Friday Favorites: A Moveable Feast

Friday, April 30, 2010

"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."

In general I'm not a huge fan of Hemingway. I've read For Whom the Bell Tolls, Farewell to Arms, The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises and True at First Light, so I have a decent view of his breadth of work. It always seems stilted to me. I feel distant from whatever is happening. The plot is too simple or I don't feel connected to the characters, especially the women, who are apparently only there to serve the men. I've enjoyed some of his books, but wouldn't say I love them.

The exception to that is A Moveable Feast, which is interesting because it's the only nonfiction book of his I've read. Hemingway wrote this about his early days as a writer when he was living in Paris with his wife Hadley in the 1920s. He was a struggling artist, spending his days writing in cafes and hanging out with his friends, Joyce, Pound and Fitzgerald to name a few.

I read this book shortly after moving back to the states from London. I had visited Paris multiple times while in Europe and the beauty of the city was still fresh in my mind. I'm sure that had a huge impact on my appreciation for the book, just as your personal experiences always have an effect on how you interpret what you're reading.

I don't think this is a perfect book. Many critique it for the rosy view of Hemingway and negative view of many others. But to me that's expected... Hemingway wrote it, take his words with a big grain of salt. Of course he's going to make himself look good and idealize that time period. The thing that hooked me is his description of the places and the people. It made me want to be there on the Left Bank perusing books in the Shakespeare and Co. or taking a road trip with Fitzgerald. Everything felt so real to me. It was the first time I felt completely drawn in to one of his books and I think it's because he was actually connected to that life, so he couldn't help pouring those feelings into the book.

Book Reviews

Thursday, April 29, 2010

My favorite book in my latest batch of reads was Willa Cather's O Pioneers! How have I missed her books up until now? The rest is a mishmash of poetry, nonfiction, novels and more.

Heaven and Other Poems
by Jack Kerouac

I really enjoyed Kerouac's letters to publisher and friend Donald Allen at the end of the book. They are childlike in their sincerity and earnestness. I can connect with his rambling style of writing much easier with his letters, than with his poetry. But I really enjoyed his poems too. He has a beautiful, sporadic way with words. This is a line from the title poem, "Heaven,"

"The Church? Earth's dogmatic mistakes have nothing to do with Heaven."

Invisible Man
by Ralph Ellison

A young black man is expelled from college after an afternoon drive spirals out of his control. Betrayed by his role model he flounders, disillusioned, in New York. He starts off optimistic and enthusiastic about his future. By the end he has lost all faith in humanity. He has runs ins with union factory workers, shock treatment, an eviction and a few other messy situations. He ends up working for a "brotherhood" that's trying to unite the black community in New York, but is run by white people.

There were aspects of this book that I thought were interesting, but the plot comes across as disjointed and the nameless main character seems so helpless. It seemed like every decision he made was a bad one. Every person he decided to trust betrayed him and he was so naive. I wanted him to be a little more cynical, more world-weary. He was so surprised when bad things happened to him, but it seemed like he never did anything to avoid these situations. I think there was certainly some bad luck involved, but I was just so frustrated with him that it was hard to root for his success.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
by Anthony Bourdain

Bourdain's balls-to-the-wall memoir of his time as a chef is intense, but it's also mesmerizing. It's a behind-the-scenes view of the hectic, cutthroat world of cooking. I don't envy the lives of the people in this world, but they do fascinate me. I can't imagine choosing a life where every weekend night is spent serving other people, who rarely appreciate your skill. Chefs and kitchen staff are hired and fired with the speed of a rapidly revolving door. Tempers flare easily and the consequences are rough. It's all drugs, sex, but no rock 'n' roll. Bourdain's writing style makes the crazy life enthralling. He is ruthless in his descriptions of people he has worked with, but he doesn't exclude himself from that same tough scrutiny. His passion for food is contagious. The language and descriptions are rough, so this isn't for everyone. But if you can take it, it's absolutely entertaining.

(A spread in Literary England about Wuthering Heights)

Literary England

by Richard Wilcox

This book includes photos from the throughout England of literary locations that inspired scenes in classic literature. Each one includes a quote from the text, the photo and a brief explanation of where the location is and why it was used. The information is a bit dated, but it's still interesting.

The Meaning of Consuelo
by Judith Oritz Cofer

A young Puerto Rican girl, Consuelo, tells stories about her family and neighborhood and about taking care of her outgoing younger sister. Her best friend is her oddball male cousin who moves to New York City with his father. While her whole family focuses on her adulterous father and socially stunted sister, Consuelo falls between the cracks. I felt heartbroken for Consuelo and frustrated with her distracted parents and cruel classmates. It was well written and interesting, but not one that will stick with me forever.

O Pioneers!
by Willa Cather

Set in Nebraska at the beginning of the 20th century. The Bergsons, a family of Swedish immigrants, struggle to succeed with their farm. When their father dies, the eldest daughter Alexandra inherits the farm. She cares for her younger brothers and makes the hard decisions, which bring them success. Years later, Alexandra's relationship with her childhood friend, Carl Linstrum, causes tension between her and her brothers. Her youngest brother, Emil, falls in love with the married bohemian, Marie Shabata.

The plot seems simple enough, but it was so much more than that. Alexandra is a strong woman who isn't afraid of trying new things, even though her brothers are. She follows her heart and embraces outcasts when others turn their backs. Cather's descriptions of the land just drip with love for it. You can't read this without understanding her passion for it and her respect for the pioneers themselves. I was completely swept away by the simplicity of the tale. I loved the character and the way it was written and will definitely be reading more of her work.

The Poe Shadow
by Matthew Pearl

Set in Baltimore in the mid-1800s. A young man, Quentin Clark, is a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe and is distraught when his favorite author dies unexpectedly. Putting his own life on hold he begins to research the man and the mystery, even traveling to Paris to try to find the inspiration for the detective Dupin, to help him solve the questions surrounding Poe's death.

Clark is a stiff and awkward leading man. He always seems to be out of the loop and is the last to figure out anything. The story lags and it was hard stay interested. I honestly think I would have preferred to read a nonfiction book discussing Poe's death, instead of this mystery novel. Pearl did a great job researching the book and the factual information is fascinating. I've been a Poe fanatic for a long time, so it was worth reading, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who isn't.

Book Review: Maus I and II: A Survivor's Tale

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I picked up the first book of Art Spiegelman's graphic novel set "Maus" not knowing what to expect. I knew it was about the Holocaust and that it used animals instead of people to tell the story. That was the extent of my knowledge. I couldn't put the book down. As soon as I finished it I picked up the second and final book and dove in. Here's my thoughts on both.

Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History

Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles Began

by Art Spiegelman

Art wrote and drew this two-part graphic novel based on his own father's (Vladek) experiences during World War II. It's also a revealing look at Art himself and his relationship with his difficult dad. Maus feels so honest. It's written not about a perfect man, but about a regular man, who fights with his wife and has a tortured relationship with his grown son. He is a flawed man who survived the holocaust and this is his story.

The book is brilliantly real. The fact that the story is told as a graphic novel allows the reader to detach just enough to get through the gruesome subject matter. The Jews are mice, the Germans are cats and the Polish people are pigs. The first book deals with Vladek's life before with his wife Anya. Their relationship resonated with me long after the final pages. The second book, which won the Pulitzer Prize, focuses on Vladek's time in Auschwitz and the war's resolution.

Reading it reminded me of an interview I did with a holocaust survivor when I worked at a daily newspaper. I remember being shocked by how angry he was. In my naïveté I assumed he would feel only gratitude for the fact that he survived, but there are some wounds that you can never truly forgive.

Book List: 3 Books That Intimidate You

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Here's this week's meme from Lost in Books. All the books that I've been intimidated by in the past, like Atlas Shrugged or Anna Karenina, are never scary once I read them. But before I pick them up they seem impossible.

1) Marcel Proust's seven volume "Remembrance of Things Past." This book has always terrified me. I know I'll read it (all of it) one day, but not yet.

2) "Don Quixote" by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. I don't know why exactly, but this one just never really appealed to me, but I want to eventually read it. I'm waiting until it seems like less of a struggle to tackle it.

3) "The Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri. This epic poem terrifies me. In my head it's going to be incredibly difficult to read.

Book Review: The Little Stranger

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Little Stranger
by Sarah Waters

This is my first experience with Sarah Waters, who I've heard so much about from others. I had heard nothing about this book in particular, but have heard that her others, Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, etc. are excellent. After this one, I'm aching to read more from her.

The Little Stranger is a ghost story of sorts. Told from the point-of-view of Dr. Faraday, a local bachelor in the small English town. The story follows the Ayers family who live in a huge old manor, Hundreds Hall in the 1940s. Caroline, 26, cares for her younger brother Roderick, 24, who was injured in WWII. They live with their mother and a young teenage maid, Betty.

Hundreds Halls is a character in its own right, with its rambling gardens and empty rooms. The house itself seems to be aching for something, or someone. Odd things begin to happen and the gothic tale reels you in. I was captivated by Waters yarn from the first page. Like any good haunted house story, you don't really know what's going on. Is it really haunted? Are they just mad? It was so wonderfully done. The worse "ghost stories" are the ones where a big monster jumps out from behind something and scares you. This one is so much subtler. It raises the hairs on your neck and leaves you dreaming about it for days.

I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on the end of the book. I was left feeling more than a little suspicious of Dr. Faraday, but I don't know how much could be explained by his participation in events. He reminded me so much of Tom Ripley with his desperate yearning to be a part of the Ayers' family.

Friday Favorites: Tuck Everlasting

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The first time I read Tuck Everlasting I was only 11-years old, almost exactly the same age as the novel's main character, Winnie. From the very first pages of the slim volume I was hooked. At its core it's a young adult book that questions the value of mortality versus immortality.

Winnie leads a shelters life before meeting the Tuck family. The Tucks, made up of a mother, father and two sons, became immortal after unknowingly drinking from a spring of life. Winnie becomes completely enamored with them and their lives.

The characters are so well-drawn. There's the sinister, never-named, "man in a yellow suit," heartbroken Miles, loving Mae, energetic Jesse and of course Pa Tuck, who Winnie loves best of all. Winnie herself is everything a young girl should be, curious with a drop of both fear and courage.

The novel is beautifully crafted. I've re-read it a dozen times since that first introduction and every time different things stand out to me. When I first read it I was swept away by the concept of immortality and the romantic life that was offered to Winnie. More recently it's the wisdom of PaTuck that has resonated with me...

"But dying's part of the wheel, right there next to being born. You can't pick out the pieces you like and leave the rest. Being part of the whole thing, that's the blessing."

When you think about all you would have to give up to embrace immortality it's daunting to say the least. Friends, family, the world you know, all of these things would fade in time. Babbitt manages to capture the essences of this dilemma in a way that even a preteen can grasp.

I think the very best books grow along with us. They offer new ideas as we age. We gain so much from them as young adults, but once we've grown up we can re-read them and discover a whole new world.

"Life's got to be lived, no matter how long or short."

Book Reviews

A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906
by Simon Winchester

Simon's writing was dry, relying to heavily on facts to draw the reader in. Other authors have managed to blend the factual research with individual accounts in a way that flows easily. Erik Larson did an excellent job with Isaac's Storm (an account of a hurricane), but Winchester fails to connect with the reader. Instead his book feels clinical, referring to one person's account of the earthquake as an "anecdotal example." I loved learning more about San Francisco's history and the science behind the earthquake, but I wish he had made the book less like a term paper.

The Happiness Project
by Gretchen Rubin

Rubin spends a year trying to improve the most important facets of her life; her marriage, work, parenting style, energy level, etc. From the beginning of the book she says she understands that she is already happy and loves her life, but knows there are simple things she can do to improve and simplify it.

I really enjoyed her writing style. Other authors might have sounded preachy or whiny with the same material, but Rubin does a wonderful job blending statistics and studies, her own experiences and a self-deprecating humor to create each chapter. Instead of telling her readers to "be less judgmental" or something like that, she tells them the reasons why this can fuel your own happiness and she gives specific suggestions on how to do it. I'm not big on self-help books, but this one was just my style. Based on facts and her experiences as opposed to just willing yourself to a happier life.

The Heretic's Daughter
by: Kathleen Kent

Sarah, a 10-year-old, moves in with her aunt, uncle and cousins while he family battles through a small pox scare in 1690s Massachusetts. After returning home Sarah watches as her mother, Martha, is accused of witchcraft and carted off to prison and tried during the Salem Witch Trials. It's fascinating and disturbing to read about the ignorance that fueled this historic event. Sarah's perspective gives the whole book an innocence and she learns that her trust is not always justified and that sometimes the biggest sacrifice someone can make is to hold true to their beliefs.

In an Instant: a family's journey of love and meaning
by Lee and Bob Woodruff

TV reporter Bob Woodruff was critically injured by a bomb in Iraq. He and his wife tell their story about his road to recovery. I'm not a big fan of memoirs about a life event. Sometimes they're great, but they just aren't my style. This was a book club book and it was pretty good. Lee and Bob retrace the early days of their marriage when they moved from China to various states as Bob moved up the media food chain. They went through an incredible ordeal, but kept everything in perspective by sharing stories about families who weren't as fortunate as they were.

Olive Kitteridge
by Elizabeth Strout

This Pulitzer-Prize winner consists of 13 short stories set in a small town in Maine. I liked the way the book is structured around Olive. The stories follow various people in the community, but their lives all touch Olive's in some way. Sometimes the stories focus on Olive and her family, but often she is just a minor character. I liked being able to see Olive as others see her. The book gives you a view of how Olive sees herself and also how others see her.

Olive is a former teacher who is married to Henry, a pharmacist and mother to Christopher. She isn't your typical main female character in a fiction book. She is aloof and condescending. She is someone who is often respected, but rarely liked. She's such a hard character that at times it is hard to like her, but her straightforward attitude rings true in a lot of ways. The style was interesting, the writing was good, but the characters and stories themselves left me cold. I had a hard time trying to make myself care about what happened to them.

Photo by moi.

Wordless Wednesday: Budapest Baths

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How great does a lazy afternoon at the thermal baths in Budapest sound?

More Wordless Wednesdays here.

Photo by moi.

Book List: 3 Favorite Eras To Read About

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Here's this week's meme from Lost in Books.

1) Austen/Brontes England in the early 1800s. It was so much harder for men and women to get a chance to spend time together back then. They really had to work for it. They had to write letters or ride horses or carriages miles away to visit. There's something eternally romantic about that and the softy in me loves it.

2) World War II in Europe. Some of my favorites, like The Book Thief and Catch-22, are set in Europe during WWII. There are so many great pieces of fiction (The Reader, Number the Stars, Milkweed), non-fiction (Band of Brothers, Brave Men, Night) and poetry by authors like Owen and Sassoon. There's such a wide variety of books about that time and even more, set in modern day, with characters who struggle with their experiences from the war (The History of Love).

3) The Future. That might sound like a cop out, but I love dystopian novels like Fahrenheit 451 and The Hunger Games, The Giver and Ender's Game. I suppose those might necessarily fit the category of "future" but whatever the era for those types of books would be, I love it.

WWII image from

Austen image from

Neil Gaiman Lecture

Monday, April 19, 2010

I'd like to preface this post by saying all the photos were taken in a dark auditorium with no flash allowed, so sorry.

So after weeks of anticipation I attended Neil Gaiman's lecture in Indianapolis on Friday, where Gaiman was awarded the annual Kurt Vonnegut Literature Award. It was wonderful.

Gaiman mixed words of wisdom with readings of his works. He even had a Q & A portion at the end. He talks the way he writes, turning the simplest phrase into something quite beautiful. He's also hilarious and has perfect comedic timing. Which shouldn't be a surprise, since his sense of humor is evident in his books, but still, it was delightful.

One issue he talked about is the misconception that books should either be good for you or they can be popular. His books, like the Newbery Award Winner The Graveyard Book, have shown us that books can (and should) be both. He said, "I won't choose a side. I'm on the side of books you love."

(Gaiman and his new award)

He read his newest "Instructions" and also short stories like "Inventing Aladdin." During the Q & A he patiently answered silly questions and humored us Hoosiers.

So anyway, completely enamored by the books, the humor and the brilliance of Neil Gaiman.

Have you guys seen any of your favorite authors in person? Did they disappoint or affirm your admiration of them?

Photos by moi.

Friday Favorites: Neil Gaiman

Friday, April 16, 2010

Today's Friday Favorite is a bit of a mash up. Tonight I'm going to hear one of my favorite authors speak. I'm sure I have quite a few favorites that out rank him, but most of them are dead. Of my favorite living authors, he's near the top.

Neil Gaiman [insert Woo Hoo! here] is speaking in my fair city tonight and barring tornados and such, I'll be there. A few of Gaiman's books have certainly crept on to my favorites list over the years, but truly it's his body of works that impresses me. It's ridiculously diverse.

The man started in graphic novels and has since blown the literary world away with epic mythological tales like, American Gods, short story collection, Fragile Things, young adult books, The Graveyard Book, cheeky fairy tales, Stardust, and so much more. His work has been turned into films (Stardust and Coraline); he's collaborated on fascinating projects and so much more.

He tends towards the macabre, which I love, but he never loses his sense of humor. The Anansi Boys is a great example of this. I'm also astonished by the sheer amount of work he's put out in the past two decades and he doesn't seem to be slowing any time soon.

So anyway, it's not exactly a Friday Favorite ode to one book, but rather one author and many books. I've only mentioned a tiny sliver of his work here, but it's enough to get your feet wet if you've never tried him. So start reading!

P.S. I'll let you all know how tonight goes!

Image compilation by moi.

Gaiman image from here.

Penguin Postcards

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Aren't these wonderful! Penguin book covers made into postcards. I would love sending these out to say hello to friends around the world. The only problem would be letting them go. I'd be tempted to keep them all for myself. But at least I'd still have the awesome box after I sent them all.

From here.

Wordless Wednesday: Tube

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Some days I wish I could hop on the tube and spend the day somewhere wonderful in London.

More Wordless Wednesdays here.

Photo by moi.

Book List: 3 Books I Should Love, But Actually Hate

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Here's this week's meme from Lost in Books. These are books that I've been told I would love, but I absolutely didn't. Maybe my expectations were too high, but regardless, I was not a fan.

1) The Accidental Tourist: I was so frustrated with the main character, Macon Leary. He had no personality; it was like he didn't exist. I think part of it is the fact that I love to travel and his entire job is to help business men never experience the culture of the place they have to travel to. I did like Leary's siblings and their odd dynamics, but that was the only redeeming part of the book for me.

2) A Confederacy of Dunces: I'd heard so much about how hilarious this book was before I read it. I think my expectations were just too high. I never connected with Ignatius and I really just felt sorry for his mother. I've been told I should read it again, but I just don't know if I can. I did love the character Miss Trixie; she was fantastic.

3) The Art of Racing in the Rain: I kept reading wonderful reviews on people's blogs and so I picked this up. It wasn't too bad at first, but then it snowballs into a parade of bad situations that torment the narrator's (a dog) owner. I didn't have a problem with the dog's point-of-view bit, but it got so incredibly cheesy. It's the scene in the courtroom that really did me in.

Book Reviews: The Hype

So often in the blogging world one book seems to pops up everywhere. It looks interesting and so EVERYBODY decides to read it. Then the hype begins. People start touting it as "the best book ever!!!" and seriously overusing punctuation. Then the opposite reviews begin. You know, the ones saying, "I don't know what everyone is talking about. This book is only so-so."

This is the vicious cycle of hype. Books are built up, people go into them with expectations teetering on high heels and they don't evaluate the books fairly. I'm as guilty of this as anyone else, but I can't really think of a solution.

I try not to read reviews of books that are in my TBR list. Instead I bookmark them and return to them after I've read the book. That way I can participate in the discussion, but I'm not influenced by their opinions before I form my own. But it's hard to avoid hype for really popular books. That's one con to the hundreds of pros that an active book blogging world gives us.

That being said, here are my reviews of too hyped books I recently read...

The Postmistress

by Sarah Blake

The book is set in Europe and Massachusetts at the beginning of WWII. The plot follows three women, the local postmaster, Iris, a young doctor's wife, Emma and Frankie, a radio reporter stationed in London.

The sections revolving around Frankie were by far my favorite. Blake has her travel, by train, back and forth throughout Europe trying to talk to Jews who are being forced to flee their homes. Frankie also experiences a disconnect with regular society, similar to a soldier returning home. I also loved the minor character of Otto, an Austrian Jew living in the US. His character reminded me of Joe Fenchel, the German-American in East of Eden.

I never felt very connected to Iris or Emma (especially Emma). Their experiences seemed so distant from the passionate experiences of Frankie. Emma seemed to float along, never making any actual decisions in her life. She let things happen to her and then felt victimized afterwards. I did like Iris' interaction with Henry, a man in the small Massachusetts town, but was frustrated by, what seemed to me, like a really unnecessary ending.

I felt like the plot, which supposedly revolved around a postmistress deciding whether or not to deliver a letter, wasn't the true plot at all. It was one tiny part, that shouldn't have been the center of the book. That whole premise felt like a distraction rather than the central moving force of the story. To me, the point was Frankie's experiences, her struggle to understand what she had seen and decide what she should share about it. The book had some wonderful parts, but over all I didn't love it.

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett

It's 1962 and deep in Mississippi two black maids, the sweet Aibileen and the saucy Minny, rotate the narrative of their experience during the Civil rights movement. The third narrator is a white socialite and aspiring journalist, Skeeter. The three women come together when they decide to write down the true stories of black maids' experiences while working for white people.

Stockett's characters and descriptions are addictive. I fell hard for these characters from the first page. Minny is struggling to hold down a job after getting fired for being accused of stealing from her last employer. Aibileen is grieving the death of her son, while at the same time having to bite her tongue while her white employer ignores her toddler. Skeeter longs to do something important with her life while her friends and mother tell her all she needs is to find a husband.

The reason this book had such an impact on me is because the characters were so well developed. Each one had a unique voice and a fascinating story. With a rotating narrative it's easy to have a favorite character and to dislike the others, but I loved all three women. They were so layered that they often surprised me. The harsh Minny showed unexpected tenderness to her employer, Aibileen had a quiet strength and stubbornness. Only the best characters can truly surprise you. This book had me laughing out loud in parts and trying to hold back tears in others.

Ignore the hype and read this with no expectations. It's a joy to read and its message packs a powerful punch.

Friday Favorites: A Man Without a Country

Friday, April 9, 2010

I have a serious soft spot for Kurt Vonnegut, partly because his hometown is my hometown. While Indianapolis may not be the most exciting city in the world, it is my common bond with that satirist and makes me feel like I understand where he's coming from in some way.

The reason I choose this book as a favorite, as opposed to some of his more famous pieces, (Slaughterhouse Five, Breakfast of Champions), is because it was the first book of his I read. It's also the very last book he published while alive. Of course I didn't know that at the time. When I read it I was looking forward to seeing him speak in Indy the following month. I finished the book, completely enamored with his candid style and black sense of humor. Then, a mere two weeks before his scheduled lecture, he died. His son ended up filling in for him.

It's funny how something like that can so deeply affect how you view an author. In my world Vonnegut was a new discovery. I had heard of him for years, but was just beginning to enjoy his work, (I've since read the majority of it.) He, on the other, was at the end of his life.

The book itself is a gem, but it's no better than his other collections of essays. I enjoy his fiction, but have found that his nonfiction, opinion-based ramblings are more my style. He had a way of weaving serious issues, like war, with threads of absurdity that's so unique. This book is a great taste of his work because it's a short collection that deals with current issues.

It's that very distinct way of writing that often polarizes readers when it comes to his work. I'll be the first to admit that Vonnegut is not for everyone, but he is, for me, a joy to read.

Book Reviews

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Anne of Ingleside
by L.M. Montgomery

This, the sixth book in the Anne of Green Gables series, focuses more on Anne's growing children and their reaction to various scraps they get themselves into. I missed Anne's voice in this story. Although she's in the book and we occasionally hear from her, she's mainly phased out.

I did hate reading one section where Anne, who was a published author in earlier books, says, "Occasionally I do write a little story, but a busy mother hasn't much time for that." I understand that this was written in a very different era, but still. Anne always dreamed of being an author and it seems like she gave up that dream entirely. She has certainly become a wonderful mother, but can't she be both?

I do love Montgomery's descriptions of life. The wonderful character of Anne finds such joy in the smallest things and has a very healthy view of dealing with change.

"Well that was life. Gladness and pain... hope and fear ... and change. Always change! You could not help it. You had to let the old go and take the new to your heart... learn to love it and then let it go in turn. Spring, lovely as it was, must yield to summer and summer loses itself in autumn. The birth ... the bridal ... the death."

I love the series and I'm glad I read the book, but it's definitely not my favorite.

Cannery Row
by John Steinbeck

Set in Monterey, CA in the 1940s, Cannery Row is a delightful little look at a small community. There's Hazel, a young man who asks questions just to hear others talk, Lee Chong the grocery store owner who's constantly trying to avoid being taken advantage of and Mack, a good-hearted bum who's always up to something. I loved reading about the quirky town's people. The main character, Doc, is a marine biologist. He's a gentle soul and was modeled after Steinbeck's good friend.

This book is so much lighter than most of Steinbeck's work. I've loved many of his epic novels (Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, East of Eden), but their dour themes can make for some rough reading. This book, on the other hand, is a celebration of a close-knit neighborhood coming together to celebrate a good man. I'm looking forward to reading more about these characters in the sequel, Sweet Thursday.

by Rudyard Kipling

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, a mongoose, lives with a small family in India. He finds out that two cobras, Nag and his wife Nagaina, are planning to kill the two adults and their young son Teddy. The clever mongoose decides to protect them and to take on the dangerous snakes. I first got to know this story through the 1970s animated movie and I fell in love with the brave animal. The book is even better.

The White Seal
by Rudyard Kipling

A white seal, Kotick, sees his fellow seals being hunted and killed by men and decides to do something about it. He searches for a long time to find a safe, sheltered beach where they can live without men being able to reach them. When he tries to get his tribe of seals to move they mock him and he has to fight them. At its core, it's a story about doing something brave when everyone tells you that you can't do it. He refuses to accept things as they are and instead searches for a better life and succeeds.

Photo by moi.

Wordless Wednesday: Vienna

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Vienna Opera house in Austria is gorgeous. Buildings like this are works of art and
then you add in the performing art that takes place within its walls, just amazing.

More Wordless Wednesdays here.

Photo by moi.

Book List: 3 Regrettable Book Covers

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Here's this week's meme from Lost in Books. I've seen many horrible covers, but my list is only made up of books I've actually read.

1) A Girl Named Zippy - The baby is creepy, enough said. (And yes, I know it's the author, but that doesn't make it any less odd).

2) Hadassah: One Night with the King - This is an interesting re-telling of the Biblical story of Esther, but the cover makes it look like a cheap romance.

3) Where the Birds Go When It Rains - You can't even tell what the blue blob is suppose to be, a bouncing ball or a whirling time portal? Unfortunately it's the latter.

March Monthly Summary

Monday, April 5, 2010

March was a great reading month for me. I completed a total of 20 books, similar to last month. I finished my Audio Book Challenge and made a good dent in my 101010 Challenge. I read quite a few great books, including Les Miserable, RENT, Blue Highways, Still Alice and The Help. I hope you all found a few great reads too!

101010 Challenge (10 books in 10 categories in 2010)

Favorite authors (6/10)

Nonfiction / Travel Memoirs (4/10)
-"Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America" by: Barbara Ehrenreich - ★★★☆

Recommended (6/10)
-"The Jungle Book" by: Rudyard Kipling - ★★★★
-"Over Sea, Under Stone" by: Susan Cooper - ★★★★
-"What Was Lost" by: Catherine O'Flynn - ★★★★

Plays (esp. Pulitzer Prize Winners) (8/10)
-"RENT" by Jonathan Larson- ★★★★★
-"Waiting for Godot" by Samuel Beckett- ★★★

Short Stories / Poetry Collections (3/10)

1,000 Books / Gilmore Girls List (8/10)
-"Cannery Row" by John Steinbeck - ★★★★
-"Les Miserable" by: Victor Hugo - ★★★★☆

Sequels (7/10)
-"Eloise in Paris" by: Kay Thompson- ★★★★☆
-"Anne of Ingleside" by: L.M. Montgomery - ★★★☆
-"Fourth Comings" by: Megan McCafferty - ★★★

Book Awards (Pulitzer, Booker, Orange) (3/10)

One Book One Town / Book Club (5/10)
-"Blame" by: Michelle Huneven - ★★★☆
-"How Starbucks Saved My Life" by: Michael Gates Gill - ★★★☆
-"The Postmistress" by: Sarah Blake - ★★★☆
-"The Help" by: Kathryn Stockett - ★★★★☆
-"Still Alice" by: Lisa Genova - ★★★★☆

Random Book Challenge (5/10)
-"Their Eyes Were Watching God" by: Zora Neale Hurston - ★★★☆
-"Blue Highways: A Journey into America" by: William Least Heat-Moon - ★★★★☆
-"Little Children" by: Tom Perrotta - ★★★★
-"Proof" by: David Auburn - ★★★★

Book Review: Les Misérables

I feel like I've been reading this book for years. In reality it's been two months. But when you're used to spending a couple weeks (at the absolute most) on a book, two months seems like a long time. So when I finished it I decided it deserved its own post.

Les Miserables
by Victor Hugo

This book is an undeniable masterpiece. The sheer scope of the novel is praise-worthy. Then you add on fascinating characters, the complicated plot, which weaves countless lives together, the detailed history of France and so much more and it blows you away. The basic plot (there's no way to briefly sum up the whole thing) follows a convict named Jean Valjean. He was imprisoned for stealing bread and now, years later, he tries to make a life for himself in 19th century France.

The plot is complex and the characters are intricately connected in unexpected ways. I loved the Bishop at the very beginning of the story. His gentle heart and merciful choices make him unforgettable even though he is only in a brief section of the book. The police chief Javert is a villain of sorts. He is so focused on living by the letter of the law that he misses the point of true justice.

Hugo writes dozens of pages of French history in between actions scenes. By the time I made it through his wandering sidetracked thought I'd sometimes forget where we'd left the major characters. I just wish that Hugo had had a better editor. It's not even that the history lessons weren't interesting, it's just that they hindered the flow of the book (at more than 1,400 pages, it doesn't need to be hindered). Apparently Hugo told his editor that he wasn't allowed to remove anything from the book. ANYTHING. Not a single line. Now this obviously shows Hugo's passion for his work and his desire to maintain the integrity of his original vision, but there are editors for a reason. Sometimes authors aren't the best judge of what might improve their book after its been completed.

I loved the story. It's such an inspiring tale of redemption and sacrifice. There are so many beautiful lines in the novel that are a testament to Hugo's talent.

"One can no more prevent the mind from returning to an idea than the sea from returning to a shore. In the case of the sailor, this is called a tide; in the case of the guilty, it is called remorse."

Over all I really enjoyed it. I was able to sink completely into the time period because of the books length and details. I do believe that trimming a few of the historical parts would have sharpened the focus on the plot, but that's just my opinion. I'm so glad I read it. It is one of those books that provide such a rich experience. It's not one I'll read every year or something, but it's a story that will stay in my soul for decades to come.

Audio Book Challenge Completed!

Friday, April 2, 2010

I'm officially done with the "obsessed" level (20 books) of the Audio Book Challenge hosted by Royal Reviews. I will continue to read audiobooks this year, but I won't list anymore in this challenge since it's complete. Woo hoo!


1) For One More Day by Mitch Albom

2) G is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton

3) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

4) The Known World by Edward P. Jones

5) The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

6) The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga


7) Slam by Nick Hornby

8) Paper Towns by John Green

9) Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

10) The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

11) Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

12) The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler


13) Bright-sided by Barbara Ehrenreich

14) Little Children by Tom Perrotta

15) Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

16) Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon

17) Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

18) How Starbucks Changed My Life by Michael Gates Gill

19) Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty

20) Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Friday Favorites: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

This coming-of-age story follows Francie Nolan and her down and out family in Brooklyn. Beginning when Francie's 12 and ending when she's 17 we see how her loving, but alcoholic father, tough mother and other characters affect Francie and her view of the world.

Unlike many novels, the supporting characters in this story are so complicated. Francie's mother Katie works so hard and truly loves her husband, but can't help resent him for his drinking and the position that puts their family in. Francie's father Johnny isn't your typical drunk either. You can't help but love him, even when he is hurting their family by spending their last pennies on booze. Francie's Aunt Sissy is a sweet woman, but maybe not the best influence on the kids. The characters feel more like your own family than good guy and bad guys in a book. You love them even though they hurt you or make bad decisions.

The setting is also divine. The bustling streets of Brooklyn in the 1930s held so many different cultures, because of all the immigrants who settled in that area. Even Francie's own family is a mix of Irish and Austrian heritages, showing the true meaning of a melting pot society.

I loved this book and completely fell for the character of Francie. I loved reading and school like she did, but it's the dreamy quality she has that got to my heart. She never gave up on her father and he needed someone like her that believed in him so badly. She has such love for the world and hope for her own future, despite her circumstances. I hope that I can keep a little bit of Francie in my heart, even in my most cynical moments.