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.