Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book Review: A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Title: A Wrinkle In Time
Author: Madeleine L'Engle
Original Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Original Publication Date: January 1962
Source: won from Shannon at Giraffe Days

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger. 

"Wild nights are my glory," the unearthly stranger told them. "I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract".

Meg's father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?

My Review:

Remember Banned Book Week not so long ago?  During that celebration, I won a giveaway hosted by Shannon over at Giraffe Days.  She was giving away one banned book of the winner's choice.  I couldn't decide, so I sent Shannon a list of 3 finalists and asked her to surprise me with one.  So you know what she did?  She sent me ALL THREE.  Like a BOSS.  And A Wrinkle In Time was one of them.  (The other two are The Color Purple and Flowers for to come!)

In the end, moral of the story?  Shannon is awesome, and so is this book.

I know I'm probably, at the age of 29, the last person in my generation to read this.  Which makes me sad, because I wish I could have experienced A Wrinkle In Time at the age of 10!  Remembering my love for Matilda, The Phantom Tollbooth, and the like, I know this would have made an impression on my little brain.  But instead, I enjoyed it as an adult, and that will have to be enough.  Fantasy is not my preferred genre nowadays, but I think middle-grade fantasy has a lot more to offer, because it's written to an audience that can appreciate it with more innocent eyes.

What did I love about this book the most?  The deeper meanings!  There are so many, and they made it pretty clear why this book is often taught in schools.  Good wins over evil.  You can get help from others, but sometimes you have to do things yourself--even if they're hard.  Freedom requires more choices and effort, but is better than settling for conformity:

"'You mean you're comparing our lives to a sonnet?  A strict form, but freedom within it?'
'Yes,' Mrs. Whatsit said.  'You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.  What you say is completely up to you.'"

As a whole, the book is allegorical without feeling overly preachy.

The sci-fi aspects of it were a tad confusing, so I could see that being a little hard for kids to get through.  But the idea of "tessering" (the method of time-travel used in the book) is explained easily enough that the other information (about first, second, third, fourth, and fifth dimensions...phew) doesn't need to be understood well in order to follow the plot.

I was a little surprised at the religious undertones throughout the book, especially because it is taught so widely in schools.  However, I wouldn't say this is a strictly Christian novel.  Yes, there are a few quoted Bible verses, and some of the characters are clearly meant to represent the devil, or angels, or maybe even God, but it's written in a way that I think other religions could easily input their own belief systems within the lessons of the text.  I think it teaches you to have faith and love--but it doesn't tell you that there is one right way to do that.  AWIT has often been banned for being too religious, or (on the flip side) anti-Christian, and I think it's silly to pin the book that way when what's it really teaching kids is to be NICE to each other and BELIEVE in themselves.  I don't think that's very threatening, do you?

One final note, about the characters.  Meg, the main character, is pretty great, but her younger brother Charles Wallace is awesome.  I want to take that kid home and just hug him.  Or maybe name my second-born after him, I don't know.  Either way, he is a very precocious little five-year-old, and his dialogue was so much fun to read.  Definitely going on my list of all-time favorite literary characters.

So, overall, A Wrinkle In Time gets a big thumbs-up from me.  It's truly timeless--nothing in the book let on to the fact that it was written 50 years ago.  It manages to be entertaining, fantastical, and thoughtful at the same time.  I wish Small Fry was old enough to read it now, but you can bet I'll be putting it in his hands in about 9 years or so.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday (7)

Word Nerd Time!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by BermudaOnion each week. It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.

Here are three of my favorites new-to-me words from some of my recent reads. All definitions from

1. rictus. "Kelly looked at me, lips drawing back in a smile that looked more like a rictus." (from Deadline by Mira Grant)

1. the gape of the mouth of a bird.
2. the gaping or opening of the mouth.

2. palimpsest. "'Have to what?' he asked, staring at the dark palimpsest of beard on his head of department's lower face that threatened to seep through the aging surface of his skin and re-form its former glory." (from The Light of Amsterdam by David Park)

a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text.   (really interesting use of the word by the author!)

3. jobsworth. "'What a jobsworth,' Shannon hissed at her.  'A little power and it goes to their head.'" (from The Light of Amsterdam by David Park)
a person in a position of minor authority who invokes the letter of the law in order to avoid any action requiring initiative, cooperation, etc.

What are your new words this week?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

2013 Monthly Keyword Challenge

So, I am on the hunt for some fun reading challenges in 2013.  I didn't do any specific challenges this year (other than my Goodreads goal of at least 50 books--WIN!), but I want to get back into doing some next year.

The first one that caught my eye was the Monthly Keyword Challenge, hosted by Bookmark to Blog.

Each month, you have to read a book that covers one of the possible keywords assigned for the month, which you can find HERE.

I am going to participate, and here's the list of books I'm thinking about reading so far, based on the keywords.  (Bonus: these are all from my TBR pile at home, so it will also help me with the TBR challenges I am planning to do!!)  I underlined the keyword in each title.

January: Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio, or Devil In The White City by Erik Larson
February: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
March: At The Mercy of the Mountains by Peter Bronski
April: The Cider House Rules by John Irving, or Jordan Freeman Was My Friend by Richard White
May: The World According to Garp by John Irving, or The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
June: East of the Sun by Julia Gregson
July: Any of my Chicken Soup for the Soul books...I have several
August: The Drowning Tree by Carol Goodman
September: The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
October: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
November: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, or The Last Juror by John Grisham
December: The Road Ahead by Bill Gates

Fun challenge!  Who else is in?

Top 10 Most Anticipated Books of 2013

Top 10 Tuesday is hosted each week by The Broke and the Bookish.  I haven't participated in it for a while, but I'm pretty excited about this week's topic of
Most Anticipated Books of 2013

There's a lot of good stuff on the horizon next year!  Here's what I'm most looking forward to:

1. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
I am SO STOKED to re-read The Shining in anticipation of this sequel!

2. The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

One of my favorite authors, I look forward to her new releases every Feb/March.

3. Family Pictures by Jane Green

JG does great women's fiction, and this one sounds excellent.

4. Joyland by Stephen King

Another King release!  I am unapologetic in my adoration.

5. Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans

Lenore is a fellow (though much more seasoned) book blogger, and her first release comes out in January!  Plus, I won a signed copy of the UK edition from her blog, which I cannot WAIT to read and review for you all very soon.

6. And The Mountains Echo by Khaled Hosseini
The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns were captivating...I can't wait to see what Hosseini has in store next.

7. Untitled by Veronica Roth
I know, this one is on EVERYONE'S list...but of course I want to know how the Divergent trilogy ends!!

8. When She Was Gone by Gwendolen Gross

This book, about a 17-yr-old's disappearance just before she leaves for college, sounds exactly like the type of modern drama I'd be into.

9. Cooked by Michael Pollan

If you haven't read Pollan's first two books (The Omnivore's Dilemma, and In Defense of Food), do that now.  Then come back here and be excited about his new release with me.

10. The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates

I've read only a fracton of Oates's long library of books, but I've enjoyed every one that I've picked up.  Her new one, set in Princeton, sounds haunting.
What are you looking forward to in 2013?

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Light of Amsterdam--giveaway winner!

Congrats to the winner of a hardcover copy of The Light of Amsterdam by David Park...

Diana B.!

Diana won via a freebie entry on my Rafflecopter form.

Woot Woot to Diana!  I love sharing good books with others.

I have 2 more giveaways in the works in the coming months...stay tuned!

Book Review: Deadline by Mira Grant

Title: Deadline  (book #2 in the Newsflesh trilogy)
Author: Mira Grant
Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: June 1, 2011
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Shaun Mason is a man without a mission. Not even running the news organization he built with his sister has the same urgency as it used to. Playing with dead things just doesn't seem as fun when you've lost as much as he has.

But when a CDC researcher fakes her own death and appears on his doorstep with a ravenous pack of zombies in tow, Shaun has a newfound interest in life. Because she brings news-he may have put down the monster who attacked them, but the conspiracy is far from dead.

Now, Shaun hits the road to find what truth can be found at the end of a shotgun.

My Review:

You may remember that I reviewed book #1 in this trilogy (Feed) not too long ago.  To summarize, I loved it--I thought the world-building was excellent, the zombies weren't overdone, and the voice of Georgia as narrator was awesome.  Overall, great start to this series.

Let me start with all the good things about Deadline (because overall, I did enjoy this installment of the series as well).  First, the action!  I thought that Grant did an even better job building suspense in this book than she did in FeedDeadline deals with a pretty short time period (a week or two), but the suspense is drawn out, and the climactic scenes are worth the wait.  I was constantly wondering who in the group was a double-crosser...I was often wrong, but the suspicion was always there.  And as with Feed, there is a big oh-snap-didn't-see-that-coming (actually, I'd say two of them) right towards the end.  I will have no problem running out to read the last book in this trilogy, Blackout.

Also, as with Feed, the author's grasp of virology is awesome.  Total A+ in the world-building department.  Part of what I love so much about the Newsflesh trilogy is that it's a zombie book with a pretty solid science background.  Zombies in and of themselves are not entirely believable creatures, but with the virological explanations that Grant weaves into her novels, it makes you want to run out and buy a shotgun.  Just in case.

However, I felt kind of bipolar about this book at times.  On the one hand, I was completely addicted to the action, the scientific whys and hows, and wanting to know what happened next.  On the other hand, I found myself completely annoyed for significant sections of the novel.

(Now, HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.  Read on only if you want Feed ruined for you!)

In Deadline, the narrator has switched over to Shaun, now that his sister George is dead via zombie conversion and subsequent bullet to the head.  In my review of Feed, George's death at the end was the "risky move" that I applauded Mira Grant for.  It's pretty ballsy to kill off your protagonist in any book, but especially in a trilogy.  I didn't see it coming, and I thought it was a bold slap-in-the-face to your typical reading structure.  So I was very excited to see what book #2 had in store.

Unfortunately, I was immediately disappointed to see that George isn't 100% "dead", at least by Shaun's standards.  He still continues to hear George's voice in his head, to the point where he carries on conversations with her pretty much at all times (and even hallucinates visions of her occasionally).  This is explained away as Shaun's inability to grieve/let go of George's death, but as a reader, it felt like one thing: the author's inability to stand by her decision to kill George off.  I feel like Grant saw George's death as too risky, too vulnerable to losing readership, so she decided to keep her present as the voice in Shaun's head.  I found his conversations with her to just be downright annoying (along with his repeated threat to "punch in the face" anyone who mentioned said conversations).  Not to mention, they take a turn for the awkwardly-weird when Shaun starts to get romantically involved with another character.

Now, if you've read Deadline, you know that the finale of the novel SORT OF supports George's lack of disappearance from Shaun's mind...and Blackout might give me more information on that too.  But as of now, I am still not entirely convinced that Shaun needed to be hearing her voice throughout the entire novel.  It really grated on me, and was the #1 thing that kept this from being a totally smooth read.

**End Spoilers!**

So overall--I'd still give this book 4 stars on Goodreads.  The narration was super (super super) annoying at times, but the world of the Rising and the action that ensued was too good to make me stay away.  I'll be reading Blackout for sure...and based on Deadline's ending, I doubt I'll be having the same qualms about the narration anyway.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Small Fry Saturday #7: I'm A T.Rex! by Dennis Shealy

It's time for installment #7 of Small Fry Saturdays!  This is where I do a weekly showcase of books that my Small Fry is currently reading.  Feel free to do a SFS post on your blog (with the graphic above) or leave a comment below about your favorite kiddie reads.

I'm A T.Rex! by Dennis Shealy
(illustrated by Brian Biggs)

Great minds think alike, so when both my mom and my mother-in-law bought this book for Small Fry, I knew it must be a good one.  I'm A T.Rex! is a relatively new (published 2010) part of the Little Golden Book series that most of us remember from childhood.

The book is perfect for making funny voices and sounds (as the T.Rex roars, stomps, and growls his way through the pages).  But it's actually educational as well ("I lived in a time called Cretaceous--good gracious!").  The book teaches kids all about the tall, toothy, and terrible T.Rex.  The illustrations are just like the cover--colorful and a bit goofy (no Jurassic Park-type dinosaurs here).

For now, Small Fry is mostly entertained by the loud and funny way we read this book, but as he gets older, I can see him having fun with it as he learns more about the dinosaurs and tries to pronounce all their crazy names.

What are your favorite Little Golden Books for kids?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday (6)

Word Nerd Time!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by BermudaOnion each week. It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.

Here are three of my favorites new-to-me words from some of my recent reads. All definitions from

1. leachate. "Me and my pathetic little crew hiked over to Morgan Creek and swam around in water stinking of leachate from the landfill..." (from This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz)

a solution resulting from leaching, as of soluble constituents from soil, landfill, etc., by downward percolating groundwater.

2. fulgurating. "Dead now a year and sometimes you still feel a fulgurating sadness over it..." (from This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz)

sharp and piercing.

3. vaunted. "And all our vaunted innocence/Has withered in this endless frost" (from Feed by Mira Grant)
praised boastfully or excessively.

What are your new words this week?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Thanksgiving Break

Hello, my lovely blog readers!  I wanted to give you all a heads up that I will be MIA for the next week or so, as Thanksgiving is just 2 days away and we are hosting the event this year (gulp).  We've done it before, but this time around we have:

-6 adult guests (all staying Thursday thru Friday), which is the most we've ever packed in here for an overnight, and
-a 16-month-old who is apt to reach up and pull that 18.5 pound turkey off the counter at any moment.

Eeek!  Should be tons of fun, but I need some time away from the blog to enjoy it all with our family.  Not to mention that I am a firm believer in putting up ALL the Christmas decorations the weekend after Thanksgiving.  So other than my usual Wondrous Words Wednesday and Small Fry Saturday, regular blogging will continue again next week.

I hope all of my US readers have a wonderful holiday as well!  Hopefully I will get some reading time in, between all the festivities, and then I'll have lots of good reviews for you upon my return.  :)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Audiobook Review: Landing by Emma Donoghue

Title: Landing
Author: Emma Donoghue
Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America
Publication Date: May 1, 2007
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

A delightful, old-fashioned love story with a uniquely twenty-first-century twist, Landing is a romantic comedy that explores the pleasures and sorrows of long-distance relationships--the kind millions of us now maintain mostly by plane, phone, and Internet.

Síle is a stylish citizen of the new Dublin, a veteran flight attendant who's traveled the world. Jude is a twenty-five-year-old archivist, stubbornly attached to the tiny town of Ireland, Ontario, in which she was born and raised. On her first plane trip, Jude's and Síle's worlds touch and snag at Heathrow Airport. In the course of the next year, their lives, and those of their friends and families, will be drawn into a new, shaky orbit.

This sparkling, lively story explores age-old questions: Does where you live matter more than who you live with? What would you give up for love, and would you be a fool to do so?

My Review:

I read Room by Emma Donoghue a few years ago, and was completely captivated by it.  So when I saw this audiobook sitting on my library's shelf, I had to go for it, in the interest of exploring Donoghue's other work.  This, however, is an entirely different novel, and if her name was taken off the cover, I probably would never have guessed that she penned it.  I'm not saying that as a bad thing--if anything, it shows the range of her abilities as a writer.

The beginning of the novel intrigued me.  Jude, flying home to Canada after visiting her mother in the UK, realizes mid-flight that the man sitting next to her on the plane has died.  Sile (pronounced Sheila) is the flight attendant that she flags down, and Sile takes charge of the situation as Jude quietly panics.  The two of them end up sharing a cup of coffee after the incident is over, and a relationship is born.

I'd have to say this is probably the most unique romance novel I've read in a long time.  And not because it's a lesbian romance (though I admittedly don't have a lot of that in my reading past).  Sile and Jude's relationship is distinctive for so many other reasons; this is a May-September romance on crack.  The 14-year age gap is one thing, but is actually a relative non-issue compared to other differences.  Primarily, this includes their far-flung locations and their diverse personalities.  The novel's description doesn't do those dichotomies justice.  Jude is a staunch homebody, and an "old soul"...set in her ways, living in the same house she grew up in, no cell phone, and has never had an email account before meeting Sile.  Sile, on the other hand, is carefree, a jet-setter, attached to her smartphone, thrives among crowds of friends in big city settings.

Honestly, despite the proclaimed chemistry between the two throughout the novel, I had a hard time truly seeing them together for most of it.  They were just SO polar-opposite in many ways, that it was often difficult for me to believe that either of them would ever be willing to make the changes necessary to be with the other.  I tried to suspend my disbelief as much as possible, and towards the end I started to soften towards them a bit, but that was probably my main dislike about the book.  I understand the idea of "opposites attract", but I think I could have done with just a few more similarities in this case.

My favorite relationships in the novel were actually between Jude and Sile and their respective friends.  Jude and Rizla (her best friend and ex-husband...kind of) have a great back-and-forth, and their history lends a lot to their interactions.  Sile's friend Jael is raunchy, crude, and downright hilarious, and her friend Marcus is witty and eminently likeable.  These side characters were a big part of what kept me interested in the plot.

Even though I had some trouble with the chemistry between Sile and Jude, I thought Donoghue did a good job with the progression of their relationship and the novel's ending.  I mean, the whole point here is that they are both exploring their personal identities, and trying to determine what is worth changing for their partner--so despite the whole thing about them being opposites, Donoghue does delve into their inner struggles very thoroughly.  Plus, I was completely unable to predict how the book would wrap up, and it was crafted it nicely--not cliched, not perfectly tied up, leaves you with a few questions unanswered.  It's about as vague of an ending as a romance novel can have, without being unsatisfactory.

Overall, I'd say if you are looking for a one-of-a-kind romance, Landing is a good bet.  Donoghue builds very distinctive characters (both primary and supporting), which lends a fun atmosphere to the entire novel.  You may just need to be more of a believer in extreme "opposites attract" than I am!  And don't expect this to be similar to Donoghue's Room--this novel is a complete gear-switch in comparison.

Other reviews of Landing:
Bonjour, Cass!
Secluded Charm
Casey The Canadian Lesbrarian

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Small Fry Saturday #6: Pajama Time by Sandra Boynton

It's time for installment #6 of Small Fry Saturdays!  This is where I do a weekly showcase of books that my Small Fry is currently reading.  Feel free to do a SFS post on your blog (with the graphic above) or leave a comment below about your favorite kiddie reads.

Pajama Time by Sandra Boynton

One of our neighbors gifted us a copy of Pajama Time when I was still pregnant.  She said that her daughter adored the book, and she wanted to pass a copy on for us as a result.  I had never read a Sandra Boynton book, but I quickly realized how fun they are!

Pajama Time is a bedtime book that will make your kids want to dance before getting into bed (okay, hear me out).  The characters in the book start putting on their PJs of all different kinds--fuzzy, striped, polka-dot, you name it.  Then they dance their way into bed.  The Pajama Time song is hilarious to sing ("Jamma jamma jamma jamma P! J!").  Hubs thinks it's kind of weird, but I get REALLY into it.  And Small Fry seems quite entertained by this theatrical show before sleepy time.

The illustrations are bright and cheery, and the book does conclude on a more hushed note--perfect for saying "the end" and shutting out the light.  This pick made me curious about Boynton's other books, which I've found are equally as funny and well-illustrated.  Your Personal Penguin is a recent one that we've added to the collection--will be showing up in a future Small Fry Saturday post for sure!

What are your favorite bedtime books for kids?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

GIVEAWAY and Review: The Light of Amsterdam by David Park

Title: The Light of Amsterdam
Author: David Park
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: November 13, 2012  (UK edition published April 1, 2012)
Source: copy provided by the publisher for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads:

It is December; Christmas is approaching and the magic of one of Europe's most beautiful cities beckons. A father looks for himself in the past, struggling to deal with a recent divorce, his teenage son in tow. A single, selfless mother accompanies her only daughter and friends for a weekend-long bachelorette party. And a husband treats his wife to a birthday weekend away, somehow heightening her anxieties and insecurities about age, desire, and motherhood. During their brief stay in the city, the confusions and contradictions inherent in their relationships assert themselves in unexpected ways, forcing each couple into a sometimes painful reassessment and a new awareness of the price that love demands. As these people brush against each other in the squares, museums, and parks of Amsterdam, their lives are transfigured in the winter light as they encounter the complexities of love in a city that challenges what has gone before. 

My Review:

"Let them all come to Amsterdam, let it be compulsory for every citizen to temporarily sojourn there and imbibe the knowledge that race and religion, colour and gender mattered little in the pursuit of happiness." (p 137)

While perusing NetGalley, my curiosity was immediately piqued when I saw "Amsterdam" in the title of this novel.  In our pre-baby life, the Hubs and I were big travelers, and one of our last overseas trips was to the Netherlands and Belgium in 2010.  Two days of this trip were spent in Amsterdam, a truly unique city.  It has so many different faces to it--rich with history, vibrant with a youthful population, but also with the seedy nightlife that everyone hears so much about.  The premise of this book intrigued me, because I liked the idea of three very different people/families encountering Amsterdam from unique perspectives, with a variety of goals in mind.  You need a very eclectic setting for that to work, and I think Park was spot-on in choosing Amsterdam.

As I started reading, the first thing I had to get used to was Park's writing style.  He tends to write each character almost from a stream-of-consciousness perspective, so that you follow their thoughts from one subject to the next without much break in between.  This means his prose is very dense and prone to run-on sentences, which is disorienting at first.  Each paragraph gives you a lot to take in all at once.  However, once you get a feel for it, you start to appreciate the rich narrative of each character's life.  By the halfway point of the novel, I felt like I had a real understanding of each person's weaknesses and desires.

Of the three protagonists, I think Marion (the wife being treated to the birthday getaway) was most interesting for me.  Her motives are hard to pin down--is she a control freak?  Is she lacking self esteem?  Would she flourish more on her own, rather than with her husband?  I enjoyed trying to figure her out.  By the end, I didn't have a solid answer, but I didn't expect to, given the complexity of her character.

Essentially, all of these people are dealing with a bit of mid-life crisis; facing big changes in their lives (a daughter's marriage, a recent divorce, marital instability), they are looking for a new sense of self.  Even as a younger-than-middle-age reader, I was impressed by Park's ability to portray the sense of confusion and disorientation that goes along with this type of self-discovery.  We've all had moments in life where we feel an emotional change deep within us, but we have a hard time expressing it to others, and that is what these characters are going through.

A few other notes: I didn't love the ending (its abruptness seemed a bit unfitting vs the rest of the novel).  Amsterdam is a wonderful character in itself--the book will make you want to check it out, if you haven't already!  Overall, this is a character-driven novel; don't expect action and adventure.  It's more character study than melodrama.  But if you enjoy getting into the heads of your protagonists, this one will leave you with much to mull over.

Sound good?  Well, lucky you--I have a copy to pass on!

Bloomsbury USA was kind enough to send me 2 copies of the book, so I have 1 unread, mint-condition copy of The Light of Amsterdam to gift to a lucky blog reader.

Just fill out the Rafflecopter below for your chance to win.  Entries close on November 25, and the winner will be notified by November 27.  US/Canada only please.  Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday (5)

Word Nerd Time!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by BermudaOnion each week. It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.

Here are three of my favorites new-to-me words from some of my recent reads. All definitions from

1. cenotaph. "Thousands of gravestones and cenotaphs on both sides." (from This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz)

a sepulchral monument erected in memory of a deceased person whose body is buried elsewhere.

2. pulchritude. "...but unlike your average hood hottie Pura seemed not to know what to do with her fineness, was sincerely lost in all the pulchritude." (from This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz)

physical beauty; comeliness.

3. tropism. "The human tropism toward illusionary time-saving devices has been the topic of a lot of studies since the Risinig." (from Feed by Mira Grant)
an orientation of an organism to an external stimulus, as light, especially by growth rather than by movement.

What are your new words this week?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How to have your books...and a sig other too.

A little while ago on Twitter, I was asked by my friend Cari (whose non-book blog you should totally check out):

Cari Renn (@CariRenn)
@TheWRRedhead could you do a post on your thoughts on diving into books without isolating the hubby all night/week long?

And I replied with:

Well-Read Redhead (@TheWRRedhead)
@CariRenn Hmmm yes I will think about that one!  Going to be a tough post because I have not perfected that art yet...LOL.

True story though, right?  If you have a significant other, AND you love reading, life gets hard sometimes.

My husband doesn't dislike reading.  In fact, when we go on vacations, he often gets lost in some book or other.  But during a normal work week, reading is not his idea of relaxation--mostly because he is in a PhD program while working full time, so he gets his fair share of reading in already.  It's okay, I get it--I didn't read much for fun when I was in school either.  But it's hard to be always reading when your significant other isn't--and even if they are, not much chit-chat happens when you're both buried in different books.

The main issue is that reading, while AWESOME, is a very solitary activity.  After our son goes to bed, Hubs and I love to relax together in our family room downstairs.  His idea of relaxing is vegging in front of the TV, flipping through all the channels, and eventually landing on DIY Network, or a repeat of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.  (Seriously, is that show ever NOT on?)  While I stretch out on the other end of the couch, buried in a book.

So, what to do?  How to spend good time together, but also Read All The Things?  Well, I thought about it a bit, and I've put together a few suggestions from my own experience.

1. Share the room.
You may have noticed above that Hubs and I sit on the couch together most nights--him watching TV, me reading.  As a reader, this is not easy to do, because I prefer to read in silence.  However, rather than retreating to the bedroom with my book, I always stay in the family room, because at least we are together.  The only real concession is that I end up reading a little more slowly, which I can live with.

2. Keep in "touch".
Just because you're both involved in different activities, doesn't mean you can't relax together at the same time!  Sometimes Hubs and I sit head-to-foot on the couch and give each other foot massages while I read and he watches TV.  Yes, we are both doing different things, but we are also both giving out awesome foot massages, so everybody wins.
(Note: in these cases, an e-reader comes in handy for one-touch page flipping.)

3. Pick one solitary activity per night.
One thing I struggle with is that many of my other hobbies are also anti-social.  Reading, scrapbooking, blogging, schooling people at Hanging With Friends on my phone...none of these are things I can do in collaboration with my husband.  And it's easy to start the night reading, then want to do a little scrapping, and then maybe work on the blog...but no.  Each night, I try to limit myself to one of these activities.  That way, my husband doesn't feel like I'm moving from one thing to the other, and never including him.  Try not to overbook yourself during your downtime if you want to also be present with your sig other.  (Of all my suggestions, I think I find this one the hardest to follow!)

4. Schedule breaks.
Sometimes it's fun to schedule in a break for you and your SO to drop your activities and hang out together.  For example, Hubs and I will agree that at the end of his Sons of Anarchy episode, I'll pause reading and we'll have an ice cream break together.  The advantage is that you know exactly how much interrupted reading time you're going to get, and you can plan accordingly.

5. Make up the time elsewhere.
Torn between spending the evening with your SO, and finishing the last part of Gone Girl?  Wake up a half hour earlier the next day to finish it up.  Plan to do the elliptical machine instead of the treadmill at the gym for your next workout, so you can read on the machine.  Think through your day, and find other times where you can squeeze in that reading!

6. Take a night off.
The most obvious (and important!) suggestion: take a night away from reading every once in a while.  I know, blasphemy!  But the best together time that the Hubs and I have happens when there's not a book (or a computer, or a phone...) between us.  We have movie nights, DIY project nights, fancy dinner nights, etc. where our other hobbies don't come into play.  Plan ahead or do it impromptu--either way, it's nice to switch gears every once in a while.

How do you balance reading with your romantic/social life?  What suggestions do you have for other voracious readers?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Book Review: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Title: This Is How You Lose Her
Author: Junot Diaz
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Date: September 11, 2012
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In the heat of a hospital laundry room in New Jersey, a woman does her lover’s washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness--and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own. In prose that is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, the stories in This Is How You Lose Her lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the human heart. They remind us that passion always triumphs over experience, and that “the half-life of love is forever.”

My Review:

At its core, This Is How You Lose Her is a book about love.  But it's not a happy, squishy, feel-good love story.  No--the book is actually a series of short stories, dealing with the messy, deceitful, and heartbreaking consequences that can come from love gone awry.  Central to most of the stories is Yunior, who (if you read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) you may remember as Oscar's sister's boyfriend in Diaz's last novel.  Yunior was the narrator for part of that novel as well, but in this story, his history is fleshed out much more.  I like how Diaz created that sense of continuity between the two books.

Yunior is an interesting character.  Yes, he is a cheater--and a pretty consistent one, at that.  But he's also constantly regretful of his transgressions.  So throughout the novel, you're left wondering--why?  Why does he continue to break the hearts of others, especially when his heart often ends up broken as well?  Is it an example learned from his father, who ran off so long ago?  Or from his brother, who brazenly jumps from woman to woman with hardly a second thought?  Or is it entrenched in his culture (as one girlfriend, Magda, seems to think)--did he learn to behave this way from his Dominican upbringing?  Obviously, none of these things end up providing a clear answer to the question, but they all came together to provide a illustrative backdrop for the details of Yunior's life.

One story that stuck out for me was "Otravida, Otravez", which centers on a woman who is the mistress to a Dominican man (unrelated to Yunior, as far as I could tell).  The man's wife lives back in the DR, while he is in the US working and setting up a life with this other woman.  It's the only story without a direct relation to Yunior's life, but I think it serves to broaden the book's perspective--giving a female point of view, and a look at the other side of an unfaithful relationship.  It caught me off guard at first, but this is the story that made me realize this is not a book about Yunior, but a book that is trying to encompass larger themes about love and loss.

But the best part about these stories?  Yunior's voice.  Remember when I went to that Junot Diaz reading last month?  I mentioned that Diaz had everybody cracking up as he read from the "Alma" chapter--his voice is raw, humorous, and distinctively Dominican in flavor.  That carries throughout the entire book, and makes it stand out from any other story collection I've read.  It made me wish I could hire the guy to sit in my living room and read me the whole thing.  Diaz writes with his Dominican background at the forefront, and he does it like a master.  (But, a note to the other blanquitas out there, like myself: you better have Google Translator handy so you can figure out some of the Spanish phrases!  Ha.)

This is one of those books that's short on length, but big on contemplation.  You'll read it quickly but spend a lot of time mulling it over afterwards.  Great collection of stories, but I'd still probably recommend reading Oscar Wao first--just so you can get introduced to Yunior there before finding out his whole story here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Deja Vu Review (3)

The Deja Vu Review is hosted every Sunday by Brittany at The Book Addict's Guide.  It's a chance to mini-review books that I read pre-blog.  This week's topic is mystery novels.  I went through my Goodreads list and realized I haven't read nearly as many mysteries as I thought.  I guess I need to rectify that!

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

I know, I know, I've mentioned Dennis Lehane way too much around here already.  But when I think of good mystery novels, Shutter Island is tops on my list.  The story begins in 1954 with Teddy Daniels, a US Marshal who is investigating a missing patient from the mental hospital on Shutter Island.  However, this mystery about the patient quickly escalates into a tangled web of suspense, as Daniels learns more about the hospital, and reveals information about his own past.

I love a mystery that makes me feel like I am working just as hard as the protagonist to figure out "whodunit".  Shutter Island made me feel that way, times ten.  I don't want to give too much away, but Lehane does a superb job building suspense, and the ending is probably one of my favorites in the history of ever.  If you haven't read this yet, you MUST!  (Bonus: the Scorcese film is phenomenal--one of the best book-to-movie adaptations I've ever seen.  Watch it when you're done reading!)

In The Woods by Tana French

I heard SO many good recommendations for this book, that I had to give it a try last year.  It opens with Detective Rob Ryan, who had 2 friends who disappeared (and were presumed murdered) when he was young.  He was present when they disappeared, but got severe amnesia and was never able to tell police what happened.  Nowadays, he’s a cop in Ireland who is called in to investigate a murder that happened disturbingly close to where his friends disappeared.  

I loved the suspense in this book.  I had some suspicions about who the murderer actually was, but the way it came together at the end was great.  However, there is one BIG detail that is not resolved in the novel, and I thought for sure it would be.  I was so puzzled at the end when it wasn’t solved, that I started searching online to see if there is a sequel or something (there isn’t).  I was super disappointed about it.  I can’t tell you what it is because it would be a huge spoiler alert, but trust me, it’s big.  Anyway, this is a great book in terms of thrills and suspense, but not entirely satisfying because of the way the end was wrapped up.

What are some of your favorite mysteries?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Small Fry Saturday #5: Peekaboo Kisses by Barney Saltzberg

It's time for installment #5 of Small Fry Saturdays!  This is where I do a weekly showcase of books that my Small Fry is currently reading.  Feel free to do a SFS post on your blog (with the graphic above) or leave a comment below about your favorite kiddie reads.

Peekaboo Kisses by Barney Saltzberg

Peekaboo Kisses is a short read, but Small Fry is diggin' any book with moving parts these days.  I mentioned lift-the-flaps last week, and this week we have a touch-and-feel, with different textures and sounds for kids to explore within the pages.

The book has a simple concept.  On each page, it starts with "Peekaboo! I see..." and then you lift the page to reveal "fluffy kitten kisses" (with fur to touch) or "squeaky mouse kisses" (with squeaker to press), etc.  An older child would get bored with this book pretty quickly, but it's a good selection for the smaller small fries, as it keeps their hands busy and teaches them different animal names at the same time.

Small Fry has several touch-and-feel books, but I like this one because you can see the anticipation build for him every time you turn the page and say "Peekaboo!"  Plus, it's really cute watching him lean over to eagerly touch/press each page.

What are your favorite touch-and-feel books for kids?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Book Review: Being Santa Claus by Sal Lizard with Jonathan Lane

Title: Being Santa Claus: What I Learned About the True Meaning of Christmas
Author: Sal Lizard (with Jonathan Lane)
Publisher: Gotham
Publication Date: November 8, 2012
Source: ARC received from publisher for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads:

A veteran Santa reveals heartwarming true stories and lessons from his twenty-year career spreading Christmas magic.

With the holiday shopping season beginning earlier each year, more than ever.  Americans are struggling to remember the true meaning of Christmas. And who better to deliver the gift of Christmas inspiration than a man who has spent the last two decades playing Santa?

Sal Lizard was in his twenties when his beard and hair turned completely white.  Today he appears everywhere from malls and parades to schools and hospitals. And— from his custom-made red velvet suits to the mistletoe that hangs from the rearview mirror in his Santa-mobile—he is Santa Claus three hundred and sixty-five days a year. 

In Being Santa Claus Sal reflects on his experiences with both children and adults including:

Christmas magic is all around us: We don’t always see it, but it is there, shaping and enriching our lives. 

Sometimes you need to go that extra mile: Santa Claus is the one person who can’t even use a blizzard as an excuse not to honor his commitments, and Sal teaches adults the importance of always showing up for our children. 
Even a small child can make a big difference:  Sal has met some impressive children over the years, and he’s learned that you don’t need to be a grown-up to make an impact on the world around you. 

In Being Santa Claus Sal shares these lessons, along with often heartwarming, occasionally heartbreaking, and sometimes downright hysterical stories from his twenty-year career as Santa.

My Review:

Usually, I don't start getting into the Christmas spirit until after Thanksgiving--I like to take my holidays one at a time.  But when I had the chance to review this ARC, I couldn't resist getting into the spirit a bit early here on the blog!  Plus, who doesn't like a feel-good memoir once in a while?

This book is a short read--at 196 pages, many of you could probably do it in one sitting.  Even so, Sal Lizard's tales as a professional Santa leave their mark.  They alternately made me smile (as he got an entire mall to start singing Christmas carols with him at random) and cry (when he visited child cancer patients in a Boston hospital).  And I am NOT a crier, people.  Believe that.

The best thing about this memoir is that Sal's passion for truly being Santa Claus comes through in his stories.  He takes his role very seriously; even when he's out and about in non-Santa capacities, he makes sure that he behaves in a way that kids would expect to see from the Big Guy.  He seems to have a simple, genuine interest in spreading Christmas cheer.  I'm one of those people who gets very frustrated with the commercialization of Christmas at times, but this book reconnected me with the things I LOVE about the holiday--being charitable, enjoying friends and family, and remembering the childlike joy of the season.

The only complaint I have about this book is that, at times, the writing almost makes the stories seem too good to be true.  I know, I know--I was just waxing poetic about the wonders of Christmas, and now the book is too happy?  But it's worth mentioning this, because the thought poked into my brain more than once.  In all of these stories, Sal always acts/thinks/responds in the perfect way, and his timing is always exactly right--almost to the point where the tales started to feel fictional by the end.  It was a little overdone, and I point it out because I think it will be evident for many other discerning readers, as well.

However, that does not make me recommend this book any less!  It's a book about Santa, after all--so maybe I just need to believe?  ;-)

If you want a fun, light-hearted read that's sure to get you into the Christmas spirit, Being Santa Claus definitely fits the bill.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday (4)

Word Nerd Time!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by Bermudaonion each week.  It's an opportunity to share new words you've encountered in your reading, or highlight words that you particularly enjoy.

Here are three of my favorites new-to-me words from some of my recent reads.  All definitions from

1. legerdemain.   "...Ronald Reagan was doing quite well with his brand of verbal legerdemain..." (from Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama)

1.  sleight of hand.
2.  trickery; deception.
3.  any artful trick.

2. plangently.   "This smell was plangently like that—sickish sweet and decayed sour, mixed together and fermenting wildly."  (from 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King)

resounding loudly, especially with a plaintive soundas a bell.

3. beldam.  "Hush and shush, for the beldam might be listening!"  (from Coraline by Neil Gaiman)

an old woman, especially an ugly one; hag.

What are your new words this week?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Book Review: Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

Title: Dreams From My Father
Author: Barack Obama
Publisher: Times Books
Publication Date: July 18, 1995
Source: Received as a gift

Summary from Goodreads:

Dreams from My Father tells the story of Obama’s struggle to understand the forces that shaped him as the son of a black African father and white American mother—a struggle that takes him from the American heartland to the ancestral home of his great-aunt in the tiny African village of Alego. 

Obama opens his story in New York, where he hears that his father—a figure he knows more as a myth than as a man—has died in a car accident. The news triggers a chain of memories as Barack retraces his family’s unusual history: the migration of his mother’s family from small-town Kansas to the Hawaiian islands; the love that develops between his mother and a promising young Kenyan student, a love nurtured by youthful innocence and the integrationist spirit of the early sixties; his father’s departure from Hawaii when Barack was two, as the realities of race and power reassert themselves; and Barack’s own awakening to the fears and doubts that exist not just between the larger black and white worlds but within himself.

Propelled by a desire to understand both the forces that shaped him and his father’s legacy, Barack moves to Chicago to work as a community organizer. There, against the backdrop of tumultuous political and racial conflict, he works to turn back the mounting despair of the inner city. His story becomes one with those of the people he works with as he learns about the value of community, the necessity of healing old wounds, and the possibility of faith in the midst of adversity.

Barack’s journey comes full circle in Kenya, where he finally meets the African side of his family and confronts the bitter truth of his father’s life. Traveling through a country racked by brutal poverty and tribal conflict, but whose people are sustained by a spirit of endurance and hope, Barack discovers that he is inescapably bound to brothers and sisters living an ocean away—and that by embracing their common struggles he can finally reconcile his divided inheritance.

A searching meditation on the meaning of identity in America, Dreams from My Father might be the most revealing portrait we have of a major American leader—a man who is playing, and will play, an increasingly prominent role in healing a fractious and fragmented nation.

My Review:

Happy Election Day, America!  I felt it was only appropriate to hit you with a politically-based book today.  And no, I'm not going to tell you who to vote for--that is not the point of this review!  It's a review, plain and simple.  Pinky swear.

I actually picked this book up on a sort-of dare.  Someone (who will remain nameless) forwarded our family an email that listed all sorts of horrible things that Barack Obama has done or said regarding race, religion, etc.  The email stated that all of these things were true--and if we wanted the proof, just read Dreams From My Father, because Obama wrote it all himself!

And I thought, "Wait...did you just dare me, a loyal maiden of literature, to read a book and fact-check you?  CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!"  So here we are.

The first thing I learned in this book: Barack Obama had no idea, in 1995, that he would be POTUS in 13 years.

Because if he did, he would never have written this memoir.  And that's part of why I enjoyed it.

I can see why the right wing likes to tear this book apart.  I mean, does any sitting American president want to write a book that airs his family's secrets (good and bad)?  That frankly (in a refreshingly non-roundabout way) discusses their personal views and struggles with race and racism?  That kind of admits that they did blow a few times?  Nope, they don't want to do that.  But Barack Obama wrote exactly that book before he went down the politics path, and now here it sits, for the world to judge.

I'm quite disappointed that I didn't read this earlier in Obama's presidency.  I've heard about a lot of the details in news stories (and, ahem, email forwards), especially the ones that caused a media sensation (the Jeremiah Wright controversy, his Kenyan heritage, various quotes on racial politics, etc).  But reading the actual memoir was much different than perusing the latest headlines--it gives you the story from the horse's mouth, so to speak.

Obama's voice is remarkably young and honest in his memoir.  None of this typical political vagueness that we hear from every government figure these days.  But despite his relative youth upon publication, this memoir gives you the opportunity to see how his political, personal, and spiritual preferences awakened throughout his early life.  For example, he admits that in his high school and college years, he often rebelled against white culture, while trying to come to terms with his black identity.  But as he gained a wider range of experiences (as a community organizer in the Chicago projects, and during a long trip to Kenya to reconnect with his family), he started to build a more inclusive vision for how communities need to work together to create change:

"What is our community, and how might that community be reconciled with our freedom?  How far do our obligations reach?  How do we transform mere power into justice, mere sentiment into love? the conversation itself, in the joining of voices, I find myself modestly encouraged, believing that so long as the questions are still being asked, what binds us together might somehow, ultimately, prevail." (p 438)

He also freely admits that he was not religious in the early part of his life--he had both Muslim and Christian education, but did not join a church and explore his spirituality until his mid-twenties.

Neither of these admissions (about race or religion) are good for him, politically.  But they're honest--and how often do you hear honesty on the campaign trail?  This is just one of the many ways you can see that, at the time this was written, he did not expect to end up where he is today--and this lack of awareness makes the whole book feel more down-to-earth than your average political memoir..  (He even has a section, during his trip to Africa, where he waxes about how nice it was to be in a place where people recognized and knew how to spell his name.  LOL, if you only knew, dude.)  I've read his second book--The Audacity of Hope--which was published after he entered politics, and that one is MUCH more voter-image friendly (read: uplifting and unlikely to ruffle feathers).

Beyond the general tone of the book, I also enjoyed hearing the story of how Obama's life was shaped by his complicated and far-flung family.  He spends many years trying to chase the dreams that he believes will connect him with his father--a man that he only met once as a boy, and who died before Obama had the chance to truly know him. So much of his life has been shaped by this relationship (or lack thereof).  Despite the book's often-dense musings and descriptions, this family story kept me interested and wondering what discovery would come next.  In the end, you get a detailed oral history from his grandmother, which explains his father's and grandfather's lives through the eyes of Kenya's rocky past.  (As a boring ol' WASP with comparatively uneventful roots in Italy/Ireland/Germany, this was both fascinating and heartbreaking to read.)

Overall, I think any reader (from the right, left, or center) who enjoys political memoirs should give this book a try.  Obviously, you're going to read different messages into it, depending on your political leanings.  But it paints a portrait of a president that you don't often get to see--one of idealism and hope, before the political jockeying of Washington muddies the water.  For that reason alone, it's worth the read.

(Oh, and that email forward?  Nearly every line was either taken out of context or misquoted.  CHALLENGE COMPLETE!  Somebody call Snopes.)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Self-Published Novels, Reconsidered.

Copyright Mick Stevens, The New Yorker Collection

If you've read my review policy (which I'm sure you have...I mean, who hasn't?), you know it includes this line:

"I currently do not accept self-published books for review."

I have gotten questions about this statement several times since I started the blog.  Some people are just curious why.  Others imply via their tone that I'm being a snot.  And still others tell me that I'm missing out--self-publishing is blowing up right now, so why would I neglect all those books for review?

Let me tell you how that policy came to be.

I received my Kindle as a gift in May 2011 (over a year before this blog opened).  Before that, I don't think I had ever read a self-published book.  But if you get a Kindle, what is one of the immediate appeals?  ALL THE FREE BOOKS!!  I blindly waded into Amazon's "free" section and started downloading anything that looked even remotely up my alley.

Then I started reading them.  The first one  The second one was...meh.  By the end of the third one, I was a disgruntled reader.

The books had flat characters, awkward dialogue, nonsensical plot elements, and confusing uses of POV.  Not to mention that they were riddled with bad spelling and grammar.  I found myself wondering who in the world their editors were, allowing these things to be published?

And then I realized--there were no editors!  These were self-published works.

So when I started my blog, I decided that I would not be seeking out or accepting self-published works for review.  My early Kindle freebies had ruined me, and I had thousands of other books to choose from anyway.


Now that the blog has been running for a couple of months, I've had ample opportunity to read reviews of self-published works from my fellow bloggers.  And while some of them sound similar to how I reacted to those Amazon freebies last year, others sound pretty awesome.  I've also received several review requests from authors who have self-published works (despite the disclaimer in my review policy).  I've turned them all down up to this point, no matter how good they sounded, in the interest of sticking to my original policy.  Because when it comes right down to it, anyone can self-publish--and who wants to take the time to wade through all that mediocre work, looking for the good stuff?

But in the last week, two things happened.  First, I received an email from Novel Publicity tours (for whom I serve as a tour host), asking for blogs to host a book called Bluff by Lenore Skomal.  Reading the description, I was excited--this book sounded awesome!  I couldn't wait to read and review.  However, going on Goodreads, I quickly realized it was self-published.  Feeling deflated, I emailed a bit with the Novel Publicity rep about it.  She assured me this was a well-vetted piece of fiction, encouraging me to host if I was considering it.  I couldn't forget my initial excitement about the book--should I really let this one go?  So I took a chance, and said I would host.

Second, I clicked on a link in my daily Shelf Awareness email last week to get an ARC of a book that sounded pretty great: The Thief of Auschwitz.  The author (Jon Clinch) has published with Random House before, so I was initially confused as to why I was downloading the ARC off his personal website.  Then I read this article.  And I found Clinch's story quite compelling.  Long story short: he published with Random House, and despite good reviews, had disappointing sales with the publishing house.  As an experiment, he wrote another book and self-published it under a pen name--and lo and behold, sold thousands of copies with no publisher backing him.  So he decided to also self-publish his next literary novel (The Thief of Auschwitz).  Of course, this created a conundrum for me--should I turn down a self-published novel from someone who has already earned critical acclaim for his writing through bigger publishers?

In the end, I decided to take another chance, and I downloaded the ARC.

So, where does this leave me and my snooty review policy?

For now, I'm going to leave that line in the policy.  My personal belief is still that a lot (A LOT) of self-published work does not have enough editorial support to read as cleanly and strongly as that put out by publishing companies (indie or big-name).  (That's not to say publishers never put out terrible books--but the "terribleness" is usually not based in structural/editorial issues the way I've seen it in self-pubs, and if it is, the book usually gets enough widespread bad publicity that you know it well beforehand.)  However--I am more open to the idea of self-published work, if (after researching it) I have some compelling reason to believe it is a strong piece of fiction.  

These two examples have shown me that my early Kindle freebies may not necessarily be reflective of all self-published books.  Thus, I am going to use these two novels as an experiment.  Because my critics' assessments are correct--in the era of e-readers, self-publishing is huge.  And some awesome work is bound to come out of that.  But for me (especially as a blogger), the trick is wading through that messy sea of self-pubs and finding the treasure--not an easy task.

So, be on the lookout for my first two reviews of self-published work (for Bluff and The Thief of Auschwitz) coming up in December/January.  We'll see how this experiment goes, and I will post a follow-up once they've both been reviewed.

Readers, respond!  What has been your experience with self-published work?  How do you distinguish between the good and the bad--or do you not bother to do so?
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