Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review: Strange As This Weather Has Been - Ann Pancake

Title: Strange As This Weather Has Been

Author: Ann Pancake

Pages: 357

Publisher: Shoemaker Hoard

Why I Read This Book: I read this book as a tie in to the vacation I took to my paternal roots of Gauley Mountain, Ansted West Virginia. It was my Dad, myself, my step-mom and my teenage, Midwestern daughters. It was an extremely entertaining trip watching these girls totally FREAK OUT on true blue Appalachia!! And when I came home, wondering if I’d ever get back there again in my lifetime, I wanted to read something that paid homage to that. And I found it to a T in Ann Pancakes novel.

RATING: 4.75/5

Synopsis From Goodreads:
Strange As This Weather Has Been follows several members of the family, with a particular focus on fifteen-year-old Bant and her mother, Lace. Working at a “scab” motel, Bant becomes involved with a young miner while her mother contemplates joining the fight against the mining companies. As domestic conflicts escalate at home, the children are pushed more and more outside among junk from the floods and felled trees in the hollows—the only nature they have ever known. But Bant has other memories and is as curious and strong-willed as her mother, and ultimately comes to discover the very real threat of destruction that looms as much in the landscape as it does at home.

My Review
I read this book to try to capture MY own feelings and emotions of memories in the West Virginia Mountains. And I think Ann Pancake and I have traveled some of the same winding mountain roads. From Beckley to the New River Gorge familiarity abounded. 

But no where so much as in the characters we follow from a typically dysfunctional family, especially Lace and Bant who seemed every bit a piece of not only myself but so many of the people I’ve known. Mountain-folk or Flatlanders. Strange as this Weather Has Been revolves around Lace and Bant primarily. Mother and daughter looking at life in the mountains from too sadly similar generations. And the choices left for their future; or lack there of. And about just how deep roots run.

Told in the voices of the family members, SATWHB switches chronology and POV but I had no trouble following where who was where when or how they felt, which was crucial.

Pancake’s prose kept me right there in both imagination and memory and I could smell the loamy humid richness of the dark of the wooded mountain. The family was one million percent believable and relatable. They are neighbors and friends we all know. They are headstrong girls making questionable decisions and they are headstrong boys feeling so inferior their only recourse becomes an over abundance of pride. And I loved each and every one. Despite themselves.

My one criticism is wondering if those not familiar with this region; with abandoned mines and hollers filled with trailers on hewn out ‘shelves’ on the mountain side, would really have enough of a frame of reference to ‘get’ this book. But I’m not sure those without that frame of ref. were Pancakes target audience. Regardless, I say READ IT! Push on through the parts you don’t get, it’ll make enough sense and then you wont miss any of the wonderful passages and unforgettable quotes.

Because you see Strange As This Weather Has Been reads like any best seller list dystopian novel.

Except this is REAL. The conditions are REAL. The continued destruction is REAL!!! I could not believe these practices were not punishable by the harshest laws in the universe what mountain top removal strip mining does to IRREPARABLY harm this precious, precious ecosystem. And it is those who still live in nervous silence that I believe Ms Ann Pancake was trying to reach… and I wish I could help her. 

I very much loved this book, but in a way you love your teenager when they are being, well, teenagers: sometimes with difficulty. This book is emotionally challenging but more than worth the effort. I doubt it will leave you unchanged.

My Ancestors settled an area called Panther Mountain in West Virginia. I don’t know yet where that is today exactly, but I hope Pancake's book helps save it. 

And, God Forbid, it doesn’t. I will trust Ann Pancake's skill as a talented writer to keeping the memory of those who lived the unique life of West Virginia in all her shame and glory.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Iowa City Book Festival July 16-18

I'm thrilled that I get to attend my first real book event in a couple weeks. I am back in Iowa City at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics as my daughter is here for round 3 of her 4 rounds of chemo. And just practically across the street, over on campus, it is time for :
Iowa City Book Festival. Home based at the Main Library at the University of Iowa campus.

There are tons of neat things planned! 
  • Over 50 authors! 
  • Children's Activities
  • Iowa City Book Festival Dinner - Tickets still available but going fast last time I checked. Have dinner with the authors and fellow attendees with keynote address by Elizabeth Berg. (Wish I could make this!)
  • Music
  • Vendors
  • Novel Iowa - a Tweeted Novel

More information is available at the website. But it has the reputation of being a large event that is wonderfully planned and well executed.

Iowa City has true literary tradition as home of the Writer's Workshop. And getting to rub elbows in THAT community will be like a dream come true. If all goes well, maybe my daughter will be feeling well enough to get out on a pass to at least get to see it.
It has been named one of UNESCO'S Cities of Literature explained on Wikipdia as:
UNESCO's City of Literature program is part of its Creative Cities Network which was launched in 2004.[1] The Network was born out of UNESCO's Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity initiative which was created in 2002. Its aim is to "promote the social, economic and cultural development of cities in both the developed and the developing world."[1] The cities in network promote their local creative scene and conform to UNESCO’s goal of fostering cultural diversity.[1]

An important aspect of the "Creative Cities" concept is that the cities foster public/private partnerships particularly by encouraging the entrepreneurial and creative potential of small enterprises. Literature is just one of several categories of Creative Cities. Others include music, film, media, gastronomy, crafts and folk art, and design.[1]

[edit] Criteria for Cities of Literature

To be approved as a City of Literature, cities need to meet a number of criteria.[2] In essence, these are:

  • Quality, quantity and diversity of publishing in the city
  • Quality and quantity of educational programmes focusing on domestic or foreign literature at primary, secondary and tertiary levels
  • Literature, drama and/or poetry playing an important role in the city
  • Hosting literary events and festivals which promote domestic and foreign literature;
  • Existence of libraries, bookstores and public or private cultural centres which preserve, promote and disseminate domestic and foreign literature
  • Involvement by the publishing sector in translating literary works from diverse national languages and foreign literature
  • Active involvement of traditional and new media in promoting literature and strengthening the market for literary products.

There are some super great places for some bloggers to meet up and make it a blogger event as well - hint hint. hint HINT! HINT HINT HINT!

Say Saturday the 16th at 5:30 at ... Micky's? or Dublin Underground? Somewhere on the PedMall area anyway.  Let me know bloggers!

Even so, please consider heading over for a couple days of incredible bookish fun in great Iowa summertime weather! The campus is beautiful and never more so than high summer. Except game day. GO HAWKS!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday - Fav Booksites

Hosted by the bastions of exuberent energy over at The Broke And The Bookish, Top Ten Tuesday focuses this week on our favorite bookish sites, organizations, apps, etc.

Mine's a quickie this week. Not cuz I don't love ya and certainly not cuz I couldn't ramble on and on about how much I love bookish stuff, but cuz (shhhh) I'm at work ;)

So here, in no particular order...

1) goodreads  - I think I finally settled on goodreads over the other book database sites because the widget is so clean looking.

2) Shelfari - I like the data section of this site better than the other book organization sites.

3) Shelf Awareness - industry news for an industry junkie! This was one of my favorite finds this year!

4) BookPage- I have more fun grabbing this from the library than the stack of books I went to the library for most of the time! And now I'm connected digitally. Still love my big paper magazine though.

5)Prairie Lights Iowa City - My fav indie bookstore. The website is pretty. There's lots of other content too, trend lists, bookish gifts etc.Plus helps me keep track of local bookish events

6) Maquoketa Public Library - My home town library, even though they are totally digitally challenged. I swear once Brittany's healthy, I'm marching in there and taking over their website!! :)

7) NetGalley - My other favorite find this year. I have only reviewed one book so far, but have plans for others when I get back to the hospital. Love this site!

8) Book crossings - I signed up for this site about 8 years ago and only used it a couple times. My town looks on 'loosed books' as litter half the time, but now that I go to Iowa City often, I have lots of fun places to release books.

9) eBay - Ok yes for somethings I MAY shop there...mostly text books for school so much cheaper than the bookstore. But, did you know there are communities too? Um Hm there are! And there are bookish communities. It was one of the first online communities I found for bookish folk.

10) my entire blogroll!! - I can't help it... yes YOU!! all of you. You ARE my source for bookish information and indulgence and my inspiration to pursue the book-life! I'm in your debt too much to not give you the props you deserve :) Love you ALLLLL!

Geez no time for pictures or anything!! Maybe next week. Can't wait to see where you go too!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Junkin on a Saturday

I look forward to Saturdays. I mean I know everyone who works a 5 day standard work week does. But I do for more than obvious reasons.

 Saturday is the day I go wandering driveways, garages, yards, second hand stores and the GW search of goodies. Mostly books. Mostly my quest books (I just added a tab about those).  I usually start getting ready for Saturday when the papers come out on Wednesday with listings of the weekends yard sales. I usually always find something. I'm not as good as the Queen but I can usually find a bargain or two.

 Today was no exception and was actually pretty productive! I got all 7 of the laid out books, the audio book, and the bankers lamp for $8.00. I was happy!

The others are Gerald's Game 1st ed.
Little Women - a nice paperback for take along reading for my girls to read
2 The Cat Who Books. - Which is my guilty pleasure. They are so sweet!
Anne of Green Gables - which is on my challenge list, so I needed a copy
The Princess Bride - Which I've never read but have seen the movie a million times
and The Return of the King. - I think this will be the 3rd set I'm working on now.

The Antique Library Table is my mom's but has been in our family for a long time. She had it restored. I think the bankers lamp looks great there and had been looking for exactly this lamp for a long time. for 5 bucks I could not go wrong!

The audio book it the Great Gatsby and it is still in the shrink wrap, never opened. I plan to run a contest of some sort pretty soon and offer it as my prize.

The question is what sort of contest ought I to do... I'll have to think about it.

Meanwhile, Saturday may be junkin day at yard sales, but Sunday (after Church) is Auction day. Woot! On the look out for books by the box and of course, super cool book cases!! We'll have to see how I do.

Do you guys go on 'bookish scavenger hunts' like this? It's so much fun :) Leave me a comment and let me know what you scored this weekend~


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday - Reasons to Book Blog

Here it is Top Ten Tuesday again! And my favorite meme!! Graciously hosted by the fine folks at The Broke and the Bookish.

And a happy Blogiversary !! It really is amazing to me how wildly successful you have become in one short year! But you have a Rockin' blog so not so surprising afterall.

To celebrate with them I have jotted down my Top Ten reasons I blog. As A countdown...

10) Clarity - Of course getting my self to write about what I read helps me focus. AND I find out things about myself and where I really want my life to go... Since starting this I have changed my intended career and am back in school. Looking for my Library Science degree.

9) Memes!! Especially THIS meme! I not only like to chime in I LOVE to go through and read all the other answers!

8) Reviews - Your reviews are my favorites. I love to read reviews. After I review a book I'll check the blogs I stalk and see if anyone else has read it too and what y'all thought of it. I love it when I get feed back on my reviews too...everyone like a lil blog love!

7) Challenges - I think it was over at Callipider Days that I stumbled into my first challenge. I had never heard of such a thing!! How interesting and how much fun! I believe it was DIRECTLY responsible for my original blog to branch off into Bunny Tales. :)

6) Lists! - I love lists. I write lists of what I've read, lists of what I want to read, lists of what I should read, I love to read your lists.. and all in one handy dandy spot! List-a-mania is taking me over!! And thanks to you, so is my TBR list!!

5) Inspiration - Inspiration comes from each and every one of your posts that I read. You inspire me to think though it, around it, over it, during it... and inspite of it. You inspire me to post, read, write, and converse more deeply. You inspire me to just keep at it!

4) Events - For example...had it not been for the blogosphere, I would not have realized there were events out there as amazing as BEA...which is on my bucket list now. I did have sooo much fun doing Armchair BEA since I couldn't be there bodily.  And it gives me a way to find other awesome bookish events to try to get to.
3) Indulgence - To not think about teens, drama, sickness, or swine feed for even a few minutes. To enter the world of worlds, the realm of books and be around other book lovers! This, for me, is 'chocolate thinking'.

2) Community - My daughters and I are readers so I can converse with them. But it won't be long until they fly the nest and I'm so relieved I have found the book bloggers neighborhood to escape to. Where I can hear about books to my hearts content and get to talk bout what I've read with understanding friends.

1) Books - I'm a died in the wool, nearly Neurotic, bibliophile. I dream of home libraries and yard sale for first editions. I decorate with typed words and write audience minded. My favorite place as a child was the local library and my goal for LIFE is to be entrusted with the care of a library and all that word means. I. simply. love. books. and book blogging allows me to be bookish as often as I like. 

So that's my list. I can't wait to read what you love about this nutty hobby! I'm betting there are quite a few similarities in the answers this week... at least I HOPE so!


Monday, June 20, 2011

A Tortoise Reader

I'm a slow reader. This is a trait that never even occurred to me before I entered the blogosphere. It's not that I have a hard time reading, rather I believe it is the opposite. I read like I would speak were I reading the book aloud. It's just the way that makes sense to me. It's the emphasis of the phrase, the nuance of the prose that I savor and yearn for. When the action cranks up so does my lines-per-minutes. And when the piece turns contemplative, so do I. To me, the ups and downs, accelerations and braking are all part of the experience. It's what I paid my ticket price for, so to speak.

 I can read quite quickly when I need to. And I do sometimes. But not too often anymore. And I wonder anymore if I read too slow. I wonder this mostly when I come across another bloggers fabulously long 'Read so far this year" list. And I have like 7 books for an entire fiscal period.

My speed however isn't the only thing that keeps me from racking up the page counts and shifting my TBR pile to my TBR (To Be Reviewed) pile. Another is my time and the hardest to face, is my age. My TBR pile is huge! Much larger than I have recorded on my TBR tab or over at my Goodreads account. And I don't feel like I get to make much headway on it.

My reading habits are partially to blame. As a single mother of 2 teenage girls, I've had a hard time finding my time my own enough to read. Interruptions are usually the word of the day around here, especially while they were younger. When they became High Schoolers things changed a bit but so did some of my priorities. Then my oldest was diagnosed with Leukemia. Believe it or not I've gotten more reading done lately than in the past few years. Hospital time isn't too entertaining. Mostly I head off to bed to read before I go sleep. This time frame is usually rarely more than an hour. I'm trying to squeeze more reading segments in to my day too but that's where my other roadblock comes in.

I'm afraid, afraid down to my very toes in a paralyzed with terror sort of way, that I'm getting old and it's showing in my reading. I...gulp....have a hard time concentrating and remembering what's happening!!  Why??
Of all the cruel twists of fate.To love the stories but not be able to hold onto them. And not just that but since I picked up the habit of only reading before sleep, now every time I read I get sleepy!! Even in the middle of the day! I'm like a literary Pavlov's dog..or cat....or Bunny!! And I hate it! :(

Couple all this with the blogorific desire to compete with at least some of my fellow bloggers for tomes devoured or reviews posted and I wonder if I'm about to cut the fun out of my passion...the written word. I'd hate for that to happen, instead perhaps I'd be better of to take a Tortoise and Hare approach and be content with slow and steady. When I jack rabbit around I never do figure out what's happening.  But when I read as I read, bit by bit, I feel like I've taken time to smell the imagined roses, to look around the world that has been spotlighted for my perusal. It makes each thing I read that much more special to me.

I think I feel an urge to get moving because I want to have more things out there on my blog for my peers to see and read and hopefully comment on and .... oh ok... like me for. And I'm afraid if I'm a slow reader then my fellow book bloggers won't take me seriously or... oh ok... like me.

I do want to pick up the pace somewhat, especially before school starts again and I go non-traditionally chasing my BA. I'll keep trying to pick up a few more minutes here or there and get a little farther in what ever I happen to be reading while the sun still shines. Maybe a chapter at lunch. Read some instead of checking facebook for the 100th time. Perhaps TEACH myself to be alert.  After all even though it's a race with no winners and certainly no losers!!, it can't hurt to keep training!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Follow Friday

Welcome to Feature & Follow Friday (err Thursday) on

If you are new to the #FF fun, Feature & Follow Friday is a blog hop that expands your blog following by a joint effort between bloggers. First you leave your name here, then you create a post on your own blog that links back here and then you visit as many blogs as you can and tell them hi in their comments (on the post that has the #FF image). You follow them, they follow you. Win. Win. Just make sure to follow back if someone follows you!

Now to make this #FF interesting we do a FEATURE blogger. The Feature bloggers are chosen randomly from participants in the Follow Friday or through twitter and blog introductions. If you are interested in becoming a Feature let me know! It is also required to follow the host blog ( and the Feature blog to participate in the #FF.

Our Feature  - Nicki J Markus

Her question of the week was SUCH a fun one! Thanks Nicki for the 'imagination vacation!'

Q. The magic book fairy pops out of your cereal box and says "you and your favorite character (from a book of course) can switch places!" Who are you going to switch with?


Oh Elizabeth Bennet I hope you weren't getting too comfortable there at Pemberley... I'm tapping you for a life 'cut in'. This is my dance now and Mr. Darcy is Exactly who I'd want to dance with! 


hmmm? oh yeah... reality, I remember! Back to work but with a secret smile >:)

Looking forward to reading about your trades too!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review: Cain - Jose Saramago (ARC)

Title: Cain
Author:  Jose Saramago
I Why Read This Book: I was anxious to take a foray into the world of Advanced Reader Copies and try my hand at some reviews for works that I didn’t have any preconceptions about. What a dozie I chose!

Synopsis From Publisher:
In this, his last novel, Saramago daringly reimagines the characters and narratives of the Bible through the story of Cain. Condemned to wander forever after he kills Abel, he is whisked around in time and space. He experiences the almost-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, the Tower of Babel, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Joshua at the battle of Jericho, Job’s ordeal, and finally Noah’s ark and the Flood. And over and over again Cain encounters an unjust, even cruel God. A startling, beautifully written, and powerful book, in all ways a fitting end to Saramago’s extraordinary career.
My Review :
I had a lot to get past before I realized I actually liked this book. (Full of disinformation as it was.) And I had a lot to accept before I realized I liked this author. (Full of bitterness tho he seems)
Obviously a personal commentary on the perceived absurdity of the Bible, Jose Saramago takes yards of poetic license with each of the biblical happenings he mashes into events that play out in front of and often influenced by our misunderstood protagonist Cain (and chief whinny baby and buck passer).  Reminiscent of how Forest influenced certain cultural and historical events in the work Forrest Gump, Cain wanders the countryside and time itself stumbling upon all the culturally and theologically significant happenings of the era(s).
While not only making fun of religion, putting it in the light of unbelievable ridiculousness, Cain also points out the frailty of the human spirit, with or without monotheism. Portraying God as fallible and cruel and even, as Saramago re-tells  the story of Job, gleefully sadistic.
I’m a Christian and have done Bible Study so I wanted to jump up and down and say ‘No you don’t get it!’ And that’s what I had to get past. But I’m torn on the intent between a) purely anti-religion or b) being satirical towards the overly literal interpretations there are of religion and the Bible. I’d like to think it was the later. I also actually believe that despite his unbelief in God and the Bible, he was certainly well versed in it and DID in fact understand it. You can’t manipulate the intentions that well without knowing what the intentions were in the first place. Just as a good accountant makes the best embezzler. Or so I’ve heard.
 Not without humor, I did find myself chuckling despite myself at times. Ok a LOT of times!! It is very  Monty Python-esque or Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. I kept hearing in my head the narrator in the voice of John Cleese and Cain as a bitter version of Alan Rickman’s Marvin the robot.
Saramago’s writing style is TOTALLY unique  unto itself and it takes awhile to settle into. I had never read any of his works before so at first I thought the text, shy on capitalizations and proper punctuations and choked full of ginormous sentences, was like that just because it was an ARC and not edited yet. But no, after looking up his biography I learned that is just how he writes.  And somewhere along the line I started to truly like it!
Saramago was an Atheist, a pessimist, and a communist. He was also a Nobel Prize winner for literature.  But not for Cain.
While most certainly not for everyone, Cain offers an often graphic look at human nature and our own tendencies to pass the buck of accountability.  Beware if you are easily offended by religious criticisms and there are some pretty graphic  romantic encounters. Read past those ‘knee jerk’ reactions and I think you’ll find a humorous and thought provoking book more on people than on deity.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Review: The Phantom Tollbooth

Title:  The Phantom Tollbooth
Author:  Norton Juster
Pages: 256
I Why Read This Book:  My 17 year old was appalled that I had never read or even heard of this book. It was one of her all time favorites. Nothing better than sharing the love of  books
RATING:  5/5

Synopsis From Goodreads:
This tale of 10-year-old Milo and his experiences in the "Lands Beyond" has become a modern-day children's classic.

My Review:
Firs of all how did I miss this book as a youth? Or when my children were little? How did I not know anything about this book until a couple of weeks ago? My daughter got a copy of the book and extolled its virtues and said I absolutely. Positively. Had. To. Read. It. 
I’m so glad I did. From the very first page this book sweeps you away with wit and intellect. A children’s book yes, but the tale of Milo and his new found friends leave you with a greater understanding for language and even math and the need to temper extremes. It has the power to teach kids the nuances of the English language in a way that helps them understand the dangers of miscommunication. And that the more you know in this world the more there is to do, as Milo found out when he got home. 
It is filled with absolutely the most endearing characters ever created! The next dog I get (if ever) I am naming Tock…and I’ll hope I get it right.  Tock and the Humbug, The Which, and The bird from Context. Places such as the doldrums, and The Island of Conclusions. The Symphony of color, as well as Dischord and Dynne . Along with so many others! 
It was a wild ride and one I read nearly in a sitting. It has also become one of my favorites and I will make sure any one who hasn’t read it hears how fabulous it is and try to coerce them into reading it too. Like my younger daughter. I have my sites set on her reading this next.
You actually CAN sum up this book in one word, (although is has earned a lotteries worth of words and we want it to get it’s value,)  that word would be