Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas everyone! 
I hope tomorrow is filled with joy for all of you.

I'm going to take a week off from the blog but I will be 
back January 1, 2014. I've just found out that everyone 
in my office lost their jobs because of outsourcing. 
I will be spending the next week job hunting and 
taking breaks to spend time with people I love. 

Hope you all have a Happy New Year as well
and I'll see you in 2014!
Photo by moi. 

Mini Reviews: Gulp, The Egypt Game and The March

Monday, December 23, 2013

Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
by Mary Roach

I’m a fan of Roach’s writing. She manages to take any subject and make fascinating and hilarious. The alimentary canal is no exception. Roach begins with the mouth and follows the path of food all the way through the process. The results is a book that is both absorbing and disgusting. I definitely enjoyed the first half more than the second. It turns out my threshold for reading about poop is lower than I might have guessed. 

BOTTOM LINE: Interesting, gross, funny; I learned a lot. Definitely don’t listen to it at work or around your grandparents!

The Egypt Game
by Zilpha Keatley Snyder 

A young girl, April, moves into a new neighborhood after her actress mother decides to leave her with her grandmother. April finds a kindred spirit in her neighbor Melanie when they realize they are both fascinated by Egyptian culture. They create a game based on their interest and soon other kids join in the fun. All the while a local tragedy has everyone on edge.

I think I probably would have loved this one as a kid. Unfortunately I just read it for the first time. I still enjoyed it, but the fantastical elements of creating a world from your imagination wasn’t quite as powerful as an adult.

I loved that this story encourages kids to use their imaginations instead of relying only on TV and set games for entertainment. Embracing a different culture and learning about their traditions is a great lesson as well.

BOTTOM LINE: A good kids' chapter book with a few scary parts. A great focus on using your imagination.

The March
by E.L. Doctorow

This is a fictional account of General Sherman’s march through the South during the Civil War. It covers the issues of freed slaves, captured Confederate soldiers and abandoned plantations.

The main problem I had with the book is that there’s no grounding center to the story. We get a glimpse at the lives of many people in the south, but we don’t really get to know any of them. We spend the most time with Pearl, a young African American girl named Pearl whose skin was so light that she passed for a white drummer boy. She’s an interesting character, but I never felt like we got to know her or any of the other characters very well.

BOTTOM LINE: I wanted more, more depth in the characters, more historical details, etc. The book felt like it barely skimmed the surface and I was never invested.

“The wretched war had destroyed not only their country but all the presumptions of human self-regard. What a scant foolish pretense was a family, a culture, a place of history, when it was all so easily defamed.”

2013 End of the Year Book Survey

Friday, December 20, 2013

It’s time for an end of the year survey! I love doing one of these each year because it makes me really reflect on the books I read over the past 12 months. I love remembering favorites from January and February that I may have forgotten. Any books I re-read this year are not eligible for this list. Otherwise my favorite books and characters each year would probably be ones from previous years.

Number of books read in 2013: 161

1. Best Book You Read In 2013? (you can break it down by genre if you want back)

Classics – Cold Sassy Tree and The Brothers Karamozov
Contemporary YA – Eleanor & Park
Dystopian – Divergent
Historical Fiction – True Grit
Play — Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Three Sisters
Mystery — The Beekeeper’s Apprentice
Literary Fiction — Song of Achilles and State of Wonder
Nonfiction — In Harm’s Way and Thomas Jefferson
Fantasy — A Song of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones Books 1) and The
Night Circus and The Green Mile
Science Fiction — The October Country

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t? 
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, I loved The Woman in White, but honestly I’ve been trying to read this one for 3 months and I just can’t get into it.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013?
Where'd you go, Bernadette, I thought this one would be a quick fluff read and I ended up loving it. It was funny but it also had a depth I wasn’t expecting.

4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013?
The Night Circus and Song of Achilles

5. Best series you discovered in 2013?
Game of Thrones, I’m two books in and loving it.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2013? 
Laurie R. King (The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) and Italo Calvino, I can’t wait to read more by both of these authors.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?
A Good Man Is Hard to Find, I’ve never been a huge fan of short stories, but this one was so good!

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?
Divergent, I read it in one night and started the second one immediately.

9. Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?
The Night Circus, hands down I will definitely be re-reading it.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2013?
The Ocean at the End of the Lane and The October Country

11. Most memorable character in 2013?
Mattie Ross from True Grit; there are others but Mattie immediately came to mind.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?
State of Wonder and The Brother Karamozov

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013?
Native Son; I thought about this one for weeks after finishing it. It’s a heart wrenching look at the racial divide in America and it was written in the 1940s, when those issues were often taboo.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read?
Cold Sassy Tree, such a wonderful classic!

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2013?
“A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips; -- not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself.” –Walden by Henry David Thoreau

“Are not there little chapters in everybody’s life that seem to be nothing, and yet affect all the rest of their history.” – Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

“That's the secret. If you always make sure you're exactly the person you hoped to be, if you always make sure you know only the very best people, then you won't care if you die tomorrow.” – Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

“For the secret of man's being is not only to live but to have something to live for.” – The Brothers Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

16.Shortest and Longest Book You Read In 2013?
Under the Dome 1,074
Three Sisters by Anton Chekov 64 pages

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? 
The Game of Thrones series, I keep wanting to discuss the differences between the books and the show with people.

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).
Barney and Valancy from The Blue Castle and the title characters from Eleanor and Park 

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author You’ve Read Previously
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  by Tennessee Williams

20. Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY on a Recommendation From Somebody Else:
Tell the Wolves I’m Home, great recommendation!

21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2013?

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013?
Four from the Divergent series.

23. Best debut book you read?
The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean (nonfiction, but it’s his first book)

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?
The Night Circus; oh my gosh how incredible was the circus!

25. Book That Was the Most Fun To Read in 2013?
I’m going to break my own rule here and say that re-reading the Harry Potter series with a friend was so much fun!

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2013?
The Green Mile; seriously John Coffey and Mr. Jingles, lots of tears. I loved this book.

27. Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out?
The Poisoner's Handbook; it’s a nonfiction book about forensic medicine during the jazz age. I thought it was fascinating!

28. Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?
I finished the TBR Pile Challenge, the Back to the Classics Challenge and the Let’s Read Plays Challenge. I also put a big dent in my Classics Club list!

29. Bookish Events on your blog in 2013?
I co-hosted or hosted 4 readalongs: Birdsong, Vanity Fair, Mansfield Park, and If On a Winter's Night a Traveler 

30. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2013 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2014?
Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens; this was the first time I haven’t read a new Dickens book. I’m disappointed I didn’t get to it, but I definitely will in 2014.

31. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2014 (non-debut)? 
Landline by Rainbow Rowell (July 8, 2014 release), can’t wait!

32. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging In 2014?
I’m finally having a profession redesign my blog done. I am planning to launch the new site whenever it’s ready in 2014!

In Harm's Way

Thursday, December 19, 2013

In Harm's Way
The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of its Survivors
by Doug Stanton

Right at the end of World War II a ship left from San Francisco carrying pieces of the atom bomb. The secret mission was an important one, crucial to ending the war. A lack of shared information and an unexpected Japanese submarine led to the torpedoing and sinking of the ship. The story of the USS Indianapolis became famous after a scene in Jaws viscerally described the horror the men experienced.

This is nonfiction at its best. The book sweeps you into the story immediately. It moves fast, hooking you and breaking your heart with every page. Trapped in the water, surrounded by sharks and without any drinkable water, the men began to drop like flies.

It’s horrifying to read about what the men in the water experienced. Some hallucinated, others gave up, and some fought to save their fellow men by giving them their life vests or diving off rafts to save someone. There were shark attacks, men drank the salt water out of desperation, others were burned badly when the ship was hit and were forced to sit in the water as their wounds festered. There were 1,196 crew members on the ship when it was torpedoed and only 321 survived, four more died in the weeks following. Those are not good odds.  

The book also deals with the charges brought against the captain of the ship and how they affected him. There’s something particularly terrible about going through a trauma like that and knowing that it’s still not over when you get out of the water.

BOTTOM LINE: Just fantastic. If you enjoy good nonfiction, war stories or anything along those lines I would highly recommend it. It’s similar to Unbroken, but in my opinion was even better.

Photo of the survivors from here.

Wordless Wednesday: Stained Glass

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2013. The following are all new ones I was thrilled to discover. I’ve already got a second book or two in the queue for 2014 from some of them.

1) Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus)
2) Olive Ann Burns (Cold Sassy Tree)
3) Madeline Miller (Song of Achilles)
4) Carol Rifka Brunt (Tell the Wolves I’m Home)
5) Veronica Roth (Divergent trilogy)
6) Maria Semple (Where’d You Go, Bernadette?)
7) Laurie R. King (The Beekeeper’s Apprentice)
8) Jon Meacham (Thomas Jefferson Biography)
9) Elizabeth Wein (Code Name Verity)
10) Jeannette Haien (The All of It)

Mini Reviews: Mark of Athena, Samurai's Garden and Desert Solitaire

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Mark of Athena
by Rick Riordan

The seven have finally all met and set off on their adventure. The first two books in this series build the necessary relationships for these important meetings. Finally Percy and Annabeth are reunited and their new friends and fellow demigods: Leo, Hazel, Jason, Piper, and Frank embark of a quest to find the Mark of Athena. Their adventure takes them to Rome where they must tackle some of their greatest fears.

The gods are thrown into a debilitating confusion by the earth god Gaia when their Roman and Greek identities begin to vie for dominance in their own minds. Very few gods (mainly only those dealing with Love, Revenge and Wine) are immune to the differences between the way the two cultures view them. This addition to the series is action-packed but also contains some great information about how the gods are personified in different cultures. There’s also one section that’s particularly funny when the group has a run in with Narcissus.  

BOTTOM LINE: The books are formulaic but fun. I feel like we’ve gotten to know these characters and I’ve grown attached to them. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.  

The Samurai’s Garden
by Gail Tsukiyama

I struggled with this one. The main character, Stephen, is sent to a small Japanese town to recover from tuberculosis in 1937. He’s a young Chinese man and during his stay he finds himself getting to know the past through the family’s servant, Matsu, and dreading the future approaching war.

Stephen doesn’t make an interesting character. His dialogue and actions fall flat, but it’s the supporting cast that eventually hooked me. Matsu is an older man now, but in his youth leprosy swept through their small town. He lost his sister to the disease and has watched a sweet friend, Sachi, suffer from it for years. Matsu and Sachi were lovely characters and the book is well worth reading for their plots.

BOTTOM LINE: Despite an incredibly slow start, the supporting cast makes the story an interesting read.

Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

This is a nonfiction memoir about Abbey’s time as a park ranger at Arches National Park in Utah. Abbey is a bit of a curmudgeon, ranting about the destruction tourists cause in the park. That’s the strange paradox of wilderness; the more people want to visit it the more likely it is to be tainted by their presence. The wild aspects of nature are destroyed as roads are built for the public to reach them.

It reminded me so much of Thoreau’s Walden. Both men live on their own, apart from society for the majority of each day. They write about their reflections of both the nature that surrounds them and the structure of the world in which they live. It’s hard not to sound a bit pious when you’re in that position, but some of his descriptions are beautiful.  

BOTTOM LINE: A good travel memoir and reflection on society, but I have a feeling I would have enjoyed this one much more if I’d been traveling in the West or even planning a trip there. It’s hard to appreciate the incredible nature of the west when you’re just reading about it. 

2014 TBR Pile Challenge

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Roof Beam Reader (Adam) is once again hosting the TBR Pile Challenge. I am pretty picky about what challenges I participate in, but I love this one because it encourages me to read books I already own.

The Goal:
To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months).

Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.

Here’s my list for 2014:

1) Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (finished January 2014)
2) The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli (finished May 2014)
3) The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (finished March 2014)
4) One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (finished February 2014)
5) Dune by Frank Herbert (finished May 2014)
6) Positively Fifth Street by James McManus
7) The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (finished May 2014)
8) Blankets by Craig Thompson (finished April 2014)
9) Kiwi Tracks by Andrew Stevenson (finished August 2014)
10) Doc by Mary Doria Russell (finished May 2014)
11) Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton (finished January 2014)
12) The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin by Gordon S. Wood (finished January 2014)

1) In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck (finished August 2014)
2) Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery (finished March 2014)

Photo by moi and from Adam's blog.

Pairing Books with Movies: This is Where I Leave You

Friday, December 13, 2013

This Is Where I Leave You
by Jonathan Tropper

Is it possible to have a book make you laugh out loud and break your heart at the same time? Judd Foxman is about as low as he can get. His wife is having an affair with his boss and his life is completely upside down. At this vulnerable moment he finds out that his father has just died after a long battle with cancer. He returns home to sit Shiva with his mother and siblings for seven days.

There’s something about the way the family members relate to each other that is so recognizable. Even though I can’t relate to the same level of dysfunction, it’s still easy to see your own family in the Foxmans. There’s the baby of the family who gets away with anything, the eldest who takes on the mantle of responsibility but resents the others because of it and then there’s Judd. The tangle mess of their family unit is relatable and also unique, just as every family is. Tolstoy said it best in Anna Karenina,

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

There is a lot of sex in this book. I heard someone describe it as the “dude-lit,” which seems rather appropriate. The emphasis is on the characters more than the sex, so it didn’t bother me, but there was one line in the book about it that made me laugh…

“You need a GPS to follow the sex lives of this family. I wonder if love is this twisted for everyone or if our family is uniquely talented at making such a mess of it.”

BOTTOM LINE: Once you get past the laughs and awkward family situations the book is really about dealing with grief, forgiveness and finally growing up. The message is a good one and the novel is well written. I really enjoyed it the whole time I was reading it and can’t wait to check out more from Tropper.

“We knew marriage could be difficult in the same way we knew there were starving children in Africa. It was a tragic fact but worlds away from our reality.”

“‘Please,’ she says, ‘Tell me what you’re thinking.’ It’s an absurd request. Our minds, unedited by guilt or shame, are selfish and unkind, and the majority of our thoughts, at any given time, are not for public consumption, because they would either be hurtful or else just make us look like the selfish and unkind bastards we are.”

Pair with the TV show Arrested Development. Nothing quite matches the hilarious family dysfunction of the Bluths. The first two seasons are particularly great. 

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
by Anne Tyler

The Tull family, led by demanding matriarch Pearl, is made up of a mishmash of three very different siblings. There’s the competitive and insecure eldest, Cody; the eternal optimist and quiet-natured Ezra, and Jenny, determined but cautious. The story is told in such compassionate detail from the perspective of each person in the family in turn. The rotating narrative takes us through their lives giving us a peak into the way each one thinks.

I wasn’t a fan of Tyler’s after The Accidental Tourist, but this novel changed my mind. It’s reminiscent of other novels about dysfunctional families (As I Lay Dying and This is Where I Leave You), but it’s also wholly its own story. The father figure is absent and the lonely life they lead is rarely intruded upon by others. Tyler’s skill as a writer makes even the unsympathetic characters become relatable. You may not like them or what they’re doing, but you can somehow understand why they’re doing it.

BOTTOM LINE: A beautifully written story of a family that both desperately needs each other and can hardly function together. Just beneath the surface there is so much hurt, jealousy and resentment, but there is also a cord of similarity and shared experience that holds them all together. A wonderful book with characters that felt achingly real.

“Everything else - the cold dark of the streets, the picture of her own bustling mother - seemed brittle by comparison, lacking the smoothly rounded completeness of Josiah's life.”

“Pearl thought, how people displayed their characters in every little thing they undertook.”

“Wasn't that what a marriage ought to be? Like one of those movie-style disasters-shipwrecks or earthquakes or enemy prisons-where strangers, trapped in close quarters by circumstance, show their real strengths and weaknesses.”

**This book came highly recommended from both Jeanne and Adam and once again they were right! 

Wordless Wednesday: Many Glacier

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Many Glacier Lodge in Montana

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

The Thirteenth Tale

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Everyone is posting about Setterfield’s new book right now and it got me thinking about her first novel. I read and loved the book in 2007 and decided that the R.I.P. Challenge was the perfect excuse to reread it.

The Thirteenth Tale
by Diane Setterfield

A reclusive and prolific author, Vida Winter, is notorious for fictionalizing her past. Then she contacts an amateur biographer and bookseller, Margaret, requesting the chance to tell the real story of her life. This gothic mystery has all the ingredients to be a great book and it has the writing to back it up.  

The reason this book is so intoxicating to readers is because it celebrates reading and weaves a love of books into every page. There are references to specific books and the joy of reading that any bibliophile can relate to. The author’s love of Wuthering Heights, Turn of the Screw, Jane Eyre and others is clear in every line which immediately puts the readers who love those books on her side.

On top of that there’s a delightfully gothic mystery in the style of Daphne du Maurier and Wilkie Collins. The combination of elements reminds me of another favorite of mine, The Shadow of the Wind. There’s no need to delve far into the plot, it’s too much fun to discover that world on your own. There’s a creepy English house, twin girls named Adeline and Emmeline, and a fire.

BOTTOM LINE: A book lover’s dream. If Rebecca, The Woman in White, or Kate Morton’s novels make you swoon then this one should be a must for you.

“I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage of life, and there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy

“What better way to get to know someone than through her choice and treatment of books?”

“All morning I struggled with the sensation of stray wisps of one world seeping through the cracks of another. Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes -- characters even -- caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.”

Back to the Classics Challenge 2013 Wrap-Up

Monday, December 9, 2013

Each year Sarah Reads Too Much hosts the Back to the Classics Challenge. I need very little prodding to read classics, but I always participate in this one because I love the categories she comes up with! I completed the challenge and below are my books with links to each review. I earned three entries by finishing all six main categories and the six optional categories.

I read some really fascinating books for this challenge. I encountered Hemingway in the unexpected gender-bender The Garden of Eden and comtemplated solitude with Thoreau in Walden. I considered the morality debates in The Brothers Karamozov and the impact of societal expectations in Native Son. It really was a wonderful collection of books!

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Sarah for hosting this. It’s a lot of work to coordinate something like this. She even has individual pages for each category to link up, etc. I’m a list maker, so I love being able to check these off my list as I go through the year. Thank you Sarah!


The Required Categories:
A 19th Century Classic – Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (1848)
A 20th Century Classic – The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway
A Pre-18th or 18th Century Classic – Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
A Classic relating to the African-American Experience – Native Son by Richard Wright
A Classic Adventure – Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
A Classic that features an Animal – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams

Optional Categories:

Re-read a Classic – Persuasion by Jane Austen
A Russian Classic – The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
A Classic Non-Fiction title – Walden by Hendy David Thoreau
Classic Children's/Young Adult title – Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
Classic Short Stories – A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor