Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday (20)

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

1. craic. "'And take those jeans off,' her daughter called. 'And try to get in the spirit of it, Mum, or you're not going to enjoy yourself. It's only a bit of craic.'"  (from The Light of Amsterdam by David Park)

1. fun and entertainment, especially good conversation and company (often preceded by the): Come for the beer, lads, and stay for the craic!
2. mischievous fun; laughs: We did it just for the craic.

Now there's a good Irish-ism!

2. abstemious. "That's what did it for him.  And women of course although this was an area in which he would have been more than willing to be less abstemious if the opportunities had only presented themselves."  (from The Light of Amsterdam by David Park)

1. sparing or moderate in eating and drinking; temperate in diet.
2. characterized by abstinence: an abstemious life.
3. sparing: an abstemious diet.

I pretty much figured out the definition from the context, but definitely a new word for me.

3. ataxia. "The mark of the devil on a woman's breast is only a mole, the man who came back from the dead and stood at his wife's door dressed in the cerements of the grave was only suffering from locomotor ataxia..."  (from 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King)

loss of coordination of the muscles, especially of the extremities.

Leave it to SK to make a medical term take a creepy turn.

What are your new words this week?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

EXCITING DAY 'round these parts!

Hello, my lovely readers!  Just a quick post to let you know that today was the long-awaited day...I got to attend Jodi Picoult's kickoff event for the release of her new book, The Storyteller!  I don't have time to do a full write-up now, but it is forthcoming and FULL OF AWESOME. 
I had an amazing time, and Jodi Picoult might be the nicest person evs.  That's a big claim but I'll stand behind it.

More to come, and in the meantime, GO BUY THIS BOOK!!  Because I can.not.wait. to devour my (signed, say whaaat) copy myself and I want to babble about it to all of you!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Book Review: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Title: Heart of Darkness
Author: Joseph Conrad
Publisher: Blackwoods Magazine (originally published there in three parts)
Publication Date: 1899
Source: personal purchase

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

One of Conrad's finest stories, loosely based on the author's experience of rescuing a company agent from a remote station in the heart of the Congo, Heart of Darkness is set in an atmosphere of mystery and lurking danger, and tells of Marlow's perilous journey up the Congo River to relieve his employer's agent, the fabled and terrifying Mr. Kurtz. What Marlow sees on his journey horrifies and perplexes him, and what his encounter with Kurtz reveals calls into question all of his assumptions about civilization and human nature. 

My Review:

Last week, when I reviewed Just One Day, I was complaining to myself that there is nothing harder than reviewing a book that is a wildly-popular current fave.  But I was wrong--it's harder to review a classic!  What can you say about a book that's been around for 100+ years that hasn't already been said?

And what if you thought it was...just okay?  How do you approach a review of a classic with, "Eh, you know, it was so-so"?  English professors the world over would promptly drop dead.

Well, English profs, get your heart meds handy, because Heart of Darkness is going solidly in my "meh" category.  (The horror!)

...yes, that was a bit of a meta-joke, for those who got it.

Anyway, I think part of the issue for me was that my expectations were high.  I had no idea that the movie Apocalypse Now was based on this novella, and I think we can all agree that Apocalypse Now is a fan-friggin-tastic movie.  So when I found that out, I was pretty stoked.  However, I quickly realized that the movie is based more on the themes and tone of this book, rather than the actual details.

Heart of Darkness is the tale of Marlow, currently on a ship in England, who is telling his shipmates about a previous journey he took as a steamboat captain in the Belgian Congo.  The purpose of this journey was to recover Mr. Kurtz, an ivory trader gone rogue in the wilderness.  Which, if you've seen the movie, will get you amped up for some really weird stuff, because the movie-version Kurtz (Marlon Brando) is CRAY-CRAY.  However, the book-version Kurtz actually has very little physical presence in the story--he is only around for a small portion of it.  Instead, the "idea" of him and what he represents plays a much bigger role in the plot than what he actually says and does.

Don't get me wrong, the book is not a total disappointment.  I understand why it's used so much in literature classes, because Conrad touches on a lot of important themes (good vs evil, roles of women, colonialism, etc).  And the narrative style is interesting: Marlow is telling the story to his shipmates, so you get steeped in the plot for a while, and then randomly get pulled out of it as Marlow jumps back to present day at times. If I felt like doing a lot of analysis and interpretations, there's plenty here to keep me busy.  However, as far as just straight entertainment value, the book moved a lot slower than I expected, and ended on a rather anticlimactic note.

Overall, it's a classic, so I won't deter anyone from reading it.  It's one of those books you just have to say you've read at some point (at 105 pages, you have no excuse!).  But it's certainly a book to save for when you have the time for thoughtful reflection.

What are some of the best classics you've read lately?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Review: God Grew Tired of Us by John Bul Dau

Title: God Grew Tired of Us
Author: John Bul Dau (with Michael S. Sweeney)
Publisher: National Geographic
Publication Date: January 16, 2007
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

One of the uprooted youngsters known as the Lost Boys of Sudan, John Bul Dau was 12 years old when civil war ravaged his village and shattered its age-old society, a life of herding and agriculture marked by dignity, respect, and the simple virtues of Dinka tribal tradition. As tracer bullets split the night and mortar shells exploded around him, John fled into the darkness—the first terrified moments of a journey that would lead him thousands of miles into an exile that was to last many years.

John's memoir of his Dinka childhood shows African life and values at their best, while his searing account of hardship, famine, and war also testifies to human resilience and kindness. In an era of cultural clashes, his often humorous stories of adapting to life in the United States offer proof that we can bridge our differences peacefully. John Bul Dau's quiet pride, true humility, deep seriousness, compassionate courage, and remarkable achievements will take every reader’s breath away.

My Review:

When looking for a book to match this month's Sudan pick for the Around The World in 12 Books Challenge, I had a rather long list of works from which to choose.  My original intention was to find a fiction novel, because many of the books on the list were nonfiction and I wanted to go against the grain.  However, I ended up choosing John Bul Dau's memoir as a Lost Boy of Sudan, because honestly...I didn't know much about the Sudanese civil war.  Very little, in fact, which I know is a sad thing to admit, given the upheaval that has taken place there.  So a nonfiction pick was important for me, as I wanted to read an interesting book and also feed my brain in the process.

In the end, I'm very happy that I chose this memoir.  John's story is both tragic and inspiring, and he manages to tell it with a level-headedness that is truly remarkable.  After fleeing his village at the age of 13 while it was under fire, John was separated from his family, and began a harrowing 14-year journey through Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya that eventually led him to a new life in Syracuse, NY.  He is able to reflect on his life story (and his future) with a level of clarity that I think would elude most of us, given all that he struggled against to get where he is today.  His insights illustrate the unrest not only in his home country, but throughout Africa:

"What a crazy world--each country in revolt, pushing its rebels to seek sanctuary in a neighboring country that was in turn dealing with its own problems."

Other than John's voice (which was really the best thing about the memoir for me), the format of the book was the biggest plus.  His words are interspersed with historical timelines and facts about the Sudanese civil war, which was crucial for me as a sadly-underinformed reader.  Plus, Dau's co-author (Michael S. Sweeney) included interviews with some of John's friends, family, and professors, which added a lot to Dau's original narrative. John's story could easily stand on its own, but these additional details are part of what makes this a truly captivating read.

Obviously, the story of John's flight through Africa is terrifying and ghastly.  I was afraid that, once John arrived in America, his memoir would take on a slower pace, which would disrupt the flow of the book.  However, that was definitely not the case.  It is amazing to read about how a total newcomer experiences your country upon their initial arrival.  John had basic knowledge of how things worked in the US, but small things (like seeing a woman drive a car, or using a microwave) were a complete shock for him.  Hearing about his journey to become self-sufficient in an entirely new country was inspiring.  And again, his insights into our culture were spot-on at times:

"...during the civil war in Sudan, my countrymen starved every day, and tens of thousands went hungry in the dark days in refugee camps, while in America dogs had special meals prepared just for them."

"Americans have so much, but they insist on seeing the glass as half empty instead of half full.  To extend the metaphor a bit, when I lived in Kakuma I didn't even have a glass."

Overall, John's memoir left me feeling heavyhearted (for all that he was forced to endure), moved (by his wisdom, and some of the generosity he encountered along the way), and better educated.  It is upsetting that crises like the one in Sudan/South Sudan are not highlighted in the US media nearly as much as, say...Lindsay Lohan.  But hopefully memoirs like this one will continue to infiltrate the American consciousness:

"The way I saw it, it was like a philosophy question I had heard: If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?  The villages of southern Sudan had been attacked again and again, and hundreds of thousands of people had died at the hands of the djellabas.  I could see two main differences between that war and the one carried out by bin Laden.  First, the villages of southern Sudan had no tall buildings to fall down.  And second, no journalists with television cameras captured and shared the news of my homeland's destruction with the world."

Have you read any interesting books set in Sudan/South Sudan?  What are the memoirs that have moved you the most?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Audiobook giveaway winners!

A quick post to say a big ol' CONGRATS to the winners of the 2 copies of Political Suicide by Michael Palmer.  They are:

Jessica R.
Michele L.!

Congrats, ladies!  Emails are in your inboxes.  This is Jessica's second win here on the site, so you all should contact her for hints on how to work some Rafflecopter magic.  :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday (19)

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

1. ziggurat. "As we skirt the vast orange ziggurat of Sainsbury's, a man behind the wheel of a huge lorry waves his arms angrily, as if to sweep us out of his line of vision."  (from The Uninvited by Liz Jensen)

(among the ancient Babylonians and Assyrians) a temple of Sumerian origin in the form of a pyramidal tower, consisting of a number of stories and having about the outside a broad ascent winding round the structure, presenting the appearance of a series of terraces.

I believe the author was trying to convey how maze-like and confusing the area was.

2. internecine. "The internecine commenter strife fails to make me feel any better about the post, so I turn back to my final duties for the day."  (from Sad Desk Salad by Jessica Grose)

1. of or pertaining to conflict or struggle within a group: an internecine feud among proxy holders.
2. mutually destructive.
3. characterized by great slaughter; deadly.

The character was referring to a battle going on between commenters on her blog post.

3. duiker. "Over her shoulder was slung a rough bag, made from the hide of a duiker."  (from White Dog Fell From The Sky by Eleanor Morse)

any of several small African antelopes of the Cephalophus, Sylvicapra,  and related genera, the males andoften the females having short, spikelike horns: some are endangered.

There's your African zoology lesson for the day!

What are your new words this week?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Review: Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Title: Just One Day
Author: Gayle Forman
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Publication Date: January 8, 2013
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

When sheltered American good girl Allyson "LuLu" Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.

My Review:

"We are born in one day.  We die in one day.  We can change in one day.  And we can fall in love in one day.  Anything can happen in just one day."

After feeling lukewarm about Forman's If I Stay, and then absolutely loving her second novel (Where She Went), I was happy to find that my reaction to Just One Day was much like how I felt after reading the latter.  This novel is fun and thoughtful at the same time, with a whole lot of awesome travel-isms to boot.

When the novel opened, I'll admit that I was a little skeptical.  I felt like the text was trying too hard to be deep and insightful.  This is a problem I have with a lot of YA novels--they focus on mostly teenage characters, who just so happen to be the most sagacious and wise 16-year-olds on the planet.  They come up with revelations and quotes that my too-distracted-by-boys-and-Blink-182 self would never have so consistently done at that age.  This annoys me to no end.  I know that YA novels are, for the most part, supposed to be imparting important life lessons on their intended audience, but making those lessons so terribly obvious through "insightful" quotes feels kitschy and a bit condescending to me.

ANYWAY.  Obviously I took a turn after the first 20-30 pages.  As the story moved on, it was Allyson's personality that drew me in.  This is probably because I was a lot like her in my teen years.  Type-A personality, perfectionist, walked the straight and narrow, had the next 10 years of my life all mapped out.  Allyson slowly learns to break from this mold in a way that is neither abrupt nor contrived.  And she doesn't become the polar-opposite of herself either; rather, she blends the newly-discovered parts of her personality with the old ones.  I loved watching her blossom throughout the novel.

Allyson's relationship with Willem was pretty great as well.  Their dynamic was captivating, given that they were two such different people, and I like that the end didn't come together perfectly in a way that is typical for most romances.  I'll be picking up the sequel when it comes out for sure.

Two other small things to mention: one, all the travel in this book made me giddy!  As a travel-lover myself, I was completely glued to the tales of all the wonderful places Allyson traveled throughout the book.  Plus, I loved this quote:
"You thought too hard.  Same with travel.  You can't work too much at it, or it feels like work.  You have to surrender yourself to the chaos.  To the accidents."
I know, I was just complaining about all the overly-insightful quotes in this book, but that was a good one.

The other small thing I'd like to mention is in regards to Allyson's college advisor (Gretchen, I think her name was?).  As a higher ed professional, I HAVE TO COMMENT ON THIS.  First, she gets an A+ for her advising skills.  I would hire her any day.  And second, as a note to Gayle Forman, colleges don't call it the "guidance office".  After high school, they are Academic Advisors, not Guidance Counselors.  This detail drove me TOTALLY CRAZY and I felt it was crucial to add this to my review.  Ha.

My picky professional twinges aside, this book was truly a journey...and a fun one at that.  Allyson is a fabulous protagonist, and I can't wait to see what happens to her in the sequel.

Have you read Just One Day?  Any other recent YA reads that you want to share?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Audiobook Review and GIVEAWAY!: Political Suicide by Michael Palmer

Title: Political Suicide
Author: Michael Palmer
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Publication Date: December 11, 2012
Source: copy received from the publisher for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads

In Political Suicide, Michael Palmer delivers another gripping thriller at the crossroads of politics and medicine.  Dr. Lou Welcome, from Palmer's New York Times bestselling Oath of Office, is back in this heart stopping medical thriller. A desperate phone call embroils Lou in scandal and murder involving Dr. Gary McHugh, known around the Capital as the “society doc.” Lou has been supervising McHugh, formerly a black-out drinker, through his work with the Physician Wellness Office.  McHugh has been very cavalier about his recovery, barely attending AA and refusing a sponsor. But Lou sees progress, and the two men are becoming friends. Now, McHugh has been found unconscious in his wrecked car after visiting a patient of his, the powerful Congressman Elias Colston, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Soon after McHugh awakens in the hospital ER, Colston's wife returns home to find her husband shot dead in their garage. She then admits to the police that she had just broken off a long-standing affair with McHugh.

Something about McHugh's story has Lou believing he is telling the truth, that the Congressman was dead when he arrived and before he blacked out. Lou agrees to look into matters, but when he encounters motive, method and opportunity he is hard pressed to believe in his friend—that is until a deadly high-level conspiracy begins to unravel, and Lou acquires information that makes him the next target.

My Review:

I feel split about this audiobook; there were some elements that I really enjoyed, and others that left me feeling a bit "meh".  As with most thrillers, the best part was just trying to untangle the mystery that was at the heart of the novel.  If McHugh didn't kill Colston, then who did?  What was their motive?  And what does the ambiguous prologue (set in the Middle East) have to do with the seemingly-unrelated events happening in Washington?

Palmer does a great job unfolding this maze bit by bit, and I found the final answers to be both intriguing and highly relevant (given modern-day relations between the US and Afghanistan).  The suspense was excellent (especially for an audiobook--made my commutes go by quickly!), and I liked the last twist that was tacked on regarding Colston's true murderer.  Definitely didn't see that coming.  Plus, the ending leaves the door open for future adventures with Dr. Welcome and company.

However, as I said before, there were a few things about this book that left me a tad unsatisfied.  First is the method of Dr. Welcome's involvement.  I found myself highly skeptical of the way that he, as a person completely unaffiliated with the law or the military, was able to jump into the investigation just because he was McHugh's friend.  Related to that, he was oddly able to get himself out of an awful lot of dangerous mishaps, without any real combat training (days at the local gym notwithstanding).  The first few incidents like this got a pass, but after a while, it became a bit much.  I am unfamiliar with Welcome's appearance in Palmer's previous novel (Oath of Office), so maybe readers of that book could give him more credence, but...I just had a hard time with the plausibility of many of his escapades.

The other issue I had was the relationship between Lou and Sarah.  Their budding romance felt unnecessary to the plot, perhaps a bit forced.  Not to mention that their dialogue was incredibly high in the cheese-factor.  Was this connection a detail meant to bring in the female readers?  Tough to say, but as a female reader, I know I could have done without it.

Overall though, I'd say if you're a fan of thrillers, this one is worth a shot.  It's more political/conspiracy thriller than medical thriller, but there are some interesting scientific elements to it as well.  And the audiobook narrator (Robert Petkoff) is fantastic--the perfect voice for a suspenseful tale!  His tone heightens the excitement with every new twist that's unveiled.

Want to see for yourself?  I have 2 audiobook CD copies of Political Suicide to give away!  (Consider this your Happy Valentine's Day, my lovely readers!)

One copy is very lightly used (by me, for this reading), and the other is brand new (still in the wrapper).  Much thanks to Macmillan Audio for providing them!

To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter below.  Giveaway ends February 20, US entrants only please.  Good luck!!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday (18)

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 favorites new-to-me words, from Indiscretion by Charles Dubow. All definitions from

1. postlapsarian. "No one looks at anyone as we hurriedly pull our clothes over our wet bodies.  Our mood is postlapsarian."

occurring or being after the Fall.

This word perfectly describes the somber, post-revelry mood at this point in the book.

2. pareo (pareu). "Maddy says nothing but smiles and removes her old green cotton pareo, the one she bought years ago in Spain."

a length of cloth, especially of brightly colored print, wrapped on the body like a lavalava and worn by women as a cover-up, skirt, dress, or the like.

Apparently this is a Tahitian word, as a lavalava is the primary item of dress for people living in Samoa.

3. escritoire. "Matching bureaus, a dressing table with my great-grandmother's silver-backed Tiffany hairbrushes still on it, a fireplace, an escritoire, a pair of Louis XV armchairs."

writing desk.

I kind of guessed this one (ecrire is the French verb for "write") but I'd never seen this word used before.

What are your new words this week?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review: Indiscretion by Charles Dubow

Title: Indiscretion
Author: Charles Dubow
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 5, 2013
Source: e-ARC received from publisher for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

We’ve all been around a couple who can engulf the attention of an entire room merely by occupying it. Harry and Madeleine Winslow are that set; the natural ease between them is palpable and their chemistry is almost tangible. He is a recent National Book Award winner with a promising career ahead of him, and she is blessed with family money, but radiates beauty, elegance, and humility. Whether they are abroad in Italy after he receives the Rome Prize, in their ambrosial East Hampton home, or in gritty Manhattan, they are always surrounded by close friends and those who wish to penetrate their inner circle. During a summer spent at the beach, they meet 26 year-old Claire and, as the summer blazes on, she is slowly inducted into their world. Claire can’t help but fall in love with Harry and Maddy and at the end of the summer, it is no longer enough to just be one of their hangers-on. Told through the omniscient eyes of Maddy’s childhood friend Walter, Indiscretion is a juicy, page turning novel with writing that is sophisticated and lyrical. Deeply textured, full of light and darkness, and overwhelmingly sensual, this book will be the sexiest, most intimate story you read all year.

My Review:

"We make so many right decisions in life, but it is the wrong ones that can never be forgiven."

Ooooh, what an intriguing journey I went on with this novel.  I'm not going to give you much plot detail beyond the description, because I think it's just enough.  The basic premise of the novel is not surprising ( involves infidelity?), but even so, I was never quite sure where it was going to go next.  Its subject is seemingly simple (a marriage, a friendship, indiscretion), but I never felt like I knew the true nature of the book's four main characters--and that air of mystery left the plot in a state of constant change.

You see, Dubow leaves enough of each character in shadow so that you never get a good grip on them, and thus you constantly question their desires and motives.  Given that this is a book focusing primarily on relationships--their origins, their flaws, what makes them important to us--you don't want everything neatly explained anyway.  Half the fun of this novel is figuring out what makes each protagonist tick, and how they will react in the face of despair.

Beyond the somber and shifty nature of the book as a whole, I was also enamored with the way it was narrated.  When the story begins, you can't quite get a read on Walter (lifelong friend of the primary couple, Harry and Maddy Winslow).  His background is vague, and his feelings for Harry and Maddy (especially Maddy) leave you wondering what his true place is in the novel.  At first, I thought he was the chosen narrator because of his distance from Harry and Maddy's relationship--but that later proves not to be true, as Walter takes an increasingly large role in their lives.  I love stories that do interesting things with perspective, and Indiscretion certainly manages that.  Walter's role in the book gradually changes as the pages turn, and as a result, your perception of the entire debacle must change as well.

The ending deserves its own paragraph, because the last 20% of this book is phenomenal.  I thought I had an idea of what might happen, but then something totally different occurred.  I got comfortable with that reality, settled in for a nicely-wrapped ending, and then...GAME CHANGE.  Well played, Mr. Dubow.
And then after that lovely twist, there was YET ANOTHER ONE.  After a fairly evenly-paced novel, I was surprised to see so many change-ups in the ending, but I loved it nonetheless.

Were there any downsides to Indiscretion?  I will say that when I started to realize that the book was truly filled with regular, not-crazy people (and not at least one crazy-stalker, like I had originally thought), I was a little disappointed and for part of the book after that, I felt like things got a little slow.  However, after I got over that realization and reworked my idea of the book (as I had to do so many times anyway), I moved on and ended up loving the direction it took. 

Also, I don't know if this is a downside, but some of the sex scenes are quite explicit.  If you're averse to that (where my reading prudes at??), they can be a bit shocking, but they only occur in a relatively small part of the novel and do have a descriptive purpose in the plot.

Overall, I found this book to be rather fantastic.  Human relationships are so often ambiguous, and Dubow nails that both in his choice of narrator and in the ever-shifting direction of the character's lives.  You probably won't get a good read on Harry, Maddy, Claire, and Walter until the last page--and even then, you'll still be left with a few "whys" to ponder.  This is a thought-provoking book that gets to the heart of the fluidity of our relationships--and how one wrong decision can have implications that last a lifetime.

Check out some other reviews of Indiscretion:
Nomad Reader
I Read A Book Once...
Confessions of a Book Addict

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Small Fry Saturday #15: the Good Night Our World series

It's time for installment #15 of Small Fry Saturdays!  This is a whenever-I-feel-like-it meme to showcase 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.

The Good Night Our World series, published by Our World of Books

I first noticed this series of books when I was at a Hallmark store in Connecticut, visiting my parents.  My mom and I were out shopping alone, and while splurging on a new Vera Bradley bag for my birthday, I saw the book Good Night Connecticut at the sales counter.  I immediately fell in love and had to pick up a copy for Small Fry.

While the title implies similarities to the classic Goodnight Moon, the content is actually modeled quite differently.  Each book in this series brings you through a day in the title location: so at the beginning, it will start with "Good morning ______" and move through various spots in the given state/locale until the end, when you finally say good night.

Why do I love the series so much?  Because it's really cute to read a book to your kid that's specific to your area!  The Connecticut book makes stops at UConn (yes!), Mystic Aquarium, the Mark Twain house, Essex Steam Train...ah, the memories.  Even though we live in New York now, Small Fry will know many of these places as he gets older because my parents still live in my hometown.  Plus, Connecticut is a small enough state that one book easily sums up all of the major attractions...ha.  (I guess I need to get my hands on Good Night New York State as well.)

It looks like nearly every state has a Good Night Our World book now (check out Amazon/B+N to search for yours).  There are also more general ones, like Good Night Farm and Good Night Ocean (another one that we have and enjoy at home).

Do you have any favorite kid's books that are set in your home town/state?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cover Snobbery

Everyone always says "don't judge a book by its cover."  Which I think is great advice...for everything except books.

Yes, I try not to be judgmental of others based on appearances.  If everyone judged me by MY cover, I would not have had any friends when I was between the ages of 8 and 14.  Truth.
At the age of 9, the Well-Read Redhead enjoyed perms, florescent Disney t-shirts, and coke bottle glasses.  Not pictured: scoliosis back brace.
Friends' faces blurred to hide their embarrassment.
But throw an unappealing book cover in front of me, and unless someone can make a pretty strong case for it, you can bet I'm picking up something else to read.

A couple months back, I read a post by Melissa at the Harley Bear Book Blog that addressed this very conundrum.  Popular books that she had no desire to read, because the covers didn't strike her fancy.  I feel this way ALL THE TIME.  It's amazing what a bad cover can do for first impressions.

That's not to say I don't make exceptions--I do, and I'm often glad for it.  My favorite example of this is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  The #1 reason it took me so long to read it is because I disliked the cover--it felt cartoonish and too...magicky.  And then it ended up being one of my top books of 2012.  Moral of the story: exceptions are necessary, but the judging still happens.

So, what cover elements are the biggest turnoffs for me?

1. Any movie-inspired cover

Whenever a book is offered with either its original cover or its Hollywoodized version, I always go for the original.  I feel like the movie covers "cheapen" the appearance, for lack of a better word.  This is probably because I often think the book is 1000 times better than the movie, anyway.

2. The author's name is bigger than the title

Unfortunately, I see this trend more and more these days, and it is a serious pet peeve of mine.  Big-name authors often have their name blown up bigger than the title on the front cover.  I'm sure it helps with book sales (if you have a large following, some people don't care what the book's about--just that YOU wrote it), but as a reader, it annoys me.  The book is about the plot, not about the author.  (And yes, I know two of my faves--Stephen King and Jodi Picoult--are top offenders here.)

3. Poorly/awkwardly Photoshopped

Pertains to approximately 95% of all the self-published covers I've ever seen.  I understand the design budget is smaller, but...really?  There are some really well-done self-published covers too (The Thief of Auschwitz and Bluff are two of them) so you can't use that as an excuse.

4. Too intricate

If there's too many details on a cover, it turns me off.  I want to take one quick look and get some idea of where the book is going, or a mystery that might be revealed.  I don't want to have to pull out my magnifying glass to figure it out.

5. Too cutesy

Even if it's YA, I don't necessarily want to feel like I'm reading an after school special.

So readers, what cover elements do YOU shy away from?  And please feel free to share awkward photos of your younger selves.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday (17)

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 favorites new-to-me words, from White Dog Fell From The Sky by Eleanor Morse. All definitions from

1. veldt. "He lay down in the sun and dreamt troubled dreams, of pursuit, of open veldt that gave no cover or shelter."

the open country, bearing grass, bushes, or shrubs, or thinly forested, characteristic of parts of southern Africa.

I feel like I've learned this word before (maybe in a high school geography class), but I couldn't place the definition.

2. avuncularity (avuncular). "She thought of asking him to quit the avuncularity."

of, pertaining to, or characteristic of an uncleavuncular affection.

I didn't expect this fancy-sounding word to have such a simple meaning.

3. aesthete. "Then there was Drew with the bad reputation, and Zachary, the aesthete, and Brandon with the beautiful, sad eyes."

1. a person who has or professes to have refined sensitivity toward the beauties of art or nature.
2. a person who affects great love of art, music, poetry, etc., and indifference to practical matters.

Might be my favorite of the week.  Easy to spot the root of 'aesthetic' in this one.

What are your new words this week?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Book Review: White Dog Fell From The Sky by Eleanor Morse

Title: White Dog Fell From The Sky
Author: Eleanor Morse
Publisher: Viking Adult
Publication Date: January 3, 2013
Source: ARC received from publisher for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

In apartheid South Africa in 1976, medical student Isaac Muthethe is forced to flee his country after witnessing a friend murdered by white members of the South African Defense Force. He is smuggled into Botswana, where he is hired as a gardener by a young American woman, Alice Mendelssohn, who has abandoned her Ph.D. studies to follow her husband to Africa. When Isaac goes missing and Alice goes searching for him, what she finds will change her life and inextricably bind her to this sunburned, beautiful land.

My Review:

Let's cut to the chase here: I loved this book.  I had no idea what to expect going in (as we know from previous posts, I do not often read the full description), but what unfolded in these pages was equal parts tragic, poetic, and disarming.

This is the first book I've read by Morse, and it certainly won't be the last.  Her writing stopped me in my tracks.  Having never traveled to Africa myself, Morse made Botswana come alive for me: its stark beauty, its harsh ecosystems, and its political turbulence.  However, she takes you on a journey through more than just the setting.  I felt like I was constantly on a mental trek with each character, as they worked through their own versions of love, loss, and rebirth.

The real kicker for me was the dichotomy between Alice and Isaac throughout the novel.  Their situations are so very different: Alice, a 32-year-old American expat dealing with divorce and the previously-unexplored possibility of being childless.  And Isaac, a 27-year-old South African medical student who is forced to leave his country and find a way to still support the mother and siblings he left behind.  At first, I was honestly unsure of how parallels would be drawn between these two.  Given the political and economic realities of Isaac's situation, I was afraid that Alice's problems would become petty in comparison.  However, I soon realized that Morse wasn't trying to make me compare the two.  Instead, Alice and Isaac, though both dealing with issues of loss and healing, make much of their progress throughout the novel separately, and only later do they come together and use these experiences to help each other grow.  I was so impressed with how the author managed to weave these two very different journeys together into one cohesive tale.

Beyond that, this is one of those novels that constantly makes you feel like there is some deeper meaning happening behind the scenes.  For example, White Dog (a small mutt that Isaac unintentionally adopts upon coming to Botswana): what is her purpose?  Obviously, she's a title character, so I spent a lot of time considering her place in the novel.  Is she meant to represent a higher power of some kind?  A sense of comfort even in the worst of times?  My best guess is a combination of these.  But either way, I found her presence to be an interesting stabilizer around which the rest of the novel could orbit.

Bottom line: the positively gorgeous prose is reason enough to read this novel, but Morse gives you fascinating characters and settings to boot.  A great choice for fans of The Poisonwood Bible or A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Check out some other reviews of White Dog Fell From The Sky:
Caribou's Mom
Book Belle

What are some of your favorite historical fiction novels?  Any set in Africa?

Sunday, February 3, 2013


Happy Sunday, readers!  FYI, the lovely Christine over at Rainy Day Reads is featuring me in her Book Blogger Spotlight today.  Check out my interview, and then go click around her fabulous blog!  

Hope everyone's having a great weekend!

Friday, February 1, 2013

January 2013 in Review

And so January 2013 has come to an end.  A crazy month around these parts, for sure.  I had to dial it down on my posting a little bit, because things just got a little too crazy with work, home, and blogging all at once.  You'll be seeing fewer memes here, but I'm actually okay with that, because I never intended to participate in so many of them in the first place!  I think some memes are fun but can be a bit repetitive when done too often.

I still got a lot of reading done though!  The fave/least fave honors go to...

January 2013 Favorite: Where She Went by Gayle Forman
January 2013 Least Favorite: Dreamcatcher by Stephen King

In total, I read/reviewed 8 books:

I also posted mini-reviews for 2 books:

And one new Small Fry Saturday: Press Here by Herve Tullet

Beyond reviews, we chatted about my New Year's resolutions, bookish travels, and the merits (or not) of reading your book jackets.  I also hosted two more giveaways, and we all know how much I LOOOOVE spreading the free stuff around.  :)

Oh, and I got bangs.  BEFORE Michelle Obama.  Whatever Mrs. O, you can't start EVERY trend.
Why can't I make this photo smaller? Oh well, enjoy judging my pores.

What's on tap for February?  I actually have a lot of ARC/review copies to get to, so you'll be seeing more of that.  And on the personal front, my husband and I are going to try to have a "no spend month"...basically no spending beyond bills, groceries, gas.  Bye bye candy bars from the checkout aisle...and of course, no book purchases.  **sad trombone**  We'll see how this goes.  Luckily February is a short month.

However, I DID budget for my trip to Vermont to see Jodi Picoult on February 26!  WOOT WOOOOT!  So you'll hear about that soon.

What will you be reading in February, my well-read readers?
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