Sunday, September 30, 2012

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest: Banned Book Review and GIVEAWAY!

Today is the start of Banned Book Week 2012!  According to the American Library Association, this is what constitutes a challenged or banned book:

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. As such, they are a threat to freedom of speech and choice.

Sheila at Book Journey organized this Banned Book Week Celebration as a way to honor these banned and challenged books.  If you go through the list of books that fall into these categories, I'm sure you'll be amazed to see so many classics (and some of your favorites!) mentioned.

As part of this week's celebrations, I chose to read a banned book that I've been meaning to get to for quite some time--One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey.  This 1962 release has been banned and challenged many times over the years, most recently in 2000 in a California school district (check out the full list/reasons here).  But please excuse me while I stick it to the man* and give you my full review here.

Summary from Goodreads:

An international bestseller and the basis for a hugely successful film, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was one of the defining works of the 1960s. A mordant, wickedly subversive parable set in a mental ward, the novel chronicles the head-on collision between its hell-raising, life-affirming hero Randle Patrick McMurphy and the totalitarian rule of Big Nurse. McMurphy swaggers into the mental ward like a blast of fresh air and turns the place upside down, starting a gambling operation, smuggling in wine and women, and egging on the other patients to join him in open rebellion. But McMurphy's revolution against Big Nurse and everything she stands for quickly turns from sport to a fierce power struggle with shattering results.

My Review:

I was immediately struck by how appropriate this choice was for Banned Book Week, because it deals strongly with themes of social norms, conformism, and government power.  Throughout the book, McMurphy and his band of friends in the asylum become a force to be reckoned with by Nurse Ratched and the other members of the "Combine" (a term to describe the society at large forcing them to conform to "normal" ways of living).  Some of their antics are downright hilarious.  McMurphy is the most unlikely hero you could imagine for a novel.  A big, violent, undereducated, profane criminal...and yet, you find yourself rooting for him all the way to the last page.  I haven't seen the movie yet, but I'm dying to see how Jack Nicholson took to this role.

The novel is narrated by Chief Bromden, another patient on the ward with McMurphy.  Bromden, assumed deaf and dumb by all the staff and patients for many years, is in fact quite coherent of all the goings-on around the hospital.  He has his own history of fighting the power--his family's Indian tribe was "bought out" by the government some years ago, in order to move them and make room for new developers.  However, it isn't until McMurphy arrives on the ward that Bromden (and many of the others) are able to find the strength to live as themselves, despite what society tells them is "normal".

Does this book deal with some uncomfortable subjects?  Yes.  Prostitution, sex, violence, drug use, and profanity abound.  But they aren't thrown in willy-nilly--they all tie back to the central themes of the novel.  At the last page, I felt blown away by how well Kesey got his message across--and that would not have been the case if those details were not included.  But they are discussion tools, not ends in themselves.

I wouldn't say this one has a happy ending per se, but it does illustrate how fighting the establishment, while not easy, can lead to small, important victories over time.  It's a great read, and I'm so glad I finally got around to it!

So, GIVEAWAY TIME!  Fill out the Rafflecopter form below for a chance to win:
-Your own new paperback copy of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, plus
-a very cool bookmark that includes a quote from George Eliot (another banned book author). 
Giveaway closes at the end of Banned Book Week, so sign up now!  US/Canada residents only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
*A lot has already been said about banned books over the years, but I want to include my soapbox entry too. Do you dislike the content of a certain book? Do you think it's inappropriate for your children to read? Great. Then you can choose not to read it, and you can have discussions with your children about why they should wait to read it. (Even better--read it with them, and then discuss it together!!) But thinking you have the right to ban others from it as well? The very idea boggles my mind.  The world is not full of fairy tales, and it's naive to expect the same from our books.

Friday, September 28, 2012

My Bloggiesta To-Dos!

Today is September 28, which means it's the start of Bloggiesta 2012!  OLE!

Bloggiesta is an opportunity for book bloggers to find motivation for those blogging tasks they need to work on--whether it's post creation, layout changes, networking activities, or whatever.  Plus, it's a great way to meet other bloggers!  It is kindly hosted by There's A Book and It's All About Books.

I'm a first-time Bloggiesta participant, and while I don't have a TON of time to devote to it this weekend, I do want to put in some time here and there to spruce things up at The Well-Read Redhead. Here's my to-do list:

1. New layout.  New, new, new.  As you can see, I cheated and started on this yesterday while I had a few extra minutes.  My old one was a generic Blogger layout, and while this one isn't my ideal, it's a start...certainly more interesting than the original!

2. Create a master list of reviews and get a link to it in my header.

3. Create an organization system for the upcoming books I need to read.  Now that I'm getting ARCs and blog tour participation, I need to keep better track of what books have a deadline, and what ones I'm reading for fun.

4. Organize my Google Reader.  I love reading all of your blogs, but my reader's gotten out of control with all the new ones I keep finding!

Those are my tasks.  I'm hoping to participate in a couple of mini challenges as well.  Happy Bloggiesta!!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Book Review: The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

Title: The Hour I First Believed
Author: Wally Lamb
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: November 11, 2008
Source: Personal purchase

Plot summary from Goodreads:

When forty-seven-year-old high school teacher Caelum Quirk and his younger wife, Maureen, a school nurse, move to Littleton, Colorado, they both get jobs at Columbine High School. In April 1999, Caelum returns home to Three Rivers, Connecticut, to be with his aunt who has just had a stroke. But Maureen finds herself in the school library at Columbine, cowering in a cabinet and expecting to be killed, as two vengeful students go on a carefully premeditated, murderous rampage. Miraculously she survives, but at a cost: she is unable to recover from the trauma. Caelum and Maureen flee Colorado and return to an illusion of safety at the Quirk family farm in Three Rivers. But the effects of chaos are not so easily put right, and further tragedy ensues.

While Maureen fights to regain her sanity, Caelum discovers a cache of old diaries, letters, and newspaper clippings in an upstairs bedroom of his family's house. The colorful and intriguing story they recount spans five generations of Quirk family ancestors, from the Civil War era to Caelum's own troubled childhood. Piece by piece, Caelum reconstructs the lives of the women and men whose legacy he bears. Unimaginable secrets emerge; long-buried fear, anger, guilt, and grief rise to the surface.
As Caelum grapples with unexpected and confounding revelations from the past, he also struggles to fashion a future out of the ashes of tragedy. His personal quest for meaning and faith becomes a mythic journey that is at the same time quintessentially contemporary -- and American.
My Review:

Before I start any Wally Lamb novel, he's already got an "in" with me.  First, he bases many of his books in or around Three Rivers, Connecticut--a fictional town that is actually meant to mirror one very close to my hometown of Groton, Connecticut.  He throws in a lot of local references, which I eat right up.  And second, he used to teach at UConn (my alma mater), and a fellow member of the Husky community always gets some love from me.

But enough I-love-Connecticut jibber-jabber--on to the actual review!

This is not a book about Columbine, per se, though that is what originally drew me to it (I was a sophomore in high school when that happened, and thus it hit a bit close to home for me).  While that event is the trigger for everything else that happens in the novel, very little time is spent on that specific ordeal. This is more a novel about how one family had to deal with the effects of Columbine over a lifetime--how those events scarred them and changed their paths in countless ways.

If you've read Lamb's I Know This Much Is True, you'll find the format somewhat similar. Tragic crazy event right at the beginning, protagonist who thinks he's got his stuff together but is really battling a lot of demons, and a historical side-story that ties into the ending. You'll even recognize some of the characters (the Birdsey twins make several appearances). I have to say that while I enjoyed the ties to the previous novel, I was a little turned off by the repeating format.  I expected more from Lamb, given that he had 700+ pages to come up with something totally different. I didn't think he would fall in to the formulaic category, and it seemed like an odd choice, since the subject matter could be taken in so many varied directions.

However, unlike some other authors I've read who stick with a plot formula, I liked this one anyway because the content was just that good. Lamb is a master of delving into the emotional complexity of any situation. The Columbine event is dealt with perfectly; it fits into the plot without overwhelming it. I didn't love Caelum (the main character), but I'm sure that was not an accident on the author's part.  There were a few slower sections (700+ pages can't be action-packed all the time, I suppose), but I felt invested enough in the characters that those sections didn't discourage me.

Overall, if you're looking for a good character-driven drama, this is pretty epic in scope.  I'd recommend trying I Know This Much Is True first (if you want the overlapping-characters effect) but otherwise, this is a great novel on its own.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dennis Lehane reading/signing!

As promised, here's my rundown of the Dennis Lehane event that I went to last night.  It was hosted by the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library, and co-sponsored by the Open Door Bookstore in Schenectady, NY.  The event was free but required advance registration (which of course, I did online at the exact.very.minute that it opened).

This was my first-ever book reading/signing, and I've been a Lehane fan for a while, so I was pretty darn stoked.  If you're unfamiliar, Lehane has written several well-known fiction novels, such as Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island, and The Given Day.

First, I had to decide which book(s) to buy.  I was going to get a hardcover copy of his new one, Live By Night, which is coming out next week.  However, it was $30 and I couldn't have gotten it last night--if you bought one, he would sign it afterwards and you could pick it up at the library on the release date next week.  I was feeling impatient (wanted my book NOW!) and also wanted more bang for my buck, so instead, I bought paperback copies of Shutter Island (my fave Lehane book thus far) and Gone Baby Gone.  I also had my own copy of A Drink Before The War with me.

Armed with my books, I got a pretty good aisle seat towards the front of the presentation room.  Lehane came out and the party began!

He started by doing a reading from Live By Night's first chapter.  Dennis Lehane is a master of the Boston voice, both in print and in person, so hearing him read on behalf of his characters was awesome.  It's a historical fiction novel (or a "gangster novel", as he put it) set in 1920's Boston during Prohibition.  Very different from some of his past crime novels (like the Kenzie and Gennaro books).  I'm eager to get my hands on a copy after hearing the reading!

After the reading, Lehane took questions from the audience.  And I gotta say, this guy is a HOOT.  So funny.  My favorite parts of the evening were when he would tell stories about his visits to Boston, especially after his books turned to movies and he became more well-known..  (Like the drunk guy in a bar who came up to him and demanded, "So, you the guy that wrote The Departed, eh?...Is Matt Damon really short?")

I took a few notes, so you could get a sense of what he covered during the Q+A:

On his best advice for aspiring writers:
"My first piece of advice is to read.  Read all the time.  If you don't read, then you need to do something else."
"Writing, like anything, if you're gonna get good at it, it takes 10 years...I published at 8, but I didn't know what I was doing until ten."
"Always have your character want something. 'Mike realized he was out of milk.'  That's a great opening line, because everyone will keep reading until he gets the milk, or he doesn't."
"Don't think of yourself as a writer; think of yourself as a storyteller."

On screenwriting vs novel writing (he has been a screenwriter for The Wire):
"Novelists are God, and screenwriters are God's tailors...And somehow, God's tailors get paid more than God."
"The hardest thing as a novelist is describing rooms...because you have to describe something static and make it interesting.  Screenwriting makes that so much easier."

On writing recurring characters (like Kenzie/Gennaro) vs new ones:
"Writing about the same's like putting on an old pair of jeans.  They're comfortable, but they're a little out of style, and they don't fit as well, because you got fatter...but there's a sense of discovery with new characters that I love...that's why right now, I prefer writing non-series novels."  (Sorry readers, sounds like no more Kenzie/Gennaro in the near future!)

On how involved he was in the making of the movie Shutter Island:
"I was involved...until Martin Scorsese took over.  At that point, what are you gonna say? 'I dunno Marty, I think the camera would look better over there?'"

He also mentioned that Leonardo DiCaprio's company already bought the rights to Live By Night, so you can expect to see that on the big screen sometime in the future!

Overall, it was a fantastic event.  Lehane was clearly very comfortable with the audience, and there was lots of laughter to go around.

Afterwards, we lined up in the hallway for the signing.  Lehane was friendly, and graciously wrote me a happy birthday message in my copy of Shutter Island:

I had him sign the other two books as well (sans birthday greeting).  As he was signing, I'll admit I was a little fan-girly, with shaking hands and goofy high-pitched voice.  I rambled for a little while, complimenting him on how well he writes "Boston-speak", and as he finished up the books he smiled and said thanks.  I high-tailed it out of there before I ruined the moment with any additional silly comments.  Overall, a win for me, since I am generally a nervous squirrel by nature and had seriously entertained the possibility that I could end up puking on my shoes.

So that was my birthday evening with Dennis Lehane!  (Wow, I did not mean for that to sound as illicit as it does.)  Tell me--have you been to any good author events lately?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Audiobook Alert: Where We Belong by Emily Giffin

Hey readers!  Remember the review I did of Emily Giffin's Where We Belong a couple weeks ago?  Well, Macmillan Audio reached out to me this week and let me know that it is also available as an audiobook. They sent me a clip from the first chapter, which you can check out here.

I'm always looking for attention-grabbing audiobooks with good narrators (which this appears to be!), so I thought I'd pass it on.

What are your favorite audiobook recommendations?

Get your happy pants on!

It's my birthday, y'all!  I've still got 1 year of 20's left!

And it's my one-month blogaversary!

AND I'm going to the Dennis Lehane signing tonight!

I was going to do a giveaway today, in honor of this most momentous of days, but I recently found out that I'm going to be a part of the Banned Book week event (next week) hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, and that includes a giveaway.  Yup, right here on The Well-Read Redhead.  I'd love to do 2 giveaways, but I'm not made of money, y'all.  Blogging just don't pay.  So you have to wait til Sunday for a chance at freebies.  :)

In the meantime, enjoy your Monday, and I will have a full Dennis Lehane report tomorrow.  Pinky swears.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Deja Vu Review

The Deja Vu Review is a new Sunday feature by Brittany at the Book Addict's Guide.  It's an opportunity to do mini-reviews of books that you read in your pre-blogging life.  Which basically means I could be doing Deja Vu reviews for the next 10 years of Sundays, and I STILL wouldn't cover everything...but I'll give it a try.

Two mini-reviews today...I picked one book that I 5-starred on Goodreads, and one that I 1-starred, just to mix things up.

(*Apparently, I scheduled this post before I realized there was a specific topic for the week. Rookie mistake! Ah well, I'll be on top of it next time.) :)

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King (5 stars on Goodreads)

This is a short-story collection published by King in 2010.  My first ever SK read was The Shining, some 15 years ago, and after getting hooked on that, my next pick was Four Past Midnight, one of his earlier story collections.  I've been in awe of his shorter works since then.  Stephen King crafts masterful novels, with more detail than you could possibly imagine, and yet he still knows how put together a short tale that gets you in the gut (sometimes literally, given the genre).

This book includes 4 stories: 1992, Big Driver, Fair Extension, and A Good Marriage.  In the afterword, King says he likes writing about "ordinary people in extraordinary situations", and that is what these four tales are all about.  Yes, they're terrifically creepy, but as I read each one, at some point I couldn't help putting myself in the main character's shoes and wondering what I would do in their situation.  He gets you emotionally involved...even as you're ready to jump out of your skin.

If you've never tried any SK short stories, start with these; you won't be disappointed!

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk (1 star on Goodreads)

I wanted so badly to like this novel, which I read back in 2010.  It came highly recommended by a friend, and I'd never read any Palahniuk, though I knew he was the mind behind Fight Club and Choke (both high on my TBR list).  However, this was the wrong one for me to start with.

The plot centers around a group of people who have all answered an ad for a writer's retreat.  But once they arrive, they are instead locked in a theater without food, water, or power.  They are in a fight to be the last survivor.  Each of the 23 chapters is told from a different POV as the characters reveal the stories that led them to this point.

While the premise does sound like something I'd be into, the content of this book is, in a word, disgusting.  I know Palahniuk was trying to make a point here about human nature, but the gore and violence in this book just felt pointless and over-the-top.  I'm all for blood and guts when it's called for (see above review, and basically every other King novel), but this was extreme for no reason.  My stomach still turns recalling some of the stories...eck.  So recommendation from me on this one.

Have you read either of these books?  Any recommendations for me so that I can see a better side of Palahniuk's work?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Book Review: Beneath the Glitter by Elle & Blair Fowler

Title: Beneath the Glitter
Authors: Elle and Blair Fowler
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: September 4, 2012
Source: ARC received via giveaway from publisher

Plot summary from Goodreads:

Welcome to a place where dreams are made. And where nothing—and no one—is ever what it seems.

After their make-up and fashion videos went viral on YouTube, sisters Sophia and Ava London are thrust into the exclusive life of the Los Angeles elite. Here fabulous parties, air kisses, paparazzi and hot guys all come with the scene. Sophia finds herself torn between a gorgeous bartender and a millionaire playboy, and Ava starts dating an A-list actor. But as they’re about to discover, the life they’ve always dreamed of comes with a cost.

Beneath the glitter of the Hollywood social scene lies a world of ruthless ambition, vicious gossip…and betrayal. Someone close to them, someone they trust, is working in the shadows to bring the London sisters falling down. And once the betrayal is complete, Sophia and Ava find themselves knee-deep in a scandal that could take away everything they care about, including the one thing that matters most—each other.

My Review:

I went into this book with absolutely no knowledge of who Elle and Blair Fowler are.  If you're like me, let me fill you in: apparently they are two sisters from Georgia who started posting makeup and fashion how-to videos on YouTube back in 2008.  They blew up online and have since moved to LA to begin starting their own makeup brand.  I guess they have been in all sorts of magazines and TV shows as well.  (Since my desire to know about makeup extends as far as the 1 tube of mascara I buy every 6 months, it's not too surprising that I was in the dark about this.)

Once I figured out who they were, I made every attempt to go into this with an open mind.  I know I have made comments about fluffy chick lit before, but I like them as guilty pleasure reads every now and again, so I was totally game for some shopping and lipstick time.

Unfortunately, this just didn't do it for me.  I was immediately turned off when I found out that the two main characters of the novel (Ava and Sophia) are sisters...from Georgia...who moved to start their makeup business.  Sound familiar?  Ladies, if you wanted to write about yourselves so badly, write a memoir.  Writing fiction with characters thinly veiled as yourselves just smacks of unoriginality.  Not to mention, it is very annoying for me as a reader to see Sophia/Elle and Ava/Blair have all sorts of amaaaazing boys throwing themselves at them, get invites to every big Hollywood party, and win all sorts of awards (that they actually were nominated for but did not win in real life, like the MTV Web Star Award), etc.  We get it, you think very highly of yourselves, yawn.

(Related to that: it drove me INSANE that Sophia/Elle was given a camera as a gift, shot ONE roll of film, and the photos ended up in a huge photography show because they were so spectacular.  As an amateur photographer who has worked on technique for years, that is mildly insulting.)

There are a several plot holes.  One to illustrate: Ava and her friend Dalton go out at 4:30am to rescue some puppies on the beach.  (Yes, we've resorted to rescuing puppies, OMG SOMEONE STAB ME WITH A FLUFFY PINK PEN.)  It is reiterated many times that they have to do it in no less than a half hour because the tide is coming in.  They finish the mission, and Dalton drives Ava to her noon meeting...which she is late for.  So they hurriedly rescued puppies at 5am, and didn't get done until 12:30pm?  I'm confused.  There were several glaring holes like this throughout the novel.

However, my biggest criticism is for the ending.  The first chapter of the book foreshadows to an event 5 months in the future, when Sophia and Ava are arrested for something.  You don't know what or why.  So the whole novel, you're waiting to find out (although it is GLARINGLY obvious who the culprits are pretty early in the novel...major predictability here).  And it is literally half a page, 2 pages from the end of the book.  So much information is skipped over, it makes you wonder why in the world they foreshadowed it in the beginning at all.  I think it was mainly done as a tactic to woo you into reading the sequel (apparently coming out next year), but it just feels clumsy and unsatisfying.

I've been pretty harsh here, so I will try to list a few redeeming qualities (because I rarely think a book is 100% bad).  This is a YA novel that I think will appeal to the YA readers who are fans of Elle and Blair in real life.  If you're into fashion, makeup, celebrity glamour, etc. you'll probably enjoy some of the detail that's included along the way.  It mentions puppies and kittens a lot,'ll like that if you're an animal lover?

Okay, I'm clearly losing this battle with myself.  I wasn't a fan, plain and simple.  It's sloppily written (I suspect ghostwritten), totally predictable, and too closely mirrors Elle and Blair in real life.  Fiction is supposed to be fiction--not an obvious attempt to make your life sound more glamorous.  It comes off as snobbish rather than fun.  If you're under the age of 16 and a fashion lover, give it a shot; otherwise, no bueno.  Stick to YouTube, ladies.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Author Stalking

I think all book lovers are also author stalkers, some of the time.

Let's hold up a minute--I am not advocating that you go camp outside Suzanne Collins's bedroom with a pair of binoculars.  Creepers.

What I mean by "author stalking" is this: you've read all (or nearly all) of this particular author's work.  Whenever they release a new novel, you scramble onto Amazon and pre-order it months in advance.  You gobble it up in one sitting on the release date.  And once you finish, you immediately take to Google/Goodreads/etc. on a massive searching expedition to find out when their next novel is going to be released.  (And of course, you devolve into a weepy pile of disappointment when you find out that either a) it's not for another 2 years, or b) there is no news on an upcoming release AT ALL.)

Here are a few of my top authors to stalk, in no particular order.

Jon Krakauer

I don't read a ton of nonfiction, but Krakauer is the KING of nonfiction.  His last book, Where Men Win Glory, is on my favorites-of-all-time list.  Even his short diatribe about Greg Mortensen (Three Cups of Deceit) is a captivating read.  But news of his upcoming ventures are MIA.  I Google search all the time in the hopes of finding something.  I'll be first in line when his next one is announced.

Jodi Picoult

JP is one of my favorite authors.  I know some people aren't that into her work because it does tend to follow a formula ("ripped from the headlines" premise + legal battle + twist ending = novel).  However, I LIKE her formula, and while I don't 5-star all of her books, I love most of them.  She's a fun one to stalk though, because she releases pretty much every March right on schedule, so the only real mystery is what the next topic will be.  (Psst...her 2013 book is called The Storyteller, read more here!)

Audrey Niffenegger

Another book on my favorites-all-time list is The Time Traveler's Wife.  Everyone's heard of that book though--much less attention was given to her second novel, A Fearful Symmetry, which was masterful.  Her novels are such a haunting blend of whimsy, love, and sadness.  She doesn't publish often, which makes stalking difficult, but it sounds like her next book (The Chinchilla Girl in Exile) is going to be interesting...if they ever announce a release date.  Ho-hum.

Emily Giffin

I already reviewed her latest one, Where We Belong, last week.  After every Giffin novel, I'm already searching for the next one.  It's those darn endings; she is a master of the good chick-lit ending!!  Too early for any news on a new one yet, but I'll be waiting.

Stephen King

This is a gimme. What SK fan DOESN'T stalk around for his new release(s)?  And they get so much hype, it's hard not to hear about them anyway.  This is kind of a cheating answer though, because there's so much SK work out there, I can just read one of his past novels to get me through until his new one comes out.  I just found out that Doctor Sleep (the sequel to The Shining) is being released on my 30th birthday (9/24/2013), which I think is a nice present from Mr. King.  The Well-Read Redhead salutes you, sir.

Anita Shreve

The Pilot's Wife?  All-time-faves list.  And I've loved nearly every other Shreve novel I've encountered (other than A Wedding in December, let's just pretend that one doesn't exist).  Her last one, Rescue, was great, but it came out in word of a new one yet...((taps foot)).

So, admit it--what authors do YOU stalk?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Imagination Library

I want to do a quick post to mention this AWESOME book program for kids, because I don't think it gets enough publicity.  Parents, future parents, and people who just want to see kids READING--take note!

I first heard about Dolly Parton's Imagination Library about 2 weeks after Lil Dude was born.  I was sifting through a file folder of information that the hospital had given us when we were discharged.  It included a sign-up form for the Imagination Library.  This was a special offer to babies born at our hospital between August 2010 and August 2011.  Every child that signed up would receive 1 book a month, until they were five years old and starting kindergarten.  FOR FREE.  Free books for Lil Dude til he's five?  YES PLEASE!  I signed him up immediately.

Since then, my son has received a new book in the mail every month.  It's a great mix of classics (The Little Engine That Could) and newer books (like the recently-received Red Wagon...adorable).

Admittedly, we are probably not the primary audience for this program--Lil Dude already had boatloads of books in his collection even before birth, though of course we are always thankful for more.  But the hospital where he was born is in an urban area where many kids probably don't have piles of books thrown at them when they're born.  I hope the Imagination Library is helping to spread literacy and a love of books to those kids the most!

The Imagination Library is not available to all kids right now.  It has to be hosted by a community group in your area in order to be properly funded.  However, you can find out at the Imagination Library website (here) if it's available for your kiddos.  And if it's not?  Look into how you can help bring it to your area!

Do you know of any other charities or community groups working to promote childhood literacy?  Promote them in the comments section!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Book Review: A Drink Before The War by Dennis Lehane

Title: A Drink Before The War
Author: Dennis Lehane
Publisher: Harcourt
Publication Date: November 1994
Source: Personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads:

Kenzie and Gennaro are private investigators in the blue-collar neighborhoods and ghettos of South Boston-they know it as only natives can. Working out of an old church belfry, Kenzie and Gennaro take on a seemingly simple assignment for a prominent politician: to uncover the whereabouts of Jenna Angeline, a black cleaning woman who has allegedly stolen confidential state documents. Finding Jenna, however, is easy compared to staying alive once they've got her. The investigation escalates, implicating members of Jenna's family and rival gang leaders while uncovering extortion, assassination, and child prostitution extending from bombed-out ghetto streets to the highest levels of government. 

My Review:
As mentioned previously, I am going to a Dennis Lehane reading/signing at my library on 9/24 (SQUEEEEE), so I wanted to read at least one more of his novels before the event.  I read Shutter Island a couple of years ago, which I can only describe as amazeballs, so I had high hopes for his other work too.

A Drink Before The War is actually the first in a series of novels Lehane has written around private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro.  If you've seen the movie Gone, Baby, Gone, that was a later book in the Kenzie/Gennaro series.  This book is narrated by Kenzie, and I was immediately a huge fan of his voice.  It was basically like every guy from Good Will Hunting and The Departed got together and wrote his dialogue.  Lehane doesn't emphasize the Boston accent, but you can hear it in your head as you read.  Kenzie is the perfect Boston blend of sarcastic, funny, and crass.  (Trust me, I'm a Yankee fan who constantly gets heckled by Bostonians--I know what that sounds like.)  His POV is what sets this apart from your typical crime novel.

As for the plot--it does have a lot of what you'd consider to be the "cliched" parts of a P.I. crime story.  Two partners who often clash, crazy gunfights in broad daylight, run-ins with the cops...nothing out of the ordinary.  The real twist towards the end is probably something you could see coming (though oblivious me, who never properly guesses the ending to ANYTHING, was surprised).  If this story was just about the action, it wouldn't be anything special.

However, Lehane also wraps in a lot of issues concerning race and power, which adds a different dimension to it all.  He makes a valiant effort to illustrate the racial tension in blue-collar Boston in the early 1990's, and this bit of sociological perspective heightens the typical good guy/bad guy story line.  He also shows us how many of the characters (black and white) think through their own feelings on race throughout the novel.  This, paired with Kenzie's unique voice, is what made this more than the average thriller for me.

Overall?  If you're into crime stories, mysteries, and thrillers, this will be right up your alley.  And if you like those genres but find them too cliched, I'd still suggest giving this a try--because while it has some of that, I think it also brings something new to the table.  I'm definitely looking forward to more Kenzie and Gennaro!

(Plus?  It takes place in 1994.  The references to cassette tapes, boom boxes, high top fades, and the inability to Google anything are priceless.)

Monday, September 17, 2012

What Are You Reading? (2)

Happy Monday, y'all!  I am currently digging out from under the pile of emails, tweets, and blog posts that I need to catch up on after our anniversary weekend.  We went away to Newport and Providence, Rhode Island for an overnight, and it was amazing!  Hubs and I haven't done an overnight away from Lil Dude since he was born, so it was a pretty big deal for us.  A short getaway, but a much needed time to recharge and celebrate!

I admittedly did not get much reading done this weekend, but right now I am currently reading:
A Drink Before The War by Dennis Lehane
Loving it so far!  Excellent mystery, and the Boston-speak of the characters is spot-on.

I'm also still listening to The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd on audio.

What will I read next?  Ooooh, I have so many to choose from, and I'm not sure what to pick first.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey (for Banned Book Week)
Beneath the Glitter by Elle and Blair Fowler (received ARC from publisher, can't wait to read)
Every Day by David Levithan (have it from the library and have heard great things)
Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith (have been waiting to read this for a long time)

What's your vote for my next read?  And what are YOU reading today?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

5 Years! A flashback...

Guess what, y'all?  Today is Hubster and my 5-year wedding anniversary.  Woohoo!  We have officially been married 24 times as long as Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries.  If that's not cause for celebration, I don't know what is!

In honor of this hella-awesome day, I am flashing back to the books I was reading around our wedding day and during the honeymoon.  Here's what I read, and a mini-review of each.

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Apparently, the beginning of my wedded life was also the beginning of my love affair with Jodi Picoult novels.  JP is one of my favorite authors, and this was the first book of hers that I read.  I actually picked it up from Hudson Booksellers in the airport on the way to our honeymoon (and I still read with the bookmark that came inside!).  Good decision, because I LOVED this book.  In case you live under a rock and haven't read it yet, it's about Anna, whose sister Kate has leukemia.  Anna was conceived by her parents to basically be a donor for Kate and help her stay alive.  Anna decides this isn't what she wants to do anymore--much to the despair of her family.  Well-written and an incredible ending that I did not see coming.  Don't watch the movie--Hollywood ruined this one.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

Another book that ended up on my all-time faves list.  What can I say, in September 2007 I picked good husbands AND good books.  In 1964, Dr. David Henry helps his wife deliver their twins.  He notices that one of them has Down's Syndrome before his wife sees her, and so he secretly tells his nurse, Caroline, to send the baby away to an institution.  However, Caroline can't bring herself to do it, and ends up keeping the baby herself.  CRAZY premise, right?  The situation itself is so unique, I had a hard time putting this down as I got wrapped up in the story.  Plus, there are some amazing twists at the end.  I know other reviewers have not always been kind to this book, but I loved it.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Yeah, this was back when The Kite Runner was getting ALL the hype.  I won't give a full synopsis (because it's complicated, and most of you probably already know it), but the story is told by Amir, who grew up in Afghanistan during a time of great government upheaval.  The book is emotional, graphic, and gripping in its sense of reality.  A bit slow in parts, so I didn't think it was all that the hype said it would be, but still a very good novel, especially if you're interested in historical fiction.

There's your 2007 flashback!  Now, off to celebrate with my darling husband. :)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Book Review: Where We Belong by Emily Giffin

Title: Where We Belong
Author: Emily Giffin
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: July 24, 2012
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads:

Marian Caldwell is a thirty-six year old television producer, living her dream in New York City. With a fulfilling career and satisfying relationship, she has convinced everyone, including herself, that her life is just as she wants it to be. But one night, Marian answers a knock on the door . . . only to find Kirby Rose, an eighteen-year-old girl with a key to a past that Marian thought she had sealed off forever. From the moment Kirby appears on her doorstep, Marian’s perfectly constructed world—and her very identity—will be shaken to its core, resurrecting ghosts and memories of a passionate young love affair that threaten everything that has come to define her.

For the precocious and determined Kirby, the encounter will spur a process of discovery that ushers her across the threshold of adulthood, forcing her to re-evaluate her family and future in a wise and bittersweet light. As the two women embark on a journey to find the one thing missing in their lives, each will come to recognize that where we belong is often where we least expect to find ourselves—a place that we may have willed ourselves to forget, but that the heart remembers forever.

My Review:

I will start by saying that I have always been a big fan of Emily Giffin's books in the past.  I got hooked on Something Borrowed and Something Blue, and ever since then, as soon as I finish one of her novels, I start Googling around to see if there are any rumors about when her next one is coming out.  I don't give them all 5-star reviews, but I like her writing style and the fact that she's able to write emotionally-charged books that don't always have the cliched happy ending.

That said, I was also recently dismayed by the controversy surrounding Giffin and her husband on Amazon, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about that a little as I was reading.  BUT, this review is about the book, NOT that other stuff, and I want to make that clear from the get-go.

SO!  I was drawn into Marian and Kirby's story very quickly.  I know I talk about my mom-perspective a lot, but this book was especially emotional for me because I was constantly thinking about how it would feel to have to give up your child just three days after they were born.  Pre-baby, yes, it still would have been a tough thing to consider.  But now, I was practically in tears picturing it.  Giffin does a good job illustrating the gut-wrenching emotions in this situation for everyone involved--not just Marian and Kirby, but Kirby's adoptive parents, birth father, etc.

I have to say that Kirby was my favorite of the two main characters.  Yes, she's young and directionless, but also mature and unique in a way that she doesn't realize.  I loved the chapters that were told from her perspective.  (And, as a former aspiring girl drummer, I had to admire her musical taste!)  Plus, her humor is refreshing at times, given the serious nature of the issues involved.

However, I had a bit more trouble with Marian.  I never felt like I got a real handle on her.  Sometimes she'd throw off the vibe of the mature and worldly woman who's come to terms with her 18-year-old decision; other times (honestly, most of the time), she just seemed like a shallow snob who thinks she's grown up, but doesn't realize she is still being immature and selfish.  Right up to the end, she continues to claim that she gave Kirby up for adoption because it was the best decision for Kirby, not for her (Marian).  But it seemed pretty obvious to me that Marian's only true reason for giving Kirby up was that she didn't want to screw up her perfect life and future.  If she had kept Kirby, Marian's family had the means to give her a cushy life--but Marian's reputation and career dreams would have changed.  This is never really addressed or resolved in the novel, though the ending made me wonder if Giffin meant it to feel that way.  Either way, it was a point of frustration for me that Marian never really had a true "epiphany".

All that said--I did enjoy that the ending is not what you expect.  As I mentioned above, Giffin is very good at the non-cliche ending, and she continues that streak here.  It might be my favorite thing about her as an author.  Well, that and the way she sneaks in characters from her other books into her current novels.  I was pretty psyched to spot Claudia, Ben, and Jess from Baby Proof (and you even get a bit more info about what happened to Claudia and Ben after the book ended!).  Good stuff!

Overall?  Despite my frustrations about Marian, this was a wonderful book.  This is a touchy subject in many ways, but Giffin expertly handles the emotions and decisions that are involved.  In the end, you have a thoughtful piece of women's fiction (NOT chick lit!) that draws to a satisfying conclusion without tying up every tiny loose end.  I heard it got picked up for a movie deal, so let's see how Hollywood totally ruins it.  Ha!

BBAW Day 4: Pimp This Book!

Today's Book Blogger Appreciation Week challenge is to promote a book that you love, but other people don't know much about.  This was tough for me, because so many of my favorite books are well-known ("Oh wow, you love The Hunger Games?  HOW UNIQUE.").  However, I do have one fiction and one non-fiction book to highlight for you today!

My fiction pick: The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

I got this book on sale from B+N a couple of years ago, and got around to reading it last year.  If you like dystopian fiction, this is a phenomenal read.  The only reason I don't think it gets more attention (at least in the US) is because the author is Swedish and the book is a translation.  (Apparently there's only room for 1 bestselling Swedish author in this country.)  Anywho, whatever the reason, I think this book deserves way more popularity!

The novel follows Dorrit Weger in a fictional future Sweden, in which all childless women over age 50 and all childless men over age 60 are considered "dispensable".  Thus, they are sent to isolated units where their organs are essentially harvested to the more "essential" citizens that need them.  They are harvested until they die.  This has been a fact of life in Sweden for a while, but Dorrit starts to question if this is really the way her life needs to end.

This book captivated me from start to finish.  I was especially intrigued by how the author makes you contemplate the meaning of being "needed" in, are you really only "needed" in society if you have children? What about your siblings, parents, pets...can they "need" you in the same way?

Overall, I found this novel to be very unique, and I was surprised by the ending. The writing style makes it a quick read, but one that is guaranteed to stay with you for a while. I'll admit that my predominant emotion while reading was sadness...but that wasn't enough to keep me from wanting to find out what happened anyway.  READ IT!

My non-fiction pick: Field Notes From A Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert
I read this book a few years ago, and I still find it fascinating.  Kolbert did extensive research about global warming and climate change by traveling to various locations around the world (Greenland, the Netherlands, Alaska, etc) and explaining the specific ways that temperature shifts are affecting their environments.  These are real-life illustrations of how global warming is changing our daily life.  Kolbert also spends a bit of time talking about why many corporations and politicians are trying to downplay the effects of climate change.

I don't want to get all political on you, dear bloggers, but this is a politically charged book, no matter what side of the aisle you're on.  However, I recommend going into it with an open mind, because I think this book has important, down-to-earth information about an issue that is so often spoken of in generalities or impossible-to-understand data.  Read, learn, and reflect.  If any of you have read this, I am very interested in your thoughts!

What lesser-known books have YOU enjoyed lately?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

BBAW Day 3: What Does Book Blogging Mean To You?

Today's Book Blogger Appreciation Week theme is to talk about what book blogging means to you.  As a newer blog, this is a tough subject to tackle, because I've barely had enough time to take in the whole blogging experience!  So instead, I'll touch on how reading and blogging fit into my already-crazy life..

I'll do a little Before and After to illustrate this for you.

So, Before.  As in, before I had my son in mid-2011.  I had many, many hobbies (I'm kind of a hobby whore), but reading was always the one that was given the most time.  I would read in the morning before showering for work. I would close my office door and read on every lunch break.  I would listen to audiobooks in the car.  I would read in waiting rooms and Starbucks lines.  I would curl up in bed on rainy Saturdays and just READ.
Actual photo I took as I was reading on vacation in 2010. Current me is all like, "MUST BE NICE"
'Twas a simpler time.

After.  I am not shy to admit that my son is now my favorite hobby.  Stacking blocks and singing Old McDonald are my new MO, and I do it like a boss.  However, over the last 14 months, I've had to figure out new ways to fit in my reading, because while I love flying my son over the dog like an airplane and making him laugh hysterically, I do so desperately want to read, as well.  And Lil Dude is only interested in reading Goodnight Moon so many times in a row.
That look means he has many burning questions about Moby Dick.
How do I do it?  Well, I still wake up a little early some days so I can read a few pages before my son wakes up.  On the days that I work, I still soak in reading time during my lunch.  At night, I'm much more likely than Before to read vs watch TV.  I used to just listen to audiobooks once every few months, but now I always have one--because my commutes are precious reading times as well.  And when most moms ask for "me time" at the salon or the mall, I usually take those times to go to the library, or go lay in bed with a book.

Is it harder to find time to read now?  Sure.  But I feel like I appreciate that time a lot more than I did before.  So in some ways, I'd say reading has become a more valued activity for me since my son arrived.

Now, you're probably thinking...why in the world did you start a blog if you already have NO time?  I don't have a good explanation, other than to say that the pull to start this blog was so strong, I couldn't help but just do it.  I've read book blogs for a long time, and always thought to myself, "I could do that...if I had the time...I would LOVE to do that."  Even before my son was born, I felt like book blogging was a natural fit for me.  I read a lot, I always write (albeit small) reviews on Goodreads, and I think the blogging community is a great thing.  But I never pulled the trigger because it was never the right time.

However, after recently closing out a personal blog of mine, I realized that it would NEVER be the "right" time.  Life is always going to be busy, so if I wanted to start this blog, I had to just do it and figure out how to fit it in as I went.  And that's what I did.

Now, three weeks in, I'm so glad that I did.  Yes, it has been very time consuming as I get started and work on layout, post ideas, etc.  I've had a few nights (especially while my son was teething, good Lord) where I should have gone to bed much, much earlier.  But it has been worth it.  I love having the opportunity to share more in-depth reviews than I did on Goodreads.  I think all the new bloggers I've made connections with are wonderful.  I am thankful for the opportunity to review ARCs in my blogging capacity.  And I'm getting excited for all of the new books I've heard about through the blog community.

Mostly though, I've realized that this blog is a natural fit for me.  I don't feel like it's an imposition on my time, or that it's a pain in the arse to sit down and write a post.  I look forward to it.  I get all giddy about it sometimes; I have to go lay on my fainting couch whenever I get a Twitter mention or a new post comment.
Me, reading on my fainting couch.  Oh my stars.
Bottom line: it's a good freakin' time.  And I am looking forward to sharing it with all of you as I keep calm and blog on.  :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

BBAW Day 2: Interview Swap with Joy's Book Blog!

I gotta say, I think this is the BBAW day that I have been looking forward to the most.  Today is Interview Swap day!  I was paired up with Joy from Joy's Book Blog, and we are highlighting each other's blogs on our sites today.  She makes an effort to mix her reading passions with health-conscious tips and discussions, which I think makes her pretty unique in the book blog world.  I had a great time communicating with her, and I'm excited to share her responses with you!  Read on:

Joy with her mother's copy of Little Women, inscribed from her mother for Christmas cool!

1. Starting with some basics: where are you from?  What do you do (when you're not blogging, of course!), both professionally and/or for fun?
I grew up in the small Mississippi River town of Louisiana, Missouri and now I live in Kirkwood, a suburb of St. Louis. I'm a librarian, not currently working in a library. I spend my time gardening, cooking, and writing. 
2. What inspired you to start your blog (especially the combination of reading and fitness posts)?
Once I was no longer working in a library, I started Joy's Book Blog to be part of the book blogging community as an outlet for talking about books. Readers' Workouts, the weekly meme for bookish people who exercise, was started by Mari at Bookworm with a View. I took it over because I liked the accountability. I've been rather amazed at how much we have in common as reading athletes, from the necessity of making difficult choices between books and exercise to always being on the look out for bookish ways to keep ourselves entertained while working out. 

3. If you had to illustrate your reading preferences in 3 books, which 3 books would you choose and why?
Let's go with Ireland Awakening by Edward Rutherfurd ( to illustrate the books I read for fun -- novels that take me to exotic times and spaces. 
Why Calories Count by Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim ( can stand in for the books that support my healthy lifestyle.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson ( represents the books that my book club reads about race in America -- I have learned so much about American history, culture, and psychology from this book club along with making terrific friends!
4. What book has been on your TBR pile the longest?
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. Now with all the controversy surrounding it, who knows if I'll ever get to it?
5. What were some of your favorite books in childhood/adolescence?
I loved mystery series starting with the Bobbsey Twins in third grade, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys around sixth grade, and Perry Mason in high school. 
6. What's your favorite blog post that you've written so far?
7. What's been your biggest challenge as a book blogger?
Time. But, then, that's my biggest challenge for everything.
8. Where do you hope to take your blog in the future?
I would like to build a larger community of health-conscious readers. I'm not quite sure how to make a book blog do that, so I'm open to suggestions!

Thanks for the interview, Joy!  Head on over here to discover Joy's blog, and read my interview!

Monday, September 10, 2012

BBAW Day 1: Appreciate!

Happy Book Blogger Appreciation Week!  Each day this week, participating bloggers will have a different topic to discuss.  Today's topic is appreciation: highlighting other book blogs that you love to read.

I have SO many that I could pick (seriously, sometimes my Google Reader gets more of a workout than my books do), but I decided to just mention three new-to-the-scene blogs that I've started following, because as a new book blogger, I love giving props to fellow newbies!

First up, Rinn Reads.  She's a UK book blogger who just started up last month, and already has like triple the GFC followers that I do.  IMPRESSIVE, girlfriend!  She's jumped right into blogging with some great reviews and memes.  I think Rinn is going to be around for a long time!

Also have to mention Nouveau Novels, run by two lovely bloggers (Meg and Liz) and also just started last month.  (Should we start an August 2012 debut club?)  They already have some good books posted, and their review system makes me giggle (each book gets its own...their latest earned 5 Spirit Bears!).

Final new blog mention goes to The Readdicts, two best friends from India who are "truly, madly, deeply in love with books" and it shows!  I like that they are including reviews from Indian authors that I might not have heard of otherwise.  Welcome, ladies!

So, tell me--what book blogs are you appreciating these days?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Book Review: The Beach House by Jane Green

Title: The Beach House
Author: Jane Green
Publisher: Viking Adult
Release Date: June 17, 2008
Source: e-book loan from my local library

Plot summary from Goodreads:

Known in Nantucket as the crazy woman who lives in the rambling house atop the bluff, Nan doesn't care what people think. At sixty-five-years old, her husband died twenty years ago, her beauty has faded, and her family has flown. If her neighbors are away, why shouldn't she skinny dip in their swimming pools and help herself to their flowers? But when she discovers the money she thought would last forever is dwindling and she could lose her beloved house, Nan knows she has to make drastic changes.

So Nan takes out an ad: Rooms to rent for the summer in a beautiful old Nantucket home with water views and direct access to the beach. Slowly, people start moving into the house, filling it with noise, with laughter, and with tears. As the house comes alive again, Nan finds her family expanding. Her son comes home for the summer, and then an unexpected visitor turns all their lives upside-down.

My Review:

I have a love/hate relationship with the phrase "chick lit".  I don't like it, because it implies a genre that is vapid, silly, and full of hot-pink-spined books.  While I find this true of SOME books in this genre (AHEM, Shopaholic series), it is most definitely not true for all (or even the majority).  However, I still sometimes use the term because it's easy and less clunky than saying "women's literature" or something of that sort.  Go ahead, call me lazy...

Anyway, I suppose you would say this book falls under chick lit, but I have to immediately follow that by saying this is SMART chick lit.  It's women's fiction that deals with relationships realistically, and makes an effort to get in the heads of each of its characters.  And oh yeah, I LOVED IT.

The story centers primarily around Nan and her 3 boarders (names withheld because I don't want to spoil).  However, it starts off following them well before they all end up in Nantucket, so the first chapter or two are a bit disorienting as you follow the lives of these seemingly unrelated people.  But once you figure out who's who, the variety of perspectives in this story is awesome.  Not only do you get the POV of each of the 4 main characters, but you get short snippets from their spouses' perspectives, their kids' perspectives, etc., creating a narrative that puts you in the head of nearly every character, and giving you a look at each of the 4 main characters from a whole host of different vantage points.  I love books and movies that do the whole we-don't-know-each-other-at-the-beginning-but-soon-our-lives-will-collide thing, but that paired with this crazy multi-person perspective?  Genius.  It's the #1 reason I loved this book so much.

By the end of the book, I felt like I knew each character so well.  Green spends a lot of time making sure you really understand the emotions of each person, in every chapter.  It doesn't take you long to start feeling invested in their well-being.

Themes of infidelity, being true to self, and "everything happens for a reason" were strong throughout the novel.  There are some GREAT plot twists, and the ending is perfect.

I only had 2 small beefs with this book.  Number one: the themes of the novel are highlighted WAY too much.  I think every character said/thought something along the lines of "she felt like she was coming home" or "he finally felt at home" or (enter cliche statement about home here).  Halfway through, I was like, "OKAY, GOT IT, THE BEACH HOUSE IS A METAPHOR, WE'RE GOOD".  Same goes for the "everything happens for a reason" theme.  I prefer it when authors assume I am smart enough to figure out the embedded themes on my own, cuz I is purty intellijent.

My other (very minor) complaint was that the American characters would sometimes use British-style language in conversation.  Not a huge deal, but it was noticeable...I'm sure it snuck in because Green is British.  It was just a little awkward in the dialogue when I picked up on it.

But overall?  The rest of the book was so good, I don't even really care about those 2 small complaints.  This is not my first Jane Green novel, and while I have really enjoyed most of them (Jemima J is definitely another to check out), this one might be my favorite so far.  This would be a great summer read, so quick--go get it before summer officially ends!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Feature and Follow (2)

Hi all!  I had a lot of fun meeting some new people during last week's Feature and Follow, so I figured I'd do it again this week.  F+F is hosted by Parajunkee's View and Alison Can Read--stop by either of their blogs to check it out!

This week's question: What are you reading right now?  How do you like it?

Right now, I'm reading Jane Green's The Beach House (book cover photo in sidebar).  So far, I love it!  I enjoy women's fiction that feels "smart"...books that go beyond shopping and dreamy boys and impossibly silly situations, and that deal with real-life relationship issues.  This book does that.  I'm about 50% done, so I should have a full review for you next week...but so far, it looks like it will be a good one!

I also just started a new audiobook--The Mermaid Chair, by Sue Monk Kidd.  I am still only on the first disc, so no big review yet, but I will say I enjoy the narrator quite a bit.

What are you reading this weekend?

Bloggiesta 2012!

In the few weeks that I've been book blogging, I have been insanely impressed by the excitement and enthusiasm of the book blog community.  I knew that fellow bloggers were out there, but I had no idea how many great opportunities there were for me to engage with them!

I just found out about Bloggiesta, a weekend-long book blogger event that focuses on bringing bloggers together to encourage each other to spruce up their blog spaces and share new ideas.  Being new to the scene, I think this sounds like a great opportunity to expand my lil site, and also meet some of my blogging compadres.

So, I'm signing up today!  It runs from Sept 28-30.  Check out the info over at There's A Book to find out more and get registered!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Book Review: Sometimes It Snows In America by Marisa Labozzetta

Title: Sometimes It Snows In America
Author: Marisa Labozzetta
Publisher: Guernica Editions
Release Date: October 1, 2012
Source: E-galley received from publisher via NetGalley

Summary from Goodreads:
What happens when a "princess" from Somalia comes to America?

Combining fable, storytelling, and the grubbiness of harsh reality, Marisa Labozzetta tells the story of Fatma, a young woman from a storied family in Somalia. Brought to the United States as part of an arranged marriage, Fatma must undergo losing her child, drug addiction, abuse, and prison before coming out the other side. A tale of someone who never gives up, no matter how bleak her prospects. A novel that allows hope to shine even in the darkest hour.

My Review:

First of all, I have to thank Guernica Editions for giving me the opportunity to review this book!  I saw it listed on NetGalley, and given my attraction to novels set in other countries, I was immediately intrigued by Fatma and her Somalian/Kenyan/Arabian background.  This is my first ARC review and I was eager to dive into it.

However... was not as great as I wanted it to be.  And trust me, I so BADLY wanted it to be awesome.

Let me start with the good news.  This is not a novel that drags, or bores you.  Fatma's dramatic life history encounters everything from arranged marriage, to miscarriage, to attempted murder and alcoholism.  This is, at its core, a book about fighting against the odds and coming back from the brink--and Fatma certainly does a lot of that.  The story keeps you engaged simply because it never slows down.

I also learned a lot about Somalian and Kenyan history from this novel.  It is historical fiction--Fatma is supposed to be the niece of the real-life former dictator of Somalia, Mohamed Siad Barre (he has a different name in the novel, likely because Fatma is a fictional character unrelated to the real Barre...but a Wikipedia search made it pretty evident that that was who he (and she) were supposed to be).  This was an interesting perspective on Somalian Communism and the Somali Civil War.  This is why I love books from other countries--because I am a huge nerd and LOVE learning new stuff when I read.

Another thumbs-up goes to the ending.  Labozzetta switches tenses from past to present, which makes the whole feel of the ending much more hopeful than the darkness of the rest of the novel.  And she manages to tie things up enough that you feel satisfied, but still leaves unanswered questions so that it doesn't feel too "neat".  One of my favorite ways for a novel to end.

But now the bad news.

I had two main difficulties with this novel: the distant point of view, and the lack of significant detail.  The novel was told in the third person POV.  I thought so much of Fatma's character was lost in the story, because her perspective never seems to be accurately conveyed.  I know first-person POV is not to be chosen lightly by an author, but in this case, I think it would have been warranted.  Fatma is a Somalian princess, raised in Kenya, with a Saudi Arabian mother, and she moves to America in an arranged marriage at the age of 12.  Westerners (the presumed primary demographic for this novel) are not going to be able to naturally comprehend what she is thinking, feeling, doing given this unique African/Middle Eastern background.  A well-researched first-person POV could have helped that.  But instead, Fatma's story is told seemingly from a distance, with surprisingly little dialogue from Fatma herself.  (Every time she spoke a sentence, I felt like I was hanging on to it--"I FINALLY heard her voice!")  As a result, I often felt like I didn't understand why she made certain choices, or felt certain feelings.  As a reader, this was extremely frustrating.

As for the lack of detail--this book takes place over a period of 35 years in Fatma's life.  If a book is going to tackle such a large portion of someone's life story, I think there is a responsibility to give each part of it the level of detail and explanation that such an epic scope requires.  Unfortunately, I don't think this can be well done in 300 pages, as Labozzetta tried to do here.  There were some extremely important periods in Fatma's history that felt very glossed-over.  Without going into spoiler territory, there were events related to her childhood, her son, and her marital life that were described in a surprisingly small number of pages.  One terrible event was described in exactly ONE sentence before the story moved on to the next chapter.  Not only was this confusing time-wise (I would often lose track of what year Fatma was in), but it made events feel abrupt, and as such I don't think I absorbed the emotional impact from them that Labozzetta was hoping for.  It was clear that Fatma was greatly shaken by these problems, but as a reader, I just didn't get enough detail to fully connect with her at those points.  Paired with the distant perspective mentioned above, this was BEYOND frustrating, especially in a novel that is so steeped in violent, life-shattering events.

So, overall--I think this book has a wonderful story behind it.  It's sad and violent, but tells a tale of survival and persistence that could be truly inspiring.  However, the impact of that inspiration was lost on me because of the distant perspective, choppy timeline, and lack of good detail.  I so badly wanted to be let into Fatma's world, and to connect with her, but I never got that chance.  This book needs a first-person POV and at least 200 extra pages of detail--then it could really do Fatma's story justice.

Anyone else read this ARC--what were your thoughts?  Any other good recommendations for books that touch on East African history?
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