Thursday, April 25, 2013

Book Review: The BlogHer '12 Voices of the Year

If you're at all involved in blogging, you've most likely heard of BlogHer, a media company created by female bloggers to feature content written by female bloggers.  It's started small and now hosts a huge annual conference and features a wide variety of bloggers.  This year they compiled some of their top content into this book, which draws from posts on numerous topics: humor, career, parenting, inspiration, etc.

It's written by bloggers, so OBVIOUSLY, it's awesome.  Really, the editors did a great job of choosing material that is well written and edited, even if it's not always perfect.  The bloggers represented are, typically, not professional writers, but they're all still amazing.  I was blown away by the quality, although I should know by now that bloggers are great writers.

Entertainment Value
These posts are all well written, insightful, humorous, inspiring, etc.  I found the political commentary to be interesting, the family stories to be touching, and I laughed out loud more than once.  Also, and this isn't really BlogHer's fault because it IS a women's media company and kind of known for the mommy blogs, there was a LOT of parenting stuff.  That was the one thing that I wasn't totally appreciative of.  I mean, it's not like because I'm not a mommy I can't appreciate reading a great post about family, but one breastfeeding post would have been plenty.

I definitely recommend reading it and I highly recommend that if you DO read it, you do so in ebook format. It's available in paperback, but I loved reading it on my ereader and being able to go straight to links and add blogs immediately instead of having to wait till I was in front of a computer.  And there are several cute cartoons and pictures and other links that are best accessed on an ereader.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Audiobook Review: Seriously...I'm Kidding by Ellen Degeneres

Oh, Ellen.  I wanted this book to be so funny.  I was on a long and extremely delayed flight and all I wanted to do was close my eyes and let you make me laugh.  Based on everything I've ever seen from you, we should have totally connected through this book of...essays?  I'm not really even sure what to call them.  More like musings, I guess.  Each one is super short and made up of whatever Ellen seemed to have on her mind at the moment.  It's hard to describe, so I'll just jump ahead to the review.

Writing/Entertainment Value
Since this is humor, I think the two are pretty much one and the same.  And I wasn't impressed.  I love Ellen on TV.  I can't think of anything I've seen her in that I didn't find hilarious and her show consistently makes me laugh.  But none of that translated to the book.  It's a whole lot of very short collections of thoughts and many of them are lengthy and rambling.  Some of them are just goofy and, geeze I hate to say it, dumb.  Way too many of the selections involve Degeneres losing her train of thought and forgetting what she was originally talking about.  I just was very unimpressed and, frankly, bored.

This is the part that was particularly trippy for me.  Ellen narrates the book, and I totally associate her voice with humor.  So I keep hearing her voice and expecting something hilarious to come out, but it's not.  It was kind of disconcerting.  Her voice was, to me, the best part of the book and the only part that actually seemed like her.

I still love you, Ellen.  And I would give another one of her books a try.  But I don't think I'd give another collection of her musings a try.  It looks like both of her other books are similar in nature, but I'd love to see her put out an autobiography in the vein of Bossypants.  THAT I would pick up for sure.  As far as this one is concerned, I don't recommend it.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Book Review: The Great Escape by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

This is a really good example of the right book finding me at the right time.  You can look back through my blog history and see that I don't typically read romance novels.  Women's lit or YA maybe, but not much straight up romance.  BUT, I've been doing a ton of serious and/or academic reading.  I read (and will soon review) Going Clear by Lawrence Wright and I'm taking an MOOC hosted by Duke in Behavioral Economics that has required a fair amount of research and academic reading.  My brain totally needed a break.  Enter The Great Escape.

Lucy, our main character, is the adopted daughter of the President and is about to get married to the perfect man, when she loses her nerve and flees the church.  She winds up on the back of a motorcycle driven by the rough-around-the-edges Panda.  As she finds herself and discovers what she really wants in life, she is pulled in directions she never imagined and finds herself inexplicably drawn to Panda and the life he represents.  Add a quaint island town, cute orphan, some spunky female friends, and you have a recipe for amazing brain candy.

I was looking for an escape, if you will, and this perfectly fit the bill.  It follows the traditional formula (and in this case, I don't mean that negatively) of a romance and the love scenes were all well written.  The plot was interesting, the characters kept me entertained, and it flowed well.  Just keep in mind it's a romance novel, not lit fic, so if you're looking for something serious, high-minded, and/or realistic, this may not be it.

Entertainment Value
Do you know what's weird?  What I love in a romance novel is almost always the exact opposite of what I love in reality.  I would HATE Panda if I knew him in real life and I'd NEVER date him.  But I loved him as a foil for Lucy.  And I was enthralled by the book.  I plan on picking up the rest of the series (they don't need to be read in order) and keeping them around for times like this when I need a bit of brain candy!

Thanks to TLC for including me on the tour!  Click here to see the other tour sites and dates.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Classic Children's Books That Need More Attention

I've been reminiscing lately about some childhood reading and wondering why I don't hear more about the children's classics that I remember reading in my childhood.  As an elementary student I read well ahead of my grade level, but I still enjoyed children's books - and do to this day.  So here are a few of the books I'd consider classics that I read as a child but don't see getting much attention today.

This series is about a remarkable woman who knows everything about children and how to cure them of any nasty habits.  For example, a little girl who doesn't want to wash goes to stay with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and starts growing radishes from her ears.  The stories all follow the same basic format and as a child I LOVED reading about the hilarious ways Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle taught children how to behave.  

The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series is still in print (see purchase info on the Goodreads link above) AND
there is a TV series for children based on the books that you can watch free at Hulu by clicking here.

It's not that I think Beverly Cleary doesn't get enough attention, and it's not that the amazing Ramona series doesn't deserve lots of attention, but I feel like Henry Huggins gets left out quite a bit.  The Henry series actually intersects with the Ramona series, as Beezus and Henry are the same age and live in the same neighborhood.  in the first book, Henry finds the perfect dog, Ribsy, and the rest of the series tells stories of their escapades.  
Honorable mention for overlooked Beverly Cleary books that I fell in love with goes to Otis Spofford.

While I recommend starting with The Red Fairy Book,  it really doesn't matter how you start - there are various fairy books (Blue, Green, Yellow, Pink, Brown, etc) to keep you occupied with fairy tales from every culture and society you can think of.  They were written in the late 1800s, but in a way that I could understand and enjoy even at a young age.  And the best part?  They are in the public domain.  You can download them to an ereader or read them online for free at Project Gutenberg by clicking here.

The Burgess Stories, beginning with Old Mother West Wind, were my jam when I was a child.  I read them over and over and over.  They're collections of short stories that focus on Mother West Wind and her Merry Little Breezes as well as the animals in the forest.  They're something like Rudyard Kipling's just-so stories or  the Uncle Remus stories, but with more of a "respect for nature" than "teaching a moral" bent.  These are also available for free via Project Gutenberg by clicking here.

McBroom's stories all revolve around his miraculous one-acre farm.  Actually, it's 80 acres, but they're all stacked on top of each other.  The soil, however, is exception and McBroom quickly learns that he can grow the most exceptional crops - including planting nickels and harvesting quarters.  They're silly and fun and I am as delighted by them now as I was as a child.  And, as an adult, I can appreciate children's books that are silly and crazy without resorting to farts or underwear to make kids laugh.

With the exception of the Burgess Stories and The Fairy Series, all of these books are available through Scholastic, so you may want to take a look and find them in the catalog next time your kid brings home an order!  Or check them out online or at your library or book store!

Any overlooked children's classics you'd like to share?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Book Review: Ten Tiny Breaths by K.A. Tucker

It's been four years since Kacey's parents, best friend, and boyfriend were killed in a devastating car accident.  Kacey was also in the car and was seriously injured, both physically and emotionally.  When her uncle and guardian begins to show an unhealthy interest in her younger sister, Livie, Kacey and her sister flee to Miami.  There, life finally seems to start to come together for the sisters.  They make friends in their apartment complex, and Kacey becomes involved with her handsome neighbor Trent.  But she must eventually deal with her scars from the past and Trent is hiding some of his own secrets.

Ok, so this was my second foray into New Adult, after having read Beautiful Disaster (which was, by the way its own disaster).  Since I absolutely loathed Beautiful Disaster, I was hesitant to give the genre another try.

[Also, can I just say that I do not understand the genre?  It's basically just YA with sex, right?  Or contemporary romance with characters in their 20's?  I mean, I'm cool with it being a thing, but it just seems like a fairly arbitrary delineation.]

Anyway, so the writing.  It was...meh.  I mean, the whole plot and all the twists and turns it takes was just so far out of the realm of believability I'm not sure how to describe it.  There were all kinds of crazy coincidences and the "twist" ending I saw coming from a mile away.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy the book (see Entertainment Value).  So this is where the genre thing kind of matters to me, I guess.  Is the book supposed to be a contemporary "issue" book?  If so, I think it failed in some regards, as I didn't believe the characters were real and their issues were so far removed from reality that it was hard to imagine.  But if it's supposed to be contemporary romance, then whether or not I believe it's real becomes much less of an issue for me.  I may not believe the characters are real, but I like them and I loved the romance, so for a contemporary romance I think the book succeeded.

Entertainment Value
Another complex issue for me.  Because I have to say that I LOVED the experience of reading this one.  It was romantic and twisty and the characters were all sympathetic and I cared about them.  I got a lot of pleasure out of reading it.

But I was again (as I have been several times lately) distracted by the portrayal of the sex industry.  This is not a spoiler, by the way.  Early in the book Kacey befriends her neighbor who is a stripper/bartender and takes a job tending the bar at the strip club.  And it's shown as this wonderful experience where she meets the loving and protective bouncers and the heart of gold club owner and all of the strippers are empowered and happy with their lives.

So I mentioned a few posts back that while this may be the odd anecdotal case, the majority of women in the sex industry are not there because they have so many other options and just choose to strip for the fun of it.  And I think this kind of portrayal of the industry is A) very privileged (the true stories of women who strip/prostitute for fun, you will notice, are almost exclusively white and educated) and B) damaging to the women who are forced into it either by trafficking or by lack of options.

Anyway, I'm going to write a long post on that when I finally sort out my feelings on the issue.  Because the truth is that it really turns me off to a book -but at the same time, I've actually quite enjoyed several books where this happens apart from that aspect.  I'm trying to decide how I feel about books that I feel like promote an ideal that I disagree with, but that I enjoy anyway, if that makes sense.

The big book in my online book club right now is Hopeless.  If you liked Hopeless, you'll love Ten Tiny Breaths.  I think it will also appeal to those who read YA and wish it were more...mature.  There are definitely sex scenes as well as language and other situations you won't find in most YA, so you should be aware of that up front.  I also think this will appeal to fans of contemporary romance, especially contemporary romance that is a bit grittier.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Book Review: Give Me Everything You Have by James Lasdun

James Lasdun is an author and literature/writing professor who has been stalked for years by a student.  When he first met Nasreen, she was a promising student in his class.  They reconnected years later and began a friendship that took place largely over email.  Eventually Nasreen attempted to move from a friendship to a romantic relationship, leading Lasdun, who was happily married, to put the brakes on their conversation.  When that happened, Nasreen started sending angry emails, which eventually escalated to a full campaign to ruin Lasdun personally and professionally.  This book chronicles their relationship and attempts to take a philosophical look at his own experience as well as through the lens of racial, social, and political motivations.

The book is certainly well-written.  It isn't a thriller or even a thrilling memoir - it's a very philosophical look at a specific experience in the author's life.  I think when you read "memoir" and "stalking", you have a certain expectation of a level of tension or suspense or danger that will be evident in the book, but that's not what you're going to find here.  It's written in a very introspective style, with a large focus on the more philosophical implications of Nasreen's stalking, which entailed many attacks relating to her status as a Middle Eastern woman and his status as a Jewish American.  Lasdun looks in detail at the history of political and social tensions in the Middle East and how they impacted and reflected on his experiences with Nasreen.

Entertainment Value
Well, like I mentioned above, the book is much more literary and philosophical than it is intense and exciting. About halfway through, things got pretty slow for me.  It's not a terribly long book, and I think it's worth reading if you're interested in the author himself or if you're intrigued by how he ties social, racial, and political situations in the Middle East relate to his experience being stalked online.  But if you're looking for a fast-paced memoir of a harrowing experience, I think you might find this on the slow side.

This was was just ok for me.  I appreciated Lasdun's story and his unique point of view, but at times I felt like he was trying too hard to be philosophical and that the book suffered from over-emphasis on the implications of the stalking in a global and historical context as opposed to a personal context.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Book Review: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Kate is a successful attorney who thinks she's doing a pretty good job of balancing single motherhood with her career.  She realizes how wrong she is when she gets a call from her daughter's private school announcing that her daughter, Amelia, has been suspended for cheating.  By the time Kate gets to the school, her daughter is dead.  The case seems to be open and shut - her daughter killed herself rather than face the issues she was dealing with.  But within a few days Kate receives a mysterious text that tells her Amelia didn't jump.  From there, the book chronicles what led to the Amelia's death as Kate uses her daughters texts and emails to retrace her path and reconstruct the circumstances of Amelia's apparent suicide.

Were there believability issues?  Yes.  Did I care at all?  No.  It's a thriller/suspense and I found the few issues I had with believability (so many coincidences) to be within my threshold for suspension of disbelief.  Other than that, I had no issues with the writing.  The author did a good job of alternating between a teen and adult voice and created characters who were multi-faceted and dynamic.  I appreciated that there weren't any stock-characters and that almost every character had a deeper motivation for his or her actions than was originally revealed.

Entertainment Value
In a thriller, I'm all about the entertainment value and this one delivers.  My highest praise for any book as far as entertainment is concerned is that I think about it when I'm not reading it and Reconstructing Amelia had me wondering all day at work what would happen next.

Recommended to fans of the genre, obviously, but I also think this book has great crossover appeal for adults or teens who enjoy reading YA.  The school setting and the age of some of the central characters will be appealing to those who like contemporary YA and it addresses some social issues that are also of interest to that age group.

Thanks to TLC for sending me a copy of the book for review!  Click here to see the complete tour schedule.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To the Theater

Just kidding.  A funny thing happened when I was already INSIDE the theater.  It's a long story, but I have actual photographic evidence that it really happened, which I will share at the end.

For quite a while Luke and I have been fairly obsessive listeners to This American Life, a radio program broadcast from NPR and hosted by Ira Glass.  We got started on it a few years ago when it was made into a tv show, but since then have made it a mission to listen to all of the episodes, which are, by the way, available free on the website.  And Ira Glass has become something of a family hero.

So when we found out he was scheduled to give a free lecture at a historic local theater , we knew we'd be there.  After our Sunday lunch with family, we headed over about two hours early to make sure we got in.  Since tickets weren't being sold, we knew we needed to get there early to make sure we got good seats.

Once we arrived and found some (great) seats, we met up with a friend (Hey Ben!) and then sat down to read while we waited.  His and her e-readers FTW! (this is not the promised photographic evidence).

But before I got my book out, I tweeted about how excited I was to be seeing Ira Glass live.  And this is where the power of the internet is revealed.  A few seconds later I got a tweet back from a friend who lives in L.A.  She told me that she had just seen a tweet from Stephanie Perkins (yep, the author of Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door - two of my favorite books) that said she was also seeing Ira Glass.

I started looking around and suddenly realized she was directly in front of me, three rows up.  The whole time I'm grabbing Luke and gushing.  And he finally convinced me to send her a tweet and say I'm a fan and was also in the audience.  (PS: I feel like I should tell you that all of this happened before the show started - I would NEVER interrupt Ira Glass with Twitter, even to fangirl over an author).  So a tweet was sent and then she responded and said I should come and say hello!

There were another ten or fifteen minutes of me wavering at the prospect of approaching an author and gushing, so I texted the Nesties for support.  Luke had long since lost interest in the entire thing and was refusing to angst about it with me.  With the support of my Nestie Besties, I went over and said hi and we had a whole conversation!

I can't go into the details because she revealed all of her personal writing secrets and then gave me a signed copy of the Isla manuscript.

Ok, ok, that part is a lie.  But we chatted about authors and readers and the relationship between the two and librarianship and where we live and it was so fun.  She was super sweet and personable and genuinely interested in chatting with a fan, which was really nice.  And, finally, I give you photographic evidence:

That's right - even though Luke was totally bored by my angst over whether or not to talk to her, he did me a solid and took a picture while we were talking because he knew that my author-stalking heart would be blessed.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Book Review: There Was An Old Woman

I've read Hallie Ephron before and, to be honest, wasn't much of a fan.  However, after reading the description for this one I decided to give her another chance.  The book features an elderly woman who holds the key to a mysterious incident involving a neighbor's sudden descent into illness.  Old people?  I love old people almost as I love psychotic children.  So a thriller that revolves around an elderly woman who may or may not be losing her senility drew me in.  And I'm so glad I gave the author a second chance, because this one was good.

There are few tropes I love in thrillers as much as a potential gaslight.  You're all familiar with gaslighting, right?  A character is slowly losing his or her mind...or is is all a trick?  I love it most when I can't tell whether or not a character is being gaslighted.  And because I'm incredibly naive, I can almost never tell.  This was no exception and I spent most of the book wondering whether our elderly main character was grappling with dementia or being tormented by an outside entity.  I won't let you in on the surprise, but I will let you know that it provided me with just the right amount of cozy suspense.

Entertainment Value
Well, I stayed up for half the night because I HAD to know the ending, so that certainly says something about the entertainment value.  Beyond the suspense, I also appreciated a thriller/mystery that doesn't play up the gore, foul language, or sex that are frequently found in the genre.  I'd recommend this to readers who wouldn't normally be interested in the genre for that reason.  I think it's a great book that falls outside of the cozy mystery genre but doesn't cross all the way into thriller territory.  It's a cozy thriller.

I recommend it.  I'm definitely glad I gave the author another try and I'll continue to look into her books in the future because I enjoyed this one.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Book Review: Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer

Queen Elizabeth Wake (Queenie to her friends), ran away from her small Texas town years ago after being rejected by her lifelong love, Everett.  She and her sister were always treated like outcasts in the town based on their mother's reputation and her sister's teen pregnancy.  But when Queenie loses yet another job, she is forced to return home to face the people of the town and her lingering feelings for Everett.

When it comes to genre fiction, I must admit that I often have low expectations for the writing.  I'm not really on the lookout for outstanding commentary on life or depth of insight - I'm just looking for a good story that fits a certain schema.  In the case of women's literature/romance, I'm looking for likable characters and an intriguing plot with a nice ending.  However, Nowhere But Home met and then surpassed those expectations.  I did find the characters and plot I was looking for, but I also found some serious insight.  My favorite point in the book was Queenie's realization that "anger is just a bodyguard for sadness."  I was thoroughly pleased with the quality and style.

Entertainment Value
As I mentioned above, this is what I'm really looking for in a genre read and it totally delivered.  I loved Queenie's relationship with her sister, with the men she works with as a prison chef, and with her nephew Cal.  I also loved the romantic aspect, had the appropriate swoony feelings, and it was all bundled with an ending I could appreciate.  I also really respected that the author took care not to create stock characters.  The "bad" characters in the book, Queenie's enemies, are revealed to be hurting people who have their own life issues to deal with.  In the end, no one is all good or all bad, and I like when authors can capture that.

Highly recommend it, especially if you're looking for a lighter read going into summer or spring break.  I'll definitely read more by the author.

Thank you to TLC for putting me on the tour.  You can click here to see the rest of the blogs that will be reviewing Nowhere But Home.

Monday, April 1, 2013

What I Read In March

March has been a nice, if not particularly busy, month for us.  Maybe the not particularly busy part is what made it nice.  I got a lot of work done on the house - I'm WAY ahead on 52 Weeks to an Organized Home - and did a lot more clearing out of excess stuff.  Also, I did a lot of reading:

When It Happens To You
There Was An Old Woman
The Dragon Factory
Not Less Than Everything
A Room of One's Own
Shout Her Lovely Name
Dark Tide
The Death of Bees
Joe Ledger: The Missing Files
7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess
Tenth of December
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, And He Hanged Himself
The King of Plagues
Just Clean Enough
Nowhere But Here
Ten Tiny Breaths

Total books read in March: 16
Total books read this year: 42
Pages read in March: 4557
Total pages read in 2013: 12,150

It was my best reading month this year, and each month has been better than the previous.  It would be awesome to keep my reading streak going, but I have a lot going on in April, including two weekend getaways, so we'll just have to see how that all affects my reading time!

What did you read this month?