Wordless Wednesday: John Lennon

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


In honor of John Lennon's birthday this month.
Central Park, NYC

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Favorite Kick-Ass Heroines

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for your Top Ten Favorite Kick-Ass Heroines. The women on my list are ones who decided not to be victims. They are women who are smart and clever and aren’t afraid to let people know that. These are women who bucked societal norms and did their own thing. They are all my heroes.

1) Jo March (Little Women)

2) Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series)

3) Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series)

4) Valentine Wiggin (Ender’s Game series)

5) Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games series)

6) Eowyn (Lord of the Rings)

7) Dagny Taggart (Atlas Shrugged)

8) Violet Baudelaire (A Series of Unfortunate Events)

9) Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables series)

10) Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice) 

Image from here

Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow

Monday, October 29, 2012


Ender’s Game
by Orson Scott Card
★★★★★

I strongly resisted reading this book. Everyone who recommended it to me liked the sci-fi genre and I didn't. For that reason alone I thought that it wasn't for me. When I finally caved and picked it up I couldn't put it down. I tore through it and went on to rapidly read seven more books in the series. I’ve just finished re-reading it for the first time and I love it even more.

Andrew (Ender) Wiggin is a young boy recruited for battle school. The earth is in the midst of a long war with an alien race and they've been trying to train kids to be war generals.

The book deals with moral ambiguities, children's rights and genocide; all big enough issues on their own, but together they create a book of epic proportions. It spawned two separate trilogies, a companion book and additional sequels and short stories.

In the midst of all these reasons to read it is Ender. He and the other major characters, Petra, Bean, Valentine, etc. are what make the book stand apart from other sci-fi novels. They are such strong, complex people that you can't resist them. Bean's character even got his own book, Ender's Shadow, to explain his past.

Ender's intelligence, along with his helplessness in the face of an overwhelming situation, is a big part of the book's allure. It's easy to forget that at the beginning of the book Ender is only a child. He is taken from his family and forced to train for war. No matter how brilliant he is that would still be incredibly hard.

This is the book that opened my eyes to genre stereotyping. It's the book that made me decide I shouldn't judge by covers or genres. I may not love sci-fi or bibliographies or whatever else, but I can certainly love books within those genres. I think there are books that are so wonderful they rise above any category you could put them in and knowing that has taught me that I should give each book someone recommends a chance. I never know which one will be the next I fall in love with.

BOTTOM LINE: Read it, even if you think the premise isn’t for you, I think you’ll be surprised. 

Ender’s Shadow
by Orson Scott Card
★★★★★

This novel tells a parallel story to the one in Ender’s Game. It begins in Rotterdam where we meet a tiny child nicknamed Bean. Warring street gangs and soup kitchens run by nuns set the stage as we get to know the brilliant boy. Even as a toddler he is a strategist, which of course makes him perfect for battle school.

Sister Carlotta, a sarcastic nun with a good heart sees the unique potential in Bean and manages to get him into the school despite his size. Once he’s there his story intertwines with Ender’s during the same time period as Ender’s Game. It’s fascinating to see the whole story unfold through someone else’s eyes. We see Ender treat Bean like he was treated, picking on him for his size. We already know that Ender hated himself for doing that, but now we see how it affects Bean.

Unlike Ender, Bean’s life was never “normal.” From his first moments life was harder and the stakes were higher. Death was always one meal away and even his birth is shrouded in scientific secrets. Achilles, a member of the same street gang as Bean, is a horribly dark villain. He can smile and manipulate everyone around him and only Bean seems to stay a step ahead.

Bean and Ender are so alike in some ways; both brilliant generals, both small and young compared to the other leaders, but there are a few major differences as well. Bean is much more detached than Ender. While the old boy struggled with the emotional aspects of battle and the guilt that came with injuring others, Bean was more logical. He was a survivalist because he had to be and he is even more intelligent than Ender.

In some ways Bean’s story is the more poignant one. Ender struggles with the whole process of Battle School, but Bean is more aware of what’s really happening and the consequences of their actions. In the end his was a much harder cross to bear. Bean is not a loveable kid, but he is such a well-written character that he stays with you long after you finish the book.

BOTTOM LINE:
Ender’s Game stole my heart, but Ender’s Shadow cemented my appreciation for the series as a whole. It has the same powerful story as the first book, but it also delves into the political side of things and sets up a world of dominoes which unfolds in the rest of the Shadow trilogy. Read it if you’ve already read Ender’s Game and you loved it.



Reading the States: Tennessee

Friday, October 26, 2012





State: TENNESSEE

Fiction:
- The Firm* by John Grisham
- The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks
- Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor
- An Abundance of Katherines* by John Green
- Suttree by Cormac McCarthy
- A Death in the Family by James Agee

- Child of God by Cormac McCarthy
- Christy by Catherine Marshall
- Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
- How to Build a House by Dana Reinhardt
- Taft by Ann Patchett
- Carved in Bone by Jefferson Bass
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker



Nonfiction:
- My Own Country by Abraham Verghese
- The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis
- The American Plague by Molly Caldwell Crosby
- Cash by Johnny Cash
- American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House* by Jon Meacham
- Truth and Beauty* by Ann Patchett
- The Fight for Chattanooga by Jerry Korn

- Good Rockin' Tonight by Colin Escott with Martin Hawkins

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:
- Sharyn McCrumb
- Steven Womack



Authors Who Lived Here:
- Ann Patchett
- Thomas Harris
- Tim Cahill
- Louise Fitzhugh
- Cormac McCarthy
- Al Gore
 

Great Bookstores: 
Winder Binder Gallery and Bookstore  
Burke’s Book Store  
Parnassus Books

*Books I've Read 

Photo by moi. 

The Book Thief Play in Chicago

Thursday, October 25, 2012

 
(In front of the theatre after the play)

The first time I read The Book Thief in 2007 I fell instantly for the book. I’ve reread it since then and each time my love for it has grown. So when I heard that it was chosen as this year’s One Book One Town for Chicago and it would be made into a play as part of the programming, I was thrilled!

I immediately planned a weekend trip to the windy city to see the show with friends. I was a bit nervous about how it would translate to the stage. How would the narrator, Death, be portrayed? What about Liesel and Rudy, child actors can be off-putting, would they be over the top?

Turns out I had nothing to worry about. It was so beautifully done I could hardly believe it. The book was adapted by Heidi Stillman and each choice was carefully made. Death is played by a friendly middle-aged man. He comes across as curious and kind and is instantly relatable. I can’t imagine how off-putting it would have been to have a lurking Grim Reaper figure trying to tell the story.

Rudy was by far one of the best parts of the show. He is so sweet and sincere, Death puts it beautifully when he says, "He just steps on your heart!" Papa and Mama were just right as well. Papa was kind, caring for Liesel and Max in his quiet way. Mama was brash at first, but the audience quickly realized how deeply she loved her family.

Liesel came across as hard and vulnerable all at the same time, just as she did in the book. She deals with so much heartbreak at such a young age, but she’s still just a girl. Her sobs as she cradles her brother’s body in the opening scene was enough to break you heart.

 
(The Stage)

The stage was bleak and simple. The edges of the stages’ frame have the look of torn pages. There were also three large strips in the background that were used to show depth. At times one would be lit up with a color that Death saw. Other times there were real videos from World War II, bomber planes or marching soldiers, projected on one of the strips.  

Another great addition was a trio of live musicians performing throughout the show. They were costumed to look like the German civilians in the show. One of them played his accordion every time Papa played for Liesel on the stage. It was truly beautiful.

We stayed for a discussion after the show and it was such a joy to hear the reactions of different audience members. Young students were talking about standing up for what’s right even when it’s hard. Adults were talking about the grief of loosing those you love. The story deals with so many issues that it crosses the divides between gender and age with ease. It is a universal tale, one that means something different to each person who reads or sees it.

I can’t say enough about this excellent performance. I hope that it is successful and is produced in other cities. If not, I hope that people will read the book no matter where they live and allow their own imaginations to create the scene in their heads.
For more information about the play and One Book One Town programming visit these sites.

Suey at It's All About Books is hosting a week-long celebration of Markus Zusak's books. Make sure you check it out here

Best and Worst: Richard Russo

Wednesday, October 24, 2012



Today I'm over at Alyce's wonderful blog At Home with Books taking part in her Best and Worst series. I'm talking about the author Richard Russo. You can find the post here. I hope you'll stop by! 

Top Ten Books To Get In The Halloween Spirit

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


**Stop by Suey's blog It's All About Books today. My review of two Markus Zusak books is up as part of her Zusak celebration week!**

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for the Top Ten Books that get you into the Halloween Spirit. I’m not a big fan of blood and gore, but I love gothic mysteries. My list is full of books that scare me silly and mess with my mind a little bit, but in a good way.

1) The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

2) The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

3) The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

4) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

5) We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

6) The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

7) Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

8) The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

9) The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe

10) And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Image from here

The Pit and the Pendulum and Midnight Fright

Monday, October 22, 2012



The Pit and the Pendulum
by Edgar Allan Poe
★★★★

Poe was the master of capturing our deepest fears and giving them a stage on which to shine. In Tell-Tale Heart he writes about guilt driving a man insane, other stories focus on the fear of being buried alive, destructive force of greed, etc. This dark tale is about a man being tortured to death and it’s a doozy. One man is trapped in complete darkness and as he slowly begins to explore his prison he realizes just how dire his case is.

“The blackness of eternal night encompassed me. I struggled for breath. The intensity of the darkness seemed to oppress and stifle me.” 
 
Midnight Fright
A Collection of Ghost Stories
★★★★

This collection contains five short stories by famous authors, most of whom are known for their work outside of the supernatural realm. Each offer up a ghost story of sorts and overall it’s a great compilation. Because the story are so short, instead of summarizing them I’m going to rate each one and encourage you to pick the slim volume up for yourself!

The Signalman by Charles Dickens: B+

Man-Size in Marble by E. Nesbit: A

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A

The Cigarette Case by Oliver Onions: C

The Horla by Guy de Maupassant: A+ - This one blew me away. Not only is it completely engrossing, it was apparently written by the author during the final 18 months of his life, while he was living in an asylum! The creepy tale, which questions a man's sanity, is magnified by that fact. If you like The Yellow Wallpaper you should definitely read this one!

I read both of these for the R.I.P. Challenge. 

The Graveyard Book Read-Along: Part 3

Sunday, October 21, 2012


This is the final post in The Graveyard Book Read-Along hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. You can find parts 1 and 2 here and here. In this final post I’m talking about Chapter 7 and 8 so there are obviously spoilers.

The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman
★★★★★

Every Man Jack: This chapter brought us the unexplained absence of Silas and the return of Bod’s childhood friend Scarlett. She and her mother move back to the small town and she makes friends with a man named Mr. Frost. Though I’d read the book before, I somehow forgot who Frost is revealed to be, so it caught me completely by surprise.

This is by far the scariest chapter in the book. The Jacks, who have been hunting Bod for years, are finally revealed in an ultimate fight between good and evil. We learn that Silas has been trying to eliminate Jacks all over the world with other members of the Honor Guard. The five remaining villains converge in the graveyard in an effort to void the prophesy that predicted Bod would be the end of their secret society.

By the end of the battle both sides have incurred losses. Bod looses both Miss Lupescu and in another way he loses his friend Scarlett again. He also looses his innocence in a way. He does what he has to in order to survive, but it changes him. 

Leavings and Partings: The book’s conclusion hit all the right notes for me. It was sweet and hopeful. Bod is only 15, but his time in the graveyard has come to an end. He feels the change and though he doesn’t understand it he accepts it. We know this when he answers his own question about returning to the graveyard.
 
“If I come back, it will be a place, but it won’t be home any longer."
 

I loved that he had the perfect goodbye with each person. I thought Mr. Owens was particularly poignant when he tells Bod that he is the son he always longed for during his life. Bod knew it wouldn’t be easy to walk away, but he does and that’s incredibly brave.
 
“But between now and then, there was Life; and Bod walked into it with his eyes and his heart wide open.”


BOTTOM LINE: It’s a wonderful, creepy coming-of-age story. Gaiman creates an unforgettable world in the graveyard and these characters will stay with me forever.

I also want to mention the illustrations in the book (done by Dave McKean). The first time I read it was as an audiobook, wonderfully narrated by the author himself. I missed the illustrations and they add so much to the story! They capture the spooky elements in Gaiman’s novel beautifully and I’d encourage you to get your hands on a copy to check them out if you listened to the audiobook.

Image from The Graveyard Book.

2012 TBR Pile Challenge Completed

Saturday, October 20, 2012


I completed the 2012 TBR Pile Challenge! I’m so proud of myself, because these are all books that I’ve been meaning to read for a LONG time and I finally got to them! Thanks to Adam at the Roof Beam Reader for hosting the challenge and encouraging me to pick up these long neglected titles. I read 11 books from my original list and one of the alternates, a total of twelve books.

Here is my complete list, including the month I read them and links to all of my reviews.

1) Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (finished March 2012)
2) The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh (finished April 2012)
3) Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters by J.D. Salinger (finished June 2012)
4) Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams (finished July 2012)
5) Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss (finished April 2012)
6) Bleak House by Charles Dickens (finished March 2012)
7) Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper (finished January 2012)
8) The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood (finished September 2012)
9) Affinity by Sarah Waters (finished September 2012)
10) The Quiet American by Graham Greene
11) The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy (finished May 2012)
12) Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson (finished February 2012)

ALTERNATES:
1) Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo
2) That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis (finished July 2012)

Image form here.

Reading the States: South Dakota

Friday, October 19, 2012


State: SOUTH DAKOTA

Fiction:

- Walk Two Moons* by Sharon Creech
- Little Town on the Prairie* by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- The Jumping-Off Place by Marian Hurd McNeely
- Land That Moves, Land That Stands Still by Kent Nelson
- Deadwood by Pete Dexter
- You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon
- Yonnondio by Tillie Olsen
- Black Hills by Dan Simmons 
- Waterlily by Ella Cara Deloria

Nonfiction:
- The Journey of Crazy Horse by Joseph M. Marshall III
- Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
- Looking for History on Highway 14 by John E. Miller
- Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town by John E. Miller
- Bachelor Bess: The Homesteading Letters of Elizabeth Corey by Philip L. Gerber
- The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin
- A Long Way from Home by Tom Brokaw
- Great White Fathers by John Taliaferro
- On the Rez by Ian Frazier

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Laura Ingalls Wilder
- J. A. Jance
- Mary Brave Bird

Great Bookstores:
Hole in the Wall Books (Wall Drug)
Zandbroz
Prairie Pages

*Books I've Read

Photo by moi. 

Mini-Reviews: Reading, Between Shades of Gray and Thunderstruck

Thursday, October 18, 2012


How Reading Changed My Life
by Anna Quindlen
★★★★★

Those of us who have read since childhood understand that there are certain books that will always hold a nostalgic appeal for you. Those novels that you read over and over again before you worried about critics’ reviews, literary merit, etc. For me it was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM, Howliday Inn, The Mystery of the Cupboard, The Westing Game and Matilda, along with a few others. My grade school days were filled with those pages and I never tired of reading them. Later I went on to explore classics, mysteries, nonfiction, fantasy and so much more. Each new genre opened a world to me as I discovered the places it could take me.

Quindlen’s book is an ode to the joy of reading. She talks about reading as an escape or just for the pleasure of it. I never tire of hearing why others love reading as much as I do. It makes me feel connected to them in a powerful way.

BOTTOM LINE: The slim volume is a joy to read and the end is filled with lists of books to read, which is always a treat!

Between Shades of Gray
by Ruta Sepetys
★★★★

When it comes to World War II books, both fiction and nonfiction, Hitler and Western Europe tend to get the majority of the attention. In recent years my knowledge has been widened to the WWII happenings in the Pacific and Russia through books like Unbroken and City of Thieves. This book delves into Lithuania’s role in the war, which is new ground for me.

Lina is a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl living a peaceful life in 1941 until the day she and the rest of her family are taken away by Soviet officers to a remote work camp in Siberia. Separated from her father, Lina tries to survive with her mother and younger brother despite their awful circumstances. Between a horrific ride in a cramped train car and the subzero environment of the camps, the three are hanging on by a thread.

Lina is an incredible heroine, both strong and vulnerable. Her relationship with one fellow Latvian prisoner was realistic in so many ways. This is not a cheerful book, but it’s an important look into the terror that Stalin reign inflicted upon the world.

Like all war stories, the most incredible aspects of the plot are those based on fact. Sepetys decided to write the book after traveling to Lithuania to meet her ancestors and hearing about the oppressive Soviet rule that held the entire country captive for decades. She knew nothing about it before her trip and she couldn’t believe that the country was still trying to hush it up.
 
“The eternal grayness in camp became a shade darker.”

BOTTOM LINE:
A powerful story of WWII. The descriptions of war life are a bit graphic at times and it’s an intense read, but one that’s worth picking up.

Thunderstruck
by Erik Larson
★★★★

Just as he did in The Devil in the White City, Larson blends the nonfiction story of a murder with the relevant scientific or cultural events happening at the time. When Belle Elmore mysteriously moves to America and then passes away, her friends and family members are more than suspicious. Her husband, Hawley Herbert Crippen, becomes the focus of the inquisition, but just as soon as the police focus their attention on him he disappears. Guglielmo Marconi’s timely invention of the wireless telegraph comes into play when the captain of the SS Montrose recognizes the fugitive aboard his ship.

I’m always intrigued by Larson’s books. He finds murders and happenings that might not be well-known but that are thrilling. I would say that this one is much slower than Devil, but it’s still interesting. A murder mystery and the political world of invention are intertwined in an amazing way. I often forget that advances in technology can affect our lives in unexpected ways.
 
BOTTOM LINE:
If you loved Devil in the White City then don’t miss this one. In my opinion it’s not quite as enthralling, but I still love the mix of education and murder mystery.

Wordless Wednesday: Happy Anniversary

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


After nine years of dating and three 
years of marriage I'm still so grateful for you. 
 
Happy anniversary!

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Favorite Non-Fiction Authors

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for your Top Ten Favorite Authors in any Genre. I talk a lot about my favorite modern authors and Victorian authors, but I also read a lot of non-fiction, so I decided to list my 10 favorite non-fiction authors and give you one book I’d recommend from each author. There are dozens more I love, but these are authors that I’ve read multiple non-fiction books from.

1) Ernie Pyle – Brave Men

2) Sarah Vowell – -Assassination Vacation

3) Mary Roach – Stiff

4) Erik Larson – Isaac’s Storm

5) Nick Hornby – The Polysyllabic Spree

6) Sebastian Junger – The Perfect Storm

7) Bill Bryson
– In a Sunburned Country

8) David Sedaris
– Me Talk Pretty One Day

9) Helene Hanff – 84, Charing Cross Road

10) Jeannette Walls – Half Broke Horses

Image from here.

In the Woods

Monday, October 15, 2012


In the Woods
by Tana French
★★★★

When a murdered girl is found in a small Ireland community two Dublin detectives are assigned to the case. Rob Ryan and Cassie have a unique relationship, similar to siblings’ playful, antagonistic style. It feels very realistic and the dynamic works well. The pair play off the others’ strengths and weaknesses, creating a wonderful balance of trust and support.

The whole story is told from Rob Ryan’s point of view and from the beginning he tells us that as a detective he does two things: he lies and at the same he desperately seeks the truth. Those two things, which at first seem contradictory, make up much the novel’s suspense. How much can his narration be trusted? Early on we learn that Ryan went through an incredibly traumatic event in his childhood and the ripples of it still affect his life. This new murder case brings many of those old hurts to the surface and throws his life into turmoil.

The novel really explores the delicate balance in relationships; those between children and their parents, friends, co-workers, etc. Exploring the breakdown of those bonds is fascinating. The whole book moves quickly and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. I will say that some of the content is dark and so if you're sensitive to that you should be aware of it in advance.
 
**SPOILERS**


I know the ending, which leaves the old case unsolved is realistic, but I still was hoping to know what happened. Even though I’d heard something along these lines about the book I was still really surprised when I realized we would never know. I was also surprised to find out that the second book in the series is not from the same person’s point of view so the odds of ever having a resolution to that case is unlikely.
 
**SPOILERS OVER**


Here’s the thing, the book is a mystery but it’s so well-written and engrossing that the who-dun-it part is not the most interesting element. I actually had a pretty good idea who was behind it (definitely not the details though), but that didn’t take anything away from the enjoyment of watching it unfold.
 
BOTTOM LINE:
A really good psychological mystery; the characters’ relationships take precedence over the mystery itself. Don’t expect everything to be tied up with a neat bow. If that bothers you then you might want to skip this one. My unanswered questions actually made me lower my rating for this one just a little bit, but I’ll definitely be reading the next book in the series.

I read this for the R.I.P. Challenge

The Graveyard Book Read-Along: Part 2

Sunday, October 14, 2012

 
For part II of the Read-Along hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings we are discussing Chapters 4, 5 and 6 of the book.

The Witch’s Headstone is about Bod’s introduction to a new section of the graveyard. It is also a lesson is giving people a chance. Nobody learns that if he is willing to let go of preconceived notions, prejudices and labels, then people can sometimes surprise you. He finds and unexpected friend in Liza the ghost and there’s something sweet about forming a friendship with someone even the other ghosts ignore.

Danse Macabre is just a beautiful chapter. It’s a joyful day for both the living and the dead when they come together and spend one night dancing. The bittersweet evening is wonderful in some ways, but then Bod realizes the living remember nothing from the dance and the dead refuse to talk about it. Also, Silas is excluding from the whole thing because he is neither living nor dead so he can’t participate. In this chapter Bod meets the Grey Lady for the first time and has a sweet interaction with her. He doesn’t really understand who she is and why he can’t ride on her horse yet.

Interlude: The Convocation: This isn’t a full chapter; it’s just a bit to show us that Bod’s family’s killer is still out there. It’s creepy in a good way and helps fuel the bigger story that the book is building towards.

Nobody Owens’ School Days
is a hard chapter in a lot of ways. It brings up questions about when it’s okay to fight back and stand up for yourself. When you do fight back against bullies and how far should you take it? When is it ok to threaten or scare someone? Did Bod do the right thing? The whole dreamwalking bit is scary in a lot of ways, but it’s also fascinating. I could see this chapter being a great way to talk about some of these issues with kids in junior high. I think this chapter also shows how protective Silas feels. He would do anything to save him and he’s a man of actions and not words, so it’s important to see that love played out in this very tangible way.  

“It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.”

“We wants you to stay alive. We wants you to surprise us and disappoint us and impress us and amaze us.”

“Fear is contagious. You can catch it. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to say that they’re scared for the fear to become real.”


Dewey Read-a-Thon!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

(My pup Ollie with the pile of books I'll be picking from)

***UPDATED AT HOUR 18** - I'm going to read until I fall asleep, but I don't think I'll make it to Hour 19.

Okay guys, it’s once again time for the Dewey Read-a-Thon. Twice a year, once in April and once in October, I participate in the Dewey 24 hour read-a-thon. I love it so much and this will be my fourth time. Today I will be reading as long as I can. Unlike other read-a-thons I actually have something I have to go to tonight (boo), but other than a few hours this evening I’m planning to read all day.

(Pictures from the last couple hours, me reading with Ollie)

Pages Read: 1,039 pgs
Currently Reading: The Dharma Bums, House-Keeping vs. The Dirt, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Books Finished: 5 (Wild Nights, Kenny and the Dragon, AD: New Orleans After the Deluge, Jazz ABZ and Knight's Castle)
Breaks Taken: Lots (dinner and a play with a friend, breakfast, mini challenges, playing with the pup)
Snacks Consumed: 3 cups of coffee, chips and cottage cheese, chicken ceasar salad, grapes, Starbucks Doubleshot, Kit Kat
Music Listened To: Beatles, Billie Holiday, George Harrison
Current Location: My library, outside, bed
Mini-Challenges Completed:11

Mini Challenge Hour 1: Introductory Questionnaire

1) Where are you reading today? - Indianapolis, IN
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? - The House at Riverton
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? - Chips and salsa
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! - My name's Melissa, I have a giant puppy who will be keeping me company today and a husband who will be trying to keep that puppy from eating my stack of books. I just got back from a 4, 000 mile road trip to Glacier National Park with the Huz.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? - This is the first time I've had something I have to be at in the middle of the read-a-thon, so I'll be missing a few hours of reading tonight.

I’ll be updating this post about once an hour so I don’t bomb the Google Readers of subscribers who aren’t reading this weekend. Good luck to all of you other read-a-thoners. Have a blast!

Mini Challenge Hour 2: Recreate the Cover of a book in your Read-a-thon Stack. Hosted by The Hungry Readers. I ran out of cheerios, so I had to break some pretzels apart. Here's the results...


Mini Challenge Hour 3: Photo of Readathon Snacks hosted at Uniflame Creates. Mmmm.



Mini Challenge Hour 9: Book Puzzle hosted by One Librarian's Book Reviews.


It's "The Watermelon King" by Daniel Wallace

Mini Challenge Hour 10: Marking Books hosted by Nisaba Be Praised. The bookmark I made says "Dewey you love to read? I do!"



P.S. If you’re looking for some excellent tips to make your read-a-thon go smoothly, check out Vasilly’s fantastic post here.

Reading the States: South Carolina

Friday, October 12, 2012


State: SOUTH CAROLINA

Fiction:

- The Secret Life of Bees* by Sue Monk Kidd
- The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
- Perdition House by Kathryn R. Wall
- Low Country by Anne Rivers Siddons
- The Spirit of Sweetgrass by Nicole Seitz
- Sullivan's Island by Dorothea Benton Frank
- Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
- Cast Two Shadows by Ann Rinaldi
- Rhett Butler's People by Donald McCaig
- The Invention of Wings* by Sue Monk Kidd
- Beach Music by Pat Conroy

Nonfiction:
- Before Freedom by Belinda Hurmence
- Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball
- Hidden in Plain View by Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard 

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:
- Walter Edgar
- Sheri Reynolds
- Dorothea Benton Frank

Authors Who Lived Here:

- Stephen Colbert
- Bret Lott
- John Jakes
- Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr.
- Mary Alice Monroe

Great Bookstores:
Hub City Bookshop
Blue Bicycle Books
Fiction Addiction
Litchfield Books

*Books I've Read

Photo by moi. 

The Final Problem and The Return of Sherlock Holmes

Thursday, October 11, 2012


The Final Problem
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
★★★★☆

I thought I knew the basic premise of this story when I started it, but it turns out I knew the whole thing. This incredibly slim volume is considered the final of only four novels in the Sherlock Holmes series. There are many additional short stories.

Written from Watson’s point-of-view we see an increasingly paranoid Sherlock taking extreme measures to escape his arch-nemesis Dr. Moriarty. The pair, one an unconventional, brilliant detective, the other a criminal mastermind are perfectly matched. Sherlock has finally found his intellectual equal; unfortunately they are pitted against one another. You can’t help but hear the admiration in Sherlock’s voice as he describes the villains’ evil empire.

Here’s a bit about Moriarty in Sherlock’s own words…

“He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans.”

BOTTOM LINE:
A worthy conclusion to Sherlock’s story, I only wish it had been longer! I would still recommend The Sign of Four as the best place to start if you’re new to Sherlock.


The Return of Sherlock Holmes (The Empty Room)
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
★★★★☆

Three years after Sherlock’s death at the hands of Moriarty, Dr. Watson is shocked to discover he’s actually alive and well! He was so shocked in fact he faints for the first and only time in his life.

The story that follows explains Sherlock’s absence over the past couples years and his current predicament. Some of Moriarty’s agents are trying to find and kill him and they’ll stop at nothing to do so. The clever Holmes devises a plan to not only catch his enemies, but also to solve an open case for the police at the same time.

**SPOILERS**

Colonel Moran is Sherlock’s pursuer in this novella. He is an admired military man with a reputation as an skilled hunter. Sherlock compares Colonel Moran (to his face) to the very tigers he hunted for so many years. It must have been salt in the wound to someone so proud of his ability to hunt. Holmes had no qualms about insulting him and making sure he understood that he was now the captured prey. Clearly the brilliant Sherlock has returned.

**SPOILERS OVER**

BOTTOM LINE: An excellent story and a must read for anyone who finishes The Final Problem. 

I read both of these as part of the R.I.P. Challenge hosted here.

Wordless Wednesday: Graveyard

Wednesday, October 10, 2012



The Westminster Hall Burying Ground where Poe is buried in Baltimore. 

In honor of Stainless Steel Droppings A Grave Tale event. 

More Wordless Wednesday here.



Photo by moi.

All Hallow's Read

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


The purpose of All Hallow's Read is to give other people scary books for Halloween. I'm all for giving people books for any reason! This year I'm participating in an All Hallow's Read book exchange hosted by Ana at Things Mean A Lot. I've mailed my scary book off to another participant and I hope they love it! I hope you'll all pass a creepy book along to someone else. Happy All Hallow's Read!

Check out a bit more about the event, including a video of Neil Gaiman explaining it at Ana's blog here.

Image from here

The Hotel New Hampshire

Monday, October 8, 2012


The Hotel New Hampshire
by John Irving
★★★☆

Hey John Irving, WTF!?!

Look, I know you love your crazy characters, but you lost me a bit with this one.

The Berry family is an odd mix of eccentrics who seem perfectly normal to each other. There’s Frank, the introverted eldest son, Franny, a strange extrovert with no concept of boundaries, our narrator John, Lily the youngest daughter who can’t seem to grow and Egg, the youngest son, who is hard of hearing and constantly changing costumes. Throw in a pet bear, a weight-lifting grandpa, a dog named Sorrow and a few more odd balls and you’ve got a story…. kind of.

The family lives in and runs two hotels over the course of their childhood. One is actually in New Hampshire; the other is in Vienna, Austria. Their lives are complicated by loss and inappropriate love. The author loves jarring readers out of their comfort zones when they’re reading his books. I feel like every time I read one of his books, as soon as I start relaxing into the story he does something awful and kills off a major character or throw in a disturbing twist.

Irving has a serious obsession with sex in his books, particularly young men with older women. This made a lot more sense to me after I read an interview where he talked about that being his own first sexual experience. Still it’s always slightly irked me because it often feels forced in the flow of the story. This book kind of takes the odd sex stuff to an extreme. There’s rape, incest and prostitution, yet somehow the book is not heavy or depressing because it’s all done with a jovial tone. Like I said, it’s really odd.

It’s also hard to explain how you can like and dislike a book at the same time. I thought parts of it were incredibly funny, but others just overwhelmed me with their dysfunction.

BOTTOM LINE: I want to like Irving’s work more than I do. I really loved A Prayer for Owen Meany and would recommend that one, but his other books don’t seem to work for me. There’s too much of an emphasis on sex, troubled relationships with older women or relatives, etc. However, his writing is incredibly entertaining and I found myself enjoying the book as I was reading it, but then it lost me somewhere along the way. I stopped rooting for the characters and became too distracted by their problems. I think after this, my third Irving, I’m done with him for awhile. I’ll try him again in 10 years.

The Graveyard Book Read-Along: Part 1

Sunday, October 7, 2012


I first read The Graveyard Book a few years ago, before I was blogging. I immediately loved the tone of the book. Gaiman blended the innocence and naïveté of a young boy with the dark atmosphere of a ghost story. I’m re-reading it at a slower pace and I’ve noticed so much more that I love about the book. It’s a coming-of-age story and at its heart it’s about a boy who feels like he doesn’t quite fit in anywhere. That unifying feeling makes the book applicable to just about anyone, but especially young teens.

The first three chapters include How Nobody Came to the Graveyard, The New Friend, and The Hounds of God. The first chapter reminds me so much of The Jungle Book. I know this was an intentional decision on Gaiman’s part to loosely retell that story and I think he did it beautifully. Bod is struggling to figure out his place in the world while being raised in a very foreign environment, just as Mowgli did.

I also think it was interesting to structure the book as a collection of short stories instead of as a seamless novel. Giving us glimpses into Bod’s life as he grows up works wonderfully. Each chapter contains its own little story while at the same time adding pieces to the deeper mystery behind the murder of Bod’s family. I like that some things are implied, not spelled out. We can guess a bit about who Silas is, but we don’t know for sure where he comes from or what he is.

The New Friend chapter broke my heart for Bod. For the first time in his life he finds a living friend. She’s kind and playful and Bod is happy. But circumstances beyond his control end the friendship before it really has a chance to begin. Also, the indigo man and the whole cave were super creepy.

The Hounds of God is probably my least favorite chapter. I still loved the evolution of Bod’s relationship with Miss Lupescu, but not the kidnapping of Bod by the ghouls as much. I do think it was crucial for Bod to realize how much he values his life in the graveyard and this chapter does that. It also reminded me a tiny bit of the dwarves being captured by the trolls in The Hobbit.

Up next week I’ll talk about Chapters 4-6. Thanks again to Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings for hosting this read-along as part of his R.I.P. event!

Reading the States: Rhode Island

Friday, October 5, 2012


State: RHODE ISLAND

Fiction:
- My Sister's Keeper* by Jodi Picoult
- Spartina by John Casey
- The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty
- The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike
- The Marriage Plot* by Jeffrey Eugenides
- The Edge of Winter by Luanne Rice
- The Art of Keeping Cool by Janet Taylor Lisle
- The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
- The Ivory Tower by Henry James

Nonfiction:
- Sons of Providence by Charles Rappleye
- Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 by R.A. Scotti
- The Prince of Providence by Mike Stanton
- Gilded by Deborah Davis 

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:

- Alice Kimberly

Authors Who Lived Here:
- H. P. Lovecraft
- Jhumpa Lahiri
- John Hawkes
- Peter Pezzelli
- Jonathan Fast

Great Bookstores:
Island Bound Bookstore
Spring Street Bookstore
Other Tiger
Books on the Square

*Books I've Read

Photo by moi. 

First Among Sequels

Thursday, October 4, 2012


First Among Sequels
by Jasper Fforde
★★★★★
 
I love this series so much. I’ve shamefully waited almost three year to read the fifth book, but luckily I wasn’t disappointed. Fourteen years have passed since the end of the 4th book and Thursday has adjusted to her life as a wife and mother, though she may not have given up her work as a literary detective quite as completely as she led her husband to believe. Thursday Next, a literary detective, lives with her husband and kids, Friday, Tuesday and Jenny.
 
I am constantly astounded by Fforde’s cleverness. He must have such a brilliant mind. His plots are so complex and he always manages to tie everything together beautifully. He’s like the strange literary child of Douglas Adams and P.G. Wodehouse. My favorite part of his books is always the humor and the fantastic literary jokes. For example in one scene Next is talking about a new cadet being inexperienced and said …
 
“This one was as green as Brighton Rock.”
 
I know that it’s this very cleverness that is what some readers don’t like and I think he’s one of those authors you either adore or just don’t like. One thing I’ve discovered is that I appreciate these books more now that I’ve had a chance to dig farther into the classics. I get more of the references and humor.
 
In this Thursday Next book there’s a strange paradox of the other Thursday Next books being referenced within the book. They are part of Book World, just like any book, but it’s odd to wrap your head around. There is Book World, the land inside of books and there is “Outland” the real world. There’s a great explanation about why Outland is so wonderful. There’s a richness in detail in Outland that can’t be matched in the Book World, because in books things like carrots are described simply as a rods of orange, there’s no detail or difference from one carrot to another. Thursday describes it as “living in Lego Land.”
 
A few fantastic bits that I enjoyed:
 
1) At one meeting in the Book World Harry Potter is unable to attend because of copyright restrictions.
 
2) There’s an illegal cheese market, because seriously guys, good cheese is worth buying illegally, it just is.
 
3) There’s a terrorist threat from the Racy Novels genre, they threaten to drop a “dirty bomb” into serious book. Imagine a sex scene popping up in the middle of a scientific text book or something, hilarious!
 
4) A serial killer, like a book series… get it. Bahahaha.
 
5) Generic characters in books often assimilate to the strongest personality, so there are armies of Danverclones, Generics who became Miss Danvers from Rebecca.
 
BOTTOM LINE: Start with The Eyre Affair, if you like it then keep going with the series because it just gets better. If you don’t like the first one then it’s probably not for you.
 
"She was the sort of parent you would want to have living close by, but only on the grounds that she would then never come to stay."
 
“Reading, I had learned, was as creative a process as writing, sometimes more so. 
 
p.s. Thursday Next is a literary detective and her series is made up of mysteries, so I read this for the R.I.P. Challenge

Wordless Wednesday: Zurich

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Zurich at dusk.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
by Maggie O'Farrell
★★★★☆

Iris is a woman living a normal, but complicated life. She’s having an affair with a married man and has a close relationship with her step-brother Alex. Everything in her world is thrown completely off balance when she finds out her great-aunt Esme, who she didn’t know existed, has been in a mental institution for 60 years.

The narrative flips the POV between Iris in present day, Esme as a young woman and an elderly woman and Esme’s sister Kitty. This works beautifully, giving us small pieces of the puzzle as we go. Because of this style I don’t know if I would have liked this one if I hadn’t read it in one sitting. Reading it that way was perfect because as it flipped back and forth in time I could just stay in the midst of everything and keep it all straight.

The book is really about women and the way “mental illness” was treated in the past. I’ve always been interested in that and so Vanishing appealed to me. Iris’ plot wasn’t as important to me, but I thought Esme was fascinating. It’s terrifying to think about how misunderstood women sometimes were. A strong will was often treated like a disease and the women were often powerless to defend themselves. There are many other books that touch on this issue; both Fingersmith and The Woman in White come to mind.

SPOILERS

I’ve heard a few people say they aren’t sure about the details of the ending. Did Esme kill Kitty? Was Esme really Iris’ grandmother? To those questions I would say yes and yes, at least that’s how I took it. Does anyone who has read it have a different opinion?

SPOILERS OVER

“We are all just vessels through which identities pass: we are features, gestures, habits, then we hand them on. Nothing is our own. We begin in the world as anagrams of our ancestors.”

BOTTOM LINE: An incredible look at the disturbing ease in which women were shuffled off to an insane asylum only a few decades ago. If at all possible, read this whole book at one time. It’s a quick read, but I can see how the POV would be confusing if you were picking it up and putting it down.


For another review Giraffe Days