Friday, June 28, 2013

Review: Queen of the Air: A true story of love & tragedy at the circus by Dean Jensen

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  A true life Water for Elephants, Queen of the Air brings the circus world to life through the gorgeously written, true story of renowned trapeze artist and circus performer Leitzel, Queen of the Air, the most famous woman in the world at the turn of the 20th century, and her star-crossed love affair with Alfredo Codona, of the famous Flying Codona Brothers.

Like today's Beyonce, Madonna, and Cher, she was known to her vast public by just one name, Leitzel. There may have been some regions on earth where her name was not a household expression, but if so, they were likely on polar ice caps or in the darkest, deepest jungles.

       Leitzel was born into Dickensian circumstances, and became a princess and then a queen. She was not much bigger than a good size fairy, just four-foot-ten and less than 100 pounds. In the first part of the 20th century, she presided over a sawdust fiefdom of never-ending magic. She was the biggest star ever of the biggest circus ever, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, The Greatest Show on Earth. 
    In her life, Leitzel had many suitors (and three husbands), but only one man ever fully captured her heart. He was the handsome Alfredo Codona, the greatest trapeze flyer that had ever lived, the only one in his time who, night after night, executed the deadliest of all big-top feats, The Triple--three somersaults in midair while traveling at 60 m.p.h. The Triple, the salto mortale, as the Italians called it, took the lives of more daredevils than any other circus stunt.

And here's what I thought:  The circus, and circus performers, have long held a fascination for me. I was already familiar with who Lillian Leitzel was, so I was thrilled to receive this book from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.   I think what makes this particular book an interesting read is the combination of the subject material and the author's writing style.  

It's clear that that the author has a love for his subject, and I enjoyed reading his Acknowledgments section almost as much as the book, itself.   His writing puts the narrator in a position of describing not only the people and places, but also in a position where he is giving the reader someone's innermost thoughts.  He has a vivid, descriptive writing style, so that it's very easy to imagine all of the places, and the people.  At times, the book read more like fiction to me, and at first, I found it a little distracting.   However, once I stopped, and went to the back of the book, and looked at the notes section, it was clear to me that the author had done a lot of research, and had pulled these first-person descriptions from that.  

Reading this book gives you insight into the life of the circus as much as it gives you the story of Leitzel, and it's nice to have some of the background and extra information to help give some perspective.  Leitzel, as talented as she was, had issues, both in her personal and professional life, and as much as the author loves his subject, he doesn't shy away from giving us the less-than-happy details of her life.   I think it's a great read if you know nothing about Leitzel, but it's an extra-special book for someone like me.  

First lines: A soaking rain had fallen much of the day, turning the circus lot into a quagmire.  By sundown, though, the downpour finally had stopped, and now, on this mid-June night in Boston in 1919, a canary-colored moon hung over the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey tents like a blessing.   A show had been under way in the big tent for more than an hour.  It was a little beyond eight o'clock when two women, one of them in a costume of white and spangled chiffon, plodded to the treat tent from the circus's train, idled on a railroad siding a quarter mile away.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Review: The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads): The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope is an unconventional and passionately romantic love story that is as breathtaking and wondrous as The Time Traveler's Wife and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

During WWII, teenager Evelyn Roe is sent to manage the family farm in rural North Carolina, where she finds what she takes to be a badly burned soldier on their property. She rescues him, and it quickly becomes clear he is not a man...and not one of us. The rescued body recovers at an unnatural speed, and just as fast, Evelyn and Adam fall deeply in love. In The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope, Rhonda Riley reveals the exhilarating, terrifying mystery inherent in all relationships: No matter how deeply we love someone, and no matter how much we will sacrifice for them, we can only know them so well..

And here's what I thought:    I actually finished this book a few weeks ago, but I couldn't figure out how to write my review.  Which is totally not like me.  However, as much as I liked the book, I couldn't quite figure out what to say ---- and I didn't want to include any spoilers, which is really tricky.

So, in the end, I decided to write a very short review.   Ready?

This book is beautifully written, and although I found the story a bit strange, it was so compelling that it has stayed with me long after I've finished the book.   The way that Riley writes her characters, I felt like I knew them, or wanted to know them.  I also felt there was a solid sense of place in this book, so that even when things were changing with the characters, there was this anchor.   I think this is one of the best examples of a story that illustrates how love can last, and evolve, and how it can transcend elements that might seem completely impassable.

First lines:  My husband was not one of us.  He remains, after decades, a mystery to me.  Inexplicable.  Yet, in many ways, and on most days, he was an ordinary man.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book Blogger Confessions --- about BEA and ALA

I'm late this week .... Monday just disappeared, and all of a sudden, I'm at Wednesday.  But I thought this was an interesting topic this week, so I wanted to add my two cents.

Before we begin, here's the info about BBC:    Book Blogger Confessions is very nicely co-hosted by two bloggers, Midnyte Reader and For What It's Worth, and is a Monday meme (that very helpfully runs through the week).     :)

This week's question is: Question: BEA, ALA. Have you ever been before? If you've been before, share your experiences; both pro & con. If you haven't gone before, do you participate in online events like Armchair BEA? Do you hope to go one day? Do you feel too intimidated to go? Are you jealous of the big book hauls and tweets during the events?(question from Julie – My 5 Monkey’s)

I'm weighing in on this question because as a librarian and a book blogger, I definitely have some thoughts on this.   And that means this is a long post (feel free to skim, if you like).

Let me start by saying that I've never been to BEA, although I would really love to go some day.  However, right now, it never seems to work out with my budget (because, um... librarians don't usually have huge salaries), or my work schedule. Armchair BEA also never seems to work out for me, mostly because right now, my work schedule ramps up (Summer Read time) and by the time I get home, I'm not in the mood for any more time on the computer.  However, I think that one of these years, I'm just going to bite the bullet, eat super-cheap for months and save up my money, and figure out a way to go.    As a book blogger, it would be a wonderful experience and opportunity to hear authors, meet other bloggers, etc.    Plus, I could then stop being so envious of everyone else who gets to go.  

ALA is a bit of a different animal, in my mind.  As a librarian, I relish my opportunities to go to ALA because it's time that I can spend meeting other librarians, hearing speakers, going to panels, meeting library vendors and publishers, and basically, getting ideas that I can bring back to my library, to better serve my patrons.  I think it makes me a better librarian because I'm getting all the information and ideas --- and I always find it re-invigorates me, which is something that I periodically need.  This is because I work with the public, and sometimes, the people I encounter at my library aren't sweet and nice and make me feel wonderful about being a librarian.   So, I sometimes have some low moments, which are usually brought back up by some of our great patrons .... but going to a conference usually counts for a big power-up.   ALA does move around, but luckily, comes to Chicago every few years (I live in one of the Chicago suburbs).

ALA is also great because it gives me an opportunity to meet authors, and talk to publishers --- and yes, have the opportunity to pick up some books.   As a librarian, a big part of what I do is push books and reading in general --- so being able to see what's going on with publishers, and pick up books that I can read, and then recommend, is wonderful.    As a book blogger, I admit that the mere sight of all of the books on the display floor is breathtaking.

So here's where I bring in a bit of, shall we say, crankiness, about ALA and the free books.   

As a librarian, who works really hard, and who goes to ALA as part of that work (it's considered a full working day when I go, and I do spend my entire day going to panels, groups, discussions, etc.), it can be a little frustrating when I'm in line to pick up a book, or talk to a publisher, and someone who is a book blogger is very pushy (either verbally or physically).   The last time I was at ALA, I had this happen a few times ---- I would be in line, and a book blogger would be there with a friend, loudly talking about how many books they were grabbing, and there would be a bit of pushing and shoving.

I do not mind that book bloggers attend ALA.   I do not mind that they are there to get books, because the good book bloggers get these books, read them, and then post about them, thus spreading the word about great books, and reading, in general.    

I do mind that some people who attend ALA seem to not have much respect for other people around them, in their quest to grab as many books as they can carry.   I also do not care for bloggers who post about their huge book haul, and then don't seem to ever post any reviews of those books.  

ALA is a library conference, and thus, is aimed at librarians.   Librarians who work hard, for not a lot of pay, and who consider this conference an opportunity to network, and meet authors and publishers as part of their work.   For librarians, ALA can be a once-every-few-years kind of opportunity, and because of work schedules, we might only have 1 day that we can attend.  We  might not live in or near the city that's holding the conference, and our libraries do not always have the money to send us to conferences.   Even if the library is in Illinois and the conference is in Chicago.   So there are librarians and library staff who save up their money and travel to an ALA conference on their own, just because they are that dedicated to their profession.

I welcome book bloggers who attend ALA for the experience of meeting authors (because I know authors are our rock stars!!), and who are respectful of others when they're in line to get a book, or meet an author, or attend a panel.    But, I'd ask that non-librarians who attend ALA please be aware that this is a library conference ---- respect that there are a lot of us there who work in libraries, and who may only have one day to attend this conference --- please don't cut in front of us in lines, step on our feet, or try to elbow your way in front of us (seriously, I'm a solid enough person that if you elbow or shove me, I'm not only not going to move, but I'm going to get really, really cranky.  I used to dance at industrial music clubs, so I can hold my own, ok?).   I treat everyone around me as if they were a professional, so I expect the same courtesy.   If  that happens, we can all enjoy ALA and have a good experience.

And .... that's it.    If you've read this post, I appreciate your sticking with me as I rambled on.   :)  

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger --- review

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  Once there was a Postman who fell in love with a Raven.

So begins the tale of a postman who encounters a fledgling raven while on the edge of his route and decides to bring her home. The unlikely couple falls in love and conceives a child — an extraordinary raven girl trapped in a human body. The raven girl feels imprisoned by her arms and legs and covets wings and the ability to fly. Betwixt and between, she reluctantly grows into a young woman, until one day she meets an unorthodox doctor who is willing to change her.

One of the world’s most beloved storytellers has crafted a dark fairy tale full of wonderment and longing. Complete with Audrey Niffenegger’s bewitching etchings and paintings, Raven Girl explores the bounds of transformation and possibility.

And here's what I thought:    Reading this dark fairy tale reminded me of just what I enjoy about many of Audrey Niffenegger's books: the feeling of being a bit off balance.  Like many of her other stories, this book has a lot in it that deals with possibilities, and transformation, and being true to one's heart.  The first part of the book, where the Postman meets the Raven is interesting, partly because the Postman makes an assumption that the Raven is in need of assistance, when, in fact, she's perfectly fine.  By taking her from her nest, he takes her away from her home and family --- but both of them adapt to each other, and eventually, fall in love.   

When their daughter hatches, she looks human, but she can only speak in the Raven tongue.  As the book tells, "The Raven Girl had a happy and perplexing childhood.  She played odd games that involved hunting bugs and earthworms; she climbed trees and jumped out of them, hoping to fly, but only crashing to the ground."   It's clear that although she's somewhat comfortable in her own skin, she doesn't feel that it's a completely true body --- because her raven-ness makes her want to fly.   It's an interesting way to show how someone can look "normal" on the outside, and still not fit in with everyone around them.

Eventually, there is an opportunity that comes to the Raven Girl ..... and I won't say any more about that.   Suffice to say, the end of the story is pretty interesting, and I found it satisfying.   However, it should be noted that Niffenegger, true to form, doesn't make things easy; transformation always comes with sacrifices, and sometimes, people get hurt.

This is an odd sort of a book; it's more of an illustrated book rather than a graphic novel, and yet, I felt the art was instrumental in helping tell the story.     The combination of the art and the story make for an interesting, and thoughtful book.   I included a bit of the art here --- I love that first image, with the raven and the Postman's shadow !

And a note: the Royal Ballet (UK) will be performing choreography of this book - this link has more information on that.   I think this sounds like a really cool performance, and fascinating project!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Book Blogger Confession: Book Tours and Cover Reveals

It has been a REALLY long time since I've participated in a Book Blogger Confession.   But, I'm trying to back on track with my blogging, and today's topic caught my attention.

But first, I want to give credit to the two bloggers who host this: Karen at For What It's Worth and Pam from Midnyte Reader.

Today's question is:  Does participating in book tours/cover reveals and author guests post drive traffic to your blog? What type of problems have you encountered when hosting them? (please keep it civil - no names or calling specific people out) As a blog follower, are you ever turned off by these kinds of posts? How much publicity is too much? 

I have not participated in a book tour for a really long time, and I guess it's because I had some mixed experiences with them.   While it did drive some traffic to my blog, it felt like it was more a one-time thing, and not something that really made an increase that lasted very long.   I didn't participate to bring traffic to my blog, so I wasn't really bothered by this.    What I liked about tours was the whole participating with other people who were interested in the book.

I think the tricky part was sometimes coordinating things --- if one person was behind on things, and you were directing traffic to them, it could jam things up.   I admit that I was sometimes the one running behind schedule, and then I felt awful that I was the one creating a problem for other bloggers.    

I do like having author posts or interviews, even if those posts don't get a lot of comments --- because maybe that gives the author and their book some more attention.  I know it can be hard for authors to get the word out about their book(s) if they are new authors, or aren't with super-big publishing houses.

I've never participated in a cover reveal.  It's just not my thing, I guess.  As pretty as a cover is, my interest in the content of the book, so it's just not something I pay that much attention to (as opposed to a release date, for example).

There's a second part to today's question: As a blog follower, are you ever turned off by these kinds of posts? How much publicity is too much? 

I find it depends on the book, the author, and what's actually happening.    As I said, cover reveals don't really interest me much, so I tend to pass those up on blogs.  I do prefer blog tours that move from blog to blog, and maybe have different features; when it's all the same kind of post from bloggers on the same day, with the same information, it feels like I'm reading the same thing again and again.

What I do find to be a turnoff is when blog tour seem to focus less on the book, and more on encouraging bloggers to compete with each other.  It takes the focus off the book, which I find to be the opposite of what's supposed to happen.

I'm looking forward to seeing what other bloggers have to say on this topic, especially those who participate in blog tours.
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