Saturday, April 30, 2016

The “School Made Me Do It” Book Haul

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. I get to show off all the books I’ve gotten recently. I’m technically still on a book-buying ban, but it’s really hard to maintain that ban at the beginnings of semesters because school forces a reading list upon me. So, here’s what I’ll be reading in the next few weeks. I’m not hugely optimistic that I will love all of them, but let me know if you’ve read any of these.

Travels in Vermeer: A Memoir – Michael White

A lyrical and intimate account of how a poet in the midst of a bad divorce finds consolation and grace through viewing the paintings of Vermeer in six world cities. In the midst of a divorce (in which the custody of his young daughter is at stake) and over the course of a year, the poet Michael White travels to Amsterdam, The Hague, Delft, London, Washington, and New York to view the paintings of Johannes Vermeer, an artist obsessed with romance and the inner life.  He is astounded by how consoling it is to look closely at Vermeer’s women, at the artist’s relationship to his subjects, and at how composition reflects back to the viewer such deep feeling. Through these travels and his encounters with Vermeer’s radiant vision, White finds grace and personal transformation.

Saving Wonder – Mary Knight

Having lost most of his family to coal-mining accidents as a little boy, Curley Hines lives with his grandfather in the Appalachian Mountains of Wonder Gap, Kentucky. Ever since Curley can remember, Papaw has been giving him a word each week to learn and live. Papaw says words are Curley's way out of the holler, even though Curley has no intention of ever leaving. 
When a new coal boss takes over the local mining company, life as Curley knows it is turned upside down. Suddenly, his best friend, Jules, is interested in the coal boss's son, and worse, the mining company threatens to destroy Curley and Papaw's mountain. Now Curley faces a difficult choice. Does he use his words to speak out against Big Coal and save his mountain, or does he remain silent and save his way of life?

The Lover – Marguerite Duras

Set in the prewar Indochina of Marguerite Duras’s childhood, this is the haunting tale of a tumultuous affair between an adolescent French girl and her Chinese lover. In spare yet luminous prose, Duras evokes life on the margins of Saigon in the waning days of France’s colonial empire, and its representation in the passionate relationship between two unforgettable outcasts.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

April Currently . . .

Here’s what I’ve been doing in April. I’ve decided to switch up a few of the categories because the old ones were getting boring.

I’m Currently . . .

Reading: A Guide to being Born by Ramona Ausubel.

Listening to: Spirits by The Strumbellas and Giants by Matt Nathanson. I think both of these songs are extremely well-written. Check them out if you haven’t heard them yet.

Stalking: Falconer’s Library. Wendy writes really good posts, and her blog needs more love. Go follow it. 

Eating: Low-fat pudding. I want to lose weight, but life’s not worth living without chocolate.

Blogging: I’ve been experimenting with my book reviews. Have you noticed that some of the recent ones are slightly longer and include a tiny bit more discussion of the books’ themes? I have a theory that nobody actually reads long reviews on blogs, so we’ll see how it goes. The changes are pretty subtle. I want my reviews to have depth, but I don't want them to sound like essays.

Enjoying: Spring break! Well, I live in Colorado, so “spring” doesn’t mean what you think it does.

Looking forward to: My full-book workshop at my next school residency. I’ve been editing short stories, essays, and poetry for years, but I don’t have much experience with critiquing full-length novels-in-progress. It should be interesting.

Exercising: I’ve been walking 1-2 miles a day on a 12% treadmill incline. I’ve also found a free 7-minute workout app made by Wahoo. I had no idea how long 7 minutes was until that app started kicking my butt.

Wishing for: Warmer weather. I want to go hiking.

Obsessing over: The Unwind series by Neal Shusterman. I’m actually going to read an entire series, guys. Be proud of me. This doesn’t usually happen. I don’t have a series-length attention span.

Learning: To trust my instincts.

Laughing at: I usually try to keep naughty words off the blog, but I’m immature enough that I burst out laughing when I saw this meme:

What have you been doing in April?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Review: Attachments – Rainbow Rowell

Attachments – Rainbow Rowell

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It's company policy.) But they can't quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives. 
Meanwhile, Lincoln O'Neill can't believe this is his job now—reading other people's e-mail. When he applied to be "internet security officer," he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers—not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke. 
When Lincoln comes across Beth's and Jennifer's messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can't help being entertained—and captivated—by their stories. 
By the time Lincoln realizes he's falling for Beth, it's way too late to introduce himself. 
What would he say . . . ?

Review: Rainbow Rowell is one of my favorite authors. I’ve been putting off reading Attachments for a long time because I didn’t want to run out of Rainbow Rowell books. I shouldn’t have put it off because it felt good to be back in one of Rowell’s stories. I’ve read almost all of her books. Her characters and dialogue are always amazing. I get so absorbed in her novels that I forget everything that’s going on in my life. That’s a sign of a talented writer.

“‘It's nice of you to say I'm your best friend.’ 
‘You are my best friend, dummy.’ 
‘Really? I always assumed that somebody else was your best friend, and I was totally okay with that. You don't have to say that I'm your best friend just to make me feel good.’ 
‘You're so lame.’ 
‘That's why I figured somebody else was your best friend.’” - Attachments

In Attachments, Lincoln O’Neill gets a job as an Internet security officer at a newspaper. He hates his job because he wants to meet new people, but he works at night when the office is empty. He spends most of his time reading strangers’ e-mails and writing up warnings about the inappropriate ones. Two people whose e-mails often get flagged as inappropriate are Beth and Jennifer. Lincoln doesn’t want to report them because reading their entertaining e-mails is the only fun part of his job. As the months pass and he continues reading their mail, he finds himself falling in love with Beth. But, he’s never met her. He doesn’t even know what she looks like.

Even though I love Rainbow Rowell’s writing, I didn’t think Attachments would be my type of book. It sounded too fluffy, romantic, and predictable for my tastes. My instincts turned out to be correct. I didn’t enjoy this book nearly as much as I enjoyed Rowell’s young adult books. Like her other novels, this one has hilarious dialogue (and e-mails), but Attachments is too romance-heavy for me. It explores the fantasy that many girls have about guys falling in love with their personalities rather than their bodies. That part of the story is sweet, but other than the romance, there isn’t much going on in this book.

I didn’t love the romance, but I did love the themes. Attachments is about how one person’s “Average” can be another person’s “Extraordinary.” It actually took me a long time to figure out what Lincoln sees in Beth. Yes, she’s funny and opinionated, but so what? She seems pretty average to me. Then I realized that her e-mails are exactly what Lincoln needs to pull himself out of his unhappy rut. She unknowingly gives him the courage to try things that he wouldn’t normally do. To me, Beth is average, but to Lincoln, she’s extraordinary.

The theme works the other way, too. Lincoln sees himself as an average guy, but when his presence becomes known to Beth and Jennifer, the way they describe him is anything but average. This book shows that the way you see yourself could be very different from the way that others see you.

“He knew why he wanted to kiss her. Because she was beautiful. And before that, because she was kind. And before that, because she was smart and funny. Because she was exactly the right kind of smart and funny. Because he could imagine taking a long trip with her without ever getting bored. Because whenever he saw something new and interesting, or new and ridiculous, he always wondered what she'd have to say about it—how many stars she'd give it and why.” - Attachments

So, for me, this book is fairly average, but I can completely understand how someone else could see it as extraordinary.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookworm Delights

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is ten things that delight bookworms. Sorry there are some naughty words in this post, but I had way too much fun with this one.

Things That Delight Bookworms

1. Finding the perfect meme for your book review.

2. When your bookish photographs actually look good.

3. When the movie/TV adaptation doesn't make you cringe.

4. Finding a beautiful book in a used bookstore.

5. When Book Outlet is having a sale.

6. When your favorite author retweets you.

7. Wandering around a bookstore or library.

8. Falling hopelessly in love with a fictional character.

9. Giant book hauls.

10. Hours of uninterrupted reading time.

11. Having a smug sense of superiority.

12. Having friends who are just as crazy as you.

13. Neglecting everything because the book you’re reading is more awesome than real life.

14. Release day for a book you've been anticipating.

15. Reading a hilarious review on Goodreads.

What do you love about being a bookworm?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Review: UnWholly – Neal Shusterman

UnWholly – Neal Shusterman

Thanks to Connor, Lev, and Risa—and their high-profile revolt at Happy Jack Harvest Camp—people can no longer turn a blind eye to unwinding. Ridding society of troublesome teens while simultaneously providing much-needed tissues for transplant might be convenient, but its morality has finally been brought into question. However, unwinding has become big business, and there are powerful political and corporate interests that want to see it not only continue, but also expand to the unwinding of prisoners and the impoverished. 
Cam is a product of unwinding; made entirely out of the parts of other unwinds, he is a teen who does not technically exist. A futuristic Frankenstein, Cam struggles with a search for identity and meaning and wonders if a rewound being can have a soul. And when the actions of a sadistic bounty hunter cause Cam’s fate to become inextricably bound with the fates of Connor, Risa, and Lev, he’ll have to question humanity itself.

This is a review for book #2 in a series. The review is as spoiler-free as I could possibly make it, but I suggest you check out my review of book #1.

Review: So . . . I stayed up all night to finish this book. I was completely useless the next day, but I regret nothing. That ending is awesome.

UnWholly picks up about a year after where Unwind left off. Connor, Lev, and Risa have gotten the world to pay attention to unwinding, but now they don’t know who to trust. Some people want to help them; others just want to collect the bounty on their heads. No place—not even the airplane graveyard in the Arizona desert—is safe. This book introduces three new characters. Starkey is a teen who’s obsessed with becoming just as famous as Connor. Miracolina wants to be unwound. And Cam . . . is a human made entirely from the body parts of other humans.

One of my biggest issues with the first book is that I didn’t buy unwinding. It doesn’t seem like a practical solution to any problem. This book adds enough worldbuilding that unwinding becomes slightly more believable. The story shows how this futuristic society is collapsing and the fear that people have of “feral” teens. Unwinding is big business in this world. Greedy medical companies are trying to make unwinding bigger, better, and more necessary. I really appreciate the worldbuilding because I felt like it was lacking in the first book. The new worldbuilding also takes some of the focus off of the abortion debate, which could be good or bad, depending on how you feel about the abortion stuff in the first book.

“The sad truth about humanity . . . is that people believe what they're told. Maybe not the first time, but by the hundredth time, the craziest of ideas just becomes a given.” - UnWholly

We need to talk about Cam. After I finished the first book, I started wondering if it was possible to use unwinding technology to build a whole new person. I wasn’t surprised when that’s exactly what happens in this book. I was (weirdly) hoping it would happen. Cam is the character I wanted. He’s fascinating. He’s super-na├»ve and super-intelligent at the same time. His brain is made up of pieces of other people’s brains, so he has an interesting way of thinking. What’s even better is that he encourages the reader to think. What, exactly, is a human? Is it possible to be more than one human at the same time? If Cam was created instead of born, is he property? How ethical/necessary is it to improve the human body?

Cam replaced Lev as my favorite character in this series. I still feel bad for Lev because he’s so young and has had to put up with so much crap, but Cam is what makes me want to read the next book.

I’m going to continue with this series, but I didn’t like this book quite as much as the first one. Compared to Unwind, UnWholly starts off very slowly. It took me a while to get into it. Also, UnWholly feels like a recycled version of Unwind. Actually, “recycled” is probably the wrong word. Let’s say that Unwind was unwound and then rewound into UnWholly. Some of the new characters are very similar to the old ones. Miracolina is the new Lev. Starkey is the new Roland. The characters are still dealing with the same problems as in the first book. This book doesn’t feel as original as the first one.

Despite the “rewinding” issues, I’m eager to continue with the series. I want to know what happens next.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Sunday Post #47

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review UnWholly by Neal Shusterman.
  • On Tuesday I list some things that delight bookworms.
  • On Wednesday I review Attachments by Rainbow Rowell.
  • On Thursday I tell you what I’ve been up to in April.
  • On Saturday I have a “School made me do it” book haul.

In My Reading Life

So, I read four books last week. It was like the perfect storm of reading. It’s spring break, I got sick, and a blizzard dumped two feet of snow on my house. I couldn’t do anything but read. I read UnSouled and UnDivided by Neal Shusterman, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow & Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving, and Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Up next, I’m reading Saving Wonder by Mary Knight.

In My Blogging Life

This is the 400th post on this blog. Can you believe that I’ve written 400 of these things?

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. Spring break! Well, there’s a ton of snow outside, but SPRING BREAK!
  2. I decided to have a cheat day on my diet and ate everything. Everything was delicious.
  3. Exercising more has helped me feel less restless.
  4. Talking to my mentor on the phone. I really liked my mentor last semester, and I don’t want a new one, even though I have no choice.
  5. I read four freaking books in one week. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.

I hope you had a great week! See you around the blogosphere!

Friday, April 22, 2016

FF Friday: In Which I Tell You The Ways That An Author Can Annoy A Book Blogger

Feature & Follow is a weekly blog hop hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read. This week is all about authors and reviewers behaving badly. I’ve decided to list some ways that an author can annoy a book blogger. I wouldn’t call all of these things “bad behavior,” but if you want your book reviewed, you probably shouldn’t do them.

How Authors (Usually Inadvertently) Annoy Book Bloggers

Not reading the review policy. Most book bloggers have a review policy on their blogs. It explains what types of books the blogger reviews, how the reviews work, where they are posted, etc. Reading the review policy can prevent misunderstandings and nasty surprises for both the blogger and author.

Not proofreading emails. Typos happen. They’re a fact of Internet life. However, if an author’s review request emails are riddled with noticeable typos, it may make a blogger hesitant to read an entire book written by that author. 

Trashing book reviewers on social media. It is extremely difficult to write a book, and it can be painful to see that book torn apart by a reviewer, but it’s best for authors to vent their pain to a friend, not to social media. Trashing a book blogger will just make other bloggers unwilling to work with that author. Nobody wants to be badmouthed online.

The phrase “You can’t post a review if . . .” Bloggers do not like being told how to review. It’s a huge turn-off to see a review request that says, “You can’t post a review that contains criticism,” or “You can’t rate this book below three stars.” 

Friending a blogger on social media and then immediately requesting a review. Many bloggers see social media as a way to connect with others who share their bookish passion. Friending a blogger and then immediately sending a review request can make a blogger feel used. Bloggers are people who want to interact with other people. They are not review-spewing machines. (Actually, scratch that last part, I’m totally a review-spewing machine.)  

Arguing. If a blogger turns down a review request, it’s probably not personal. Arguing with the blogger won’t make the blogger change his/her mind. Also, arguing about a negative review is unprofessional. Book bloggers talk to each other, and word will spread quickly if an author is argumentative. No one will want to work with an author who makes the review process difficult.

Taking reviews too seriously. A review is one person’s opinion. It will probably not make or break an author’s career. Many readers (including myself) will read an interesting-sounding book no matter what the reviews say.
Just be nice to each other . . .  

The follow part of FF Friday: If you are a book blogger and you leave a link to your blog in the comments below, I will follow you on Bloglovin’. If you want to be friends on Goodreads, TwitterBookLikes, or G+, that would be awesome, too. Click the links to go to my pages on those sites. I’m looking forward to “meeting” you. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Discussion: Why I Read Dystopias

Today I’m teaming up with Cornerfolds and Books, Movies, Reviews! Oh My for the 2016 dystopia reading challenge. This month’s discussion prompt is “Five reasons why I read dystopias.”

Dystopias—especially YA dystopias—often get hate from book reviewers. The genre can be formulaic and full of tropes. The books are rife with love triangles, insta-love, melodrama, and badass girls with serious cases of special snowflake syndrome. Most dystopias are pretty far-fetched and definitely require some suspension of disbelief.

I agree with a lot of the criticism that reviewers hurl at the genre, but I still read (and obsess over) dystopias. Here’s why.

1. They’re intensely readable. I can usually get through a dystopia faster than most other genres. I’m not a fast reader, but I finished The Hunger Games in one night. Some dystopias have so much action that the pages fly by. Also, dystopias tend to be dark and weird, and that's exactly how I like my books. If a book is dark and weird, I don't want to put it down. 

2. They have depth. Action-packed books can sometimes feel like the literary equivalent of those movies that have cool explosions, but you forget the main character’s name halfway through because the story has no depth. The dystopian books I’ve read have action and depth. You get the cool explosions, but you also get characters to care about and issues to think about.

3. I’ll be dead in the future, and I don’t want to feel left out. I read dystopias for the same reason that I read historical fiction. The world existed for a long time before I was born, and it will continue existing after I’m dead. Most of the dystopias I’ve read are set in a science-fiction future. Maybe I’m morbid, but I like to read about different futures that I won’t be around to see. (In the case of dystopias, maybe it’s good that I won’t be around to see them.)

4. They’re not really about the future. Even though many dystopias are set in the future, they’re not about the future. They focus on modern-day issues, which is interesting. I like to see authors’ fictional takes on current events.

5. Who needs rules? Characters in contemporary and literary fiction are bound by modern laws, morals, and technology. Some authors go to great lengths to get their characters around modern limitations. In futuristic or fantasy dystopias, the limitations of our modern world don’t exist. That makes for an entertaining reading experience.

Do you read dystopias? What is your favorite thing about the genre?