Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wild Fell

The scariest thing about "Wild Fell" might be that the author, Michael Rowe, seems to have gotten in my head and taken notes on everything I'm looking for in a book. When I read the description in Net Galley, I thought it sounded like it was right up my alley, and boy, was I right. "Wild Fell" snagged me from the first word and kept me hooked all the way through. I don't normally breeze through books like I did "Wild Fell," but I started it one afternoon and finished it the next night. I simply could not put it down!

"Wild Fell"starts out with the story of a teenage couple who take a boat to Blackmore Island, where the crumbling "Wild Fell" sits. What happens to them becomes the stuff of small-town legend, the type of lore that you'll find in any small town.

The teen lovers' story sets the stage for the rest of the book. Wild Fell makes its return, but not until we meet Jameson Browning. The story follows Jameson (Jamie) through his childhood, with a loving father and distant mother. He introduces us to his best friend, Lucinda Jane, who is better known as "Hank," and his imaginary and incredibly creepy friend, Amanda, who lives in the mirror in his bedroom. We watch him grow up to become a teacher, and get married. Finally, as he's caring for his aged father, stricken with Alzheimer's, and is the victim of an accident. All this leads him to Blackmore Island, and Wild Fell.

I absolutely loved 99% of this book, but, for me, the ending fell a little flat, much in the way many horror movies do. The more I've thought about the ending, the more I've come to accept it, and the more it makes me want to go back and read the whole book from the start. Still, I'm not quite over that, "Aw, come ON!" moment I had when it was over.

Aside from that, there was a lot to like about this book. The story was interesting, fast-paced, and creepy. The language was wonderful. I think I will definitely be checking out more from Michael Rowe.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Invention of Wings

I was really excited when I got approved for Sue Monk Kidd's new book, "The Invention of Wings," on Net Galley. I re-read her "Secret Life of Bees" last year for my book club and was once again impressed by the way she really draws you into the story through her rich descriptions.
"The Invention of Wings" tells a fictionalized account based on the life of Sarah Grimke, a famous abolitionist. The book starts out with Sarah receiving a slave girl named Handful as a birthday gift, and throughout the book their stories are interwoven. Sarah isn't always a particularly likeable character, but I think that's a good thing. She's not portrayed as a martyr, rather as someone who struggles within herself as she grapples with the right thing to do vs. what is easy and the way it has always been. When she receives Handful, she knows it isn't right, and she is determined to do something about it, but quickly learns that it isn't possible. Sarah has a lot going against her in her quest. First, she's a woman. She longs to become a lawyer and has the intelligence to do it, but her ambitions are shot down because she is a woman. Later, women's rights become another battle she must fight. Second, she struggles with public speaking.
Handful's story is heart-wrenching. Reading it really sends home the horrific conditions under which slaves lived and died.
I thought Monk Kidd did a wonderful job of blending fiction and reality. She picked these characters out of history and breathed life into them. I think it will be considered one of the best books of 2014.

In my last post, I said I was planning to check out "The Christmas Train" from the library. As it turned out, it was in transit to another library, as were all the other copies in the system! I suspect it must have been some book club's choice this month. I'll keep it on my list for next year. I started "Holidays on Ice" by David Sedaris but stopped reading after the second story. The first story wasn't particularly well-written and was mildly funny, but the second one really disgusted me, and I consider myself a pretty cynical person. Life's too short to read books you don't like, so this one went in the "couldn't finish" pile. I'm not sure I'll try Sedaris again any time soon.

I found myself craving something classic, and decided to pick up "The Three Musketeers." I read "The Count of Monte Cristo" about four years ago at this time, and have many fond memories of it. I know it isn't a book I'll get through quickly, but I am sure it will be worth the effort. I'm finding it highly entertaining so far. I'm also doing my annual reading of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." After that I'm going to sink my teeth into "Andrew's Brain," by E.L. Doctorow, which I received an advance copy of through Goodreads. Then I'm planning on participating in my library's winter reading program. I already have my book list made and I'm ready to tackle it!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Comfort & Joy and A Darcy Christmas

"Comfort & Joy" is my first Kristin Hannah book. I picked it up at a garage sale this summer and saved it for December.
"Comfort & Joy" follows Joy Candellaro, who is facing her first Christmas as a divorced woman. Even worse, the other woman in her husband's life is her own sister. When Joy's sister turns up on her driveway to give her a wedding invitation, she panics and takes off to the airport, where she buys a ticket to a place called "Hope." The plane doesn't quite make it, and she ends up at a place called the Comfort Lodge with a man named Daniel and his son, Bobby.
I knew pretty early on that not everything was as it seemed. The scenes at the Comfort Lodge seemed very dream-like and, given the "twist," I think Hannah did a very good job there. "Comfort & Joy" didn't blow me away. It's a nice story, set at Christmas, and it has a happy ending. That's pretty much all there is to say for it. I'm not sure if I'll read more from Kristin Hannah, but I'm not sorry I read "Comfort & Joy."

Before I picked up "Comfort & Joy," I tried to read "A Darcy Christmas." It was free for Nook a couple of weeks ago on Free Friday, and I was very excited to not only get a Jane Austen-inspired but a Christmas book! And the the cover was so lovely. It's actually three novellas written by three different authors, and as it turned out, I could only get through one of the stories. The first, "Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol," was basically just a retelling of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," with Mr. Darcy replacing Ebenezer Scrooge. Boring! I plan to do my annual reading of "A Christmas Carol" yet this month, and would much prefer to read the original. The second story, "Christmas Present," was much better. It is a sweet little story, written by Amanda Grange. I thought Grange did a good job of capturing Jane Austen's voice, and I enjoyed the story. The third novella is "A Darcy Christmas." After reading "Christmas Present," this felt like it really missed the mark. It didn't feel Austenesque at all. The prose was far too modern. Needless to say, I did not finish it.

I'm also reading "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd (I got an advance copy from Net Galley), and I plan to stop at the library today to pick up "The Christmas Train" by David Baldacci. I'm not usually so obsessed with Christmas books this time of year, but this year I am! I got approved for "The Christmas Train" on Net Galley, but when I tried to download it, it said that it had already been archived and I can't. Boo. All is not lost, however, since I discovered it's not a new book and in fact my library has it!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Winter Solstice & Winning NaNoWriMo

Another National Novel Writing Month has come to an end. Like last year, I managed to "win," by writing 50,000 words during the month. I finished Thanksgiving afternoon and, sad to say, have not written a word since. It's been crazy since then and I haven't had much chance to write — that, and I've been dying to do some serious reading.
One of the books I'd been looking forward to was "Winter Solstice" by Rosamunde Pilcher. This book was recommended to me by a friend, who reads it every December. She called it "comforting," and I can definitely see why. Rosamunde Pilcher creates a world that is very easy to immerse yourself into. There's something very cozy about it all, and I found myself looking forward to reading it every day. It was almost enough to stop a few little things from bothering me — almost.
The first strike this book had going against it was that the chapters focusing on Sam were dreadfully boring. I found myself skimming over paragraph after paragraph about him and the mill he was to save. This is my first Pilcher book, so I don't know if all her work is this way, but it was made infinitely worse by the fact that she tells the story from several different points of view and repeats the same information over and over. So, for example, you've just finished reading a chapter all about Sam, describing how he's been asked to save the mill that used to produce very high-end fabric but when the owner died his children didn't want anything to do with it, so the workers took over but there was a flood and it went bankrupt. Then, in the next chapter, Carrie meets Sam, who she learns has been asked to save the mill that used to produce very high-end fabric but when the owner died his children didn't want anything to do with it, so the workers took over but there was a flood and it went bankrupt.
I hate to sound like the morality police, but there were a few little things that annoyed me in that department, too. It bothered me quite a bit that two of the characters got together so quickly. There were some other little relationship bits that grated at me, too. All in all, it wasn't enough to completely ruin the book for me, but it did bother me a little.
All this aside, at the heart of "Winter Solstice" is a really lovely story about a group of people who are thrown together unexpectedly for Christmas. Each person has his or her own issues to get past, but with the help of the others, all of them are able to heal.
I don't know if "Winter Solstice" will become a yearly tradition for me, but I could definitely see myself revisiting it sometime in the future.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Winter People

Warning: If you have other things you need to get done, do NOT pick up "The Winter People" by Jennifer McMahon.
I've had this book on my "to-do" list since I got approved to get an advanced copy from Net Galley, but I was putting it off because I'm doing National Novel Writing Month and a wise professor once put it in my head that it's not great to read other authors while you're working intently on your own writing. He said he didn't like doing that because it interfered with his own "voice" in his writing. It makes sense to me, especially after I had to read Toni Morrison's "Home" while doing the April NaNoWriMo Camp and it had me feeling terrible about my own writing. So this November, I vowed that I would read only non-fiction. It worked well at first. My book club read "Killing Kennedy" this month. I started "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" but it made me too squeamish so I ended up calling it quits. Then I started Mary Roach's "Spook." Last week, I was arranging my "to-read" list for the next month or so — why yes, I did arrange my list to make sure I could squeeze in several Christmas/winter books, don't judge me.
At the top of that list was "The Winter People." I love getting advanced copies of books, but the problem is that I feel tremendous pressure to read them right away when I'm approved. That and a craving for fiction led me to start "The Winter People."
Jennifer McMahon had me hooked from the start. The story centers around a spooky old farmhouse near West Hall, Vermont, and alternates between 1908 and present day. The 1908 portions follow Sara Harrison Shea, her husband Martin, and their daughter, Gertie. When Gertie disappears one winter day, her mother stops at nothing to get her back. The consequences of what she does continue to affect the people of West Hall more than 100 years later. The present-day portions follow a girl named Ruthie and her sister Fawn, whose mother disappears; and Katherine, who is trying to figure what led her husband, Gary, to West Hall on the day he died.
"The Winter People" is wonderfully creepy. I loved the setting, the characters, and all the intricate details that tied all the stories together. Jennifer McMahon does a great job of making you feel like you are there, and maintaining tension throughout. I definitely will be seeking out more from this author.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Killing Kennedy

This month my book club is discussing "Killing Kennedy" by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. It's a book that I had considered reading for quite some time. I'll be honest, the fact that Bill O'Reilly wrote it turned me off a bit. I mean, Bill O'Reilly writing a book about a Democrat? That can't be good, right? Well, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised (others I have talked to who have read the book have said the same).
The old cliche is that truth is stranger than fiction, and the events portrayed in Killing Kennedy certainly live up to that. I learned a lot of interesting things by reading this book. I can't count the number of times I went, "Wow!" The book is written in such a way to set you up for those moments. There are little "gotcha!" moments everywhere. At first I was really sucked in by them, but toward the end I found I was getting a little tired of it and I started imagining some parts being read by that guy who does all the movie preview voiceovers. "The man with five months to live...." You get my drift.
Aside from that, my only real complaint about "Killing Kennedy" was the use of present tense. It just does not work in a book like this, and it wasn't even very consistent. I found it often distracted me from what was really important.
Overall, I really enjoyed "Killing Kennedy." It's the type of book I want to keep on my shelf and would definitely consider reading again. I am also excited to check out "Killing Lincoln" and "Killing Jesus."

Monday, November 4, 2013

National Novel Writing Month 2013

This month I am on a mission to write 50,000 words. Yes, it's National Novel Writing Month. I've known about NaNoWriMo for years, but last year was the first year I tried it. I was always one of those people who wanted to write a novel but never did. Then in September 2012 I started writing a novel. I finished the first draft of that in about a month's time and thought, "Let's do that again!" So I signed up for NaNoWriMo. I had a blast doing it. There really is nothing like the experience of sitting down and seeing just how much you can write in a month. What's great about National Novel Writing Month is that it encourages you to keep going. If you know something that you've just written isn't exactly how you'd like, you keep writing. If you are stuck, you keep writing. You may not have the Great American Novel when you are finished, but you will have something, and that's a lot more than most people have done.
I know there are a lot of naysayers when it comes to NaNoWriMo. Don't bother, they say. Nobody wants your crappy novel. Why even bother? I think that's a really crappy attitude. If people want to write for fun, let them. It sure beats sitting around and watching Duck Dynasty and the Karsashians, in my personal opinion. Also, why deter potential authors that way? Sure, not everyone is going to write something amazing that publishers will be clamoring to put into print. But there may be a few gems that come out of it. One of my favorite books in the past couple of years, "The Night Circus," was written during National Novel Writing Month. I think that's pretty awesome, and if Erin Morgenstern had been told not to bother, it would have been a damn shame.
National Novel Writing Month has helped rekindle my passion for writing fiction. It gives me confidence that I can do what I've always dreamed of doing and, even if I never get a big publishing deal, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I've written a novel. For me, it's the equivalent of running a marathon (which totally is not my cup of tea, but I'm not about to go telling others not to bother because they won't win anyway).
In the first three days of NaNoWriMo, I've written more than 6,000 words. I'm feeling great about my story and can't wait to write the rest.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Woman in Black & Gearing up for NaNoWriMo

The movie The Woman in Black is one of the scariest movies I've seen in recent years. I'm not much for gore, and I love gothic horror, so I really enjoyed the movie. I didn't know until some time later that it was based on a book. When I found out, I added it to my "to-read" list and saved it for October.
While I liked the book, I think I would have liked it better if I had read it before seeing the movie. The movie stays quite close to the book, but it kicks the creepiness factor way up. I didn't really find the book scary at all, except for the ending. It's a good little gothic tale, and I appreciate the time the author took to get the style right. I love that authors are writing gothic horror in the style of the classics. Books like The Woman in Black and This House is Haunted (see previous review) are a delight to read. I did like This House is Haunted better than The Woman in Black, because I liked the writing better and enjoyed the "tongue in cheek" feeling I got at times. And, as I said, The Woman in Black fell a little short for me after seeing the movie.

It's almost November and that means National Novel Writing Month! I did my first NaNoWriMo last year and absolutely loved it. I also did the April and July camps this year, but didn't have quite as much fun with those. November is a better month for writing. Until yesterday I had only a vague idea of where I was going to go with my story. I sat down and fleshed out some ideas and now I'm really excited about it. Tonight I am hoping to work on a chapter outline and character sketches. The novel I'll be working on is inspired by a novel I wrote last year/earlier this year. This will be a "prequel" of sorts, set in the 1920s-'30s. It's the story of two competing resorts/dance halls in northern Minnesota. There'll be bootlegging, gangsters, and forbidden love. Bring it on, NaNoWriMo!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ordinary Grace

William Kent Krueger has quickly become one of my favorite authors. Not only is he from Minnesota, he is a great writer. So far, I had only read books that were part of his Cork O'Connor mystery series. He also has two stand-alone books, and I received one of them—Ordinary Grace—for my birthday.
Ordinary Grace is a coming-of-age novel narrated by Frank Drum. Frank tells the story of one life-changing summer in the small town of New Bremen, Minnesota. Frank's innocence is shattered through a series of deaths that have an impact on his family and the entire community. Frank and his brother, Jake, struggle with making the right decisions that no child should have to make. Much of the information Frank and Jake receive comes as a result of eavesdropping. This was something I could really relate to, since as a kid I eavesdropped myself and learned things I really didn't want to know. But I also understood Frank's desire to be let in on things and being driven to eavesdrop. It was a clever and accurate way to include conversations the adults wouldn't have had in front of the kids, and for Frank and Jake to receive the information they needed to drive the story along.
Ordinary Grace isn't a particularly original story. I figured out pretty much from the start where it was going. That said, it is beautifully written and, to me, conveyed a sense of warmth, like an old quilt. I'd definitely like to see more stand-alone novels like this from William Kent Krueger.

I've also been reading The Woman in Black, and last night I started Killing Kennedy by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. It's my book club's November selection and, while I usually wait until closer to our meeting to start the book, National Novel Writing Month starts Friday so my reading time will be greatly reduced over the next several weeks.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Heart-Shaped Box

I've been in the mood for some horror this October, and when I was trying to choose what to read next, Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box fit the bill.
Heart-Shaped Box tells the story of rocker Judas Coyne, who buys a ghost on an ebay-like site. Overall, I thought this was a really strong effort. I liked Jude and Marybeth (aka Georgie) and thought both of them grew personally throughout the book. The ghost was scary. There were some parts toward the end—particularly when Jude and Marybeth went to Florida to confront Jessica Price, the woman who sold Jude the ghost. I suppose there are people out there who are as crazy and evil as her, but...well, I found the ghost to be more believable than she was. I really liked the ending a lot, and thought it tied everything together pretty neatly. It's definitely a good effort from Joe Hill, and I'd read more from him. (I have read one of his other books, 20th Century Ghosts.) I'd give this one 3.5 stars.
I'm now starting another ghost story—The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. While the movie based on this story wasn't perfect, I did enjoy it and got a good scare out of it. I'm also reading Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger, who I am going to hear speak next week. I'm very excited!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Doctor Sleep

Every once in a while, something comes along that not only meets your expectations, it exceeds it. Stephen King's sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, has done that for me.
I'm sure I'm not alone in getting to the end of many books and wondering, "What's next?" Most of the time writers don't tell you because what happens afterward isn't that interesting. But in the case of Danny Torrance, who survived the horrors of the Overlook Hotel, it felt like there had to be more there.
Writing Doctor Sleep took a lot of cojones for Stephen King. Sure, he's the master of horror and people are going to buy what he writes no matter what. But The Shining is a classic, and to screw that up with a sequel that wasn't any good would have been a shame.
In Doctor Sleep, we meet a grown-up Danny Torrance. Not surprisingly, he is one messed up dude. When he is called upon to help a little girl named Abra who shines even stronger than he did, things begin to change. Abra is in danger, but not from the ghosts who tried to claim Danny at the Overlook. The True Knot are living, breathing people who feed off children like Abra. Just like Dick Halloran was the only one who could save Danny, it's only Danny who can help Abra. Along the way, there are some great plot twists that I never saw coming.
I'll admit, it took me a few weeks to read Doctor Sleep. Looking back, I'm happy I took so long reading it. It was good for me to spend some time with these characters and get attached to them. By reading it slowly, I was able to savor it. The last hundred pages or so are really a thing of beauty. I found myself in tears several times, and when it ended I felt a sense of closure.
And so Doctor Sleep has found its way onto my list of favorite Stephen King books. It's the second of his books to work his way there this year—I also really loved 11/22/63. It took me four years to read one of his books after Under the Dome. I hated that book so much. I think it suffered from being too long, which I have found true in more than one of his books. I think King is at his best when he's under 500-600 pages or so. Anything more than that, and I feel like the middle 400 pages can be skipped. He really shines in his shorter books and short stories.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Good Fall

Last night I finished A Good Fall by Ha Jin. I read it at this time of year thinking it was going to be about autumn. I was so wrong, and feel a little dumb about that. That's okay, though. It was a really good bok!
A Good Fall is a collection of stories about Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans living in Flushing, New York. Even though there is something different going on in every story, there are common themes that run throughout the book. The main characters are often walking a tightrope between two cultures. I think similar stories could be written by just about any group of immigrants. In that way, I felt that this book was really about humanity—that despite all of our differences, we are all very much the same.
I definitely would read more from Ha Jin. The stories were very easy to read, but packed a big punch. As a whole, it's a very strong collection.
I am *still* working on Doctor Sleep. I really like it, but I don't know what is taking me so long to read it. That is what I get for reading three books at once, I guess. Yet that isn't stopping me from starting another book. I want to read Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger before I go to hear him speak in two weeks. Krueger is new to me this year, but he is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I've read the first three books in his Cork O'Connor series. Ordinary Grace is a stand-alone book. I can't wait to start it tonight!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Little History of Literature

I feel like I've been slacking over the past week or so, having not posted a review since the end of last month. The truth is that I've been reading three different books at the same time.
I received A Little History of Literature by John Sutherland through Net Galley. This book is a whirlwind tour of a subject very near and dear to my heart. I majored in English Lit, so this book was a great review for me. I enjoyed revisiting some of my favorite authors and works, and learning about others I'm not familiar with. For those who have an interest in literature, this book is a great choice. It's readable while covering a vast amount of information. I would have loved having a book like this when I was in college to use as a resource.
I'm still working on Stephen King's latest book, Doctor Sleep. I'm over halfway through now and still loving it. I swore I'd never read one of his books again after Under the Dome, but he's definitely made amends with this and 11/22/63.
I also started reading A Good Fall, a short story collection by Ha Jin. I'm finding it kind of refreshing to read short stories for a change. I need to do this more often.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Purgatory Ridge

Purgatory Ridge is William Kent Krueger's third book in the Cork O'Connor series. It's another complex, well-thought out mystery in a series that I highly recommend checking out. At first I had a difficult time reconciling the two separate story lines with one another, but once they melded, I thought it flowed really well. I especially loved John LePere's character, and was happy to see Henry Meloux make another appearance. I find myself not wanting to say too much because I don't want to give anything away, but suffice it to say that this is a beautifully written page-turner from a very talented writer.
I'd get started on the next book in the Cork O'Connor series, but I have a few other books I need to tend to first. First up on the list is Stephen King's Doctor Sleep. I love The Shining, so I was thrilled to hear that King was writing a sequel. I read a few pages on my lunch break today and I loved what I read. I just hope I am not looking forward to it so much that I'm going to be let down.
I'm also excited about the release of Not Another Wedding, a Harlequin Super Romance by Jennifer McKenzie. I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer this year through Camp NaNoWriMo. I really enjoyed her first book, That Weekend, and am really looking forward to Not Another Wedding.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fahrenheit 451

This month my book club read Fahrenheit 451. This is one of those books that, when I finished it, I had the feeling I had read it before. I hate that feeling. Anyway, I'm still not sure if I read it before or if it's just similar to something else I read.
Fahrenheit 451 is great - there is definitely a reason why it's a classic. I especially loved Mildred with her "family" and TV parlor. I'd say it's pretty spot on for how some people are more connected with their online friends than they are with the people around them. I also saw cell phones in the seashell that Mildred wore in her ear. She was so distracted by this technology that she and her husband barely knew one another. Keep in mind that Fahrenheit 451 was written in 1953. I also thought Bradbury effectively got across the feeling of panic that Guy felt throughout the book.
Other parts of the book haven't aged quite as well. While the book burning is scary and may have been believable at one time, in the age of the Internet and ebooks, I don't think it's really believable anymore. Then again, maybe that's the kind of thinking that will get us into a world like Bradbury has envisioned.
After Fahrenheit 451, I tried to get into Crowned Heads, which I got through Net Galley. This is an older book that for some reason is being published again. I found myself unable to get into it at all, so I called it quits. Life is too short to read books I don't want to read.
I've moved on to William Kent Krueger's Purgatory Ridge, the third in the Cork O'Connor series. I also started A Little History of Literature by Sutherland. The latter makes me feel like I'm in college again, but it's pretty interesting.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Book Review: This House is Haunted

This House is Haunted is the perfect book to read on a gloomy fall day. It is written in Gothic style, and carries elements of favorites such as Turn of the Screw and Jane Eyre. Eliza Caine, following the death of her father, embarks on a new adventure as a governess. The house is suitably creepy, as are the children. It's over the top at times - deliberately, I believe - just as a good Gothic novel should be. Some people might call it formulaic and not particularly original, and I suppose they're right. But for me, the formula it followed made it...I don't know, comforting, I guess. It was like hanging out with an old friend. Also, I think This House is Haunted it about more than just that. It's an homage to a kind of novel that no one writes anymore, while poking a little fun at it.

 This House is Haunted is fun and fast-paced. If you're looking for a modern tale of horror with lots of blood and guts, this isn't the book for you. If you're a fan of the classics and a little subtle humor, check this one out.

I give This House is Haunted four stars.

*I received this book for free through Net Galley.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

How to Talk Minnesotan: Revised for the 21st Century

So, you want to learn how to talk Minnesotan, then. Good deal. “How to Talk Minnesotan: Revised for the 21st Century” by Howard Mohr is not too bad a book if you like that sort of thing. I don’t want you to think I didn’t like it.
I compare it to a good hot dish: there’s lots of stuff in there, and it’s pretty easy to digest, for the most part. I like books that make me laugh, but only on the inside. If you see me smirking, that means I’m having a heckuva good time. I don’t think I had the thought, “Oh, for dumb” even once while I was reading, though I suspect if you’re still reading this you may have by now.
If someone held lutefisk under my nose and forced me to pick, I’d say my favorite part of the book was the story about the guy who moved out to a farm place and tried to order some fuel oil. Depending on who he talked to, he had the fuel delivered to the Fletcher place or the Prindel place (the names of the farm’s previous owners). It only took a decade or so before he could order fuel under his own name. I thought that sounded about right.
A guy could read a book like this if he wanted to. But not if it puts you out or anything like that. If you feel like it, go ahead. Whatever.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Book Review: Boundary Waters

Boundary Waters is the second book in William Kent Krueger's Cork O'Connor series. I was first introduced to this series earlier this year and I am so happy I discovered this author. Actually, I'm a little ashamed that I didn't discover him sooner since he is from Minnesota.
When I read Iron Lake, the first book in this series, I was impressed by Krueger's use of description. Boundary Waters was no different. He has a way of making me feel like I'm there without going overboard. It takes a lot of skill to do that, in my opinion. Krueger really nails it when it comes to describing the Minnesota landscape. I love Minnesota, and to read stories in which it is described so beautifully makes me very happy.
Boundary Waters, like Iron Lake, is a great mystery that kept me engaged the whole way through. I like how Krueger's books aren't just about Cork O'Connor solving a mystery - he does a great job of advancing the characters as well. I'm not a series reader, but the combination of great description and characters I've grown to love will keep me coming back to this series. I'm already looking forward to the next, Purgatory Ridge. And, because I'm a good 10 years or so behind, I don't even have to wait for it to come out - in fact, the 13th book in the series was recently published. I've got a lot of reading to do to get there, but I'm sure I'll enjoy it every step of the way. I'm also excited to read Krueger's stand-alone books, especially Ordinary Grace, which has gotten great reviews.
My goal is to get at least a couple more of Krueger's books read before - wait for it - he comes to my library next month! Yes! I am so excited I can hardly stand it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book Review: Sinclair Lewis

I borrowed this biography of Sinclair Lewis, written by Richard O'Connor, from my sister. I saw her rating of it (three stars) on Goodreads and wondered how a biography of such an amazing writer could have gotten anything below three stars. Then I read it.
Sinclair Lewis is one of my favorite authors. I believe I've read seven of his books (Main Street, Babbitt, Elmer Gantry, Dodsworth, Arrowsmith, Ann Vickers, It Can't Happen Here...yep, that's seven), and Main Street is one of my favorite books. They're all pretty fantastic. And even though I love his writing, I know very little about the author. I've visited his childhood home in Sauk Centre and gone to the interpretive center there that is dedicated to him, but I've never read much about him.
I thought this biography started out really well. I was really enjoying reading about Sinclair Lewis's life.  Then the author started inserting his own personal opinions about Lewis's work. He thinks Dodsworth is a better book than Elmer Gantry? Wait, what? Nuh uh. Surely he must be joking, I thought.
Now, I know that my opinions are my own and not everyone will agree with me. But I disagreed with a lot of what O'Connor said about Lewis's books, and I found myself wondering why he felt the need to put in his feelings about his work at all. Was it not enough to tell us what the critics thought, and whether people bought the book? Instead he bashes Carol Kennicott (sorry, dude, you do NOT bash Carol Kennicott) and puts Dodsworth above Elmer Gantry. Maybe Elmer Gantry has aged better than Dodsworth, or become more relevant (the O'Connor biography is 40 years old). I suspect that may be the case. I also seem to think a lot more of Ann Vickers than O'Connor does.
Even though I found myself shaking my head at times, one good thing about this biography is that it left me wanting more. I've had another book about Sinclair Lewis, Rebel from Main Street, sitting on my shelf for a long time. I don't know why I haven't read it before now, but now it's definitely on my list of books that I need to read soon.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Book Review: Havisham

Havisham, by Ronald Frame: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. (See what I did there?) Okay, I know. Wrong Dickens book. But still, I found myself having a love-hate relationship with Havisham, much as I often do with Dickens. I'll get an urge to read one of his books and spend half of it wondering what the hell I was thinking. Miss Havisham is absolutely my favorite Dickens character. I'll never forget when I met her, sitting in her yellowed silk gown among the rotting remnants of her wedding feast. I wanted Ronald Frame, in Havisham, to create magic for me. Bring me into that cobwebbed world of hers and tell me how she got there. And, for the most part, he did.
Let's get the bad out of the way first. For about the first half of the book (I know that seems like a lot), I found myself getting impatient. I was bored by Catherine's description of her childhood, and the time she spent with the Chadwyck family. There were some good parts here and there (the Hermitage, for one), but mostly I felt like if I had to read one more scene about acting out some play or attending a masked ball, I was going to give up on this book. I'm happy I didn't, because when Catherine returned home, Havisham gave me everything I'd been hoping for, and I was not disappointed. I loved the wedding and everything that followed, even though I'd figured out exactly what happened before Catherine did.
In looking back at my time spent reading Havisham, I'm reminded of a quote by Mark Twain: A classic is something that everybody wants to have read, and nobody wants to read. Like Great Expectations (or any other Dickens novel), reading Havisham was hard work at times, but in the end I'm happy I did. One thing that helped me get through it was to tell myself to treat it as I would a classic. I tend to give those more leeway when reading them, because I think if it's a classic surely there must be something worthwhile to keep reading for. That's what I did, and I was well rewarded.

*I received a free copy of this book through Net Galley.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book review: Persepolis

Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, is like nothing I've ever read before. I'd never even considered picking up a graphic novel until I heard about this book. I'm so happy I decided to give it a chance.
Persepolis follows Satrapi's life as she grows up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. It's a subject I knew very little about beforehand, and likely never would have learned more about if it hadn't been for Persepolis. I thought the graphic novel format worked really well. It allowed me to absorb a lot of information without feeling overwhelmed by it. One thing that really impressed me about this book was that Satrapi does not try to make herself look like some sort of hero. She did some awful things, and puts it out there for all of us to see. It makes her character really relatable. It's almost painful at times, looking back at those events from her past, but before judging her too quickly I had to remind myself that I did some stupid things in my youth as well.
Sense of place and belonging are a strong theme in Persepolis. Marji is sent away by her parents to protect her from the unrest that is going on in her country. While it's almost certainly the best thing for her, it does have some negative effects. While studying in Vienna, Marji doesn't feel like she fits in there. And when she returns home, she doesn't fit in there, either. She feels as if the struggles she endured are nothing compared to what her friends and family endured during that same time. In the end, I felt that she was able to find herself. If she hadn't, I don't think she would have written Persepolis.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Third Shift: Pact

I knew I couldn't think Hugh Howey was perfect forever. And so this is where I admit that I was disappointed in the third book in the Shift trilogy, Pact. After breezing through the first two Shift books, I found myself taking forever to get through this one. Part of the problem could definitely be that I finished two other books while I was reading it. Shift got put on the back-burner for me because I needed to finish those. Or, it could be my old dislike of series rearing its ugly head. Maybe I should have waited before finishing Shift.
Anyway, it wasn't that I didn't like Third Shift: Pact, it just didn't wow me like the first two, Legacy and Order, did. Much of the time I was reading it, I was going..."Yeah, yeah, I already know this stuff." I knew the gist of Solo's story from his encounter with Juliette in Wool. I knew what was going on on the other side of Donald's story in Silo 18. Donald's story still kept my interest, for the most part, but I found Solo's story to be rather dull at times.
I had dabbled with the thought of reading Dust immediately upon finishing Shift, but I think I need a break. I have so many other books in my queue, and I'm feeling the need to concentrate those and spend some time outside the Silo for now. That's right, I said "outside." If you don't hear from me again, I guess that means I've been caught and sent to clean....

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Book Review: The Bookstore

I tried not to set my expectations too high for this book. With a title like "The Bookstore," I really wanted to love it. The good news is that at times I did. A lot. At other times I was scratching my head.
Let me explain. Esme Garland is a 20-something from England living in New York, where she is working on her PhD. Smart girl, right? Yes, expect for when she is a complete idiot! Which is quite a bit of the time, actually, from about the midway point of the book on. She puts up with about 20 things from her boyfriend, Mitchell, that would have been deal-breakers for me--and he would never even look twice at someone like me. He is a 100%, Grade-A jackass. Esme loooooves him, though, even though I never really understood why.
Another thing that annoyed me about Esme was her attitude at times. Basically she acts as if she is always right, and she most definitely is not. At one point, following a blow-up with her boyfriend's parents, she says, "I was rude, but I was right." Um, no. She complains that her boyfriend and her family are set in their ways, but she is just as bad, really.
As for the plot, it's pretty predictable. Grad student gets pregnant and has to deal with jerk boyfriend. Finds job at quaint bookstore where quirky people abound. Now, to me, being predictable is not necessarily a bad thing. I liked it in spite of that. I mean, there are only so many plots out there; it's difficult to always find something original. To me, it's about how you write it and make it your own, and I think Deborah Meyler does a good job of that.
Even though I wanted to choke Esme at times (okay, a lot of the time), I still found myself liking her. She is human. Some of the stupid things she says are quite hilarious. I also especially like the characters of George, her boss at the bookstore, and her co-worker, Luke. In all honesty, some of the other characters ran together. I had a hard time keeping the other co-workers, customers, and homeless guys straight.
There is some great description in this book and some excellent emotional insight. Once I got past the first couple of chapters, where Esme is going on and on and on and on (and on and on) about what to do about the pregnancy, there was a lot of good stuff. I laughed, I cried, and I looked forward to reading it each time I picked it up, which was the main thing.
Overall, I'd give "The Bookstore" 3.5 stars. It's a good debut effort.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Second Shift: Order

Hugh Howey's second part of the Shift omnibus, Order, follows Mission Jones, a porter in Silo 18, along with Donald, who we met in Shift: Legacy. Second Shift: Order is a great look at the inner workings of a silo: how people live and work and how unrest occurs. As usual there are some big surprises in Second Shift: Order. That's one of the things I love about Hugh Howey. I'll be reading along and suddenly he'll throw something at me that takes my breath away. Second Shift: Order takes us up to the heart of the action in Wool, and I can't wait to see what happens on "the other side" in Silo 1 during all of that.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: Sutton

Sutton, by J.R. Moehringer, is a book I probably would never have read if it wasn't for my book club. I'm so happy I did. Sutton is historical fiction, based on the life of bank robber Willie "The Actor" Sutton. Prior to reading this book, I had no idea who Willie Sutton was.
Sutton follows a newly released Willie Sutton on his tour of New York with a reporter and photographer. Sutton is pushed into the story by his lawyer, but takes charge by insisting they follow a map highlighting important events in his life in chronological order. The novel goes back and forth between Willie's story and his interaction with the reporter and photographer on the tour. What results is a fascinating look into the mind of a bank robber whose career spanned several decades. At times Willie's version of the story is conflicted by others, which gives it an interesting "unreliable narrator" spin.
Willie Sutton is a complex character. This isn't some boring run-down of facts. J.R. Moehringer expertly builds Sutton from the ground up, starting with his childhood. He lays out all the events that lead Sutton to become a criminal, a perfect storm of circumstances that includes his upbringing, economic troubles of the day, friends, and the love of his life, Bess. And we see how, once he gets on this path, it is nearly impossible to go straight again. We see Sutton as someone who wants to be a good person, but who seemingly has no other choice at times than to resort to a life of crime. Once he gets drawn in, greed keeps him going back for more.
I'd give this book five stars, but I was a little disappointed to find after the fact that Willie had two wives and a daughter who were barely mentioned. I would have liked to see more about them instead of so much focus on Bess. I understand that Moehringer uses her as the driving force behind the route Willie takes with his life, but I feel like there is a whole other side of Willie we don't get to know.
Overall, this is a great read. It's a great blend of fact and fiction.
I mentioned Net Galley in my last post. Yesterday I got approved for my second Net Galley book, Havisham, by Ronald Frame. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the title of this book. Could it be? Yes, it could. It's about Catherine Havisham, from Dickens' Great Expectations. I remember very fondly the first time I encountered Miss Havisham. For me, she put the "great" in Great Expectations. I'm excited to see what Frame does with her story. I just hope I'm not too excited. I hate when I get all worked up about a book and set myself up for disappointment.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Vacation hangover

I'm a little out of it this week. On Monday we returned from a short vacation. Even though we were only gone for a few days, getting back to reality has been difficult. It's odd how exhausting a vacation can be. It's not that I did much. I think it had more to do with the almost-3-year-old who slept with me and flopped around like a fish all night. I'm very happy to be sleeping in my own bed again, where no one uses my butt as a pillow.
I got some reading done while I was away, but not as much as I would have liked. Not that I'll ever get as much reading done as I would like. I am almost finished reading Sutton by J.R. Moehringer, and I'm over halfway through the second part of Shift. I'm absolutely loving both of them.
Next up on my reading list is The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler. I was fortunate enough to receive this book through Net Galley. It's my first Net Galley book. For those not familiar with Net Galley, it's a site where professional readers can request early digital access to books. I'm pretty excited about it and look forward to reviewing what I read both here and on Goodreads.
Until not too long ago, I had no idea that publishers offered advance copies of books. I discovered this (wonderful) fact one day when I was toodling around Goodreads and clicked on "Giveaways." I have received several books on Goodreads giveaways (though none recently). The only real problem (if you can call it that) with getting advance copies of books is that I feel obligated to read them as quickly as possible so I can review them. It therefore pushes the other books on my reading list back once again. And, as I've said before, I have that habit of buying a book and letting it sit for a long time before I read it. Nevertheless, I'm excited and grateful to be given the opportunity to read and review these books.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Minnesota writers on the map

I have a lot of pride in where I live. I especially enjoy supporting Minnesota musicians and writers.
Recently, my local library posted a link on Facebook to a story about a new map created by the St. Paul Friends of the Library. Called "From Main Street to Your Street: Minnesota Writers on the Map," it features authors from around the state. I knew instantly when I read the story that I needed to have one of these maps. The library staff saved one for me, and it is now framed and hanging on the wall in my office.
I think my love of Minnesota writers was instilled in me during my years at Southwest Minnesota State University as an English Literature major. Every other year a festival was held and writers from all over attended. There were numerous readings held throughout the week. I had the pleasure of having several great writers as professors as well, including Bill Holm, Faith Sullivan, and Adrian Louis. Holm is on the front site of the map, along with other writers from my corner of the state: Wanda Gag, Frederick Manfred, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Farther north in the central part of the state is my favorite author of all time, Sinclair Lewis. He is referenced in the title of the map (Main Street is one of his best-known novels). He's also the inspiration behind the name of my blog. Head east and you'll find another favorite of mine, Garrison Keillor. Flip over to the back of the map and there's Faith Sullivan (who I mentioned above was a professor of mine), F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Kent Krueger...a whole long list of really great writers. I'm proud to have them associated with Minnesota, and I'm proud to be a vocal supporter of Minnesota literature. I've considered taking a year to read Minnesota authors exclusively. I'm sure I would not be disappointed if I did.
I think this map will be on my wall for a long time. I'm hoping it will make a good conversation piece when people come into my office, and give me a chance to promote Minnesota literature.
I understand there were a couple previous editions of the map printed. I'd really, really love to get my hands on one of those so I could hang it next to the new one.
If you're interested in the map, you can see it and download a pdf of it here: Minnesota Writers on the Map

Thursday, August 15, 2013

First Shift: Legacy

The Shift Omnibus has been sitting on my Nook for a while now. I'm a little weird that way when it comes to books. I buy them and then I let them sit for a while. A book might look absolutely amazing to me, but unless I'm in the mood to read it, I won't. I struggle a bit with my book club for this reason. 
I did the same thing with Wool. I bought it and it sat there unread for the longest time. One day I got the urge and I flew through it. Loved it. I bought the Shift Omnibus and then...well, I let it sit. 
I like variety. I might like an author a lot, but I still won't read his or her work more than once a year. Hugh Howey is definitely becoming an exception to that. I've already read Wool and I, Zombie this year, and now I'm reading Shift. We'll see how long it takes me to get around to reading Dust.
Now on to my review (I don't think there are really spoilers here, but proceed with caution). As with Wool, it took me a chapter or so to get my bearings. Once I got into it, I thought it was practically perfect. Wool #1 knocked my socks off. It was like nothing I had ever read before, and had a huge impact. I have a similar feeling about First Shift: Legacy. It was a little different because I knew basically where it was going. That didn't lessen the impact, however. I loved how the details fell into place and watching the silos develop. I love knowing how everyone got into the silos and who is in Silo 1. I loved reading about what happened in Silo 12. There are still a lot more questions to answer, and I'm looking forward to reading the next part. 
I'm starting Second Shift: Order, but I also need to finish reading my book club's August selection (Sutton, by J.R. Moehringer). That's good, too, but I'd rather be reading Shift.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dust in my mailbox

I was so excited yesterday to open my mailbox and find a package from Hugh Howey waiting for me. Dust! I may or may not have jumped up and down and clapped my hands. But before opening it, I decided to get out my camera to record the occasion.
Once that was done, it was time to rip it open. I turned to the title page to see that it was indeed signed, and again wound up jumping up and down and clapping my hands. (Yeah, I'm a dork. Whatever.)
It's really too cool to muck up with my dirty little fingerprints. And, for that reason, I will probably end up buying an ebook version, too. This one will go on my bookshelf. The nice one, that's right in the dining room for everyone to see.
I finished reading Shift: Legacy yesterday and was definitely not disappointed. I don't know why I waited so long to start it. I'm loving it and can't wait to finish it and start in on Dust. I'll write a more in-depth review of Shift: Legacy tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


I know some people consider it a faux-pas to talk about your writing but this is my blog and I'll talk about it if I want to.
I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. When I was a little girl, I'd sit around the kitchen table with my dad and write stories. He always wanted to be a writer, too. In my late elementary years I wrote Baby-Sitters Club knock-off stories. I had notebooks filled with them.
I did grow up to be a writer, as I'd hoped. I write for a small weekly newspaper and have done so for the past 15 years. Still, I wasn't quite the kind of writer I had hoped to be.
So many people say they want to write a book. Until last year, I was one of them. That's because last year I actually did it. I got the idea almost exactly a year ago, while on a trip to the family lake cabin. I came home and started writing, and then didn't do anything with it for a few weeks. I started writing again in late September and kept writing all through the month of October until the story was finished. Or at least I thought it was.
I'd always heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) but never thought I'd be able to do it. But since I had pretty much achieved the goal set for NaNoWriMo the previous month, I said, "Why not?" So in November I wrote a novel based on an idea I've had rolling around in my head for years. As I came to the end of that, I realized that what I'd just written would make the perfect back story for the novel I'd written in September/October. The problem with that was that I wrote the previous novel in third person and my NaNo novel was in first. I didn't let that stop me and in December started mashing the two together. A few more edits later and I decided I was ready to send out some query letters this spring. I got rejected, of course.
I've had a few friends and family members read my novel, and the overall reaction is good. However, I realize after taking a deeper look at it that it's not particularly original. Parts of it are, yes, and there is a chance that, with more work, I'll make it into something special. For now, I'm looking at it as a valuable learning experience. I know now how much work it takes to write a novel and I have great respect for anyone who completes one. It's really easy to say you want to and it's even easy to start one. To keep going and finish it, and then to go through the revision process is much more difficult.
I've got two works in progress right now. The first I worked on during the April Camp NaNoWriMo. It's like November NaNoWriMo except the rules are less strict and you're put into "cabins" with fellow writers. I still like the story idea but I'm not at all happy with what I ended up making of it that month. I plan to scrap most of it and start over. The good thing about Camp NaNo was that I met two great writer friends and have now met another through them. We're keeping in touch and encouraging one another to continue with our goals.
I did the July Camp NaNoWriMo as well. I'm much happier with what I wrote then, and am looking forward to finishing that. I think it's a good story.
I'm also planning to enter a short story contest next month. Often when I'm trying to write a novel I get a little panicky about not having enough material and I think it might be refreshing to write a short story for a change.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Lucky Number 13

Today is my 13-year wedding anniversary. My husband and I got married on a sultry summer day, which I still hear complaints about. It never fails, anytime our wedding is brought up, someone will inevitably say, "it was SO HOT!" Yes, we had an outdoor wedding and yes, it was hot. Heaven forbid people have to sit outside for an hour when it's hot outside. We're all pretty spoiled these days. Anyway, it's been 13 years.
I'll be honest, I'm at a point in my life where I find weddings to be ridiculous. Ours wasn't over the top, but I still cringe when I think how that money could have been spent on something like a downpayment on a house. If I could go back in time, I'd go to the courthouse.
I guess I'm not much of a romantic. I don't care much about flowers or jewelry. Those gifts are fine, but they seem a little impersonal to me, something that everyone does. I'd rather have an antique book or a Barnes & Noble gift card (okay, jewelry isn't so bad every once in a while). Basically, it's all about personal touch to me. I want it to be obvious that he thought specifically of me when choosing a gift. I do my best to do the same in return.
We don't have any big plans for our anniversary. We will probably go out for dinner at the local greasy spoon tonight, just so we don't have to cook. Our gift to one another is the vacation we're going on soon. That works for me!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Fairytale ending? No thanks

Fairytales are often spoken of as something wonderful, the happy ending everyone wants. But when you sit down and analyze them, it quickly becomes obvious that this is not the case.
My daughter is really into fairytales right now, so we read at least a couple of them every night at bedtime. The version we read are modern re-tellings. The princess in The Princess and the Pea, for example, rides a motorbike.
Recently I read the book's version of Hansel and Gretel for the first time. At first I didn't think anything of it, but when I re-read it the next night, I was struck by how absurd the story is.
In this version, the witch/stepmother places a spell on the father to get him to ditch the children in the forest because they can't afford to feed them. I do like the spell explanation better than the original story, in which the father just agrees to do his new wife's bidding. Bad form, Hansel and Gretel's dad.
As we all know, the first time he isn't successful because Hansel leaves a trail of white stones. The second, he leaves bread crumbs and they get eaten up so they can't find their way back. Instead, they find a cottage made of goodies. There's a witch there, and she puts Hansel in a cage and enslaves Gretel. The plan is to eat Hansel. Why, I don't know. She has a house made of cake so you'd think she had enough to eat. This is supported by her efforts to fatten Hansel up by feeding him treats.
Hansel fools her into thinking he's still skin and bones by holding out a bone every time she comes to feel his finger. This is ridiculous on so many levels. First of all, since when can the witch not see anything? Secondly, how is a finger a good indication of someone's weight. She should have been feeling his belly or his leg or his arm. Thirdly, how can she not tell that there is no flesh on this bone? Any idiot could tell a bone from a finger.
Eventually, she gets tired of waiting for him to get fat and decides to eat him anyway. That's when Gretel tricks the witch into sticking her head into the oven and pushes her in. Hansel and Gretel are free, but before they leave they search the witch's house. They discover lots of money and jewelry. You would think that with all that money, she would have been able to go to the butcher's and buy a hog or something, but no, she apparently preferred cannibalism.
Hansel and Gretel stuff their pockets and lo and behold, their father arrives to save them! The spell has been broken because—dun dun DUN—the witch was their stepmother. In the original version, the kids just head back home. That's silly, because if they couldn't get home before, how do they suddenly know the way now? Also, if I were those kids, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't share the money with the people who had abandoned me. I'd move right into that house made of cake and live happily ever after.
The most ridiculous part, however, is the fact that the witch and the stepmother are the same person. If she was loaded and had a house made of cake, why didn't she bring her money with her when she married the father? If she had, they wouldn't have had to send the children into the woods. Unless...she did it on purpose because she wanted to eat the kids.
I had to know if this was how the original story ended, so I did some research. It turns out that it is implied (very vaguely) that the stepmother and the witch are the same with the line, "...and now they had nothing to fear, for their wicked stepmother was dead." Interesting.
And so, for all my over-analysis, I came to the conclusion that it's all just symbolism. With the stepmother out of the way, their troubles at home were over and they could return home. No matter how you look at it, though, it still doesn't make all that much sense.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss

Le sigh. Oh, Anna and the French Kiss, how I wanted to love you. And oh, how disappointed I was.
First I should say that this is not a bad book. At the start I really enjoyed it. It was very charming and I found myself laughing out loud. As it got into the middle of the book, I found myself wondering if something interesting was going to happen. Unfortunately it didn't. By the end, I was pretty annoyed with the characters, and the "he loves me, he loves me not" story line had worn thin.
I realize I may not be the intended audience for this book. I read it on the recommendation of friends who loved it, so I expected to love it, too. Plus it was set in Paris! It had to be awesome! But I should have paid more attention before rushing to get it through inter-library loan. Young adult contemporary romance just isn't my thing. It's cute, and sweet, but lacks substance. I do enjoy some fluff now and then, but this was a little too fluffy.
I think the issue was compounded by the fact that I started reading it on the same day I started reading Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. I know they're not really the same, since Before I Fall isn't a romance, but Before I Fall was just so much better. I couldn't put it down. In a way I suppose it was good for me to see the contrast because now I know what I'm looking for in a YA book. That sounds kind of silly, but the YA genre is fairly new to me. I avoided it pretty much at all costs until I read The Hunger Games. That series opened up a whole new world to me that I am still trying to navigate.
Now that I'm done wanting to choke Anna and Etienne, I've moved on to Shift, by Hugh Howey. I have a general phobia when it comes to series, but Wool got me hooked and I need to read more. Soon Dust will be here! I can't wait.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Dust is coming soon!

I'll admit, I can be a bit impulsive at times, especially when it comes to shopping. Last night I made an impulse buy, but I'm pretty sure it won't be one that I'll regret.
I had seen something earlier in the day about the launch of Hugh Howey's new book, and the opportunity to pre-order signed copies. Dust, the third installation in the Silo saga, is scheduled to come out August 17. I was planning to buy it, but figured I'd wait and buy it in ebook form. Unfortunately it looked like it wasn't going to be available for Nook right away, so I would have to wait even longer. That would be fine, since I haven't gotten around to reading Shift (the second part of the Silo series) yet (it's next on my to-read list).
On impulse, I clicked on a link Howey posted on Facebook about the autographed copies. "I'll just see how much they cost," I said. When I found that, with shipping, I could get a signed copy for under $25, I couldn't resist. I think it will be worth a lot more than that someday.
I watched some of the live feed of Howey signing his books and packing them up with the help of his mom last night. I was probably much more amused by this than I should have been, but I love that Hugh Howey is the type of guy who does this. He seems really down to earth, like one of us.
In my opinion, Hugh Howey is a rising star. When I read Wool I, I was blown away. It had the feeling of an old Twilight Zone episode. Who was this guy, and why hadn't I heard of him before? A lot of people know who he is now, but I find there are still a lot who don't. Not to mention the people who, when I say that Wool is Sci-Fi, wrinkle their noses and proclaim their dislike for the genre. Look, I get it. I really do. I used to be one of you. But I've started to open my eyes a little bit and I realized that I do, indeed, like Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Not all of it, but there's some really good stuff out there. I'm particularly fond of books that take our normal world and throw in something weird.
I also admire Howey because he did this all on his own. Wool was first sold as a self-published ebook. Self publishing often gets a bad rap. And yes, I agree that there is crap out there, but I think there's a lot of crap that gets published traditionally, too. (Each person's definition of "crap" is, of course, subjective.) I think a lot of people bash self publishing because it's changing the publishing industry. This is an industry that let Hugh Howey slip through the cracks by not publishing him.
Although I support self publishing, as a writer it is difficult to change my mindset and accept self publishing as a good choice for myself. A big part of it is the stigma. I see a lot of comments online from people about how they read some awful self-published work and how they'll never make that mistake again. It's not logical if you think about it. Would you ever say you read a book published by Random House that wasn't any good and you'd never make that mistake again? I highly doubt it. So, even though I realize there are many benefits to self publishing, I haven't been brave enough to take the leap for myself.
So, if you haven't read Wool yet, do it. If it's not in your comfort zone, take a step outside and give this one a chance.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

It's been a very long time since I've posted here. I'd like to try to revive this blog, and focus on book reviews and my own writing.
This year I've read 36 books so far, which is equal to what I read all of last year! I started out with a modest goal of 25 books, but achieved that very easily and upped my goal to 50. I should meet that easily as well. I like having a goal to keep me reading, but I do find that I sometimes get impatient when a book takes too long to read.
Two books on my list have received five stars this year: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, and I, Zombie, by Hugh Howey.
I love Hemingway. I make a point to read something by him every year around Memorial Day. There is just something about Hemingway that makes me want to read his work in the springtime. A Moveable Feast is about the time Hemingway spent living as an expatriate in Paris with his wife Hadley and their young son. His circle of friends there is impressive, from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Gertrude Stein. None of us will ever really know what it was like to be there, but A Moveable Feast does an amazing job of making you feel like you are. I felt a strong emotional connection, so strong that I found myself weeping over F. Scott Fitzerald and his wife, Zelda. As a writer, I also relished much of what Hemingway says about the process in this book. I felt like I was getting advice from a master. That's priceless. A Moveable Feast has earned its way on my list of favorite books of all time.
My other favorite book of the year so far is Hugh Howey's I, Zombie. I know all the buzz this year is about Wool, and I loved that, too, but in my opinion I, Zombie is even better. Howey puts a new spin on the old zombie tale, by taking us inside their heads. Howey's zombies retain all their thoughts and memories, which makes them especially terrifying. Some of the characters in this book still haunt me. Read it and you'll see what I mean.
My most recent read was Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. I'm fairly new to YA, having only started reading it a couple of years ago when The Hunger Games was all the rage. I've read some very disappointing ones that had a lot of hype surrounding them (looking at you, Fifth Wave), but Before I Fall was excellent. It's by far the best YA book I've ever read. It follows Samantha Kingston, who relives the same day over and over again following an accident. I had a few minor quibbles with the plot: I had a hard time believing that a snobby teenager could come that far in a few days, but overall it is very well done. I couldn't put it down.
I'm currently reading Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. I think it was a mistake to read this and Before I Fall at the same time. Compared to Before I Fall, Anna and the French Kiss seems overly fluffy and insignificant. I have about 100 pages to go and I'm getting tired of the, "OMG, I loooooove him" storyline. That's really about all the substance there is to this book, unfortunately.
I'm also reading Sutton by J.R. Moehringer for my book club. It's about a bank robber who is released from prison after many years. I'm not very far into it yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes.