Monday, March 28, 2011

I'm SAD... Help Me Move Back To Where It's Warm And Sunny!

So... I'm sure that anyone looking at my blog is wondering what the heck is going on with the Big Red Box over there... -->

Well, just lately, I've been really blahsome, not doing anything, staying home and just generally being... well not unhappy exactly, but that's part of it. I'm tired of winters that drag on for 6 months, and I'm tired of PA's 3 seasons (Fall, Winter, Construction), and I'm tired of swerving around potholes like I'm drunk to avoid the worst of the broken rims and alignment issues. It's been worse lately. I actually feel like I've had a touch of Seasonal Affective Disorder. I'm tired all the time and never want to do anything. No energy, no motivation, just... blahsome. I'm just... in need of a change.

And lately, everything has been making me miss the south... Jen over at The Introverted Reader is doing a Southern Reading Challenge; and my Historical Fictionistas group on Goodreads is reading Cold Sassy Tree set in Georgia; and Flowers in the Attic, which I just read, features Virginia and Florida; and at work one of the Market Managers for South Florida told me I should come visit; and then I saw that my best friend from Florida is pregnant... on and on... So many things just nudging me to make a change. 

So... My boyfriend and I decided that we'd go for it. Move south. I am really nervous and scared, because it means leaving my mom, and my friends and my mostly secure job (in a bad economy) for an unknown.

It will be a while (at least a year) before we actually get things together enough to move, but I figured since I'm throwing caution to the winds just by deciding to go in the first place, might as well do the thing properly and beg too. LOL... I will be scrimping and scrounging and saving every penny I can... Looking under all couch cushions for loose change and selling everything that isn't nailed down.

The selling thing brings me back to why I write this blog, and because I don't actually like begging for money,  here's an incentive: Books. The purge begins. I will be posting a list of the books that I'm getting rid of at some point tomorrow. There will be lots. Most of them used, some new.

If you donate $10 or more to my cause, I will ship you a book from the list. First come first serve. Donate, then email me at with your book preference and address (US only please - sorry International people) and I will ship you your choice (or a replacement if that's not available.)

Good luck to me! :D

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Quote: The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

"How did men believe in something that preached love on one hand, yet taught destruction of unbelievers on the other? How did one rationalize belief with no proof? How could they honestly expect [him] to have faith in something that taught of miracles and wonders in the far past, but carefully gave excuses for why such things didn't occur in the present day?"

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

Author Interview: Victoria Patterson, author of "This Vacant Paradise"

Victoria Patterson is the author of two books, Drift, a set of interconnected short stories, and now This Vacant Paradise, her first novel, which released early in March 2011. I recently read This Vacant Paradise and very much enjoyed it - it was very thought-provoking and real. A really good book, and I'd recommend it to anyone in need of a little perspective in their lives. If you missed my review, check it out here.
Thank you, Victoria, for taking the time to answer some questions! 

Q: This Vacant Paradise depicts a lifestyle that is ostensibly glamourous, beautiful and enviable, but shows that all that glitters is not gold. What initially inspired you to examine the other side of so called "charmed" lives?

A: I lived in Newport Beach during junior high and high school, and it was then that I decided that I would write about it. Through the years, I saw the way that Orange County was depicted in the media, giving it this cultural mystique, and it wasn't how I experienced it. So that fueled me even more. And I was always more interested in those that lived on the fringes of wealth.

Q: There is quite a bit of discrimination and prejudice and intolerance depicted in your book, specifically taking form as Grandma Eileen's opinions, and no open dissenting views are given to contradict her. Is it difficult for you, as a social critic, to avoid "preaching" for fairness and equality in your work?

A: I don't want my work to be didactic. At the same time, I'm trying to make a larger statement. So that's the challenge. When I lived in Newport, I was up against it. Just the other day, my close friend from high school reminded me of when our high school civics teacher took a class vote. How many of you are Republicans? he asked. Every hand but mine went up. I didn't know what I was, but I somehow knew that I wasn't a Republican. (As a side note, the civics teacher was so glad that I didn't raise my hand, he chose me to go on this big field trip deal, even though I wasn't the best student.)

Now and then, I'll visit Newport, and it's just so beautiful. There's something about Newport--having to do with the ocean--that makes me feel sane and content. And I'll think, Maybe I'm too harsh in my work. Maybe it's not so bad. Then I'll hear something, like how the schools didn't want their children to watch President Obama being inaugurated, and so were banning it. Or just recently, how they're putting a statue of Ronald Reagan in at Castaways park, even though it's a park and should be free from politics.

Q: In This Vacant Paradise, Esther believes that "For women like her, ambition is a series of self-denials" including not being too unfeminine, or fat, or opinionated or educated, or to pursue an identity separate from one's family. I found this section fascinating because all of the qualities she mentions are exactly what makes us who we are. Is there any trait or aspect of yourself that you would trade for immense wealth and security?

A: I agree--and for Esther, she's constantly restraining herself. She's alert to what is wanted from her, and she's constantly being formed by that.

I'd get rid of some of my more ugly traits for immense wealth and security in a heart beat. Ego and pride--see you later. I'll swap that for a lovely home and health insurance and the money for a guaranteed college education for both my sons. Otherwise, no. I'd like to hang on to and cultivate the traits that make me a better human. Although it's far easier to say that than to live it.

Q: Your previous book, Drift, is a series of related short stories. When it comes to writing, do you prefer the novel or the short story format?

A: They're sort of combined for me, because both of them take so much time and commitment. I like the short story form because you can take breaks and move on to other stories, and then go back. But with novels, you're married to your characters without breaks. I've just always been pulled into writing, consumed by it.

Q: If you could recommend one "must-read" book to people (besides your own, of course), what would you choose?

A: Such a difficult question! There are so many amazing books, I'm not sure how to narrow it down to one. Possibly Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary or George Eliot's Middlemarch. I'm sorry, can't pick one.

Thank you again, Victoria! :)
I own both of those books, but have read neither, sadly! I think I will have to move them up my to-read list!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Review: This Vacant Paradise by Victoria Patterson ★★★★

This Vacant Paradise: A Novel
The 1990s—Newport Beach, California. Money is God. A man’s worth is judged by the size of his boat, the make of his car. A woman’s value is assessed by the blank perfection of her quantifiable desirability: dress size, cup size, the whiteness of her teeth. And oh yes: her youth. Though Esther Wilson, the heroine of Victoria Patterson’s profound and electric debut novel, has the looks to marry well, things aren’t going as planned. She’s nearing her mid-30s and possibly aging out of the only role she’s equipped to play: wife to a powerful member of the elite. Instead, Esther finds herself drawn to college professor Charlie Murphy, who challenges her and offers an alternative vision—one that he himself might not have the courage to follow.

Full disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review.
I knew nothing about Victoria Patterson or her previous work when I received this book, but I am always willing to try new things, so I love when I get to review something outside of my box. Reading the description for this book, I was fully prepared for a light, fun read, perhaps with a little bit of depth thrown in for good measure. Like a social satire in the spirit of Austen, for example.

But my goodness, was I wrong. This is no whimsical story, no fun satirical skip through the elite's playground through the eyes of a down-on-her-luck upstart stuck on the bench, no fairy-tale romance where the girl goes through some rough patches but gets her heart's desire in the end. This is a serious book that demands to be read and taken seriously, that drags the reader along in its wake, showing this world in all its honesty.

I felt like I was a party to this community, a part of Esther herself, and Nora, and Charlie, and Brenda, and Paul and even Grandma Eileen. I could understand and empathize with these characters' feelings and disappointments and hopes, even when I didn't necessarily agree with them. I love when I am able to fall into the pages of a book and experience it, not just read it.

And Patterson most definitely allowed me to escape into this world. I felt like I was there, could hear the murmured conversations in the background, could smell the ocean, could see the brightness everywhere: the sun, the reflections off of the water, and waxed cars, and sunglasses and martini glasses. The sparkle of whitened teeth and the brightness of all of the Haves' projected self-image... the one they show to hide the person they are.

I won't talk too much about the characters, because I feel that people should get to know them themselves. To form their own opinions and make their own judgements. I will say that I really enjoyed Esther's journey, all her ups and downs, all her bitter disappointments and glimpses of hope. I can't say that I particularly liked Esther, but I feel like I got to know her. I felt that she was willing and wanting to try, and so she gets credit from me for that.

I did have a few issues with the book, a few ends that I wish were tied up more neatly, but honestly, I don't feel like this detracted from the book very much. We're able to see a snapshot in the lives of these people, and life's circumstances rarely end up prettily wrapped with a red bow on top. I felt that Charlie's class and equality conversations were a little, unnatural at times, especially with Esther. She has never been trained to think with a sociologist's mind, and I felt that he should have made it a bit more accessible to her so that she could really understand him, and the concepts he brought to her world. But again, this was a minor issue.

All in all, I enjoyed this book very much. It's not at all what I expected, but sometimes, the unexpected is exactly what we need.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Quote: Little Bee by Chris Cleave

"The war was four years old. It had started the same month my son was born, and they'd grown up together. At first both of them were a huge shock and demanded constant attention but as each year went by, they became more autonomous and one could start to take one's eye off them for extended periods. Sometimes a particular event would cause me momentarily to look at one or the other of them -- my son, or the war -- with my full attention, and at times like these I would always think, Gosh, haven't you grown?"

-- Sarah
Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Monday, March 7, 2011

Review: Shine by Lauren Myracle ★★★★★

Shine(I received a copy of this book for review through Star Book Tours.)

I've never read any of Lauren Myracle's other books. I'm not much into the whole "txt-spk" thing, so those books have never sparked my interest. Not my cup of tea. Other than those, I couldn't have named another book Myracle had written before today. But this... this book called out to me. Not only because of the absolutely gorgeous cover, but because of the premise, and because it's set in the South. I love me some books set in the South. And because it has Issues. Issues with a capital 'I'.

And boy, did this deliver. If it hadn't been written with such grace and honesty, and a light touch and sense of innocence, it could have gone so very, very badly wrong. The Issues in this book are the kind that outsiders abhor and denounce, while those living in and around and with them are almost oblivious to their existence as an 'Issue' at all. To those people, it's just life. Normal. Everyday. This book touched on a lot of things. Poverty, addiction, class division, alcoholism, abuse, homosexuality and homophobia, fear and hatred, small-town politics, friendship and loyalty, etc. So many things that some could have easily gotten lost and confused. But even with all of these issues entwined throughout the story, I never felt that it forgot what it was.

I loved the way this story was written. I love the way it was parceled out, little by little, edging closer to the truth and the consequences and the brokenness, like a hungry mouse sneaking closer to a crumb not far from the cat's bed. The mouse knows that rushing will cause it to lose its chance, to be hurt -- but caution and stealth may win it a chance to survive. This book was like that. It crept along, building momentum, until it reached where it needed to be.

I instantly fell in love with these characters, especially Cat and Patrick. My heart broke for the things that they lost, both before and after Patrick is beaten and left for dead. I loved their friendship, and the simple acceptance of it. I loved Mama Sweetie, Patrick's Grandma, and her kindness and wisdom and faith. I usually find it hard to accept religion in books, because so very often it comes across as preachy. That was not the case here. It was less religion and more a matter of faith - a simple knowledge that there's something and someone there for us. No judgment, no fire and brimstone, no recriminations for every little thought, just a sense of "If you want, you can - if not, that's OK too." I liked that.

This book is gorgeous and amazing from cover to cover, and I was so wrapped up in this community and these lives that I almost didn't want to see, but I couldn't look away. I found one thing, one little thing, about the very end to be a bit unbelievable, but I understand it, and I wasn't disappointed. All in all, I loved this book and I think it's one that I will need to own, to re-read and absorb and love.

It's that good.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Plan ahead or close my eyes and point? How to choose what's next?

A small group of friends on Goodreads do small, informal "mini-reads" with each other. Generally 3-5 people for each book, and we've already planned as far out as September. The list is mostly fantasyish and includes some chunksters like George R. R. Martin's series A Song of Ice and Fire, and the Shannara series as well as some stand-alones like Tigana.

But this planning thing is new for me, and weird, because I never used to plan what I was going to read in advance. Generally, my reading involved whatever single book I was in the mood for at the time, and then I'd try to vary my next book genre as much as possible from the one I just read. So for example, fantasy would lead me to read historical fiction which would lead to horror which would lead to a fun YA, etc.

If I started a series, I'd read through all of the available books in a row, and then move on to something else. But now, I see that I'm not only spreading series out with other books in between, but also reading a lot more at once and in multiple formats.

This has changed my whole reading method! Not that I'm complaining. I love the books that I'm reading and discussing with this group of friends, and I don't see that the change is a bad thing... it's just different.

I'm now experimenting with a list of the next few books that I will be reading (on Goodreads it's my "To-Read_Coming-Up" shelf) to see how this works for me. Here's what the list currently looks like:
  1. The Hero of Ages (Mistborn #3) by Brandon Sanderson [Nook]
  2. This Vacant Paradise by Victoria Patterson [HC for review]
  3. Act Like We're In Love by Christi Barth [E-book for review/Nook]
  4. Swan Song by Robert McCammon [Nook]
  5. Little Bee by Chris Cleave [PB]
  6. Animal Farm by George Orwell [Audiobook]
  7. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville [Nook]

The bolded books are scheduled either with a group or for review. I'm curious to see how this works for me, or if I push some of them to the back burner to read what strikes my fancy in between the "scheduled" books... Should be an interesting experiment!

So tell me... How do you choose what to read next? Do you have a system? Do you plan or wait to see what calls your name? Do you even have a pile of books at home waiting to be read or do you buy or visit the library on demand?

Inquiring minds over here! ;)