Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Book Review: The Memory of Love by Linda Olsson


Title: The Memory of Love
Author: Linda Olsson
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: February 26, 2013 (first published in Swedish in 2011)
Source: copy received from the publisher for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads

Marion Flint, in her early fifties, has spent fifteen years living a quiet life on the rugged coast of New Zealand, a life that allows the door to her past to remain firmly shut. But a chance meeting with a young boy, Ika, and her desire to help him force Marion to open the Pandora’s box of her memory. Seized by a sudden urgency to make sense of her past, she examines each image one-by-one: her grandfather, her mother, her brother, her lover. Perhaps if she can create order from the chaos, her memories will be easier to carry. Perhaps she’ll be able to find forgiveness for the little girl that was her. For the young woman she had been. For the people she left behind.
 
Olsson expertly interweaves scenes from Marion’s past with her quest to save Ika from his own tragic childhood, and renders with reflective tenderness the fragility of memory and the healing power of the heart.


My Review:

I love a book that I go into with no expectations, and it ends up being a pleasant surprise.  I *think* I received this book ages ago from the publisher when it was first released in English, and I just never got a chance to review it at the time.  It sat forlornly on my shelf until it got picked in the TBR Book Baggie.  It seemed fairly short, so I gave it a go...and what a gem I found!

The two stories within this novel (of Marion's childhood and Marion's present-day issues with a young boy that she's taken under her wing) are woven together beautifully.  As you learn more about Marion's past, the way she chooses to deal with her present makes more and more sense.  And her past is quite shocking--the slow buildup to the climax of her childhood trauma made me want to devour the entire book in one sitting.  All of this is highlighted by the fabulous writing, which is lyrical and poetic without coming off as too flowery.

The fact that this isn't a terribly long review shouldn't be a reflection on the quality of the book, as it may be one of my top reads of 2014.  It's a smaller book in size, but it packs a big punch with complex characters, surprising twists, and intriguing relationships.  Someone order me Linda Olsson's backlist, STAT.

This was my fifth pick from the TBR Book Baggie! My next pick from the baggie is:

Moby Dick by Herman Melville!

Yup...I'm a little intimidated.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Happy Monday! What are YOU reading?

Hope everyone had a great weekend!  What are you reading today?
Our weekend was busy with all sorts of good stuff.  On Saturday, I got a tattoo (my third) of an infinity symbol with my boys' names woven into it.  I LOVE IT.  I wish I could show it to you, but as you know, they go by Small Fry and Tater Tot on the blog, and that is not what the tattoo says (although that would have been pretty fantastic).  So for privacy's sake, you'll just have to imagine it.  But this is the idea photo that I provided to the artist, if you want the gist:

It went on the inner part of my upper arm (bicep area) and it didn't hurt all that much.  Because after childbirth, nothing else hurts all that much.  Anyway, these kids better love me forever, because they are totally stuck to me now!

Sunday we took Small Fry and Tater Tot to one of the local farms that were doing a fall festival.  It was awesome!  Pumpkin patch, train rides, giant slides, playground, sandbox, petting zoo, corn maze, etc.  The weather was gorgeous and we had a great time.  (An even better time when we got home and both kiddos passed out for a nap--woo!!!)

As for what I'm reading these days:

Larger Than Life by Jodi Picoult

From Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Storyteller and My Sister’s Keeper, comes a gripping and beautifully written novella, now available exclusively as an eBook. Set in the wilds of Africa, Larger Than Life introduces Alice, the unforgettable character at the center of Picoult’s anticipated new novel, Leaving Time
 
A researcher studying memory in elephants, Alice is fascinated by the bonds between mother and calf—the mother’s powerful protective instincts and her newborn’s unwavering loyalty. Living on a game reserve in Botswana, Alice is able to view the animals in their natural habitat—while following an important rule: She must only observe and never interfere. Then she finds an orphaned young elephant in the bush and cannot bear to leave the helpless baby behind. Thinking back on her own childhood, and on her shifting relationship with her mother, Alice risks her career to care for the calf. Yet what she comes to understand is the depth of a parent’s love. (From Goodreads)

Yes, it's that time of year again!  Jodi Picoult's latest release is on the horizon.  (If you are unsure about my level of excitement for this, please educate yourself here.)  Leaving Time will be available October 14, but readers are getting a special treat beforehand--this novella that delves into the past of one of Leaving Time's central characters.  It's only in eBook format, but was offered for free for a short time (score!).

The novella is interesting so far--not full of the twists and turns that you expect from a Picoult book, as it's more of a character study to get your curiosity going for the novel that is to come.  But I love getting this early glimpse at one of the new book's characters, and it's definitely getting me psyched for release day.  Picoult fans should check this out--it's a quick read and a fun way to gear up for her latest work.

What will I read next?
Several options ahead for me!  I have The Hunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson from the library...getting ready for spooky Halloween-ish reads.  I'm also considering a Stephen King novel (as I always do this time of year)...perhaps Bag of Bones.  And I've also got my new pick from the TBR book baggie--Moby Dick by Herman Melville.  EEK!  I have a feeling that one might wait for a while.

What's in your reading plans this week, friends?  Any fun Halloween reads coming up?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Giveaway and BANNED! Book Review: Go Ask Alice by Anonymous


Title: Go Ask Alice
Author: Anonymous (Beatrice Sparks)
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: September 14, 1971
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

It started when she was served a soft drink laced with LSD in a dangerous party game. Within months, she was hooked, trapped in a downward spiral that took her from her comfortable home and loving family to the mean streets of an unforgiving city. It was a journey that would rob her of her innocence, her youth -- and ultimately her life. 

Read her diary. 

Enter her world.

You will never forget her. 


For thirty-five years, the acclaimed, bestselling first-person account of a teenage girl's harrowing decent into the nightmarish world of drugs has left an indelible mark on generations of teen readers. As powerful -- and as timely -- today as ever, Go Ask Alice remains the definitive book on the horrors of addiction.


My Review:

That's right, it's one of my favorite literary weeks--BANNED BOOK WEEK!  During this event each year, Sheila at Book Journey hosts a little celebration on her blog, and this is the third year that I am participating.  It's a great excuse to explore the world of banned books and read some good ol' blacklisted literature.  You can check out my Banned Books Week reviews from the last two years here: Flowers for Algernon and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  READ ALL THE BOOKS!


Alrighty, let's pipe down and review Go Ask Alice.  This book has been on my TBR for years--so many years that I finally added it to my "30 Before 35" list last year, in an effort to make sure I finally read it.  I thought the premise sounded interesting, especially because the diary was reportedly written by an actual anonymous teenager who suffered through a drug addiction.  This reminded me a lot of Crank by Ellen Hopkins (a fiction novel based on her daughter's real-life drug problems), and I was eager to get a different perspective on this issue.

However, pretty early in the book, I started to feel like something was a bit off.  Alice (the protagonist) was awfully preachy and introspective for someone with such a serious addiction.  On the days when she was sober, she was quick to reprimand herself for her behavior, and to explore the many moral ramifications of her actions.  This seemed unusual, given the tone of other addiction memoirs I have read.  At first, I chalked it up to the influences of a different era (this book is from 40 years ago, after all).  But then I was also a bit bothered because Alice's drug encounters always escalated so fast.  It was never just her getting high with her friends.  It was "I got high, and then I also got raped, and then suddenly I was selling LSD to 9-year-olds." 

I don't doubt that these types of things can happen when people truly sink into addiction, but for Alice, it was pretty constant to the point of feeling farfetched.

Finally, some Googling put this in a clearer perspective.  Apparently the author of Go Ask Alice isn't very anonymous at all--the author is Beatrice Sparks, who at the time of the book's release was a social worker and member of the Mormon faith (she has since passed away).  She was originally credited as just an "editor" of the book, but after some questions arose regarding the true identity of "Alice", it became clear that much of the book was written by Sparks herself.  Hence, preachy tone and conveniently trumped-up circumstances, meant to warn impressionable teens of the dangers of drugs.  (You can read more about the Sparks allegations here,)

After delving into that information, the often-banned status of Go Ask Alice became even more interesting to me.  Because first: why would parents and teachers want this book banned, if it's entire purpose is to warn teens away from drugs?  I suppose they're taking the abstinence approach--if we don't talk about drugs or sex or alcohol, then they'll just never do them!  (Yeah, let me know how that works out for you.)  And second: isn't it intriguing that this book was banned for drug/sex/etc references, when the REAL crime here is the authenticity of the writing?  It seems rather criminal to me that this is sold to teens as a real girl's diary, when in fact it is the work of a 40-something youth counselor.  Teens today are pretty savvy, and I'm guessing that many of them could see right through this writing.

Despite the crime against literary humanity that Sparks committed here, of course I (as always) feel that this book should not be banned.  There are other tales of drug addiction, written with more authenticity, that would be more likely to get through to modern-day teenagers.  However, the basic intent of this book (to show kids a "worst case scenario" for such behavior) is admirable, and if it keeps even a few teens away from these poor choices, then who can argue?

Have you read a banned book lately?  Check out the top 100 most banned books HERE.

Without further ado, it's GIVEAWAY TIME!  Let's celebrate banned books together!  Just fill out the Rafflecopter below, and you'll be entered to win a copy of the banned book of your choice (from this list, limit of $15).  Giveaway is international, as I will be shipping through Book Depository.  Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hey, who wants to talk about running?!?

We interrupt your regularly scheduled book blogging for this special feature, titled:

Kelly's Absolutely Treacherous Half Marathon Story!

Okay, it wasn't that bad.  I mean, it FELT that bad for the first 36 hours after it happened, but I'm nearly done with the pity party now, so we can talk about it.  For a little while.  Until I tear up again, then I'll need a break.

I wanted to share my half marathon story here, because a) I've mentioned it on the blog several times and many readers have asked me about it, and b) this is my only written "outlet" on the interwebs these days, so I figured it was worth chronicling my journey here.

(If you're reading this and thinking, "Ummmm, I just want my books back," please tune in tomorrow, because it's Banned Books Week and I'm doing a giveaway.  WOOT!  Yay, books.)

This story is rather lengthy.  You've been warned.

So, this half marathon.  Specifically, the Rochester Half Marathon that occurred here in lovely Rochester, NY last Sunday.

This is the first half marathon I've ever attempted.  The longest run I did before this was a 15K (9.3 miles) in 2008.  Even though a half marathon is "only" 4 miles longer, I took the training much more seriously and really tried to work towards a time goal (my only goal for the 15K was to make it over the finish line not on a stretcher).  I spent 12 weeks busting my butt, trying to eat right, waking up at 5am for runs, and not drinking wine on Friday nights before Saturday long runs (I KNOW) in order to get in top shape for this thing.  I had the incredible support of my husband (who often handled bedtime routines and Saturday morning breakfasts solo so that I could run) and many friends along the way.

Come Sunday morning, I felt SO READY.  I was going to KICK THIS RACE'S CANDY ASS.

I woke up at 4:45am and made my first mistake: I ate breakfast too early.  I thought this would help me out, because it's recommended that runners eat breakfast 3-4 hours before a big race.  However, in the end, this was a negative, probably because I never did that before any of my long runs during training (I was not going to wake up at 3am for a 6am training run).  So my body was not used to getting the majority of its food so long before the run.  More on this later.

I drove over to the race site and was at the start line by 6:45am (starting time was 7:45am).  This gave me plenty of time to get rid of my drop bag, set up my running tunes, have a snack, use the porta potty, stretch, and warm up.  I was feeling GOOD.  Today was my DAY.

For those curious, my race goal was to finish in under 2 hours 15 minutes.  I actually felt like this was my "high end" goal and that I could potentially come in closer to 2:08.  My initial plan was to start off around a 9:50 pace per mile (which would mean about a 2:08 finish time), but join up with the 2:10 pacer if I started to slow down and hopefully follow them in to the finish.  (For the non-runners...a pacer is a runner who volunteers to run the race at a specific pace, so that other runners can follow them at that consistent pace and finish at a specific goal time.)  This was a great plan, because it had a built-in backup: if I really started to flag, I could join up with the 2:15 pacer instead, and still finish at or under my goal.

I took off with the 2000ish other runners at 7:45.  I felt great!  I was pacing myself well, I could feel it!  I passed my friends Mandy and Emily at the half-mile mark and I was on top of the world!

Then I got to the one mile marker...in 9 minutes and 3 seconds.  Uh oh.  Way too fast.  Every runner knows this is a big no-no in a long-distance run.

Second mile I still felt fantastic, and came in at a 9 minute 34 second pace.  Okay, still too fast, but getting better.  Third mile, pretty much the same.

The fourth mile, two things happened.  One, we started hitting some hills...never a good time.  The 2:10 pacer passed me at 4.5 miles, which was not encouraging.  And two...I had to pee.  Ugh, SERIOUSLY??  Never once in training did I have to stop to pee.  And TODAY?  TODAY WOULD BE THAT DAY?

Apparently, yes.  At 5.5 miles I could take no more and I had to duck into the woods to pee.  I know, glamorous.  The whole thing took maybe 45 seconds, but by the time I made it back out on to the road, I was mentally kicking myself.  With steel-toed boots.  All I could think was that I was blowing it, I was wasting time with stupid things like bathroom breaks, the 2:10 pacer was long gone, and wow did I suck.

Things escalated quickly after that.

I started taking walk breaks just before mile 6: MAJORLY discouraging because I did NOT take walk breaks during even the longest of my training runs.  During one of them, the 2:15 pacer came up on me.  No!  Not my high end goal!!  I forced myself to start running again.  I was able to follow her from about the 6 mile mark until just before the 7 mile mark.  Then I had to stop and walk again.  As the 2:15 pacer ran ahead, all I could think was "There it goes.  I'm watching my dream die right now."

Here is where we see Kelly hit rock bottom.

Walk breaks continue.  I feel like I have no fuel left, no matter how many energy gels I consume (remember that early breakfast?).  Every hill makes me feel like my quads have simply disappeared from my legs.  I very seriously consider having my husband come pick me up at the 8 mile mark.

Then, around 8.5 miles, it started to POUR.  I cannot overemphasize the complete and total drenching that ensued.  This may sound miserable, but honestly, it lifted my spirits a bit, because it was so outrageously wet that all I could do was laugh.

At 9.5 miles, I passed my friends Mandy and Emily again.  They were like little course ninjas, popping up all over the place during my run!  Later, Mandy told me that she could see the despair written all over my face at this point.  She yelled out, "It's one day of pain, Kelly!  ONE DAY!  You can do this!"  And that rang through my head for the next 3.5 miles.  I NEEDED that push right then.

I hit the 10 mile mark and told myself there was only a 5K left.  I could do a 5K in my sleep.  I lessened the walk breaks, and though I was going pretty slow (11 minute miles now), I was going.  I was going to get there.  I was going to FINISH this frickin' thing.  I was going to do it for me, and for my husband who did so much for me while I was training, and for my kids that were waiting to cheer on Mommy at the finish.
Coming in for a landing.  Almost at the finish line.
And I did do it.  I crossed the finish line, half-delirious with fatigue, in 2 hours, 21 minutes, and 12 seconds.  Thirteen minutes past my goal time.  I grabbed my finisher's medal from a volunteer just before my husband came running and plowed into me with a huge hug, and I collapsed on him and started crying.  (I'm still not sure if it was from elation at finishing, or relief at it being over.)

I know, not exactly the most uplifting story of athletic achievement.  And I'll be honest--I spent most of Monday in a pathetic, wallowy funk over the entire thing.  The finishing time didn't necessarily bother me.  I would take those extra 13 minutes if I felt like I had given it my all.  But I was bothered that a simple 45-second pee break (plus maybe some mistakes in pre-race fueling) caused me to mentally check out so early on.  I KNEW I could run 13.1 miles without stopping for walk breaks.  I just knew it.  And I was so mad at myself for not making it happen.

I swore off running, and half marathons, and everything athletically related for pretty much all time.  I made grand plans to spend the rest of my life eating pumpkin pie donuts from DD and drinking too much wine.

But you know what?  By today, I made a new decision.

I'm doing another half marathon.

REDEMPTION WILL BE MINE.

I don't know when exactly I'll do it, but sometime in the next year.  I'm coming for that 2:15.  I'm not going to let this one bad race be my only half marathon experience.  And I can't ignore the fact that I DID complete 13.1 miles, something that a lot of people never do.  I'm proud of it, proud of myself, and proud of the fact that I'm going to give myself the chance to do it again...maybe just a little bit better.

So get ready, running shoes.  I'm not throwing you in the trash with the empty wine bottles just yet.

Book Review (DNF): The Blonde by Anna Godbersen


Title: The Blonde
Author: Anna Godbersen
Publisher: Weinstein Books
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Source: ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads

Marilyn Monroe is at the height of her fame, the object of the world’s desire. Attention is her drug, the very definition of who she is. Her own wants and needs have become fleeting at best, as if she sees herself only through others’ eyes. But there is one thing Marilyn still wishes for beyond all else—to meet her real father. That’s the part you already know, the legend—but here’s the part that’s never been told.
 
In Anna Godbersen’s imaginative novel, set at the height of the Cold War, a young, unknown Norma Jean meets a man in Los Angeles—a Soviet agent? A Russian spy?—who transforms her into Marilyn the star. And when she reaches the pinnacle of success, he comes back for his repayment. He shows her a photo of her estranged father and promises to reunite them in exchange for information: Find out something about presidential candidate John F. Kennedy that no one else knows. At first, Marilyn is bored by the prospect of, once again, using a man’s attraction to get what she needs. But when she meets the magnetic Jack Kennedy, she realizes that this isn’t going to be a simple game. What started with the earnest desire to meet her father has grave consequences for her, for the bright young Kennedy, and for the entire nation. The Blonde is a vivid tableau of American celebrity, sex, love, violence, power, and paranoia.


My Review:

Uuuuuuuuuuuuugh, you guys.  I wanted to love this book SO MUCH.  I hardly ever request ARCs anymore, but I jumped on this one because I adored Anna Godbersen's Luxe and Bright Young Things series.  Those novels are young adult historical fiction, whereas this is more of an adult, history-with-a-twist sort of fiction, but I thought for sure she would nail it.  Plus, it's Marilyn Monroe!  What a cool historical figure to reimagine, especially with so many mysterious elements in her life.

Alas, my excitement was unwarranted.  I trudged through this book up to the 40% mark, and then I could give it no more.

I had two big issues with The Blonde.  One: I was bored.  Despite the amount of the book that I did read, I felt like very little was happening beyond what the above summary already clued me into.  Marilyn is working for a secret agent, hoping to meet her father in trade for secrets about JFK.  So she has lots of sexy meetings with the future president, and finds out...very little of interest.  But she does have a LOT of sex, which I started to think was the only thing meant to keep my attention.

That led to the second issue: this book seems to quickly devolve into a voyeuristic look at the relationship between Marilyn and JFK.  If you want to get your jollies by having a front-row seat for their every (hypothetical) sexual encounter, then this book is for you.  I'm not sure that there's enough plot to draw you in beyond that.  And Marilyn, despite her larger-than-life persona in her heyday, comes across the page as disappointingly flat and monotonous as a result.

I know there's still 60% of this book that I never experienced, but if a book is billed as "part thriller" and I've not yet been thrilled 40% in, I think I'm done.  Sorry Anna Godbersen, I will be in for your next YA historical fiction venture, but this new angle did not work for me.

What was the last book you had high hopes for, but ended up disappointed?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Book Review: Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen


Title: Someone Like You
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: May 1, 2004
Source: won in a giveaway

Summary from Goodreads

Halley has always followed in the wake of her best friend, Scarlett. But when Scarlett learns that her boyfriend has been killed in a motorcycle accident, and that she's carrying his baby, she was devastated. For the first time ever, Scarlett really needs Halley. Their friendship may bend under the weight, but it'll never break--because a true friendship is a promise you keep forever.

My Review:

I won this book in a giveaway sometime last year, and I profusely apologize to the blogger who sent it to me (along with another Dessen novel)...because I didn't make a note of it, and I haven't a clue who it was at this point.  Sorry, fellow blogger!  Please reveal yourself if you happen to read this!  :)

This review will be rather short, because Someone Like You struck me as very run-of-the-mill, cliche young adult lit.  That's not to say that it's a bad book.  I think it will appeal to YA audiences, especially the younger age groups in that market (late middle school/early high school).  But there's nothing unique or memorable here--I will likely forget this book within a couple of months.  (I will put money on it, especially because I've read two other Dessen books in the past--This Lullaby and Lock and Key--and couldn't tell you the faintest detail about them.)

Wow, that's not really the best way to get you interested in this novel, is it?  Like I said, despite it's blase feel as a whole, I still had fun reading it.  Halley is negotiating relationships with a lot of different people here--her mother, her best friend, her boyfriend, etc.  I liked that Dessen didn't always make Halley the "good guy" (and conversely, her antagonists were not always the "bad guys").  Halley screwed up just as much as they did.  Lots of teachable moments here for the teen audience.

That said, the ultimate outcomes were very predictable, and the ending was rather disappointing.  I felt like it ended a bit too early--the characters all went through a rather momentous event, and then it just ended.  I don't mind open-ended conclusions (as you all know), but this one was too clunky, not purposeful.

Overall: a nice way to pass the time, but Someone Like You isn't anything to write home about.

This was my fourth pick from the TBR Book Baggie! My next pick from the baggie is:

The Memory of Love by Linda Olsson!

I have no idea how I got this book on my shelf.  I think it was from a publisher, long ago?  But it's not an ARC, so I'm not entirely sure.  Ah well, looks interesting anyway...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Apparently I'm a fickle mistress. E-Books vs. Paper!

Happy Sunday, reader friends!  I have a small point of discussion that I'd like to bat around with you today.

I've been reading The Blonde by Anna Godbersen for a couple of weeks now.  Usually, it would be odd for a relatively short novel such as this to be taking so much time for me to read.  Especially an ARC copy that I specifically requested through Edelweiss (which I don't often do).  But despite my best efforts, I am positively slogging through this thing.  Only 30% complete in the last two weeks, and it's looking more and more like this could be a DNF.

What's that, you say??  Kelly might have her SECOND DNF of the year?  I know, you're beside yourself with the horror.  I'm just far too type-A to not finish books most of the time, but I do feel like this might be the second case in recent months.

That said, part of me is starting to suspect that my disappointment in both this novel and June's The Hollow Ground can't be entirely attributed to the contents of the books themselves.  It's still primarily that, but...perhaps a little bit of it is influenced by the format.  Because you see, these two books were the last two that I read in Kindle format.

That's right.  I'm afraid I might be practicing Kindle discrimination.  Kindle-ism?  Whatever.  Either way, it's no good.

I know I often sing the praises of my Kindle, especially the Paperwhite.  The back light!  The "time left to read" counter!  The 3G capabilities!  And it absolutely helped me survive late-night feedings when Tater Tot was a newborn.
Totally me 6 months ago.
However, I think I reached a stage of Kindle burnout a few months back.  Early in the summer, I went to the library for the first time in a while, and took out a stack of real, honest-to-goodness, PAPER books.  And you know what?  IT FELT AWESOME.  A real book in my hand!  Using a bookmark again!  And of course, BOOK SMELL!  Yes, they're unwieldy at times, and they make night reading a challenge if you forget your book light, but this summer has been one of happy paper book reading for me.
True dat.
Due to this shift in preference, I've found it much harder to read on my Kindle lately.  It just doesn't hold my attention the way a paper book does, if that makes any sense at all.  And while I don't think this means the two recent DNF novels were actually amazing and their electronic format was all to blame, I do think it made an already mediocre novel feel even worse.

I'm not sure what to think of this.  Is my Kindle-averse tendency just a temporary thing?  Will I get my electronic mojo back soon?  Or is it a matter of circumstance--when I'm in a place where the Kindle will help me read easier, perhaps that's when I'll fall in love again?

What say you, readers?  What are your thoughts on ebook vs. paper formats?  Do you prefer one over the other, or does your love flipflop in both directions?  Do you feel like book format influences your feelings about a novel?

*Many other bloggers have tackled this issue as well!  One post that comes to mind is Rinn's over at Rinn Reads.  Any other bloggers have a post that they've contributed to this topic?
 
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