Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Carin's Best Book of 2013

It was a hard one to decide this year but drumroll please...

My favorite book of 2013 was:
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

This book really stuck with me. It managed to be both sweet and thrilling (an odd combo!), with a truly unique main character and premise. It made me cry which is hard to do, and even though it's been months, I still think about this book from time to time. I really loved the relationship between Budo and Max, I loved the awesome teacher, I loved the other imaginary friends, so it was mostly the characters that made this book for me. But the quandary Budo found himself in and how he solved it was creative and perplexing, but the solution was believable and logical.

I said it in my review and I'll say it again. Everyone should read this book.

Teaser Tuesdays: My Year with Eleanor

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir by Noelle Hancock p. 80

"It's just what? This whole time I'd been fretting over whether Matt was The One for me, but I'd been actively suppressing my fear that he might be having doubts about me."

One of the most interesting things I found in this book is that the biggets fears we all have aren't the typical fears you think of-- flying, heights, public speaking--but instead are the small everyday parts of life including having uncomfortable conversations that might cause hurt, like this one with Noelle's boyfriend that abruptly ends and she doesn't pick up again for nearly a year.

Book Review: My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir by Noelle Hancock

I didn't plan it this way when I picked up the book, but this book is the perfect one to end the year on. After getting laid off from her job, at a coffeeshop she sees a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that inspires her: "Do one thing every day that scares you." And she decides, after some reflection on where her life has led her, that this is a good motto by which to live. So in the grand tradition of stunt memoirs, she sets out in her 29th year to do something that scares her every day.

While she does start with something ambitious--a trapeze lesson--she quickly decides that doing something on that level every day would be both exhausting, expensive, and rife for burnout. Plus, a lot of the things she's truly afraid of are smaller everyday things, such as standing up for herself in situations where she wants the other person to like her. Not that she doesn't go skydiving and swimming with sharks--she does--it's just that she discovers the small things are somewhat more important. As children we are constantly forced to face fears. As adults, we often can arrange our lives to avoid a lot of them, and so we find ourselves missing out on a lot of life as we stick to the safe and known.

Her supportive boyfriend is always in the background as early on they go a wedding together and he is asked if he thinks he and Noelle might get married one day, and then is interrupted and doesn't finish his answer. It's telling that Noelle was hyper-aware of this when it happened, but doesn't follow up on it until about 8 months later, at the very end of her year. Because personal relationships can be the scariest things of all.

I liked Ms. Hancock's writing with was fluid and very easy to read. I was eager to hear what she was going to do next, big or small. I was moderately inspired myself, at least to realize that a lot of situations I avoid and fear likely aren't really all that scary if I just confronted them. I haven't really gone out on a limb since I read the book, but I think the next time I am confronted with an uncomfortable situation or something downright scary, I might just give it a try. At least I'll consider it, which is still a step forward.

I bought this book at a Borders GOOB sale.

Monday, December 30, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
My current book is very, very long! Over 1200 pages. This might be my only read for a few weeks.

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro

Up next:
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan
The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom by Deborah Yaffe

Friday, December 27, 2013

Book Beginnings: The Murder Room

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases by Michael Capuzzo

"The profiler would not shake hands with the priest."

The profiler, an expert psychologist, was taunting the suspected priest from that first moment, tempting him into blowing up and confessing. A brilliant profiler can completely control a situation and can assess a person so well--often from the evidence alone, before even meeting them--that the profiler can know a murderer on sight.

Book review: The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases by Michael Capuzzo

Do you love watching Cold Case Files? Did you see the articles last summer about the finally solved 30+ year old child murder case in New York City? If you like mysteries, especially real ones, this book is for you.

Three men in Philadelphia, William Fleisher, Frank Bender, and Richard Walter, founded the Vidocq Society, honoring the founder of the very first police detective department, in France. Originally conceived as a social club for various detective-types (cops, private detectives, profilers, pathologists, FBI agents, coroners, etc.) to network over world-class food, they quickly found that they wanted to talk shop and that seemed to always lead back to the "one case" each of them had that they couldn't forget--because it was still unsolved. So the group officially began to solicit the presentation of cold cases to them. They do not want to circumvent the police so they prefer the officers or DA involved actually make the presentation. And it is amazing when you get the best minds in the field into one room and they can look at the evidence with fresh eyes, how many times they really do figure out who did it. And while they can't always prove it, they often do provide fresh leads and new avenues of investigation and new people to interrogate (or old people to look at more thoroughly.)

These three men are an odd trio. Bender is probably the oddest, as he has a wife and a longtime mistress (who is well-known to the wife who vets all his girlfriends before allowing them), and he communicates with the dead, which is very helpful in his facial reconstructions. Walter, the psychologist and profiler, was the second oddest. He resembles Sherlock Holmes the most, in his habits (smoking, piano playing), physicality (skinny), and demeanor (isn't friendly, doesn't care if others dislike him, confronts people). Fleisher is odd mostly in that he seems rather ordinary and yet is friends with these two misfits. Bender and Walter solve a number of famous cases, are on American's Most Wanted several times, and help bring in some truly pathological murderers, decades after the fact.

It's amazing how years later, not only has the science advanced which we know, but often people are less scared to tell what they know. when they were younger, when the crime was closer, when the perpetrator had more power over them, they often clam up. But after decades, the potential recriminations fade. In fact a couple of the murderers themselves confess when confronted decades later. Also the distance these men and women have from the original cases helps them see evidence without bias, as does the breadth of their experiences.

This book was not great literature, the author repeated a few phrases several times, the promise of Sherlockian-esque escapades of the title never pans out, and the pacing of how the different cases were presented was uneven, however it was thoroughly enjoyable. I worried it might be too creepy or scary to read late at night but that did not prove to be the case; while you do read about gory and reprehensible acts, the whole point of the book is catching the perpetrators so those murders become less scary. I read it fairly quickly, and it was a nice distraction from my usual fare.

I bought this book at a Borders GOOB sale.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Mermaid

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience by Eileen Cronin

Synopsis from Goodreads:
At the age of three, Eileen Cronin first realized that only she did not have legs. Her boisterous Catholic family accepted her situation as "God's will," treating her no differently than her ten siblings, as she "squiddled" through their 1960s Cincinnati home. But starting school, even wearing prosthetics, Cronin had to brave bullying and embarrassing questions. Thanks to her older brother's coaching, she handled a classmate's playground taunts with a smack from her lunchbox. As a teen, thrilled when boys asked her out, she was confused about what sexuality meant for her. She felt most comfortable and happiest relaxing and skinny dipping with her girlfriends, imagining herself "an elusive mermaid." The cause of her disability remained taboo, however, even as she looked toward the future and the possibility of her own family. In later years, as her mother battled mental illness and denied having taken the drug thalidomide--known to cause birth defects--Cronin felt apart from her family. After the death of a close brother, she turned to alcohol. Eventually, however, she found the strength to set out on her own, volunteering at hospitals and earning a PhD in clinical psychology.

Reflecting with humor and grace on her youth, search for love, and quest for answers, Cronin spins a shimmering story of self-discovery and transformation.

Publishing January 20, 2014 by W. W. Norton & Company.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Book Review: Margot by Jillian Cantor

It's a creative concept: What if Margot Frank, Anne Frank's older sister, didn't actually die in the Holocaust? What would she be like later? What kind of life would she be living? How would she be affected by the publication of her sister's novel and the later movie?

Ms. Cantor sets this book in 1959, the year the movie came out. "Margie Franklin" is now living in Philadelphia, working at a law firm, and no longer a Jew. She doesn't have many friends, idolizes her boss, and compulsively rereads Anne's diary, furiously trying to figure out the truth behind particular passages, especially as they relate to Peter. She hasn't gotten in touch with her father, who she knows lives in Switzerland with his new life. She might be falling in love with her boss, Joshua. He takes on a new case, a class-action discrimination suit charging a prominent businessman with treating Jews badly at his factory, which shakes her to her core. Her friend Ilsa wants her to come on a trip to Europe, including to Switzerland. And everyone keeps asking her if she's seen the movie, "The Diary of Anne Frank." Naturally, events come to a head.

This book was a very fast read with smoothly flowing language and natural dialogue. Although there wasn't any action per se, the author did a great job of creating tension and even some suspense that often kept me reading "just one more chapter." This was a fantastic book club selection as we discussed issues ranging from the relationship between sisters (which we noted was a topic the author tackles in other books as well), the nature of truth, the truth behind diaries and the complications of unreliable narrators (everyone has accepted Anne's diary as fact but she was a very young, very imaginative girl, and who's to say that everything in her diary occurred in exactly that manner and that we aren't getting a skewed version?) We were impressed with yet another holocaust novel that manages to come up with a fresh and new angle on the tragedy. There was one dropped plot thread (although it could have been an intentional red herring, we're not sure) and some people thought the ending was a little too neatly wrapped up, but those were minor critiques of what was otherwise a really wonderful novel.

I bought this book at B&N.

Teaser Tuesdays: Margot

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Margot by Jillian Cantor p. 10

"Friday nights, I always light a candle at sundown and say a silent prayer. Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha'olam...

"Words repeat themselves in my brain, even though Margie Franklin, she is a Gentile."

What is the difference between religion and ritual? Can you have one without the other? What pieces of yourself make up the essence of you? How many parts can you suppress without losing yourself?

Monday, December 23, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places by Mary Roach

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
The Great Santini by Pat Conroy (reread) I might be giving up on this one soon.

Up next:
Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
1775: A Good Year for Revolution by Kevin Phillips
The Good House by Ann Leary

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Book Review: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

Back in 2001 or 2002, I went to the New Yorker Festival of Books and I heard Sherman Alexie do a reading. I HATE short stories and yet he was so riveting that I bought this, his short story collection. And then it sat on my shelf for more than ten years because I seriously hate short stories. Finally, I decided to give it a shot. Partly short stories were on my mind this year because Ann Kingman declared this the year of the short story on Books on the Nightstand and I guess after twelve months of hearing about it, it sunk in. Also last month my book club read a Louise Erdrich novel and many of the members said they preferred Alexie's portrayal of Native Americans.

In order to try to help the stories not blend together, I read just one per night. With this particular collection, I'm not sure that was as necessary, as the stories all take place in the same place (the Spokane Reservation in Washington State) and a lot of the same characters (Victor, Junior, Thomas) recur. In that regard, it reminded me a great deal of Hemingway's In Our Time.

With lots of talk of BIA agents, fancydancing, dreams and storytelling, I definitely felt the Native American vibe. At the same time, it was very accessible, felt very modern and contemporary, despite being  twenty years old. It didn't feel at all foreign and the dreams weren't distancing as they sometimes are for me in other books. I did enjoy it very much. It had a great deal of humor, although with an undercurrent of sadness and occasional desperation. On the one hand, I appreciated the Native American way of not judging--letting people do what they are going to do. On the other hand, that did certainly seem to lead to several unfortunate situations. I never felt like I got a handle on the characters, but that also didn't feel like a deal-breaker at all. Just getting a general feel seemed to work just fine.

I was intrigued to read some of Mr. Alexie's work, and after this book, I think I will look for his acclaimed YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

I bought this book at the New Yorker Festival of Books 10+ years ago.

Friday, December 20, 2013

2013 Reading Challenges Wrap-Up

This year I tried to reduce the reading challenges I participated in as 2012 had felt too restrictive. But I think I overcorrected. I have signed up for more in 2014. But the first one, the Genre Variety, was tough. I only squeaked it out!

2013 Reading challenges

2013 Genre Variety Reading Challenge

The challenge is to read books from different genres throughout the year. I have found that blogging has opened my eyes to so many genres that I would never have tried before, simply from recommendations, and the idea of this challenge is to keep that going. The challenge is to read a large variety of genres within one year.

Other Important Info:
Runs from January 1st 2013 until December 31st 2013. Sign ups will be open until December 1st 2013.
The genres you choose to read are up to you. As long as every book is different, whichever genre you wish to read you can.
Any book formats are accepted.
Novellas and Novels are all accepted for this challenge.
YA, NA and Adult books all count towards this challenge.
New sub-genres are accepted. (for example, paranormal-romance, or historical-romance)
Level: Champion: 30 different genres, 30 books

One thing I have been known to brag about, is how widely I read. I read books on topics as wildly divergent as oranges, tennis, economics, and so this challenge is tailor-made for me. That said, I do want it to be a bit of a challenge and last year I read roughly 22 different categories without trying (although the Nonfiction challenge probably helped a little, but most of the books I read for that were history) so I'm going for the top level and aiming for 30 books. I hope I'm not biting off more than I can chew here!

1. My Own Country: A Doctor's Story by Abraham Verghese MEMOIR
2. The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin LITERARY FICTION
3. Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog ANIMALS
4. The Art Forger by Barbara Shapiro CONTEMPORARY FICTION
5. Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard HISTORY

6. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell FANTASY
7. Now That I Know by Norma Klein YOUNG ADULT
8. American Ghost by Janis Owens SOUTHERN LIT

9. Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case by Debbie Nathan PSYCHOLOGY
10. Judging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere by Lauren Leto ESSAYS
11. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn THRILLER
12. Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani HISTORICAL FICTION
13. The Flatiron by Alice Sparberg Alexiou ARCHITECTURE
14. Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim CELEBRITY MEMOIR
15. Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly LEGAL THRILLER
16. Titanic Thompson by Kevin Cook BIOGRAPHY
17. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline SCIENCE FICTION
18. Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong POP CULTURE
19. Jeneration X by Jen Lancaster HUMOR
20. The Wedding Girl by Madeleine Wickham CHICK LIT
21. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg BUSINESS

22. The Bride by Julie Garwood ROMANCE
23. Boleto by Alyson Hagy WESTERN
24. The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely ECONOMICS
25. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach SCIENCE
26. Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan FEMINISM
27. Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol SOCIOLOGY
28. Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer's Guide to Getting It Right by Bill Bryson REFERENCE
29. The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases
by Michael Capuzzo TRUE CRIME
30. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh GRAPHIC NOVEL

30/30 by 12/8/2013 DONE!

Wrap-up: This was a serious challenge, but I'm glad I picked 30 because otherwise it would have been pretty easy, given my usual variety. I certainly did pick a couple of books (the romance, the true crime, the reference) that are not in my usual milieu, solely in order to help with this challenge, but they turned out pretty decent and it was nice to take something I normally do - read widely - and push it further so I was a little outside of my comfort zone.

2013 Mount TBR Reading Challenge

Challenge Level: Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR piles

The rules:
*Once you choose your challenge level, you are locked in for at least that many books. If you find that you're on a mountain-climbing roll and want to tackle a taller mountain, then you are certainly welcome to upgrade.
*Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2013.
*Books must be owned by you prior to January 1, 2013. No ARCs (none), no library books. No rereads. [The intention is to reduce the stack of books that you have bought for yourself or received as presents. Audiobooks and E-books may count if they are yours and they are one of your primary sources of backlogged books.]
*You may count any "currently reading" book that you begin prior to January 1--provided that you had 50% or more of the book left to finish in 2013.
*Books may be used to count for other challenges as well.

Carin: My TBR shelves are getting pretty full, not to mention that I am supposed to be on a budget and not spending tons of money on new books. I didn't pick a larger target though because I am also doing the...

1. My Own Country: A Doctor's Story by Abraham Verghese
2. Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog
3. Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

4. Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case by Debbie Nathan 
5. Happens Every Day: An All-Too-True Story by Isabel Gillies
6. Getting In by Karen Stabiner
7. Judging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere by Lauren Leto
8. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
9. The Flatiron by Alice Sparberg Alexiou
10. My Life as Laura: How I Searched for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Found Myself by Kelly Kathleen Ferguson
11. Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated by Alison Arngrim
12. Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line by Martha A. Sandweiss
13. Hospital: Man, Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity, Plus Red Tape, Bad Behavior, Money, God, and Diversity on Steroids by Julie Salamon
14. The Group by Mary McCarthy
15. Still Alice by Lisa Genova 
16. Life With Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
17. The Bride by Julie Garwood
18. Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Changed America by Les Standiford
19. The Eight by Katherine Neville
20. Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol
21. Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer's Guide to Getting It Right by Bill Bryson
22. The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases by Michael Capuzzo
23. My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir by Noelle Hancock
24. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

24/24 by 12/20/2013 DONE!

Wrap-up: This challenge took me the longest to complete, which shows how necessary it was for me. Doing it in conjunction with the one below was particularly hard, but I really buy a lot of new books (and borrow and check out etc.) when I already have an absolute ton of books in my house (well, a half-ton according to the movers last time I moved.) On the one hand I want to catch up, but on the other hand, too many great new books are coming out! I need to somehow start reading 200+ books a year if I want to ever have a shot at getting to even.

Library Books Reading Challenge 2013

Our love of reading can be expensive! Not only are we purchasing books but we also need space to keep them. I've started using the library (again) but couldn't find a challenge to help me. Here it is. There are a number of levels, for those who don't have a library card yet to those that live there. Enjoy!

*choose a level - you may move up as needed, just not down.
*check books out of the library
*books may overlap with other challenges
*any format allowed (print, ebook, audio)
*reviews are not necessary but a list of books read is.

Level: chapter book - 12

Carin: Speaking of being on a book budget, I've been trying to use the library more. I am there twice a month anyway for volunteering, why not check out books? I have started using the request system more as the books I want aren't always on the shelf, but that doesn't mean I should go buy them or do without.

1. The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
2. Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan
3. The Art Forger by Barbara Shapiro
4. Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall
5. American Ghost by Janis Owens
6. 38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End by Scott W. Berg
7. Don't Know Much About Mythology by Kenneth C. Davis (audio book)
8. Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani

9. Wild by Cheryl Strayed (audio book)
10. Boleto by Alyson Hagy
11. When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins
12. Season of the Witch by Mariah Fredericks
12/12 by 11/22/2013 DONE!

Wrap-up: This is the challenge I am happiest about. I was stupidly going to the library every other week and never, ever checking anything out. And yet there were books, especially for book club, that I was forced to read, didn't like, and resented buying. Why on earth wasn't I checking those out? And why was I always waiting a year for the paperback to come out when I could check out and read a book right away? Hopefully I will continue to use the library regularly.

Book Beginnings: Margot

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Margot by Jillian Cantor

"The third day of April 1959 seems, at first, just like any other Friday of my American life."

Margot/Margie doesn't immigrate to America for the usual "American dream" reasons, looking for success or roads paved with gold. She was looking to reinvent herself and escape her past.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Book Review: My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places by Mary Roach

I was looking for a humorous, easy read, and this book perfectly fit the bill. Which was a tad surprising as I am used to reading Mary Roach as a science writer, albeit a very funny one. Turns out she's also been writing a Reader's Digest column and this book compiles them. And there is nary a hint of science among them (except when she called a contact at NASA to prove her husband wrong about All-Clad pans.)

These essays cover a range of topics but mostly they're about amusing disagreements with her husband and the everyday minor trials of daily life. I especially enjoyed the essay about how her husband forces her to read with a book light since he goes to sleep earlier, and I read the first bit aloud to my husband, who was adjusting his face mask and ear plugs, and my book was lit by the book light he insists I use! I of course figured we weren't alone in that conflict but it was particularly funny to be reading it at the exact moment I was also acting it out.

If you're looking for Ms. Roach's deep dives into fascinating and slightly disgusting topics, you won't find any of that here. But if you want short diversions on topics such as the self-checkout at Home Depot and driving to Yosemite with extended family, this book is a cute and fun way to pass a few hours.

I bought this book at my local independent bookstore, Park Road Books.

Negative Reviews?

I just read an article in the Huffington Post about why we don't need negative reviews, and I have to say I disagree. It's not only that I agree with Maureen Dowd that to only post positives is to act as a marketing shill for the publishers, but I also think that it proves the reviewer's objectivity which yes, is often in question. Personally, I have found negative reviews to be of great help in the past. When I used to select books for major retailers, they had strict guidelines to adhere to and often books that did not meet those, (suggested punishments instead of only praise for training dogs, claimed to be an organic cookbook but suggested brands of food known for using GMOs) I found out about the issues in the negative reviews. I also think that I am entitled to my opinion. And I know it likely won't deter many people from reading The Ask, but I truly hated it and if someone has very similar tastes to mine, I hope to prevent them from the torture I found that book to be. I am not writing a negative review to hurt Sam Lipsyte's feelings; in fact I doubt he cares at all about my opinion, but I did not like the book at all and I can say so.

Now it's true that I am simply writing for my own blog and that is different than reviewing for a media outlet, however I think even then, readers are entitled to be forewarned when a mystery introduces the killer in the second-to-last chapter, when a romance novel doesn't have a happy ending, or when a history book will put you to sleep with poor research. Reviews are done in the service of readers, not authors or publishers, and so an occasional warning is a good thing.

Also, what some people might think of as a good review, can be bad to others. I personally know I have several red flags that will make me drop a book like a hot potato and run away screaming, and they will surprise you. They include the words lyrical, poetic, atmospheric, and earnest. They include comparisons to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, David Mitchell, or Arundhat Roy. A reviewer might love a book and use a lot of the above adjectives, compare it to Charles Frazier or William Faulkner, and I'll be gagging into the nearest trashcan. So even when we think we've written a positive review, it might be taken as negative by some people. Since there's no way to prevent that, why should we dissemble and pretend to like everything? Just be straightforward, leave the author out of it, and talk about why you didn't like it (no fair saying you hate a book without backing it up) and who knows--one person's negative review might be another's positive. I do have a friend whose book tastes are so opposite to mine that I have read books specifically because she told me she hated them.

As long as a review is honest and fair, I think there's plenty of room for negative reviews in the world.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Answer to the Riddle Is Me

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Answer to the Riddle Is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia by David Stuart MacLean

Synopsis from Goodreads:
On October 17, 2002, David MacLean “woke up” on a train platform in India with no idea who he was or why he was there. No money. No passport. No identity.

Taken to a mental hospital by the police, MacLean then started to hallucinate so severely he had to be tied down. Soon he could remember song lyrics, but not his family, his friends, or the woman he was told he loved. All of these symptoms, it turned out, were the result of the commonly prescribed malarial medication he had been taking. Upon his return to the States, he struggled to piece together the fragments of his former life in a harrowing, absurd, and unforgettable journey back to himself.

The Answer to the Riddle Is Me, drawn from David MacLean’s award-winning This American Life essay,is a deeply felt, closely researched, and intensely personal book. It asks every reader to confront the essential questions of our age: In our geographically and chemically fluid world, what makes me who I am? And how much can be stripped away before I become someone else entirely?

Publishing January 14, 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Book Review: Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

I found this topic fascinating. How do children who are significantly different from their parents--who are deaf, little people, gay, or have autism or schizophrenia, etc.--find their cohort and identify with them more than their own families. I have watched documentaries on deaf culture, and I watch Little People, Big World and The Little Couple, and I have a schizophrenic aunt, so I found the topic particularly fascinating.

I found in the early chapters, regarding deafness and dwarfism, that his hypothesis rang perfectly true. People with those issues often do feel closer to others with the same issue than they do to their parents and siblings. However, with subsequent chapters, it didn't hold up as well. With autism severe disabilities, the parents form a cohort with parents dealing with similar issues in their children, but the children don't. There aren't conferences and colleges and social clubs for people with autism or schizophrenia. And after that, it fell apart even further, as parents of children with schizophrenia often don't know there's an issue until the child is in their late teens or twenties, and so while there is still a great deal of responsibility and worry and searching for medical assistance, the parents don't band together the way they do when trying to find the right school situation for their child. And with children of rape, the children often don't know, and the mothers often hide the trauma, the opposite of seeking out a peer group. Child prodigies also didn't seem to have much peer relations, nor their parents, nor did transgendered children.

While the concept that there are children who turn out radically different and might have more in common with people with similar issues than their parents is born out by the book, that they do actually have cohorts that they are aware of and participate in, does not. And as the book is insanely long (although it was a fast read), I would have thought the author would be better off focusing his topic more narrowly, so only include groups that fall into his thesis and therefore also write a book with a more approachable length.

Now the other groups, the ones that don't agree with the book's thesis, are fascinating nonetheless and I did thoroughly enjoy the book. I learned a ton, and I was inspired by the families dealing with severe disabilities, confused about what is best for the parents of deaf children and little people, and my heart broke for the children of rape and their mothers. I would recommend the book, but just be aware that it's more a book just about differences between children and parents and how very different differences can result in very different coping methods, support, or lack thereof. If he had been a lot less insistent of his hypothesis in the introductory chapter, the book would have been a lot stronger. Or, again, perhaps broken into smaller books where the groups were arranged more by commonalities.

The writing was masterful, the research was extensive but not intrusive, and the stories were stunning. I greatly admire Mr. Solomon as a writer.

I bought this book at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, from Parnassus Books.

Teaser Tuesdays: Far from the Tree

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon p. 38

"Bewildered doctors and uncomprehending parents often question disabled people who reject the latest procedures and devices. Those disabled people, however, may be angered by the prospect of interventions that would make them function more like nondisabled people without mitigating the hard reality of their disabling condition."

It could be even harder to no longer have an obvious marker that alerts strangers that you might not function as perfectly as a typical person, but really who does function perfectly? Mr. Solomon does, I think, give a very balanced perspective of devices and medical interventions that can make a certain type of people extinct, and why that would be controversial.

Monday, December 16, 2013

On Rereading... and Disappointment.

I used to be a massive rereader as a child, but that was mostly due to not being allowed (or having the money) to buy as many books I wanted (or check them out of the library) so I reread because I had nothing left to read. Once I was an adult and started to out-purchase my reading ability, I mostly stopped, with a few exceptions (Laura Ingalls Wilder and Norma Klein being the big ones). In the last few years, I have made a concerted effort to reread a few classics such as The Cricket in Times Square, Pride & Prejudice, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and The Joy Luck Club. It's been a mostly-fun experience as I get to relive wonderful moments from my past and reread beloved books. But recently, I am reconsidering.

I just reread Summer Sisters by Judy Blume. It was okay. I really can see how my 24-year-old self loved it, but it is not geared towards 39-year-olds. In fact, some parts of it now annoy me, and I didn't like how it perpetuates certain expectations, like marrying one's high school boyfriend (or summer love), as if they are realistic or even good ideas, and how out of college everyone gets "real" job right away without out time working retail or waiting tables. I think it sets up unreasonably high expectations and slightly unhealthy ones for readers in their early-20s. But I was okay with the book, given that I am no longer its target audience and it still held my attention and was a fast read.

And now I am trying to reread The Great Santini by Pat Conroy. I admit, I was worried about this book. While I loved Mr. Conroy's early novels, I was not blown away by his last two. I was hoping that he had fallen into that bestseller trap of being too big for his britches and not taking editing (and/or being assigned to a very junior editor who was too cowed to do much editing.) But I heard from several friends that they loved those two novels, which made me worry that the issue isn't a change in his writing, but a change in what I like. Still, I loved his two earlier memoirs and he has a brand-new one out that I've been dying to read. It is a non-fiction version of The Great Santini called The Death of Santini, and finally tells the truth of his abusive asshole of a father. So I thought rereading the earlier novel that covers the same territory was a good idea before reading the memoir. And I am sad to report I am having a very hard time.

I am finding the book to be rambling, wordy, overly-descriptive, and I am struggling. It is not reading fast. I fell asleep while reading it on the plane. I am postponing picking it up each night. I am just about half-way through and I see it taking me another full week to finally finish it. Do I keep going? Do I give up? And if I give up, do I not read The Death of Santini? What does it say about me that I used to love this book and I don't anymore? It makes me doubt and question my taste. This is what I have always feared about rereading.

I have a shelf of books that I have hung onto through multiple moves, multiple purges, and Pat Conroy's books have always had a place on that shelf. I am now considering adding them all to my pile for the book swap I'm going to next month, along with Summer Sisters. It's sad to me. It's like letting go of a part of me. I know there's an argument to be made for growing, evolving, and having more mature taste, but I wanted to think that they truly favorite books would stand the test of time.

On the other hand, it isn't a bad thing to make space on my bookshelves. I could certainly use it. But I am now VERY reluctant to reread anything else. I was planning to reread a Jane Austen over Christmas but now I think I won't. There's no way I'll feel the same way about Persuasion or Emma, but I just don't feel strong enough to take the chance. I should probably be thankful it's taken so long for me to run across rereads that have truly disappointed me, but it feels like a real loss.

Book Review: Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

I wanted to reread a book I loved once upon a time and see if it held up, and as I was looking through my saved books to decide, this one jumped out at me although initially it wasn't on my radar at all as a possibility. I remember loving it when it came out, loving all Judy Blume books I've read, in fact, and recently I'd used it as a comparison when talking about Jill McCorkle's Ferris Beach but afterwards I wasn't sure if my comparison held up, having read both books so long ago.

And while I did enjoy my reread, I don't feel like the book held up to my memories of it. I think it really resonated with me as the characters are 24-29 (mostly 24) in the beginning and end of the narrative, and that's about how old I was when I read it. It was also about a troubled friendship, and those first few years after college are rough on friendships as I was learning. Friends grow apart, disappear, change, and new friends are harder to come by.

At the beginning of the novel, Vix gets a phone call at work from her Caitlin, her "summer sister," telling Vix that Caitlin is about to get married and asking Vix to be her maid of honor. Then I am unclear if the middle part of the book is a giant flashback, or if the first second of the book is a foreshadowing, but either way we go back to when Vix and Caitlin are twelve and Caitlin first asks Vix to join her in Martha's Vineyard for the summer. The both live in Sante Fe and Vix has never seen the ocean and prospects for that aren't good. She's the oldest of four kids of working-poor parents, the youngest having muscular dystrophy which has strained the already tough family situation. Vix feels guilty about this advantage but her parents encourage her to take it (although partly to get her out of the house and to have one less mouth to feed for the summer). She gets to know Caitlin's brother and father, his new wife, her son, and his friend. Eventually, Vix is almost like family herself. And during those summers on the Vineyard, she falls in love with an older boy named Bru, and has a long relationship with him. Caitlin's father and step-mother arrange a scholarship for Vix to go to the same boarding school as Caitlin (who bitchily doesn't want to be friends with Vix during the school year) and later help her both get into and pay for Harvard.

Vix and Caitlin's relationship is complicated. Vix feels like the poor relation, which is even worse when you're not related. Caitlin is wild and Vix can't always rein her in. Caitlin is competitive although Vix doesn't want to compete with her. Caitlin thinks her father and step-mother prefer Vix to her and uncontrollably proceeds to sabotage all her important relationships. How far does friendship stretch? You want to be there for your friend, even when she's trying to push you away as that's often when she needs you the most, but when is enough, enough? How far can she push you before you need to take the hint and walk away? When is self-protection more important than your best friend?

What I wasn't crazy about was the way early adulthood was portrayed. Vix and Bru started dating when she was only 17 and when she graduated from college, everyone expected them to marry, and no one really said anything about how that could possibly be a bad idea (except Caitlin's step-mother once, briefly.) Also Caitlin and her two roommates who all moved to New York, all pretty quickly found "real" jobs. True, her friend on Wall Street did lose her job in the crash of 1987, but she then decided to go to law school (and how she paid for the ten months of living expenses in between wasn't mentioned.) No one was struggling to find real work, no one was waitressing or working retail. That wasn't my experience on my early twenties at all, and it felt like a middle-aged person's idea of what being in your early twenties is like.

I also didn't like that throughout the novel there are one-page sections where other characters tell their side of the story. Way too many minor characters were allowed these, they didn't tell you much (how could they in one page?), and they didn't serve to move the narrative along. The only ones that gave me any info I wasn't already getting from Vix's POV were the ones from Caitlin's step-brother's friend, and I even could have done without those as they foreshadowed the ending so much that I wasn't in the least bit surprised.

That said, I did like Vix's back story even if there wasn't much interaction with her family. He younger brother (not the one with muscular dystrophy) really could have vanished without me noticing. I liked that Vix's success didn't automatically make her family's situation improve. That unrealistic situation seems to happen a lot in fiction.

I also really liked Vix and Caitlin as well-drawn, complicated characters. Caitlin in particular was very compelling, and it's easy to see why Vix would feel drawn to her despite all the red-flags warning "accident ahead!" Who among us can look away from a car crash?

The book is full of drama, it speeds along without looking to the right or left, full steam ahead. It is a great book for a young adult to read. I know it's touted as an "adult" book, because Vix does grow up and I think at the end she's about 29, but in the bulk of the book she's a teenager and I think the portrayal of the life of a twenty-something is very idealized and what a teenager wants to imagine "the real world" to be like. It is also full of black-and-white situations, which again is a rather juvenile way of looking at the world, perfect for teens. I think the ending in particular makes me feel that way. While the ending works and fits with the personalities and didn't feel forced, at the same time, it seemed like Caitlin was punished for her transgressions of being a wild child. I think if the ending had been different and Caitlin's decisions turned out to be equally valid (if very different) options than her friends had made and than her parents wanted for her, I would have appreciated that more. It would have been more complex, if harder to accept. But that actually is how life does turn out a lot of the time. The misguided people in the world frequently do not learn the lessons from life that we think they should and it would have been a more interesting ending.

Rereading is risky. While I didn't love this book nearly enough now as I did initially, it wasn't disappointing. It indicated to me how my tastes have gotten more sophisticated, and I can see how this book would have really resonated with me back then. It was the right book at the right time, but now I am too old for it.

Who knows where I got this book, possibly at Bookstar or Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville, but I've owned it for almost 15 years.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh
My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir by Noelle Hancock

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
The Great Santini by Pat Conroy

Up next:
Mennonite Meets Mr. Right: A Memoir of Faith, Hope, and Love by Rhoda Janzen
Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Friday, December 13, 2013

Book Review: Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

I never know what to call these books. People refer to them as "graphic novels" even though it isn't a novel - it's nonfiction. I think I will go with graphic memoir. But it has a lot more straight text than other graphic memoirs I've read.

I have seen Ms. Brosh's blog, but I was never a regular follower. I know I saw a couple of the posts about her dogs, one that is very dumb and the other that is borderline psychotic. (And to the meanies out there who claim she's just incompetent at training them, I lived with a very dumb and very sweet dog for about ten years - she belonged to my sister - and when a dog can't successfully learn her name or be 100% paper trained in the house, you really have no hope at things like "sit" and "heel" or even "no.") And the post about her eating her grandfather's birthday cake. But they were just as good the second time around.

I loved the book. I just kept picking it up in spare moments and read it in just a few hours. I laughed out loud several times, and was very sad/worried in others. And that was also my biggest problem with the book - the tone of the essays varied wildly. I felt I was ricocheting off of walls. I wish the overall tone has been more consistent. Other personal essayists that I read do manage it (David Sedaris for one, although he is such a master it's perhaps an unfair comparison. But he does manage to have both essays about weddings and his mother's death in the same book that flow seamlessly, thanks to his unrelenting snarkiness.) I think perhaps some transitional language between the essays might have helped, or maybe grouping them by theme. Instead they seemed randomly sorted.

That said, it was my only complaint. I loved the impression of the different-colored paper (I'm pretty sure it was just full-colored white paper but I loved it). Her illustrations are just so batty and winsome. It's amazing how her picture of herself, which is so odd and simple and childlike, can give off such expression and emotion with just eyes and a mouth. And then you see in her illustrations of her dogs and occasional other things/people that she truly does have drawing ability and her simplistic child-like portrayal of herself is purposeful.

If you already love Allie Brosh, you will like this a lot (there's no new material though so it will be retreads for you) and if you just have seen her around ("CLEAN ALL THE THINGS!"), you will love it. If you have no idea who she is, but think this sounds amusing, you must go for it. But be warned there is a large section about her depression and another section where she figures out how shitty she really is, that aren't funny. But most of the rest of the book is.

I bought this at my local independent bookstore, Park Road Books.

Book Beginnings: Far from the Tree

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

"There is no such thing as reproduction. When two people decide to have a baby, they engage in an act of production, and the widespread use of the word reproduction for this activity, with its implication that two people are but braiding themselves together, is at best a euphemism to comfort prospective parents before they get in over their heads."

I'm not sure I agree with this. It IS a combination of the two parents, even if it results in a child they don't recognize like the ones Mr. Solomon features in his book. Production, to me, sounds more deliberate, like one could add certain ingredients and exclude others.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Trip to Echo Spring

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Laing

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Why is it that some of the greatest works of literature have been produced by writers in the grip of alcoholism, an addiction that cost them personal happiness and caused harm to those who loved them? In The Trip to Echo Spring, Olivia Laing examines the link between creativity and alcohol through the work and lives of six extraordinary men: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever and Raymond Carver.

All six of these writers were alcoholics, and the subject of drinking surfaces in some of their finest work, from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to A Moveable Feast. Often they did their drinking together - Hemingway and Fitzgerald ricocheting through the caf├ęs of 1920s Paris; Carver and Cheever speeding to the liquor store in Iowa in the icy winter of 1973.

Olivia Laing grew up in an alcoholic family herself. One spring, wanting to make sense of this ferocious, entangling disease, she took a journey across America that plunged her into the heart of these overlapping lives. As she travels from Cheever's New York to Williams' New Orleans, from Hemingway's Key West to Carver's Port Angeles, she pieces together a topographical map of alcoholism, from the horrors of addiction to the miraculous possibilities of recovery. Beautiful, captivating and original, The Trip to Echo Spring strips away the myth of the alcoholic writer to reveal the terrible price creativity can exert.

Publishing December 31, 2013 by Picador.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Reading Challenges 2014!

2014 Chunkster Reading Challenge

Wondering what’s a chunkster? A chunkster is an adult book, non-fiction or fiction, that’s 450 pages or more.

Rules for this challenge:
Audio books and e-books are now allowed. You want to listen to a chunkster on audio? Be my guest.
Essay, short story, and poetry collections are allowed but they have to be read in their entirety to count.
Books may crossover with other challenges.
Graphic novels don’t count. Sorry guys but reading a chunkster graphic novel isn’t the same as reading a non-graphic chunkster.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about the levels of participation that have always been a part of this challenge. This year we’re going to try something new: there won’t be any levels. Don’t get me wrong. This is still a reading challenge. Challenge yourself without being locked in to a certain number. If you didn’t read any chunksters in 2013 and want to change that in 2014, come up with a number and try to read that amount.

Carin says:
I really missed the Chunkster Challenge this year so I will certainly be signing up for that one again. Plus, I read 8 books in 2013 that qualify so it's not like when I didn't do the challenge I stopped reading chunksters. For 2014 since I have a lot of challenges and don't want to overextend myself, I'm going to aim for 6. I plan to start either Les Miserables or The Power Broker before the end of the year, but I won't finish them until 2014, to start the year off right!

2014 What's In A Name Reading Challenge

The challenge runs from January to December. During this time you choose a book to read from each of the following categories (examples of books you could choose are in brackets):

A reference to time (Eleven Minutes, Before Ever After)
A position of royalty (The People’s Queen, The Last Empress, The Curse Of The Pharaoh)
A number written in letters (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, A Tale Of Two Cities)
A forename or names (Rebecca, Eleanor & Park, The Unfinished Work Of Elizabeth D.)
A type or element of weather (Gone With The Wind, Red Earth Pouring Rain)
Remember the titles I’ve given here are only examples, you can by all means use them if you want to – some are classics after all – but it’s not necessary. There are plenty of other books that will fit the categories and you may have some in mind already or even some on your shelves you can read.

Extra information:
Books can be any format (print, audio, ebook).
It’s preferred that the books don’t overlap with other challenges, but not a requirement at all.
Books cannot overlap categories (for instance my first example, Eleven Minutes, could be used for category 1 or 3 but not both).
Creativity for matching the categories is not only allowed, it’s encouraged!
You don’t have to make your list of books beforehand, you can choose them as you go.
You don’t have to read your chosen books in any particular order.

Carin says:
This challenges has always intrigued and scared me. So I checked the list of categories this year, and against my books from 2013 and 2012 I would have succeeded without trying, so I think I will give it a shot this year. I like the randomness of it.

Full House Reading Challenge 2014

Challenge will run from Jan 1st to December 31st 2014
Books may cross over from other challenges that you are doing.
If someone completes a full house and would like to complete another, that is fine too, and would mean two entries at the end of the year.

The Challenge:
Complete the card below. You can do it in any order you wish. You are allowed "one free exchange", if there is something on the square you really dislike you may change it to something of your choice. Once you have played this free card that is it. Mention the exchange in the final summary post.

Carin says:
I like the diversity here. Some are almost too easy, but that's a nice counterbalance to some other challenges that are more... challenging. I anticipate the "paranormal or SF or dystopian" category as giving me the most trouble although. thankfully, my book club does try to read one SF/fantasy book each year, so I except that's how I'll squeak that category out. Also the "book with an animal in it" isn't something that I seek out, but I think this category can be covered by a minor character, like if I read The Thin Man, I would count Asta the dog. I don't think I need to read an actual dog book to cover this category.

Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge 2014

About the Challenge:
I started the Mental Illness Advocacy (MIA) Reading Challenge in December 2010 in an effort to raise awareness, knowledge, and acceptance of mental illness. Reading, both fiction and nonfiction, is an excellent way to broaden one’s horizons and expose one to new ideas and ways of thinking and being. I hope reading and reviewing books featuring characters struggling to deal with mental illness, whether their own or another person’s, will help remove the stigma faced on a daily basis by those with a mental illness. They already have to struggle with an illness; they shouldn't have to face a stigma too.

What Books Count?
Any book, fiction or nonfiction, that is either about mental illness or features characters or real people with a mental illness counts for the challenge. However, the book must not demonize people with mental illnesses.
So, for example, the movie Fatal Attraction, which features a character with Borderline Personality Disorder, would not count since she is demonized in the movie. However, Girl Interrupted, which also features a character with Borderline Personality Disorder, would count since that character is presented as a three-dimensional person with good and bad traits.

Challenge Levels:
Acquainted–4 books
Aware–8 books
Advocate–12 books

Carin says:
I read a lot of these types of books already and have a ton on my shelves, particularly regarding addiction. And with Jordan hopefully starting a MSW program next fall, I expect mental health issues will be even more of a conversation topic, so I need to keep up! I read at least 13 books last year that would have qualified, although I don't know how books about sociopaths and psychopaths can't demonize them. But I will sign up for Advocate-12, the top level. I might have bitten off more than I can chew here, but we'll see.

State by State in 2014

Ever thought you would like to read your way across America?
The USA Fiction Challenge asks you to do just that.
Read just one novel from each state - you choose whether the link is the setting or the author.
You choose whether you confine yourself to a particular genre or not.

Carin says:
What I plan to do is extend this challenge over multiple years. I am picking setting (I think often where an author's from is wildly irrelevant to a book) and I am not confining myself to a genre. I would be hard-pressed to read 50 books all set in different states during one year, but also some books (nonfiction in particular) just aren't set in any state at all, some states are way over-represented (NY!) so are hard to avoid repeats, and it would decrease the number of international books so much, that it would feel like a hardship. Not to mention that some of the upper Midwest and west states are going to be very hard. I am kicking myself for having already read Bad Land. So I am going to aim to finish this over the next three years. I will start off strong but late in 2017 I expect to be struggling to find states like Idaho. If I get more than 35 done in 2014, then I will aim to finish in two years.

Book Review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

I am in two book clubs which isn't exactly a choice (one is enough for me) but I did have some serendipity this month when both of them chose the same book! And while I wasn't bowled over by The Round House, it certainly does have a ton of discussable topics and themes. I did like it well enough, although I'm finding that with analysis, my liking of the book is dropping.

Joe is a 13-year-old boy helping his father, a tribal judge, around their house on the reservation when they realize Joe's mother should have been home hours ago from running to work to get a file. They go looking for her but she ends up back at home, bloody and in shock. She was attacked and raped. And because she doesn't know precisely where this took place, as the area has tribal, federal, and state land all meeting together, it's impossible to determine jurisdiction. So the rapist is going to go free.

Joe (and his friends) decide to investigate and try to find out what happened, who did it, and what can be done about it. They do figure out some things, and then they cross a point of no return.

Where is the line between vengeance and justice? Are there different kinds of evil? Does all evil have to be paid for? These are just a few of the juicy topics that can be explored. But we got bogged down in my book clubs with the way that Ms. Erdrich shoehorned in a lot of the Native American culture, such as Joe's grandfather telling him a very pertinent story... in his sleep, coherently, over two consecutive nights, picking up exactly where he left off! Also there was a pow-wow with elaborate dress and dancing that all sounded cool, but turned out to be just a distraction that allowed Joe to steal a gun, and once he did so, the pow-wow was no longer important. We also had issues with the voice of Joe changing. The premise sets up that Joe now, around age 40 and a judge himself, is telling us about what happened back in 1987 when he was 13, but the 13-year-old voice sometimes sounded way too mature, and there was definite slippage between the two. Also Joe's aunt is a big part of the Sonja until she just vanishes about 1/4 from the end. It is mentioned at the very end that she's coming back, but her role felt uneven to me. And of course I am always bothered when an author doesn't use quotation marks. I really wish this stupid convention would stop. Not using quotation marks doesn't automatically make your book literary! Just hard to read!

All this said, I did enjoy it. It starts off slow but then the mystery kicks in and while the revelations are all so set up that they seem obvious, it still kept me turning the pages. But in retrospect, I'm liking it less.

I bought this at my local independent bookstore, Park Road Books.