Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Strange Creatures by Emily Arsenault

Emily Arsenault does this thing where she writes humans as they actually are. Which may seem like a strange thing to say, but I don't know how else to put it. Her characters are often well, they aren't glamorous, maybe a bit stunted in growth, or selfish or lazy, but they are so relateable. And I don't mean they are OMG SO AWFUL, either, because that wouldn't fit in with writing humans as they actually are from my perspective!

She also has this really lovely and charming humor that I just get, and enjoy. For instance, here are a few gems from her most recent book:

"I’m sorry," Kyle interrupted me. "I didn’t catch your name."
"Margery." I swallowed. I didn’t want him to associate me with Jeff, whose last name he very likely knew. "Lipinski."
The name had simply fallen out of my mouth. It was obvious where I got the Margery, but where did Lipinski come from? Probably from Tara Lipinski. Figure skaters’ names are often at the tip of my tongue. I’ve always kind of wanted to be one.


"I can’t remember…Are you on Facebook?"
"Kind of," Jeff admitted. "I only go on every couple of months and randomly thumb up shit to make people feel good about themselves…"

Lol I so relate. BUT ANYWAY.

This is a mystery and it's a story about a brother and sister which is fun! It also features a cast of delightful pets and amateur sleuthing. I mean, really, what more could you want in a book?

I very much enjoyed this one and think it makes a perfect summer read!

Review copy received from the publisher!


Thursday, July 17, 2014

You Can't Script This Kind of Drama and Other Thoughts on Sports

The World Cup finished last weekend, and while I wasn't particularly interested or invested in it myself, I totally got why people got swept up in it. I was reading some tweets during one of the matches and someone tweeted, "you can't script this kind of drama" and at first I got annoyed because well...that's hardly something novel to the World Cup, that's all sports (I'm one of those Americans who resents being told by the rest of the world that I don't "get" the best sport etc) but then the more I thought about it, the more I decided to just appreciate the sentiment. After all different sports are a bit like different genres, we don't all enjoy the same ones, but in the end we do sort of get the same thing out of it. It's only a path to a similar destination, etc.

My genre is baseball. There's really no reason why that I can understand--none of the sports fans in my family like baseball, playing it (or softball) I'm pretty terrible at, but I did grow up in St. Louis which is very much a baseball town. And while the Cardinals were pretty terrible when I first became a fan, the franchise rebuilt itself into something pretty successful over the past decade. But when I first discovered that I loved wearing red and going out to the ballpark, and overpaying for souvenirs, and collecting baseball cards (yes I did that), they were not great. I didn't really care, I just loved it. My best friend loved it, we obsessed over them together. (I was really lucky in that when growing up I was always able to drag my best friends into my obsessions with me or we naturally shared them--one of the weird jarring things about adulthood friendships is how hard you have to work at common ground.)

As Billy Beane says in Moneyball, "It's hard not to be romantic about baseball." This is so true for me, I love baseball, the rhythm of the game, the memory of being out at the ballpark and all the smells and sensations that go with that, the rich sense of history and nostalgia that just exists in the word itself. It's pretty darned romantic and there's a little tiny part of me that just does not understand how it is possible anyone doesn't love it. You know we all feel that way about the things we really love, it's inherent to love itself.

And being a Cardinals fan, I've been pretty lucky. It's a historic franchise, second (even if it's a distant second) to the Yankees in World Series wins, with one of the most epic and delightful World Series wins having happened just a few years ago. I often see Cardinals fans (who may have a bad reputation in larger baseball fandom, but oh well) express how lucky they feel to be Cardinals fans and I feel just that way. Lucky. St. Louis is a smaller market that has worked hard at remaining competitive, that cares about continuing to cultivate and nourish the fanbase, that is generally admired in the league, and has made four World Series appearances in the last ten years. I feel I couldn't ask for more.

But I don't just want to gush about my team, but instead about being a fan of spectator sports. There's this tiny part of me that understands that it's strange in a way, to root for a uniform as they say, or a team because of the city. These guys, a lot of them, get paid the big bucks and ultimately nothing matters to my life directly. If they win or lose nothing really changes. The amount of nerves and care I feel are all for...entertainment's sake, it doesn't really matter.

But...it's a lot like falling in love with a good TV show or a great book. We need these opportunities in which we can be swept up in stories that aren't our own...when we can love and care about something and give it our hearts and attention precisely because it doesn't matter.

For me baseball is the ultimate experience. It's been a long time since I followed a season closely the whole way through, by which I mean paying attention to what happens in every game, reading the daily news and analysis, and this year even getting caught up in baseball as a whole. This year I got into it again, and let me tell you something. "It's hard not to be romantic about baseball."

If sports are likes books, baseball is like War and Peace. The team that leads in the beginning may well be out of playoff contention come October, much like Tolstoy's couples shifted and changed throughout the years of their lives. Players get injured and new stars emerge. There are always games, 162 of them, the daily grind and yet each 9 inning meetup manages to be special and contain a narrative all of its own. If one game is terrible, the next might be amazing. There are flashy stars in baseball and then there are the guys that just go out there and steadily do the work.

Baseball fans often say baseball is like life. And it's so true. It's the perfect life metaphor. The games are long. Sometimes you really are just sitting around waiting for something to happen and then it does and it's spectacular. And sometimes you watch your team play their hearts out and have unbelievable things happen and they still lose the game. But those moments, man, those moments are special.

Baseball is very mathematical and the fans are the biggest nerds of all analyzing things to the death. But even in the middle of that baseball is delightedly unexpected.

And for those of you still stuck on "rooting for a uniform" well yes. There are lots of trades and shifts in the game. But there are also lots of players that will stick with their team for a long time and as a fan you get to know them. You aren't just following a team, but also players. You know what their struggles are and what their strengths are and what the prevailing media narratives about them are and you care. And when good things happen to them, it's like good things happen to you and when bad things happen, your heart breaks just a little bit.

But above and beyond all of this? Sports aren't scripted. There's not a man behind the curtain, no one knows what's going to happen when the players step out onto the field. You can't google spoilers or study filming pictures. This doesn't stop people from speculating or placing odds, but there's really no way to know what will unfold. It's just like life and watching spectator sports gives us that chance to fully embrace the unknown, ride the highs and lows, see events unfolding and vicariously experience the greatest and richest lessons life has to offer. Sometimes you will fail even when you are spectacular. Never give up, there's always hope until the last out. Things may start badly but you can turn them around. It's this very sense of the unknown and the wholeheartedness with which so many of us embrace sports that makes them so heartbreaking.

I thought a lot about this line, "you can't script this kind of drama" as the All Star Break approached. My team had been struggling all season in a fairly distant second to the leaders in their division. They fell 6 and a half games out of first place and TIMES WERE DARK. And then, suddenly, the leaders started losing and the Cardinals started winning in ways they hadn't been winning all season long. AND IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. In the span of a week, they caught up within two games of the leaders and the final series to be played between the two division rivals. No one could have scripted this. It was so much fun and while they didn't manage to overtake first place, they are only game out heading into what some people call "the second half" but I think of more as "the back 9" being a TV girl and all :)

The All Star Break is over today. I actually enjoyed the slight reprieve....everyday following a sports team is pretty emotional business as it turns out. If you're me. But I'm so excited to see what will unfold.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Fever by Megan Abbott

Until I read The Fever by Megan Abbott, We Were Liars was my favorite 2014 book. And then I read The Fever and it was pretty much my perfect book all right there. I tore through it, tbh, reading it all in one sitting.

It was the first book by Megan Abbott I've read, and while I've gone on to buy more of her books, I haven't had a chance to read them yet due to concentration issues and fiction everything in general not really being my thing right now. But that's really not a reflection on this book or whether or not you should read it, because OF COURSE I think you should read this book, it's my favorite book I've read this year so far.

People had recommended Megan Abbott's books to me because I like Courtney Summers and because I like Gillian Flynn. And while she is not really either one of those authors this was actually a spot-on recommendation, one of the best if you like, you'll like...I've ever ever received. I can't wait, as I write this, to read more of her books, because she is a writer that excites me, that feels like she's really doing her own thing and that thing is full of energy and interesting ideas and oh yeah, GIRLS.

The Fever is about girls and about ~hysteria and paranoia and the general contagion of fear. It's about how we blame everything but the right thing and it's about how we throw up walls and we hide ourselves and we leap to conclusions and we make assumptions and we destroy and we fight for what we think is ours. It's so so so good. I caught a bit of a Twitter conversation where a few bloggers talked about how the characters weren't likable, which is always a surprising feeling to me. Who cares? I thought. That's hardly the point of the book! Besides, these characters may not have been likable, but god did I ever recognize life in them and see truth. I loved how Abbott depicted female friendship in all its messy glory as the thorny, almost brimming with violence, but necessary thing that it is. That was, in fact, maybe my favorite part of the book.

This review, I realize, doesn't really give you an idea of what the book is about, but still I think that's best. Just pick it up, you'll see what I mean, especially, if like me, you like Courtney Summers and Gillian Flynn and books about girls that are complicated, and page turners, and just, you know, good books.

I received an ARC from the publisher for which I am DEEPLY THANKFUL, because, in case you missed it, I LOVED THIS BOOK.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Spotlight and Giveaway: Flight of the Sparrow by Amy Belding Brown

About Flight of the Sparrow: Based on the amazing true story of Mary Rowlandson’s capture in 1675, FLIGHT OF THE SPARROW depicts this monumental moment in our nation’s history with vivid detail, impeccably researched facts, and vibrant characters.

After a long-feared Native American attack, Mary is sold to a female tribal leader, who puts her to work, but allows her a generous and surprising amount of freedom. But while enduring cold, hunger, and exhaustion, Mary also witnesses first-hand the Native Americans’ freedom of expression and random acts of kindness. She becomes conflicted inside as she develops an uncomfortable attraction toward an English-speaking Native American, James Printer. He has seemingly straddled both worlds and becomes her friend and protector.

When she is eventually ransomed and returned to her surviving family, Mary finds re-entry into the restrictive Puritan culture a challenge. FLIGHT OF THE SPARROW is about one woman whose experiences in the Puritan and Native American cultures lead her to a new understanding of the world and her place in it. It transports readers to an unfamiliar time with its layered and evocative narrative and explores the meaning of freedom, faith, and acceptance through the story of a woman who dares to question the expectations of her time.


One lucky US resident can win a copy of Flight of the Sparrow! Just fill out the form below by July 22, 2014. Winner will be notified via email.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

That Night by Chevy Stevens

I really enjoyed Chevy Stevens debut novel, Still Missing, in the quickly-consume-it-all-in-one-day kind of way. I haven't had a chance to read her more recent novels, so when the opportunity to review That Night popped up, I quickly jumped on it.

Unfortunately, I haven't really had the ability/time to consume a book all in one sitting lately, but That Night was still a compelling and quick read and one I looked forward to sneaking in a few pages when I could.

It's the story of Toni, a girl that's troubled as a teen with a stressful relationship with her parents. She has a boyfriend that they don't approve of, they see him as a reckless and rebellious teen in trouble with drugs, etc. And she has her own mess of mean girls that really hate her and make her life completely miserable by constantly bullying her and lying in order to ruin her reputation. While Toni certainly isn't angelic, her actions don't mean she's a murdered which is what she's eventually accused of.

That Night alternates time periods between the paste and present as Toni deals with being falsely accused and charged with murdering her sister. It's pretty compelling reading! While enough hints were given for me to feel like I sort of knew what was going on, the way everything unfolded remained a mystery to the end.

Oh and also I felt properly angry at EVERYONE for the way they treated Toni. Also based on this book and Still Missing, I do wonder what Chevy Stevens thinks of mother/daughter relationships!

I received a review copy from the publisher!


Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Closer by Mariano Rivera

If you're a baseball fan, you surely know of Mariano Rivera, one of the best closers of all time who spent 19 years (!!!) with the Yankees. When the opportunity to read his autobiography came about, I jumped on it. Baseball is my favorite sport and I especially find athlete biographies to be interesting as I find they often have to overcome a lot of adversity.

I found this book to be very intriguing, especially the beginning as Rivera described his home in Panama and how it came to be that he signed with the Yankees. He didn't really start out as a pitcher...he just sort of fell into it, but he was good, especially good with his command, and they signed him. But little anecdotes like how he was standing on the mound and could see his toe through his shoe made for an excellent description of where he came from vs. where he was heading.

He moved through the farm system quickly enough and describes his first call up and how he was sent back down and it's a horrible feeling. Aw, it really made me feel for the prospects my own favorite team have this year who have gone through exactly that (and in both cases I really disagreed with them being sent down so ha). Even though this is a pretty normal thing in baseball that happens to many players. Also, his culture shock struggles mostly centered around language were interesting to read about. If you keep in mind that baseball players have 162 games a year and many foreign players are also dealing with language barriers etc...it just makes me want to take a really long nap to be honest!

Rivera was part of the dominant Yankees team of the late 90s and describes that period and those games in detail. Any baseball enthusiast will enjoy this first hand account of so many pressure filled and important moments!

Rivera is also a very devout Christian. He has experienced many miracles in his life--his son was healed in the womb, he gained an unexplained like 10mph velocity on his fastball during his career, he developed a cutter out of nowhere, etc. His deep faith sustains him through many things and really gives him a great attitude about so much. I feel he really comes across as a humble down to earth guy who just genuinely loves baseball. I love his little aside on PEDs and how those players desperately want to be at the top but are hurting the game instead, etc.

A great read and any fan of the Yankees should definitely consider it, and I think any fan of baseball should as well! Or anyone that enjoys a good athlete biography!

*I received a review copy.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Zombie Book Club

Hi everyone,

I haven't finished the book for this month yet, apologies! I will post just as soon as I can. Lol, this is basically why I should never host readalongs.

But!! I wanted to drop a few notes of importance. Since this is a surviving The Walking Dead hiatus book club, you should all know that AMC is running a marathon of our beloved show this weekend! AND HUGE BONUS at the end of the marathon, will be a special edition of The Talking Dead Looking forward to Season 5!!! Wheee! WHAT'S MORE in the following weeks the network will show two The Walking Dead documentaries. So yes it's still a looong way away but AMC is giving us a little something to tide us over! (hopefully they'll give us more webisodes, too?)

Also, SYFY has begun casting for their zombie show coming this fall and it's so exciting that at some point next year we might have three zombie shows on TV. Viva the undead!

Anyway, please forgive me for being behind in my reading, I'll catch up as soon as I can!