbreviate "no big deal" it is "NBD" not "No BD".  Now that I have that off my chest...the writing honestly doesn't improve much.  I didn't like any of the characters, especially Diana.  She wasn't flawed in an endearing way, she was annoying and desperate and pitiful in a way that reminded me of how I feel when I'm watching Hoarders.  The plot is highly unbelievable and also ridiculously predictable, with foreshadowing so thick you can touch it.

Entertainment Value
As much as the writing turned me off to this book, it really wasn't that bad entertainment-wise.  I didn't love the characters and I was pretty sure I knew the ending after the first few chapters (I did), but I didn't struggle with getting through the book.  It has a fast pace and there were suspenseful moments.  I'd even recommend it to a certain set of readers: those who aren't into bloody, gory, scary thrillers.  It's got a harder feel than cozy mysteries, but it's not something that's going to make you check under your bed before you go to sleep at night either. 

I thought it was ok, but it wasn't a favorite.  I wish I had liked the characters more and that the ending hadn't been so very obvious.  BUT, I do think it has a definite appeal to certain readers and I can think of several people who don't want scary but enjoy some suspense that I'd recommend it to. 

Thanks to TLC for including me on this tour!  Click here to see a list of all the other bloggers on the tour.