Friday, August 29, 2014

Vacation Post and Mini-Reviews of Vacation Reads...and Manatees!

As mentioned, I just got back from a lovely vacation. My friend Corrie, my sister Quinn and I stayed at Moon Palace in Cancun. Just a short little 3.5 hour plane ride to get us from cornfields and beer to palm trees and margs. We sat on the beach, we ate, we drank, I scratched something huge off my bucket list, I embarrassed myself with my terrible high school Spanish skills, and a great time was had by all. The hotel was big, and almost at full capacity but it didn't diminish our experience at all. Service was always friendly and polite and full of smiles. 

I'm not always good about remembering to take pictures on vacation but here's a few:
Infinity pool

Happy Birthday!

So with all this time sitting on the beach (or in the airport, womp womp) what does one do? One reads. Or if you are Quinn, the nonreader in the group, you play on your phone.

Here's the books that I read:

"Divergent": I liked it. I had pretty tempered expectations of it so I wasn't super bought into the hype but I thought it was an entertaining read. A note for the people who have seen the book and read the movie: I like movie Four better than book Four. He's more of a badass in the movie and I like that (grrrr, haha). Due to pure coincidence, friend Corrie also brought Divergent to read, so we were having a little beach book club. 

Then, one morning Corrie looked in her suitcase and started laughing because she found the next book in the series "Insurgent" in her suitcase (she had forgotten that she has bought, and then packed it). And because Corrie is the sweetest she let me read it, even though it was brand new and a hardcover, while she was finishing up "Divergent". She started it on the plane ride home so we will have to do an over the phone beach book club when she is done, haha. I liked the second book a lot, I know some people were angry that it was more emotional than action packed but I think that's fine. The third one is waiting for me at the library, and I'm excited to finish it up! (Even though a few months ago when I had no intention of reading the series I looked at the spoilers so I know how it ends, still reading it).

Update: Finished.I feel like I want to talk these books some, so look for a stream of consciousness/discussion post about these coming up.

"The Long Walk": Read this on the airplane on the way down. Interesting, not as gory or violent as some of King's works. The concept is just so unusual I kept thinking "how did he even think this up in the first place?" (But I think that a lot with King). I liked that there was nothing supernaturally weird about it, which isn't to say it wasn't completely messed up.

"The Master and Margarita": Truth be told I hadn't finished it by the time I came back but have finished it since. It was funny, and kind of weird, and absurd and strange. Like, it's over and I still don't know what for sure I read and what it was entirely about. But it made me feel/look smart reading it, so that's nice!

"How to be a Heroine": The best thing about this book, is that the author mentions a bunch of books that sounded really interesting, so it made my feminist/women centered TBR list grow exponentially.

"Beyond the Pasta": I would never attempt the recipes in this book, but I loved the story about this Italian family who took him in so wholeheartedly.

"Without You There is No Us": A super fascinating look inside North Korea. If you have any inclination to learn about that part of the world at all I highly recommend it.

So 7 in book in 8 days! Which I think is a record for me, but I had to do something to fill the space between sipping drinks and eating tons of chips and guac :)

My "bucket list" item that I was able to accomplish was swimming with manatees. They are my favorite animal, and they are just the sweetest things ever. Except they are kind of huge. When you are in the water with them you kind of realize how big they are, and it's big. But they were sweetie pies and I enjoyed feeding them lettuce and giving them back scritches and fake kisses. Because even if you're very sweet and have no teeth I'm not putting my face that close to something that is essentially still a wild animal.

So I have to survive the harsh Wisconsin winter on these memories. It hopefully will be enough to get me through :)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book Review: "The Duel for Consuelo" by Claudia H Long (HF Virtual Book Tours)

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Consuelo tries to be a dutiful daughter but her family makes it hard. Her dad is kind of a blowhard, always monopolizing important people and talking their ear off, and then her mother is slowly slipping into (what I assume is something like) dementia. While she slips in and out of lucidity Consuelo cares for her. The problem is that Consuelo's mom is a Jew. She doesn't practice in the open because the Inquisition is a strong force even in Mexico, and that would mean death for her and possibly the whole family. Sometimes she mutters about candles and prayers which puts Consuelo and her father on edge sometimes. When an invitation comes for a wedding of a local noble family there are old feelings stirred up and kind of sets the wheels in motion for most of the action in the book.

This story has all the universal themes that are so popular for a reason: love, misunderstandings that lead to a huge feud, loyalty to family, loyalty to oneself, and of course really bad guys to root against. This story isn't exactly reinventing the wheel, though I had never thought about the Inquisition makes it's way all the way over to the new world.

I'm never not going to not think of this when I hear about the Inquisition so here it is.

At first I had trouble with the super short chapters, especially the first few. It's like you barely knew these people and their story and then you get bounced around kind of quickly between them. It got easier the farther along in the book I went, maybe it just took some getting used to!

Praise for Novels of Claudia H. Long

The Duel for Consuelo: “A fascinating, terrifying window into early 18th–century Mexico and the final throes of the Inquisition. Courage and daring fill every page. The conclusion of The Duel for Consuelo is as heart rending as it is pulse pounding.” -David Perlstein, author of Slick! and The Boy Walker

Josefina’s Sin: “Superb debut. A moving tale of women seeking to balance competing passions of the heart, body, and mind in the lavish setting of a seventeenth-century Mexican court.” -Publishers Weekly

The Harlot’s Pen: “I was in awe of Claudia’s skill with threading such a compelling and captivating story through such a troubled time. She is beyond talented. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this inspiring book. You won’t regret it!” -Kristen @ Pretty Little Pages

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Review: "Ordinary Grace" by William Kent Kreuger

It's the Monday after vacation, and I'm bumming. Ill have a wrap up, a few pictures, and some mini book reviews later this week.

I don't remember how this book got on my TBR but I'm glad that it did!

Our narrator is Frank Drum, 13 years old. He lives in New Bremen Minnesota with his father (Nathan) a pastor, his mom (Ruth) who apparently had quite the wild streak as a teen living in New Bremen but is still struggling to fit into the "pastor's wife" mould, older sister (Ariel) who is musically gifted and going to Juilliard, and younger brother Jake, who is quiet and serious, sometimes due to his stutter.

It's summer of 1961 and livin is mostly easy. Then there is an unexpected death...and then another...and then another, this one the most shocking, the body of a young woman is found in a river. This lends an air of suspicion to the residents of this small Minnesota town. The suspects are numerous. Is it the girls boyfriend? Is it the town's resident hot head teenage idiot who was a drinker with a temper? Is it the older Native American man who was found with the dead girl's jewelry? And then there there's a big unexpected twist!

I liked this book because it had good passing, relatable characters, and wasn't a really intense murder mystery. I don't generally read big complicated murder mysteries (or spy novels) because I generally can't keep all the characters and intrigue straight and then I get annoyed. This book was not like that. It was very readable.My one qualm with this book is that I guessed the "whodunnit" kind of early so I was waiting for the characters to catch up. But that's ok. I gave it a 3.5 out of 5 stars!


Friday, August 22, 2014

Great Ray Bradbury Quotes in Celebration of his Birthday!

Ray Bradbury is an infinitely quotable guy. Here are a few of my favorites all done up fancy on picmonkey for you!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A-Z Bookish Questions

A-Z of Bookish Question

The awesome and delightful Jamie posted her answers to these questions and I was like, that looks like fun, I'm going to steal it. So I did.
Author you've read the most books from: I have to think it's Ray Bradbury,CS Lewis and Neil Gaiman. So there's quite a threesome.
Best sequel ever: Does "Rose Under Fire" count as a sequel? If it does, definitely that one.
Currently reading: At time of writing: "The Pilgrim's Regress" by CS Lewis and "Sophie Scholl and the White Rose" by Annette Dumbach.
Drink of choice while reading: I don't really drink while I'm reading, I guess.
E-reader or physical book: Almost always a physical book. I appreciate what an e-reader brings to the table and sometimes it's just convenient but I will almost always take a tree book.
Fictional character you probably would have dated in high school: Not the guy from Catcher in the Rye.
Glad you gave this book a chance: "The String Diaries". Holy crap. That book was awesome. It sounded a little confusing but I was like whatever I'll try it. It was such a great read and I chatted with the author on Twitter some.
Hidden gem book: "Bone Church" by Victoria Dougherty. It was on a HFVB tour and I got contacted to review it and I'm so glad I did. Great setting, wonderful characters. Worth the read for suuuuure. Highly recommended.
Irritated by: Instalove. You have a whole book to develop a relationship between people, why do things need to be instant? It makes it feel not real. Or books that are not really about a love triangle but people make it so, a la Hunger Games.
Just finished: "A Year in the Merde". About a man living in Paris and his struggles to get stuff done and not get ripped off. Review forthcoming.

Kind of books you won’t read: Ridiculous bodice ripper romance novels. Though I jokingly started writing one in high school just to show how easy it would be to write one. Spoiler alert: not hard at all. (Phrasing.)
Longest book you’ve read: I honestly don't remember. Though with all of the talk about Outlander I was like oh I should read that and then it's like 800 pages. Not happening. At least not this year. Or anytime while I'm running the blog.
Major book hangover because of: The Daughters of Smoke and Bone trilogy. I gobbled up all three in like a week and a half and I want mooooooore.I was surprised by how much I loved that one.
Number of bookcases you own: Only 1! Being a big library user I'm not overwhelmed by books.
One book you read multiple times: "Mere Christianity" by CS Lewis. Something new every time I read it.
Preferred place to read: One of the recliners. Or really any chair with fluffy arms that I can toss my legs over without them losing feeling and then giving me tingly toes so I fall down when I have to get up for something.
Quote you like from a book you read: "Obedience isn't a lack of fear, it's just doing it scared". Jen Hatmaker's "7".
Reading regret: My only reading regret is that I can't just read for 10 hours everyday, that I must be a productive member of society,and the spouse who provides health insurance.
Series you started and need to finish: The Monument 14 series. If I'm completely honest, I found the writing a little subpar and the plot kind of meh but I read the first two so I need to finish it off.
Three of your all time favorite books: Really? Really? Fine. "Gargoyle" by Andrew Davidson, "Something Wicked This Way Comes" by Ray Bradbury, "Mere Christianity" by CS Lewis
Unapologetic fangirl for: Ray Bradbury. That freak flag flies with no shame.He's the man. 
Very excited for this release more than all the others: Hmmmm, all the books I was really gunning for this year have already came out. I'm sure there's something I'm forgetting. How about the Giver movie, that kind of counts, yes?
Worst bookish habit: Being a little bit psychotic about pacing my books that I order from the library so that I'm never without a book when I need it. Like it stresses me out like a crazy person sometimes.
X marks the spot: I have a set of free Frontier Airlines that have smiling animals on them, and also a set of bookmarks that were a birthday present that I like. I even left one in a library book and the librarians knew it was mine and made sure I got it back. Love those librarians.
Your latest book purchase: "World of Trouble" by Ben Winters, which I talked about in my author signing post here. I'm not a big book buyer so this was kind of a rarity.
Zzzz snatcher book: If a book is really boring me I just set it free.

Friday, August 15, 2014

"A Rainy Day at the Beach is Better Than a Sunny Day at the Office".

On Saturday, I'm off on vacation this week to celebrate my dear sister Quinn's 30th birthday! A week of sun and fun and food and drinks with Quinn and our dear friend Corrie sounds like a little slice of heaven, and I couldn't be more pumped.

So a beach vacation means lots of books right? Right. Here's the lowdown...

- Divergent  by Veronica Roth (been saving it since March to read on this trip!)
-The Long Walk by Stephen King (Killing kids before the Hunger Games made it cool)
-The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (It's a classic I've never read, and you know how much I love those silly Russians and their shenanigans).

And at least 4 books to be read on my Kindle. It's my first vacation with said Kindle, so we will see how it goes.

It seems like a lot but when you factor in waiting time in the airport and time on the plane...honestly I might grab another one on the way out the door, just because I hate being without. Since I don't have to pack a hairdryer (unfortunately a travel must for me) that means I have room for one more book, I think.

I'm not going to promise any real reviews on these but when I do a vacation wrap up post I'll make sure to include a few thoughts on the books.

There will be some blog shenanigans during the week, but I'm not going to divulge any details so it's a surprise!

If you're looking for me, maybe try here first?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wisconsin in 5 Books

Shannon over at River City Reading did a great post recently, summing up her adopted city of Richmond Virginia in 5 books. I know that it set mine and many other people's brain wheels turning. How would you describe your city? Your state? I thought long and hard about summing up Milwaukee, but I thought that expanding it out to the whole state would be more fun (and frankly be easier for me).

Wisconsin winters are no joke. Almost all the crazy things you have heard are true. Can your tongue really get frozen to a flag pole? Hell yeah it can. I've seen that with my own two eyes. Can you throw a pot of boiling water in the air and it freezes on the way down? Yup. (But be careful you don't burn yourself doing it). -30 degree temperatures with a whipping wind that makes you wonder why you live in a place where it hurts to breathe? Yeah, that was me basically all December and January. Long cold days and nights can drive you to the brink. Relationships can suffer, moods darken, the whole works. These feelings made me think of  A Reliable Wife. Intrigue, snow, and secrets!

A Reliable Wife

Drunk driving is a serious problem in all of Wisconsin. Everyone knows someone who has either a) been arrested for drunk driving or b) had a run in (God willing not seriously) with one. It is a plague on this state, made worse by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle refusing to make punishments harsher for repeat offenders so there's people driving around (usually on suspended licenses) with 4 OWIs under their belt.It's a freaking embarrassment. So the book I chose has nothing to do with Wisconsin but all about someone who has to slowly put their life back together after a horrifying drunk driving accident. It also happens to be one of my favorites. It's Gargoyle. Don't drink and drive. It's the law.

So a couple of different states can lay claim to Neil Gaiman's awesome American Gods but I think Wisconsin has a strong claim because of all the action that happens at The House on the Rock, especially the scenes at the carousel and the ice cream shop. I've never been to House on the Rock, but my friend Anna has and she said that it's basically a hoarders dream. (She's not joking, he has rooms stuffed with things all around a theme, it's crazy.) Here's a few of her pictures she let me use. Boob out angels, "the mouth to hell" and a prosthetic leg gun. So obviously this place is like a fever dream on E.

The books of Laura Ingalls and her family's adventures were staples in a lot of childhood reading. The first book Little House in the Big Woods is set in Wisconsin and helps to illustrate people who made this state what it is! People who came from all over the world and settled and worked themselves to the bones on farms and in the mines, on our lakes, and helped shape the future of our state. Also this book is where I learned to be scared of panthers, because the noise they make sounds like a woman screaming. That is the fuel for nightmares for me. If I was ever in the woods by myself at night and heard that I don't know if I would be able to run because I would be pooping my pants. Ahhhh!


And finally we end with another childhood staple (of mine at least, and Courtney from Courtney Reads a Lot), Underwear. I included this because the headquarters of Jockey is in Wisconsin...and because I ran out of ideas.


So Wisconsin is not without it's problems, but sometimes it's pretty lovely and fun:

Big picture: Racing sausages at the Brewers game; top right: downtown Milwaukee; middle: Black River Falls at sunset; Bottom corner: Lovely deck on Green Lake; middle bottom: food on a spigot at Oktoberfest; lastly: me and the husband enjoying adult beverages at a Kenosha Kingfish game. Yes, there's a reason these are all summer and fall pictures.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Author Interview with Catherine Aerie, author of "The Dance of the Spirits" (HF Virtual Book Tour) and giveaway!

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Today I've got an author interview for you with Catherine Aerie who wrote a book called "The Dance of the Spirits".  Immediately below is all of the info about her book, and then below that is our Q&A. She gave very thoughtful and thorough answers and I hope you enjoy it!

Amazon blurb: Award Winning Novel "...fleeting but intense...An often engaging tale of a flickering moment of love during a forgotten war." --Kirkus Reviews Spring 1951: it is the fiery zenith of the Korean War, a war that the youthful US Army lieutenant Wesley Palm and his men thought that they had won… until the Chinese swept across the Yalu River. Traveling with the million-man army bent on driving back the march of “American imperialism” is Jasmine Young, a Chinese surgeon who has volunteered herself into the war for unspoken, grave reasons. Through a chronicle of merciless battles, freezing winters, and the brutality and hypocrisy of human nature, the two will find themselves weaving through the twists and turns of fate and destiny. Though their love is forbidden, their passion and pursuit of liberty cannot be quenched.

Praise for The Dance of the Spirits

“…On the surface, The Dance of the Spirits is a story of love and of war, but on a deeper level, it is a story of the misery that the communist ideology brought to millions of souls in the twentieth century. Whether that philosophy is related to nationalism, internationalism or faith, Catherine Aerie reminds readers that when a system that will entertain no contradiction in thought or deed comes to power, no one is safe — and no one is free. Aerie draws a vivid picture of war and its price, and a tender image of love…” – Readers’ Favorite (5 Stars)

“…a love that is stronger than all the horrors that war can throw at them… compelling…poignant… sensitive and beautiful…” – San Francisco Book Reviews (4.5/ Stars)

“Adversaries in the Korean War find love in Aerie’s debut novel. The story starts in the middle of a firefight… Out of the rubble, two characters emerge: an American officer… and a Chinese military doctor… Their paths cross again and again… In the intimacy of the war, these coincidences don’t feel forced, nor even particularly fated–it’s just the way things went… Readers will likely find Palm a decent, very human person, but Young has more complexity and vibrancy… As the war rages around them, Palm and Young fall in love… but their romance is ill-starred and open to tragedy. Aerie keeps readers on their toes with the twists…fleeting but intense…
An often engaging tale of a flickering moment of love during a forgotten war.” – Kirkus Reviews

Did I mention there's a giveaway? Enter here!

Why do you think the Korean War gets so little attention in the public, whereas there's so much attention given to less recent conflicts?
I believe that it had something to do with the Vietnam War growing up long and tall, swallowing the much shorter Korean War before it into its shadow. The latter could have wound up being what we as Americans now perceive the former to be had it only lasted longer; an exhausting conflict marked by a once clear goal marred by confusing politics, a continuously denied total victory, frustration from being unable to achieve it in the first place, and the simple fact that so many lives and resources were spent in a war of attrition that yielded nothing less than a bitter stalemate (or in the case of Vietnam, an anti-climatic loss) after years of fighting. That being said, the fallout from the U.S’ tiresome decade long venture in Indochina simply outgrew and overshadowed that of Korea, and the resulting aftershock upon popular culture and media perception basically reflected that matter into the public. To quote Max Hastings’ history of The Korean War: “Rather than acknowledging that too little attention has been lavished upon the victims of Korea, it may be more just to suggest that too much has been heaped upon the veterans of Vietnam. (pg. 331)”   

You came up with the idea for this book while researching your family history. Did you find any other material for follow up books during your research?
Yes: along the way while researching for the novel, I came upon the subject of the lives of token Western communities residing in China in the times before the communist takeover.

How did you pick the name Wesley? (I'm always curious when such a rare -and awesome!- name pops up places!)
The name “Wesley” has a special meaning when pronounced into Mandarin Chinese: wei - a guardian, si - a poem, and li - wisdom. I thought it’d fit his character to give him a meaningful name.         

(Wesley note: Well well well. I like that!) 

You have a degree in finance. Is it hard to balance your creative/writing part of your brain with the finance/analytical part of your brain?
It’s actually not difficult at all once you find a way to make the most of the two at the same time; I suppose that the abilities associated with the latter must have done something beneficial while I was organizing the plot structure and progression of the former. It’s nothing of a unique ability and I’m very well sure that everyone can do so too.    

What surprised you most when you were writing this book?
I was genuinely moved by the whole United Nations’ effort to enforce the voluntary repatriation program regarding the (especially communist) prisoners of war during the Korean War; by itself, this was a major and bold change especially when compared to the Allied powers handling of surrendering Axis prisoners at the close of World War II, where thousands of Axis prisoners who originally surrendered to the Western Allies were then deported back to the Soviet Union on the reasoning that they had fought against the latter for the duration of their careers. The personal wills of many of these prisoners to avoid a miserable fate in the gulags were thus ignored in the process, and the last of them were only freed up to the late 1950’s, leaving few survivors to share their stories by then.

In sharp contrast to these events only a single decade later, the West allowed its communist prisoners to choose whether to return home, where they would likely be punished for surrendering in the first place, or immigrate to another foreign country instead; in the end, the vast majority opted for the latter option.  

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Living Abroad - China

"River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze" by Peter Hessler

So in 1996 our author Peter, and another volunteer names Peter were sent to China for a 2 year stint. They were the only 2 "waiguoren" (foreigners) in Fuling a relatively small town of 100,000 people. They were teaching at a college that would train the students to be teachers, usually in very small rural towns. Peter was sent to teach literature and poetry and he was worried that the students would have a hard time with things like iambic pentameter but they all caught on much faster than he expected.

I thought the most interesting things were the different cultural differences:

Many of the English students went by English names (but they called Adam and Peter by Chinese names, which is kind of funny). There was quite a variety of names, but they didn't always seem to mesh right. There were boys named Mo Money, Anfernee, and Lazy. Also many boys gave themselves girls names, like there was one boy named Brenda.They also could change them without warning, which made for some confusion.

The college took every opportunity to throw a banquet, especially if they were politically related. This always ended in everyone getting absolutely ripped. There would be toast after toast and everyone was in the bag at the end of these multi-hour celebrations. 

Here's some rapid fire depressing stats: More than half of female suicides in the entire world take place in China. The suicide rate for women in China is 5 times higher than anywhere else in the world. China is the only country in the world where women are more likely to commit suicide than men. One of Peter's most promising students (though one of the most socially awkward) jumped off of a bridge.

Another thing that I thought was interesting was the noise. Horns honked constantly, people shouted at the men in the streets no matter where they went; I think that would drive me up a wall!

In general I liked this book. I thought it went a little too long. I was more interested in the day to day life than  the things that the students were doing in class.I give it a low 3 out of 5.

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

Linked up over at"


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Book Review: "American Afterlife: Encounters in the Customs of Mourning" by Katie Sweeney

I like cemeteries. I love the artistry of the headstones, the historical aspect and that it's quiet.
This is not me.

So this book kind of fell into my wheelhouse. In it, Kate explains the logistics of burial are kind of foreign to us and that when we are confronted with planning a funeral (especially if i's totally unexpected) we are somewhat at a loss. It's not a taboo subject as much as it is something that we don't think about until we absolutely have to.

There was a museum in Springfield Illinois, The Museum of Funeral Custom, that sounded like it would have been awesome if it was still open. It had artifacts about how people dealt with death and funerals through different times. There was a quilt, and all around the corners were the families names inside of a little patchwork casket, and when that person died, you moved their coffin into the middle of the quilt that looked like a little churchyard. My question is, where do you display that? Does that get casually thrown over the couch? Do you snuggle up with the dead relatives quilt while reading? There was also a wreath made out of the hair of the creator's dead mother. I won't be doing that for my mom, and not just because she has short hair either. I don't mean to mock people, but it's amazing how different it was.

Kate visits an old wonderful cemetery in Atlanta, Oakland. Famous Georgians are buried there including lots of politicians, soldiers from the Civil War and Margaret Mitchell of Gone With the Wind fame. Did you know that you can figure out a lot about a person by their headstone? If you see a tall angel holding a torch it means "a life snuffed out too soon", so it might be on a younger persons grave. Cradles and lambs are often used to indicate very small children and babies. If the headstone has hands holding each other the people buried their were parents, or at least spouses.

There was a whole section on green burial and how for a lot of people, it's like burial and funeral traditions during early times. Since no embalming is used, funerals have to be held quickly after death. A lot of people hold wakes or showings in their own homes. Family members can help dig the grave. I'm kind of all about this. I always say that whoever is around when I die can just take all my organs that someone might be able to use, say a prayer over me, put me in a cardboard box and bury me.

I really liked this book. It wasn't sad, which was kind of surprising considering the subject matter. It wasn't cheaply morbid or voyeuristic on people's sufferings. It was even funny sometimes. It gets 3.5 stars!

Author Katie and I had the following conversation on twitter:

Can I say how proud I am that I figured out how to embed a tweet. Holla! So what would you pick, wreath or quilt?

Monday, August 4, 2014

My First Book Signing

So I went to my first author book signing on 7/16. I was nervous and didn't quite know what etiquette for something like this was so I asked T of Traveling with T for advice since she goes to many of these things. She said: bring your camera, take notes, and if you can't think of something to say just say "I really enjoyed the book!". That is good advice.

The tour was for Ben Winter's last book of The Last Policemen Trilogy which is called "World of Trouble".Here's the post I wrote about Ben's work previously. I didn't write a book review about "World of Trouble" because I didn't know how to effectively write a review about a book that is last in a trilogy without giving anything away. Here's the publisher blurb though.

My mom was my co-hort on this trip, since she had also read the books (I passed along my ARCs so she got first peeks too!). The signing was at the Mystery One Book Store in Milwaukee. It is a (very) small shop that exclusively sells mysteries. I'd say it's about 600-700 square feet. Also the owners are interesting. I will just leave it at that. I don't read a ton of mysteries (or what I consider mysteries, I don't really like putting books into categories. My categories pretty much consist of "fiction" and "nonfiction". ANWAY) so I'd never been before.

Me and Mom are first to arrive (we both dislike being late) .There's no chairs or really any open space so everyone is just standing amongst the bookshelves. It was super informal and low key. Ben was friendly and laid back and it was more just everyone talking, not much structure.

Ben also brought his ukelele which made me laugh because, hipster please. But then he kept doing little bits of Bob Dylan songs which redeemed him to me and mom. He listened to a lot of Bob Dylan while writing the book and almost called one of the books after a song but Quirk, his publisher wasn't crazy about it. Did you know ukuleles are notoriously hard to keep in tune? Apparently they are!

Here's just some notes I took:

-Ben isn't interested in what happens after an apocalyptic event. He was more interested in what people did in the face of certain death. I agree with him. Apocalyptic stories (even good ones) are a dime a dozen, and I thought it was interesting to see this perspective.

-He doesn't think of the book as a scifi book necessarily, he thinks of it as a mystery. But he said something to the effect of "but if you have an asteroid from outer space in the story people are going to focus on that and spin it scifi"

-He also said that his wife only reads the ARCs and not before, because he would be crushed if she didn't like the story because he values her opinion so highly.

I had "World of Trouble" in an e-book ARC so I bought the finished paperback at the store, and had Ben sign that and my paperback ARC of the first book in the series "The Last Policeman". I also gave him the blog's card, which later on I was thinking "that might have been tacky", but I told him that I was going to write up a blogpost about the signing, so hopefully it was informative and not tacky.

Here's the couple of pictures I snapped.

Here are the 2 things that bummed me out a little, and one of them is my own making so I can't complain about that one.

My own fault - should have gotten a picture together. But I chickened out because no one else was doing it and store was small and there would have been no way to do it without everyone looking at us while we were doing it which would have resulted in me making crazy eyes in the picture. Still should have just nutted up and did it anyway.

Second- It sounded like at other signings there was fun prizes or the like. We just ran out of time with all of our chit chat, which is fine because I enjoyed it, but come on, who doesn't like prizes?

So that's my first author signing ever. It was a small laid back affair so I'm curious as to how that will compare to others in the future. I highly recommend seeing Ben if he comes to your town, and be sure to check out his books!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Book Review: "A Curious Man: the Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe it or Not" Ripley

Leroy Ripley (he later went by his middle name, Robert, and used Leroy for his middle name) grew up in Santa Rosa California. Gangly, awkward, shy among girls, desperately poor and almost comically bucktoothed, his childhood was not easy.One of the few things that staved of the taunts of his peers was his cartoons, mostly caricatures of mutually disliked teachers! Through hard work, dedication and some chance he got one of his cartoons published in a SF newspaper. But he knew if he wanted real success (like that of popular cartoonist at the time Rube Goldberg-you know the weird machine guy) he would have to go to New York City, which he did.
(Ripley also survived the great San Francisco earthquake.Even though SF is the focus of that terrible event, Santa Rosa actually sustained more damage (proportionally) then any other city, and a higher per capita death toll. This kind of scarred him and he would not talk about these events to very men people for the rest of his life).

It was a slow slow start but Ripley began to gain notoriety, especially for his sports cartoons. Eventually his newspaper sent him on a trip to Europe and Africa where he drew thousands of cartoons illustrating his travels and the strange things he saw there......There is a lot more to the story but that is our heroes beginnings!

(Ripley's first book came out in January of 1929. It was 188 pages and sold for $2.50. It was a bang up success. Many people tried to duplicate it's success but none came close.)

He continued to travel all around the world. He loved China, was horrified by a lot of the things that he saw in India, and thought that the people of Hawaii were about the darn nicest he'd ever met. He kept himself out of both world wars, but he always did work for veterans. He hated Hitler, but he hated what the Communists were doing to his beloved China even more. Spoilery- people even think that the fallof China to Communism was one of the reasons for Ripley's relatively young death of a heart attack at 59.)

Here's a quote that I think basically sums up the whole book: "The shy awkward misfit loner had become the champion of the freakishness of others. By celebrating the weirdness he made it mainstream, becoming one of the most widely read and influential syndicated cartoonists of his day-and among the best traveled men in history". All it takes is a few good turns of fate, hard work and a little bit of talent and you can move mountains, no matter where you started!

I would have never ever guessed that the Ripley's Believe it or Not that we know today started out as newspaper cartoons. If I had to have hazarded a guess, I would have said that maybe it was a radio program, you know when someone talks in that old timey voice about you know, a man who hopped on one foot for 15 miles or something.

My only qualm was that the book was pretty long and fairly stuffed with details.Neither of these things are bad per se, but I felt the book went on for longer than it should have because of all the details that they tried to shoehorn in.

I really wonder what he would of thought of his empire today. Would he have been pleased that it was still around? Would he have worried that some people think it's just a little cheesy? Would the internet worried him because so many oddities are just at fingertips 24/7? Deep thoughts! :) I give it 3 out of 5 stars, good content but maybe a little too much of it!


I recieved this book for free in exchange for an honest review from Blogging for Books