Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday (39)


Welcome back, wordy friends!

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 favorite new-to-me words from The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne.  
All definitions from Dictionary.com.

1. vassal. "The hoary vassal in the sweater spoke for the first time."  

noun
1. (in the feudal system) a person granted the use of land, in return for rendering homage, fealty, and usually military service or its equivalent to a lord or other superior; feudal tenant.
2. a person holding some similar relation to a superior; a subject, subordinate, follower or retainer.
3. a servant or slave.
adjective
1. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of a vassal.
2. having the status or position of a vassal.

I knew the first definition of this word from my high school social studies classes, but I guess I never considered that its meaning could be used in a more modern way as well..

2. disquisition. "An elderly gentleman in green pants raised his hand, stood, and offered a ten-minute disquisition on event-controlled versus time-controlled traffic lights..."

noun
a formal discourse or treatise in which a subject is examined and discussed; dissertation.

I guessed this one from the context, but was still glad to look up the definition, since I don't think I've heard it used before.

3. ephemera. "Full runs of ephemera from The New York Times to the original Black Panther newsletters."
noun
items designed to be useful or important for only a short time, especially pamphlets, notices, tickets, etc.

I've heard this word a million times but didn't know the definition.  And now I know that I, keeper of every ticket stub, birthday card, etc., am a total hoarder of ephemera!!

What are your new words this week?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Review: Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel

Title: Sea Creatures
Author: Susanna Daniel
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: July 30, 2013
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

When Georgia returns to her hometown of Miami, her toddler son and husband in tow, she is hoping for a fresh start. They have left Illinois trailing scandal and disappointment in their wake: Graham's sleep disorder has cost him his tenure at Northwestern; Georgia's college advising business has gone belly up; and three-year old Frankie is no longer speaking. Miami feels emptier without Georgia's mother, who died five years earlier, but her father and stepmother offer a warm welcome-as well as a slip for the dilapidated houseboat Georgia and Graham have chosen to call home. And a position studying extreme weather patterns at a prestigious marine research facility offers Graham a professional second chance.

When Georgia takes a job as an errand runner for an artist who lives alone in the middle of Biscayne Bay, she's surprised to find her life changes dramatically. Time spent with the intense hermit at his isolated home might help Frankie gain the courage to speak, it seems. And it might help Georgia reconcile the woman she was with the woman she has become.

But when Graham leaves to work on a ship in Hurricane Alley and the truth behind Frankie's mutism is uncovered, the family's challenges return, more complicated than before. Late that summer, as a hurricane bears down on South Florida, Georgia must face the fact that her choices have put her only child in grave danger.

Sea Creatures is a mesmerizing exploration of the high stakes of marriage and parenthood, the story of a woman coming into her own as a mother, forced to choose between her marriage, her child, and the possibility of new love.


My Review:

Love and loss and hurricanes, OH MY.  This might be one of my favorite books of the year so far, friends.  TAKE NOTE!

Sea Creatures, for me, is the perfect blend of serious literature, family drama, and captivating page-turner.  I mean, read that description...is there anything NOT included?  Difficult motherhood issues, strained marriage, death of a parent, job loss--the list goes on.  I was never bored reading through Georgia's journey, that's for sure.  I think it can be risky for an author to attempt so many issues in one book, but Susanna Daniel has a knack for putting together this menagerie of scenarios in a way that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.  I never felt overwhelmed, and each situation was given enough page time that it didn't feel peripheral.  The end result is a novel that constantly keeps your wheels turning, and who doesn't want that?

The characters are wonderfully complex, and as a reader you often get the feeling that you might know them better than they know themselves.  I was forever trying to figure each of them out--their personal motives, their flaws, and their next moves.  Georgia and Charlie (the loner artist mentioned in the description) certainly had one of the most interesting relationships.  They have a push and pull with each other that becomes the centerpiece of their growth as characters during the novel.  And as a reader, I felt that push and pull quite a bit: did I want them to be friends?  Lovers?  Father/daughter-ish?  I couldn't decide, but I found myself quite pleased with how they ended up by the conclusion of the book.

Equally interesting is the relationship between Georgia and her husband Graham.  Daniel does an amazing job of slowly opening the chasm between them as the novel moves along.  Disagreements between them that seem relatively small at in the beginning eventually grow into issues that I never saw coming.  Yet again, even though I wasn't sure what direction they would take, by the end of the book I was impressed with how well their story came together.

And Frankie (Georgia's 3-year-old son)...what a compelling little boy.  You guys know I have a soft spot for well-written child characters, and Frankie is certainly one of them.  Those of you that are mothers will be especially hard-pressed not to have your hearts melt as you follow his progress throughout the novel.

I could write about this book for days, but for respect of your time, I won't.  There's so much going on with each character, so many unexpected twists, so many complex relationships--you'll just have to trust me.  If you need your next un-put-down-able novel, Sea Creatures is it.

Much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Susanna Daniel on her websiteFacebook, and Twitter.

We're over halfway through the year, peeps--what have been some of YOUR favorite reads so far?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Small Fry Saturday #21: Roadwork by Sally Sutton

Hey there readers!  Welcome to my newest Small Fry Saturday installment.

As you may remember, Small-Fry Saturday is a when-I-feel-like-it meme to showcase some of books that my 2-year-old 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.

This week's selection is...


Roadwork by Sally Sutton

NEW BOOK ALERT!  Small Fry received this book from my friend Cari as a birthday gift a couple of weeks ago, and he is full-on addicted to it.  I knew I had to feature it on Small Fry Saturday right-quick once I realized we were reading it a minimum of 10 times a day.

Roadwork is pretty much the ultimate book for two-year-old toddler boys that love trucks.  The book traces the steps that construction workers have to take in order to mark out and pave a new road.  Each page has the same rhythm and includes some fun sound effects for the adults to act out:

"Load the dirt. Load the dirt. Scoop and swing and drop. Slam it down into the truck. Bump! Whump! Whop!"

Kids love the cadence and the funny noises, and adults...you're lying if you tell me you don't think this book is fun to read out loud.

The illustrations (by Brian Lovelock) are clear and colorful.  If you have a tiny truck-lover in your life, this book is a great choice to keep them entertained.

Any other fun toddler-age books about construction that you would recommend for Small Fry?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday (38)


Welcome back, wordy friends!

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 favorite new-to-me words from some of my recent reads.  
All definitions from Dictionary.com.

1. soign√©. "Where had these soign√© children come from?"  (from Mama's Child by Joan Steinau Lester)  

adjective
1. carefully or elegantly done, operated, or designed.
2. well-groomed.

I love finding cool French words to use in everyday English.  This is one that I think would be pretty easy to drop into conversation.

2. inveterately (inveterate). "I also work here because I love books, because I'm inveterately curious, and because, like most librarians, I'm not well suited to anything else."  (from The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne)

adverb (adjective)
1. settled or confirmed in a habit, practice, feeling, or the like: an inveterate gambler.
2. firmly established by long continuance, as a disease, habit, practice, feeling, etc.: chronic.

This is one of those words that I've heard many times before, but never knew the exact definition.

3. hoary. "The hoary vassal in the sweater spoke for the first time."  (from The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne)
adjective
1. gray or white with age: an old dog with a hoary muzzle.
2. ancient or venerable: hoary myths.
3. tedious from familiarity; stale: Please don't tell that hoary joke at dinner again tonight.

Well, I was completely thrown off by this, because when I heard "hoary" all I could think of was "hoar frost", which means something entirely different.  (Stay tuned for next week when I tell you what 'vassal' means!)

What are your new words this week?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Top 10 Things That Make Me Tell A Book To TALK TO THE HAND.

Back in April, I participated in The Broke and The Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday topic: Top 10 Words/Topics That Instantly Make You Buy/Pick Up A Book.  I had fun with that one, and today, they're doing the opposite:

Top Ten Words/Topics That Will Make You NOT Pick Up A Book

I felt it was only appropriate that I cover both sides of the coin.  So, without further ado...

1. Faeries, vampires, and werewolves, oh my.
I'm just not into the paranormal/fantasy thing.  I read the Twilight series because I felt it was my duty as a reader to do so, but I didn't get a lot of enjoyment out of it.  I haven't been motivated to try much else since then.  Is Harry Potter considered fantasy though?  Because I would totally make an exception for that.

2. A cheesy tagline.
Or any tagline, really.  Why does a book need a tagline?  Can you imagine if Jane Austen sat around coming up with taglines?  If you've already chosen a good title, let it speak for itself.  I feel like taglines are just the author saying, "Okay, the title might not have drawn you in, but wait wait wait!  Don't walk away yet noooooooo..."  I don't want to be sold that hard.
Wow. That's crazy. Tell me more.
3. "New adult".
I don't understand this new genre.  Honestly, it seems like they just didn't want to say "erotica for the older YA's".  Yes?  All I know is, my early 20's were not nearly as racy as these authors seem to think.

4. Part 2/3/4/etc of a series.
I am way too type-A to start a series midway through.  I have to start with Part 1, or I'm not starting at all!

5. Fiction written by a "celebrity".
I side-eye anything written (or that claims to be written) by a celebrity (other than biographies/memoirs).  Lauren Conrad writes books?  Whaaaaaaaaaa?

6. Short story collections.
This is one that generally turns me off, but I DO make exceptions.  I greatly prefer novels to short story collections, because I like to really steep myself in a book...short stories pull me out of the plot too quickly.  That said--I will read ANY short stories that Stephen King writes, and I will try other authors if I hear enough good hype about their work beforehand.  (Jhumpa Lahiri, I'm coming for you.)

7. Hey look, boobs!
Erotica is just not my thing.  Much like "new adult" novels, I find them a little ridiculous and hard to take seriously.  WHATEVER, I'M A PRUDE, I KNOW.

8. A message from...above.
Apparently I am a middle-of-the-road reader, because just as I'm not a fan of erotica, I'm also not a fan of the opposite end of the spectrum: Christian and LDS fiction.  I'm not an atheist or anything like that, but if I want religious inspiration, I prefer to get it from sources other than my fiction novels.

9. The title is too similar to another well-known novel.
It's not that I avoid books with similar titles--it's just that most times, I honestly don't realize that they are two different books, thus causing me to not read one of them.  Do you know how long it took me to realize that Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and Shadow and Bone, are NOT THE SAME?

10. Mass-published fan fiction.
Just no.
In my search for a cutting meme about 50 Shades, I found this instead, and it was way better.
Readers: what words/topics are total book turn-offs for you?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Book Review: A Woman In Jerusalem by A.B. Yehoshua


Title: A Woman In Jerusalem
Author: A.B. Yehoshua
Publisher: Harcourt
Publication Date: August 14, 2006 (English translation; originally published in Hebrew in 2004)
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

A woman in her forties is a victim of a suicide bombing at a Jerusalem market. Her body lies nameless in a hospital morgue. She had apparently worked as a cleaning woman at a bakery, but there is no record of her employment. When a Jerusalem daily accuses the bakery of "gross negligence and inhumanity toward an employee," the bakery's owner, overwhelmed by guilt, entrusts the task of identifying and burying the victim to a human resources man. This man is at first reluctant to take on the job, but as the facts of the woman's life take shape-she was an engineer from the former Soviet Union, a non-Jew on a religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and, judging by an early photograph, beautiful-he yields to feelings of regret, atonement, and even love.

At once profoundly serious and highly entertaining, A. B. Yehoshua astonishes us with his masterly, often unexpected turns in the story and with his ability to get under the skin and into the soul of Israel today.


My Review:

This month's country selection for the Around The World in 12 Books Challenge is Israel.  Next month is Palestine, in an effort to give us challengers a chance to get to know both countries.  I found it a little difficult to find a fiction novel set in Israel that was both modern and not too Biblical (those are my preferences, not necessarily those of the other challengers), but A Woman In Jerusalem fit the bill.

This is not a novel to be read for simple plot-based entertainment.  Early on, I realized that the story is intended as a parable, an illustration of some deeper meaning or concept.  The journey of the human resources manager is not to be taken at face value, that much is obvious.  I think the first hint of that was the fact that none of the characters (except the titular Woman In Jerusalem) ever has their name revealed in the novel.  They all go by titles..."human resources manager", "office manager", "consul", etc.  From this, it's easy to glean that the events in the book are not meant to be reflective of them as individuals, but instead are supposed to convey larger concepts.

While I won't try to play it off like I know exactly what Yehoshua was trying to illustrate, my conjecture is that much of the text is meant to be a reflection on Israel and the mindset of its citizens in the present day.  I don't know enough about Israeli politics and government to get more specific than that, but certainly the human resources manager in the story is weighed down by heavy feelings of love, dedication, and remorse...all potentially reflective of a greater Israeli identity.

(I would love to hear what other readers of Yehoshua's work think of this interpretation?  Am I completely off my rocker here?)

Yehoshua's writing vacillates between the aforementioned seriousness and a lighter, more entertaining dialogue.  I appreciated that, because I think if the text felt heavy with meaning the entire time, I would have gone quickly down the road to a DNF.  However, I flew through this novel--it combines the allegorical elements with more humorous scenes fairly well.

A primary purpose of the Around the World challenge is to learn more about the culture of each country we "visit", and I think A Woman in Jerusalem was a perfect pick for that end.  I feel smarter for having read it, and I'd especially love the chance to discuss this book with anyone who has lived in, or even visited, Israel.  Though this is a pretty fast read, it's not necessarily "light", as you'll be using your noggin for sure.

Read any good parables lately, reader friends?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review: The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison


Title: The Silent Wife
Author: A.S.A. Harrison
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Source: e-ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads: (kind of spoiler-y, does not get my seal of approval)

Jodi and Todd are at a bad place in their marriage. Much is at stake, including the affluent life they lead in their beautiful waterfront condo in Chicago, as she, the killer, and he, the victim, rush haplessly toward the main event. He is a committed cheater. She lives and breathes denial. He exists in dual worlds. She likes to settle scores. He decides to play for keeps. She has nothing left to lose. Told in alternating voices, The Silent Wife is about a marriage in the throes of dissolution, a couple headed for catastrophe, concessions that can’t be made, and promises that won’t be kept. Expertly plotted and reminiscent of Gone Girl and These Things Hidden, The Silent Wife ensnares the reader from page one and does not let go.

My Review:

"Jodi's great gift is her silence, and he has always loved this about her, that she knows how to mind her own business, keep her own counsel, but silence is also her weapon.  The woman who refuses to object, who doesn't yell and scream--there's strength in that, and power."

Anything that gets compared to Gone Girl = immediately added to my TBR list.  No questions asked.  Such was the case for The Silent Wife, which promised me a completely dysfunctional couple, lots of drama, and death.  COUNT ME IN.  (I am so morbid.)  Apologies if I contrast it a lot to Gillian Flynn's novel, but I think it's fair to use that as a comparison point when the book's own description mentions it, eh?

If you skipped reading the plot summary I provided above, GOOD--this is one of those instances where I think the plot description is way too spoiler-iffic.  It gives away a big event in the novel that I think is better approached without any forewarning.  As I've been known to do, I only skimmed the summary of this book before reading, so that particular event was a surprise for me.  This built the suspense of the novel more than if I had known about it from the start.  However, even if you did read the summary, I think you'll find this novel has more than enough drama to keep you glued to the pages.

Is The Silent Wife exactly like Gone Girl?  Nope.  It does have some similar elements: a very dark and foreboding atmosphere.  Two characters that are completely unreliable in their accounts of each other.  Terrible actions that each character finds justifiable in their own ways.  But beyond that, The Silent Wife is a drama all its own.

For one, it's not nearly so twisted as Gone Girl.  I know that a lot of people who didn't like Gone Girl were particularly turned off by the extremity of some of the twists--they were too much of a reach.  I never felt this way in The Silent Wife.  Dark, hateful, amoral things happen throughout the plot, but the characters almost seem to stumble into them innocently.  This keeps the plot action from feeling contrived, to the point where things like cheating, lying, and yes, even murder, seem completely natural for this cast of characters.

The two protagonists, Jodi and Todd, are endlessly interesting to me.  Jodi is calm and cool on the outside, but tension and suspense simmer around her constantly as you get further and further into her psyche.  She's a psychologist by trade, and as a therapist she feels that she knows deeply about herself; however, as the novel progresses it becomes clear that her persona is far more complex than she lets on.  On the flip side, Todd is so self-centered, he can never truly see how his actions impact others.  Jodi is self-centered too, but in a different way--her obsession with routine and neatness blinds her to reality much of the time:

"No need to stare reality in the face if there's a kinder, gentler way.  No need for all that grim urgency."

I could spend hours psychoanalyzing these two, and maybe that's half the fun of the novel.

The only downside, for me, was in the ending.  It's not bad, but I felt like there were a few too many coincidences thrown in at the end to tie it up.  I'm not a big fan of the "convenient" ending, and this had a tinge of that.  However, the book did manage to keep me thinking about it long after I read the last word--so it's not a loss by any means.

The Silent Wife was a winner for me.  Jodi and Todd aren't nearly as insane as Gone Girl's Amy and Nick, but their subtlety plays well on the page.  I needed a fix in the dark fiction department, and I got it in spades.  I may not have adored the ending, but the rest of the novel wormed itself so far into my brain that I'll forgive the conveniences that were thrown in at the end.

So, readers, what else can I read to follow up on my "dark fiction" fixation?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday (37)


Welcome back, wordy friends!

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 favorite new-to-me words from Cooked by Michael Pollan.  
All definitions from Dictionary.com.

1. fungible. "Exquisitely reactive and fungible, bacteria can swap genes and pieces of DNA among themselves, picking them up and dropping them almost as if they were tools."   

adjective
(especially of goods) being of such nature or kind as to be freely exchangeable or replaceable, in whole or in part, for another of like nature or kind.

Totally new word to me, but the definition makes perfect sense in this context.

2. exegesis. "On the home page I clicked on 'Attraction & Repulsion' and found this soaring, overripe, and ungrammatical flight of cheesy exegesis..."

noun
critical explanation or interpretation of a text or portion of a text, especially of the Bible.

Here, Pollan is talking about an odd diatribe that he found on a cheese maker's Facebook page.  I'm guessing he's referring to the tone of the diatribe,as the excerpt itself was not very Biblical!

3. redound. "And this tally doesn't include the alcohol fermented for fuel and other industrial purposes...or, for that matter, all the chance spontaneous fermentations that S. cerevisiae performs on fallen or split fruit, wet seeds, and tree sap, ferments that redound mainly to the benefit of animals."
verb
1. to have a good or bad effect or result, as to the advantage or disadvantage of a person or thing.
2. to result or accrue, as to a person.
3. to come back or reflect upon a person as to honor or disgrace (usually followed by on or upon).

Totally confused this one with "rebound" at first.  A much more complicated definition than I expected.

What are your new words this week?

Monday, July 15, 2013

My Biggest Reading Pet Peeve, Ever, In The World, For All Time.

Readers, the diatribe I'm about to launch into is not a new topic for literature lovers.  However, since I've never mentioned it here at the Well-Read Redhead, and because I've had a recent run-in with this problem, I felt it was vital to put it up for discussion.

WHAT...THE...HELL is the deal with strangers who want to talk to me while I'm reading in public?

Most recent example:

Last week I went outside to enjoy some reading during my lunch break.  Generally, my reading spot at work is inside this big gazebo in one of our courtyards.  It's perfect because it's always shady, has benches to stretch out on, and is hidden from a lot of the nearby buildings by bushes and flowers.  The perfect private reading alcove.  (I may or may not refer to it as "MY Gazebo" in my head.  I'm a little possessive.)

Anyway, in all the times I've sat there to read, I've always had My Gazebo to myself.  However, last week as I was reading, another woman (who I had never met) came into My Gazebo with her lunch to eat.  Okay, no problem.  I look up, we exchange "Hi"s, she grabs the bench on the other side, and I go back to my book.  She reaches into her lunch bag and starts munching away.  We are peacefully co-existing.

Until.

She looks up at me and says, "I'm glad I found this place to eat.  The student union is crazy today."

And I'm like...

But okay.  I nod and say, "Yeah, busy time of the summer in there," and...go back to my book.

BUT OH NO.  She continues.  "Beautiful day.  So glad the humidity went down.  Hasn't it been awful lately?"

"Yup."  (Back to reading.)

"I hope it stays like this.  I'm taking vacation next week and it would be great if we had more weather like today's."
and
and
Luckily, after my lukewarm response to that, she ate the rest of her lunch in silence and moved out of My Gazebo about 10 minutes later.

The non-readers out there might think I'm being bitchy or antisocial.  But let me just lay it out for you: if someone is reading in public, they do not want to be disturbed by someone they don't know unless that person has something of terrific importance to say.  This would include things like:

-"Excuse me miss, but there is a bomb under your seat."  (You should verify first that it's a real bomb and thus a real threat.)

-"It appears that that plane in the sky is about to crash on or near your person."

-"Derek Jeter just walked into the room and intends to propose marriage to you."  (insert childhood celebrity crush of your choice)

-"Oh Em Gee, I read that book and LOVED it!  Let's discuss!"

I'm sad to say that I've had interruptions like the one above countless times.  On commuter trains, in libraries (LIBRARIES!!), at a coffee shop, you name it.  Don't get me wrong, people--I'm social.  I strike up conversations in elevators and grocery stores and wherever.  And of course if a friend were to interrupt me while reading, I would welcome it.  But I'm not looking to make new friends when I have a book in my hand.  JUST NO.

The moral of my story is this: the next time you want to interrupt a stranger who is happily ensconced in a book, because you have nothing to do and figure this is a great time to discuss last night's So You Think You Can Dance, pull out your iPhone.  Or plan your grocery list.  Or doodle on a napkin.  Just don't do THAT.

What say you, readers?  Am I too touchy?  Do you have other reading pet peeves that take precedence over this one?  Or is this a problem of yours as well?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Small Fry Saturday #20: On The Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman

Hey there readers!  Welcome to my newest Small Fry Saturday installment.

As you may remember, Small-Fry Saturday is a when-I-feel-like-it meme to showcase some of books that my 2-year-old 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.

In honor of Small Fry's birthday party (which is TODAY!), this week's selection is...


On The Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman

This is one of those kid's books that was really made more for the adults.  You know what I mean: they're totally schmoopy and lovey and basically make the adult reading it aloud want to cry ALL THE TEARS while they recite it to their adorable, amazing, never-could-be-more-perfect child.

At least, that's how this book makes me feel.  Basically, it's a story written to kids about all the magical things that happened on the night they were born.  Polar bears danced, the wind whispered their name, geese flew to see them...all sorts of crazy-awesome stuff, because (as the book reminds them) there will never be another kiddo like them, and the world celebrated that on their birthday.

What can I say?  The words are beautiful and poetic, as are the illustrations.  I'll admit that Small Fry is a little on the young side for this one (though he does love pointing out the moon and the "ack-acks" (ducks) on various pages), but we did read it on his birthday night, and if nothing else, it made me hug him a little tighter.  When he's old enough to understand the words, I hope he thinks it's as cool as I do.  And then goes and gets me a tissue.

(Oh, and for the moms out there, this is a great way to mostly forget any of the pain and screaming that you may have actually experienced on the night your kid was born.)

We already discussed Love You Forever by Robert Munsch a few weeks ago (another kid's book that makes the adults cry)...any other emotional kid favorites that you have in mind?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

GIVEAWAY and Book Review: July 7th by Jill McCorkle


Title: July 7th
Author: Jill McCorkle
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: September 3, 1985
Source: received as a gift

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Just after midnight Charles Husky, the cerk at the Quik-Pik in Marshboro, North Carolina, is found lying facedown near the Slurpee machine, suffocated with Saran Wrap. For the next twenty-four hours, novelist Jill McCorkle brings us into the lives of a cast of delightful small-town characters as they sort through the facts.

My Review:

This book came to my attention last Christmas morning.  I unwrapped a package from my husband, saw this book, and was immediately delighted.  You see, Small Fry's birthday is July 7th, so I thought it was pretty cool that DH hunted down the one random novel that happened to have that very title.  At the time I'd never heard of it, but I intended to save it and review it for you on (you guessed it) July 7th, in celebration of Small Fry's second birthday.


Well, you know my life has been crazy lately, so yes...I'm reviewing July 7th on July 11th.  Close enough though, right?  (And side note, Small Fry had a great birthday on Sunday.  I can't believe how big he is getting:)

Wait, book review?  Okay, let's get to that.

After I finished the last page, this book left me wondering how to pin down its genre.  It has a little bit of everything.  It's part murder mystery and part family drama.  It's romantic, humorous, and introspective all at the same time.  I'll admit that this could be a little disorienting, as I wondered what the author's central purpose was for much of the novel.  But in the end, I think it works and it has a little something for everybody.  I'd say it's especially good as a summer read, since the more serious parts are often lightened by the humorous situations and coincidences in which many of the characters find themselves.

The story begins and ends with Sam Swett, a recent college graduate who hitchhikes down I-95 and ends up abandoned and drunk at a truck stop in Marshboro, North Carolina.  Sam is trying to find his place in the world by observing others; this seems to be his attempt to find meaning in life, by discovering how others do so.  And he certainly gets to do a lot of observing in Marshboro.  At the truck stop, he witnesses a murder, and is quickly pulled into the life of this small town as its citizens attempt to figure out the identity of the culprit.

The introspective, serious nature of Sam's personality is quickly levied by the quirky cast of characters that he meets in Marshboro.  Granner, the 83-year-old woman celebrating her birthday, who's convinced she is being courted by a "foreigner" over the phone...Bob Bobbin, the local cop who sees himself as a real macho-Casanova...Juanita Weeks, who recently cheated on her husband but "didn't mean it"...the list goes on.  All of their stories overlap over the course of this one day (July 7th) in some very odd and hilarious ways.

I was impressed by McCorkle's ability to balance Sam's character with the big personalities of Marshboro's citizens.  While the situations they ended up in often made me laugh, McCorkle always brings you back to Sam: how he is processing the situation, what he's learning about himself, etc.  And the end of the novel wraps that up nicely, as Sam finally makes a decision about his next steps in life.  Despite the silliness of some of the things that happen on July 7th, in the end, the book does make you think about finding purpose in life, the meaning of "happiness", etc.

I've got to say, I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  It's a lighter read that still has a thoughtful message behind it, and the author balances her characters perfectly.  (Plus, who doesn't love a novel written in the 80's?  Hot pink shorts, high teased hair, "going steady", Princess Diana references left and right...AMAZING.  You should read it for that reason alone.)  July 7th definitely makes me curious about McCorkle's other novels, and I hope to check one out soon.

Now...it's GIVEAWAY TIME!

See, my husband had a little issue with Amazon when he ordered this for me, and he ended up getting 2 copies for the price of one.  You know I'm a good book blogger when my first reaction to that was, "AWESOME, the second one can be a giveaway copy!!!!"  Always thinking of you, readers.  Always.

So, this giveaway is for one (used) paperback copy of July 7th by Jill McCorkle.  Giveaway is open to US/Canada only, and will be open through July 17th.  Use the Rafflecopter below and get entered, y'all!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday (36)


Welcome back, wordy friends!

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 favorite new-to-me words from Cooked by Michael Pollan.  
All definitions from Dictionary.com.

1. synecdoche. "In our modern, all-electric 1960s kitchen, that pot with its centripetal energies was the closest thing we had to a hearth, a warm and fragrant synecdoche for domestic well-being."   

noun
a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for a part, the special for the general or the general for the special, as in ten sail for ten ships or a Croesus for a rich man.

This definition made my head spin at first, and though I understand it, I still don't entirely understand its place in the context of the book.  I feel like "metaphor" would be easier for me to understand there...but maybe I just don't appreciate the word enough. :)

2. turbid. "The pot dish, lidded and turbid, has none of the Apollonian clairty of a recognizable animal on a spit..."

adjective
1. not clear or transparent because of stirred-up sediment or the like; clouded; opaque; obscured: the turbid waters near the waterfall.
2. thick or dense, as smoke or clouds.
3. confused; muddled; disturbed.

I've definitely heard this word before, but was unclear on the definition.

3. gnomic. "The first time I asked Samin how long some dish we were cooking should cook, she offered this slightly gnomic answer: 'Until the meat relaxes.'"
adjective
of, pertaining to, or resembling a gnome.

I pretty much guessed the definition of this one, but I didn't know if it was as simple as that!  I guess he was trying to say she was being "cute".

What are your new words this week?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Under The Dome: An Initial (Unfavorable) Reaction

I posted briefly about this on Twitter last week, but I felt it needed at least a brief post of its own.  This is for anyone who's read OR watched (or both) Stephen King's Under the Dome!
I do like that this mirrors the cover art so closely!
So readers (and watchers)...what do you think of the TV miniseries so far?  (I fully promise that I will manage this discussion without any spoilers!)  This question is coming from someone who absolutely adored the book, so I guess I should say that up front.

After the first episode, I was intrigued.  Several things had changed from the book, but it was early enough in the story that I wanted to see where the producers were going with it.  However, by the end of the second episode, they were starting to lose me.  The changes, I think, are having too much effect on the feel of the story as a whole.  A lot of this is character driven.

First and foremost: Barbie (Dale Barbara) and his new background story.  In the book, Barbie didn't kill anyone before the dome dropped, and certainly not Julia's husband--because Julia didn't HAVE a husband in the book.  This completely changes Barbie's persona in the miniseries.  He's much more macho-mysterious-outlaw on TV, which I guess plays better for viewers than the mysterious-but-actually-a-pretty-decent-guy thing he has going on in the book.  Anyway, it's clear they want every female character on the show (and viewer?) to find him bangable, so I guess mission accomplished, Hollywood.

My other character issue (so far) is with Junior.  They took so much horror out of his story!  Without giving anything away--his book character is much more menacing than anything they've portrayed on TV up to this point.  And it seems like they aren't going to work in a lot of his actions that they've already skipped over.  On TV, I feel like he just comes off as the overly-creepy boyfriend, but in the book, he is much more than that.  I really hope they amp this up.
The fact that this meme even exists says a lot.
The problem is, I'm not sure if I'll stick around to find out.  The third episode airs tonight, and I'm debating if it's worth my time to watch.  I'm just feeling so mehhhhhhhhhh about it so far...though there is a part of me that's curious to see what they do with the ending.

What say you, readers/viewers?  How do you like the miniseries so far?  Should I keep watching, or better spend my time watching House of Cards (new addiction!)  And if you read the book, how do you think it's stacking up?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Audiobook Review: Joyland by Stephen King


Title: Joyland
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Audio
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, Joyland tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever. Joyland is a brand-new novel and has never previously been published.

My Review:

You guys know about the relationship that is Me + Stephen King.  He's had a few flops in my eyes (The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon...eh, and I'm so-so on Cujo), but for the most part, I devour and adore his work.  His most recent release caught my eye, partially because of the premise (creepy amusement park crime novel, oooooh!) and partially because of its somewhat-limited release.  It was primarily printed in paperback and audiobook format only...no e-books and very few hardcovers.  I decided to go with the audio CD, narrated by Michael Kelly.


(Side note: while I was listening to this, we went on vacation to New Jersey and visited Wildwood one day.  Their boardwalk amusement parks totally reminded me of Joyland!  Which is probably not saying much for Wildwood...haha.)
Wildwood...or Joyland?  Hmmm...
Anyway!  About the book.  I quickly realized that this is not a typical Stephen King horror story.  It certainly has its chilling, supernatural elements, but it's probably more of a coming-of-age story than anything else.  It's narrated by Devin Jones, now an adult, but in the summer of 1973, he was working at Joyland, a seaside amusement park in North Carolina.  As the summer progresses, he struggles to get over a recent breakup while also uncovering the details of a murder that happened at the park not so long ago.  Along the way, he encounters a unique-though-fatally-ill child whose clairvoyant abilities are startling.

(Because what would a Stephen King novel be without a child with superpowers?)

I finished this audiobook a couple of weeks ago, and I'm still having a hard time deciding how I feel about Stephen King as a "whodunit" author.  The identity of the killer didn't come as a great surprise to me, which is what made me feel that this was less about the mystery and more about the maturation of Devin over the course of the story.  And Devin's character is great, but I guess I wanted more than just that from the book at times.  I go to Stephen King and want suspense--he's clearly the master of that arena.  However, that is not a big element of this novel, and in that regard I felt mildly frustrated.

That said--ignoring my feelings about the lack of suspense, this is an excellent example of a coming-of-age story.  As I mentioned already, Devin's character is excellent: witty, sarcastic, honest about his faults.  I enjoyed watching him change throughout that fateful summer at Joyland.  And Michael Kelly is an awesome narrator for the audiobook.  He helped me visualize Devin in a clearer way than I may have been able to do while reading the paperback format.  So in this regard, the book is a win.

Overall, this is obviously a mixed review.  Joyland is not a typical King novel, so I'd say it's best to know that up front.  If you focus more on the "human" element of the story, you'll be sure to admire it.  But your average King creep-factor will be missing...so if that's important to you, you may want to try another of his works.

Any other King fans have thoughts on this one?  If you've never read any King, have you ever been thrown off by a book written by one of your favorite authors?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Total Chaos: June 2013 in Review

First of all, HAPPY 4TH OF JULY to all my fellow Americans!  Exert your freedoms and do lots of lazy reading today!  (While eating too many hot dogs, of course.)
Mmmm,  bacon.
Well, as you can tell from all the excitement around here lately, June was totes chaos for the Well-Read Redhead and family.  June 3 my husband accepted his job offer, and since then we have put our house on the market, had our house flood, sold the house anyway, passed the home inspection, bought a new house, gone on vacation, put in my notice at work (last day August 1), continued to keep growing this baby in my stomach, and...I don't even know what else.  I'm sure there's something else.  I can't even keep track anymore.
The Best Big Bro on vacation last month
And yet, somehow I managed to read!  Reading is a very normal part of my everyday life, but in this particular case, I'm doing some back-patting to celebrate my efforts for the month.

The June 2013 Fave/Least Fave honors were hard to choose this month, but they go to:

June 2013 Favorite: Cooked by Michael Pollan
June 2013 Least Favorite: Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

In total, I read/reviewed 5 books:
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Cooked by Michael Pollan
Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin
Everybody Has Everything by Katrina Onstad

I also posted one new Small Fry Saturday Review of The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown.

In addition, we chatted about how much I sucked at Armchair BEA, you all got to enjoy The Well-Read Vacay (with awesome guest posts!: Shannon, Cari, Katie, and Jennifer), I actually finished two reading challenges, and I shared two important items of personal news (one and two).

I have another busy month ahead, as I finish up at work and we pack up all our belongings to get ready for our current house to close on August 8.  Then we have to move into a temporary rental until mid-September, when our new house closes.  Eek!!  Not to mention that Small Fry's 2nd birthday is this weekend, and on the 25th we find out if baby #2 is a boy or a girl.  If I can finish at least 5 books again this month, I get more back-pats for my efforts.  I demand it.

Have a great month, readers!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday (35)


Welcome back, wordy friends!

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 favorite new-to-me words from Cooked by Michael Pollan.  
All definitions from Dictionary.com.

1. alimentary. "But as Wrangham points out, the alimentary and digestive apparatus of Homo erectus is poorly adapted to a diet of raw meat..."   

adjective
1. concerned with the function of nutrition; nutritive.
2. pertaining to food.
3. providing sustenance or maintenance.

This one sounded familiar, but I definitely did not know the definition beforehand.

2. elides. "...this definition diplomatically elides the whole vexed issue of sauce; it also hints at the sacramental quality of barbecue."

verb
1. to omit (a vowel, consonant, or syllable) from pronunciation.
2. to suppress; omit; ignore; pass over.
3. (in law) to annul or quash.

I originally thought this was a typo of "elude".  The definitions are somewhat in the same ballpark--one is intentional, the other is not.

3. protean. "Fire, it seems, is protean; smoke, too."
adjective
1. readily assuming different forms or characters; extremely variable.
2. changeable in shape or form, as an amoeba.
3. (of an actor/actress) versatile; able to play many kinds of roles.

This is another one I thought I knew, but didn't.  Here, Pollan is talking about the two very different fire-based cooking methods of two chefs.

What are your new words this week?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Book Review: Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver


Title: Flight Behavior
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Publisher: Harper Collins (Harper Perennial for 2013 reprint)
Publication Date: November 6, 2012  (reprinted June 3, 2013)
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire. She can only understand it as a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media. The bewildering emergency draws rural farmers into unexpected acquaintance with urbane journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a striking biologist with his own stake in the outcome. As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.

Flight Behavior takes on one of the most contentious subjects of our time: climate change. With a deft and versatile empathy Kingsolver dissects the motives that drive denial and belief in a precarious world.


My Review:

I was immediately attracted to this book tour, because Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible is on my all-time-favorites book list.  I haven't had the chance to read anything else of hers since then, but the description of Flight Behavior is an eye-catcher.  Is it about climate change?  Family turmoil? Rural life?  There's so much going on, I had to figure out what the angle was here.

The short answer to the above questions is that Flight Behavior is about all of those things...together.  And rather fluidly, I might add, which is not the easiest thing for an author to do. I mean, how do you have a meaningful, non-polarizing conversation about climate change, in a fiction novel, while still developing a complex cast of characters with a story that interests your readers?  It sounds like a weird mash-up, but here, it works.

Dellarobia is a fascinating character.  At times, I felt like I could identify with aspects of her personality, while at others, I felt like she was opening up a whole new world to me.  Her development during the book drives so much of your understanding of the plot as it moves along.  For example, it was through Dellarobia that many of the conversations about climate change took place.  I especially loved the encounter she had with an activist on her property who was trying to get the locals to sign a pledge, requiring them to do certain things to help the environment: buy CFL bulbs, use Craigslist to buy used items, fly in airplanes less.  Things that sound totally sane and do-able to many, but to Dellarobia (who can't afford $5 Christmas presents for her kids, doesn't own a computer, and has never traveled in her life) are impossible or pointless.

I'll be the first to admit that I am a huge advocate of doing things like this to reduce climate change, but Dellarobia's perspective opened up a completely different view on the subject.  A whole host of issues (especially for those in rural/impoverished areas) that I had never considered.  No matter what your feelings about Al Gore, it will be impossible to read Flight Behavior and not see your views on climate change in an entirely new way.  This book, though fictional, enriches the discussion on that subject without being politically isolating at all.
Beyond all the climate change talk, there is a whole web of complex family relationships going on here.  Dellarobia vs herself, Dellarobia vs her mother-in-law, Dellarobia vs her husband...the list goes on.  And I adored her relationship with her son, Preston.  Dellarobia wants so much for him, but as her worldview becomes broader throughout the novel, her frustrations for his future are palpable.  I know I talked about the climate change stuff first, and maybe that was a mistake, because it's not the headline.  Kingsolver does an amazing job of tying it seamlessly into the complicated web of Dellarobia's home life.  There's a great family story being told here, and if contemporary fiction is your cup of tea, it's worth a read.  The last 30 pages or so were especially awesome--left me glued to the book to the very last word.

Overall, this is a fantastic novel with loads to say.  Your brain will feel heavier after reading (that's a good thing!).  It started out a bit slowly ("Where are we going with this?") but about a third of the way through, I was hooked and didn't stop until the end.  This is a great book if you're ready for a thinker!

Much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Barbara Kingsolver on her website and Facebook page.

Have you read any good fiction lately that takes on an important social issue?  Do you feel like it took over the novel, or did it mesh well with the rest of the story at hand?
 
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