November 30, 2009

Metered Monday

I told you my taste in poetry was mainstream. But there's a reason why a sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay is conventional. (I discovered her in tenth grade. Unfortunately, a friend beat me and got Millay for her project subject. I had to choose a different poet.)

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

--Edna St. Vincent Millay

Review: To Desire a Devil

REMEMBER! This is the last day to fill out the survey and possibly win an ARC of HOLD STILL. This survey is for anyone who reads IBWB, including authors and publicists.

By Elizabeth Hoyt
Released by Hachette on November 1
Review copy provided by publisher

Book Cover

I chose to review this book because I wanted to look at a romance through my IBWB lens, instead of my TGTBTU lens. After all, I do the same thing for a number of young adult books. But I wanted to come at a romance thinking about how I would've liked it in high school, as opposed to now. (I can tell you that in high school my favorite romance was THE VISCOUNT WHO LOVED ME.)

TO DESIRE A DEVIL is the fourth and final book in The Legends of the Four Soldiers series, but it stands fine on its own. Any previous plot threads are introduced well, since both the hero and heroine are unfamiliar with what's been happening. Beatrice knows nothing because she was uninvolved with the French and Indian War; Reynaud knows nothing since he spent the last four years as an Indian prisoner. (It's set in the past, no one's using the term "Native American.")

I believe I can safely say I would've loved this in high school. Beatrice is rather modern: she has her own political views and she doesn't believe losing her virginity means she has to get married. She's willing to act like a meek miss but she's not going to surrender her personality. (There's also an interesting side plot involving her best friend, who separates from her husband due to neglect.) In addition, I would've thought Reynaud attractive, with the tattoos and all.

Okay, here's why I really would've loved it: Elizabeth Hoyt weaves the action of the story together with her own version of the tale where a prisoner is allowed to go free if he can convince someone to take his place of their own will. Hoyt weaves fairy tales into all of her historicals, and you can listen to her talk about this style here. I am a fairy tale junkie and thus love the intertextuality. She does write the tales in her own style, but they aren't used as exact parallels.

The plot of TO DESIRE A DEVIL is fairly simple: Reynaud returns to his home after years of captivity, only to find that his father died and his father's title passed onto the next relative. He can go to parliament to reclaim it, but marrying might give him an air of legitimacy. Marrying the current earl's niece would be even better. But Beatrice wants to marry for love. There is a bit of a complication in that Reynaud was captured during the Spinner's Fall massacre which was caused by a traitor - and that traitor would like to make sure no loose ends remain to reveal his identity.

But simplicity is fine due to Hoyt's exquisite writing. Like historical fiction author Sherry Thomas, she would be a delight to read even without her other skills due to her fine prose. As a bonus, the series epilogue is less treacly than romance series epilogues tend to be. (That doesn't mean there aren't babies. Of course there are babies.) TO DESIRE A DEVIL is ultimately fun and sexy - perfect for a teenager or an adult.

November 29, 2009

Review: The Lovely Bones (Audiobook)

By Alice Sebold, Read by Alice Sebold
Released by Hachette 30 September 2009
Review copy provided by publisher

Book Cover

I read THE LOVELY BONES in the ninth grade and loved it. I picked it up because I knew it was getting a lot of buzz and felt it deserved it once I was done. I enjoyed seeing the world through Susie's eyes, as her family dealt with her death and her killer seemed to escape justice. I have not read it since, so I remembered little about the details of the story when listening to the audiobook, but they came back quickly.

As for audiobooks, this is my second one. They seem popular, but I'm still not sure they're for me. For one thing, it takes longer to listen to the book than it would for me to just pick it up and read it. I listened to THE LOVELY BONES in my car, driving from my apartment to my home and back, but I kept missing little snippets when something happening on the road took my attention from Alice Sebold's voice.

As for this audiobook in particular, I have a love/hate relationship with Sebold's narration. She's rather dull. No effort to distinguish between the voices of different characters or to add emphasis to dramatic parts. On the other hand, her lulling voice makes the worst parts of THE LOVELY BONES that much more horrifying. I felt like crying as her family realized Susie was truly dead with the discovery of her hand-knit winter hat, soaked in her saliva - her mother's love aiding her murderer. It's a scene already wrenching in print, but Sebold's flat, emotionless voice makes it more thematically naturalistic.

However, the aural presentation slows the novel to a glacial pace. I remember the digressions being charming in the text, fleshing Susie and her world out. It fit the narration of a young girl, that she would be somewhat flighty and need to explain little bits of the story to explain the whole thing. It also fit with the idea of a dead narrator, one who has all the time in the world to tell her story and has lived her life - all she has to tell is her past and what others do, necessitating that the two weave together. I remember Susie's death happening so quickly. In the book, she warns you what will happen in the opening lines and her brutal rape and murder is complete by the first chapter. You've been put through the emotional wringer before the book truly begins. In audio format, this takes around 20-30 minutes. The digressions became distracting, making me think, "Is she dead yet?"

THE LOVELY BONES is a great story, and I look forward to seeing the movie. But I must recommend the book version over the audiobook. Perhaps the story would've been better served in this format by an abridgment or a different narrator. I'm not familiar enough with the format to tell.

The excellent movie trailer:

November 26, 2009

Thank You

The thing is, my life is defined by reading. It's certainly not empty of anything else, or shallow, but the written word remains at the center of it. At some point I fell in love with language and that was what ignited my passion. I've never had a broken heart because my first love is still with me. I don't know who I'd be without books. After all, I'm currently in college hoping to one day become an editor. I'm writing a creative thesis. The majority of my disposable income goes to buying books. I don't even have a vague guess who I'd be without books.

This is not a bad thing. I'm very happy with who I am. I wasn't always, and I still have moments when I wonder what in the world is wrong with me, but overall I try to be a good person and I think I succeed.

And here's to my parents, who aided me in becoming the ultimate bookworm. Every Wednesday night they took my sister and I to the library. We started in the children's section, with them reading us simple books. Hank the Cowdog, Amelia Bedelia, that series about an elf with pastel colored spines. Then I graduated to the older kids' section, reading Nancy Drew and Bruce Coville and Animorphs and Mary Downing Hahn and who knows what else. I was a tiny kid. If the weather was bad, I'd blow away. Third shortest on the ice-skating drill team. And every week I'd take home a stack of books approximately half my height. And my parents encouraged this behavior. One day I realized I'd read most everything in that section that appealed, and I wandered, discovering the YA section hidden between everything. I started reading content I didn't always understand, and sometimes just sped through because I wanted to get to the good parts, but it kept me happy and out of the adults' section for awhile longer. I cried when I moved after my parents' divorce and saw the town's library. It was a tin shack. When I saw it, I was holding a book that I bought for a quarter at my old library.

My parents also bought me books. Those book club order forms from school? My sister and I would circle the books we wanted and star the books we would throw a fit about if they didn't buy them. Then they would bargain us down to about ten books each. Those were bitter throwdowns. Then there was the used bookstore. To keep entertained on road trips, we carried an extra suitcase full of books. Used books are for more affordable by the suitcase load, but the store gave a decent rate of credit on books turned in. And they'd buy full-priced books too, every once in a while. For awhile after the divorce, my dad would buy my sister and I a book each every time we went into a bookstore. The good ol' days, in a way.

When it came to books, I was spoiled. I never had to fight to read. School taught me how, supplemented by my parents and sister working with me at home. The library provided limitless books I could have for a bit, my parents with a more limited amout I could keep forever. And believe me, with my voracious appetite for story I needed every book I could get my hands on. Without books, I wouldn't exist. My body would (likely) be around, but it would be a different mind animating it.

So . . .

Thank you Mom and Dad. I may not always be who you want me to be, but thanks for helping me become who I am. Thanks for enabling me when I needed it, and discouraging certain things that needed to be discouraged. Thanks for not taking away the books, even when they helped me ruin my eyesight and screw with my hearing. Thanks for providing for me. Thanks for loving me. Thanks for letting me be weird and withdrawn and for making me be proud of my brain. Thanks for never asking me what my blog is called because I would never post this if there was the slightest possibility you were reading it.

November 23, 2009

Metered Monday

This is my way of avoiding writing more content. Every Monday, at least through December, I'm going to share one of my favorite poems. If I think commentary is necessary, I'll include it. It probably won't be as my taste in poetry is fairly mainstream.

For this first one, I suppose I ought to warn for language. I think most of ya'll have probably heard the word before.

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

--Philip Larkin

(And Blogger won't show the formatting. Yay. Anyone know how to fix that?)

November 22, 2009

Review: Sex, Drugs, & Gefilte Fish: The HEEB Storytelling Collection

Edited by Shana Liebman; Foreword by A.J. Jacobs
Released by Hachette 26 Oct 2009
Review copy provided by publisher

Book Cover

HEEB is a magazine focused on reporting Jewish-related information in a humorous style. The title is a reclaimation of the term "hebe," an ethnic slur. (You learn new things every day.) Personally, I know almost nothing about Jewish culture. I've read some of the religious texts, but I've done that for all the major religions. (Haven't read anything significant of the Quran, but I've read several of the more important hadith. I have publicly commented on something relating to Islamic culture, so I do sometimes open my mouth about things I'm not an expert in.)

The review request for this came in soon after I finished SO PUNK ROCK, which definitely had me thinking about young Jews in America. Sometimes it's really fun to read something you know nothing about in an attempt to learn something. Plus, who doesn't like to laugh?

The presentation of this anthology isn't that great, in my opinion. The back cover is cigarettes stubbed out on what I assume is gefilte fish (er, it looks like organ meat texture and is covered in this jelly-like fluid). The front is weighed down by the dark border and puts the emphasis on the "drugs" part of SEX, DRUGS, & GEFILTE FISH. But Drugs is only one of the six sections, and most of the stories within it are relatively innocent, including OCD medication, Plan B, giving a cat meds, and letting a dying old woman smoke a joint. (Stephanie Green's "Benzos and Breast Cancer"? Not innocent.) Since the plate on the cover has six holes, couldn't each one of them represent one of the sections instead of four of them representing one of the smaller sections? It looks kind of like a coffee table book, but it doesn't really look like something you'd want to display on your coffee table.

The other sections is the anthology are Sex, Work, Youth, Family, and Body & Soul. Youth is the longest at 52 pages; Sex is the shortest at 23. (Drugs clocks in at 25.) My favorite stories were "Prime-Time Playa" by Andy Borowitz, "Poop Sandwich" by Abby Sher, and "Finding My Kegel Muscles" by Stephen Glass. Why these three? Well, "Prime-Time Playa" tells about the beginning of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I loved that show as a kid, and it's interesting to see just how it came to be. "Poop Sandwich" definitely makes me uncomfortable, but Sher perfectly captures the It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time existence of high school. "Finding My Kegel Muscles" reminded me of my own inability to let something go when I think it's wrong. And I agreed with Stephen; I don't think men have Kegel muscles. (My reason for liking the story really stood out once I realized it was that Stephen Glass.)

Some of the stories are strike-. It's an anthology; it happens. But overall SEX, DRUGS, & GEFILTE FISH is humorous and thought-provoking. Though the commonality is being an American Jew (except for one story), there is a range of experiences, including sexuality, represented. Ignore the cover and pick it up for these stories that show good satire survived past in the eighteenth century.

November 20, 2009

Jason Schwartzman on Reading

I received the links to this videos two days after I saw Funny People, which was an interesting coincidence. (It is a funny movie, though I liked the first half better than the second. It is the most homoerotic movie that isn't an action movie aimed at straight guys I've seen.) Of course, the role he's promoting here is Ash in The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

So, what was your favorite Roald Dahl? I loved CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, MATILDA, and THE WITCHES.

November 18, 2009

Review: Lockdown: Escape from Furnace

By Alexander Gordon Smith
Released 27 Oct 2008 from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Review copy provided by publisher

Book Cover

I have been reading the survey responses, and I'm working out how to incorporate the various bits of advice into the blog. There hasn't been any advice that I really hate, so everything is under consideration right now. Someone wanted more background on the books, so I'm going to start this a little different than usual and see how it works for me.

LOCKDOWN is the first in the Escape from Furnace trilogy, which is already available in full in the UK. They're set in an alternate future, one in which teenage gang members wreaked havoc for one memorable summer. Now, the adults are afraid of their kids. Now, juvenile offenders go to Furnace. This underground prison is for life. Although sometimes it seems like calling it life might be a stretch.

The story is narrated by Alex Sawyer, who was a decent kid commiting progressively worse crimes. However, he didn't kill his best friend; he was framed by the black suits - the Furnace guards themselves. The only way he keeps himself going is by dreaming of escape, taking his new friend Zee and his roommate Donovan with him. Of course, he manages to make life more difficult for himself by antagonizing the Skulls, the prison gang.

But the gangbangers are nothing. LOCKDOWN is a horror novel, and as such is filled with a couple of eldritch abominations. Alexander Gordon Smith deploys them well: he describes the monsters' physicality and basic functions, but often leaves the most brutal moments to the imagination. Books never really scare me, but Smith does well at creating an atmosphere of dread and punctuating it with terrible events. I also like that the ending seems to promise there will be some explanation of how these creatures came to be in the other two books.

On the down side, LOCKDOWN definitely feels like the beginning of a trilogy. Yes, the boys achieve something at the end, but the novel ends immediately after. Most of Alex's adventures are set-up, making sure the horrific scenery of Furnace is fully in place. Eventually an escape plan develops, but until then the plot is a thin affair, not much more than a reason the characters are in such an awful place. (Of course, horror is not a genre that calls for dense, involved plots.)

I wish I knew about this series earlier, since I could've bought myself copies of SOLITARY and DEATH SENTENCE. Now I'll just have to wait with the other Americans. That or have my friend who's studying abroad in Ireland this spring ship me some books - after all, she will owe me a twenty-first birthday present.

LOCKDOWN is a good choice for people who enjoy something creepy and have a strong stomach. And due to an Anthropology class two years ago, I can't help but think people who are into prison reform would enjoy it metaphorically.

November 12, 2009

In Bed With Books Reader Survey (+Contest)

The survey is over here.

Book Cover

It's a brief, nine-question survey that asks a little about you and a little about how you feel about the blog. By filling it out, you could win an ARC of HOLD STILL by Nina LeCour. (The survey gives instructions about what to do if you already have HOLD STILL and want to win something else.)

Deadline to enter the contest is Nov. 30th.

November 10, 2009

As I Continue to Be Behind . . .

Book Cover

I point you to James Patterson's YA website, where you can download the WITCH & WIZARD audiobook for free from iTunes. And yes, this is one of the ARCs sitting on my TBR pile. Also in my December TBR? FALLEN by Lauren Kate.

November 9, 2009

Karen White's ZZZs of Writing

Karen White is the author of THE LOST HOURS, who I interviewed a year ago. Her newest release is THE GIRL ON LEGARE STREET, the sequel to THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET. (Expect my review soon-ish.)

It turns out authors, like college students, sometimes have trouble getting enough sleep. And it turns out that Karen agrees with me that 20 minute naps are wonderful things! (Most of my friends don't settle for anything under 3 hours.)


The Zzz’s of Writing

I’ve done a lot of blogs and written about a lot on the subjects of writing, the life of an author, my career, the pros and cons of plotting vs. pantsing. But I’ve never written about something near and dear to an author’s heart. No, not fame, fortune, or becoming a NYT bestselling author. I’m talking about sleep.

At the moment, I’m bone tired. Deep down, mind-meltingly, brain-freezing tired. This isn’t because I have sleep problems. On the contrary, all I have to do is think about my bed and I’m fast asleep until my alarm rudely awakens me at 6:15. My family thinks I might be narcoleptic because all I have to do is be still for seven seconds and I’m out for the count.

The truth is that I need more sleep (obviously). But with a busy family, a husband who travels and all the hoopla of family life, combined with writing two big (100,000+ words) per year, there simply isn’t enough hours in the day to get everything done—so I steal from those hours that most people devote to sleeping. My bad.

Unfortunately, I’m also one of those people who can drink a pot of caffeinated coffee and fall asleep immediately. I know this because it’s happened before. More than once. How fair is that? I’ve tried everything: caffeinated gum, loud music, exercise, apples, hydration with water, standing on my head. And that’s when I realized that it’s more than lack of sleep—it’s the actual activity of writing that is so fatiguing.

I don’t know about other writers, but writing a page is more mentally exhausting than an hour of Pilates. My books tend to be pretty emotional, so I suppose it makes sense that writing them can be emotionally draining. Like an actress, I immerse myself into the character’s point of view and “become” that person when I’m in their head. I think it lends itself to more real emotions and dialogue. I’m also a very visual writer and when I’m envisioning a scene, I close my eyes and, yep, sometimes I’ll wake up an hour later realizing too late that a sleepy person shouldn’t spend too much time with her eyes closed if she doesn’t want to fall asleep!

I have spent completely unproductive afternoons nodding over my laptop, and have a permanent crease in my forehead from the laptop lid. (My kids say it’s a wrinkle because I’m old, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it).

And then: a break through. While trying to stay away while eating breakfast, I usually attempt to read one of my many periodicals that come in daily that I rarely get to peruse because, yes, I fall asleep if I sit down in a quiet room to read.

I can’t remember what magazine or newspaper it was (sleep deprivation also interferes with memory, apparently), but in it I read about the wonders of napping. Now, as the mother of two teenagers who were once adorable toddlers who, thankfully, were good nappers, I already knew about the joys of napping. But this article talked about how famous people in history—Ghandi and Winston Churchill to name just two—recharged their brains in the middle of the day with a mere twenty minute nap. I couldn’t believe it—two icons in world history NAPPED! Surely, I thought, if it worked for them it could work for me.

Luckily, I’m one of those people who can lie down anywhere and fall asleep. So, after lunch one day, I went up to the guest room, drew the shades, put in my earplugs and set my alarm for 20 minutes. As always, I didn’t even remember falling asleep. All I knew was that when the alarm rang, I was a new person. My mind was clearer, and I was no longer sleepy. I felt refreshed—something I hadn’t been in a very long time. I was able to write with passion and clarity, really focusing on the story and characters instead of how many sentences I could get out before my eyes closed.

The secret to the twenty minutes and not longer is that it doesn’t allow a person to get into REM sleep while still offering the restorative qualities of sleep. If you sleep too much longer than that, you’re doomed to a day of grogginess. But 20 minutes seems to do the trick without any side effects. I’m now a huge proponent of adult napping, even contemplated a move to Spain where napping is a national past time. OK, so I didn’t really consider it, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could live in a place where you could nap and not feel guilty that you should be, well, working?

Napping is now a daily ritual for me. And, living with two teenagers, it can be the highlight of my day. Even my dog knows when it’s naptime, because he heads upstairs with me at the appointed time and settles himself either at the foot of the bed or on the floor next to it. He’s a professional napper himself, and I’m sure he feels he deserves the credit for my newfound restorative habit.

I just looked at the clock. I’ve been up since 6:15 and it’s time for lunch and then my favorite twenty minutes of the day. Then it’s back to writing for me. And I’m just left to wonder why this wrinkle in my forehead won’t go away now that I’m no longer using my laptop as a head prop.

November 8, 2009

October Round-Up

Sorry for disappearing for a week. The good news is I'm now officially graduating a semester early! (Also, I now belong to a frat, which is odd, even if it is an academic honors society.) I can't believe that I've only got a year of college left. (Technically, I only need 21 hours to finish off both my majors, so it isn't even going to be a heavy year.) I also had a couple of birthday parties to attend, because I'm just that cool.

Come back tomorrow for a guest blog by Karen White.

Contests and Promotions

Cirque du Freak prize pack

Nancy Holder prize pack
Winner: Kristi of Books and Needlepoint

Signed LOVE, MEG hardcover
Winner: Chelsea, the Page Flipper

Interviews and Guest Blogs

Nancy Holder

C. Leigh Purtill













I also wrote about my experience at the Austin Teen Book Festival.


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