Cranford Read-Along: Part 2

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I didn't love Cranford at first. It felt trivial and slow. But half way through the book I realized that I loved these characters, our narrator Miss Smith, the gossipy Miss Pole and most of all, the gentle, trusting Miss Matty.

Here are my thoughts on the first half.

The book is made up of 16 chapters; each chronicles a small event in the quiet English town of Cranford in the 1840s. The women in the town are a tight-knit group, skeptical of outsiders and protective of each other. There are many humorous sections with mistaken identities, misunderstandings and unneeded panic, but those aren't the sections that will stay with me in years to come.

The chapter that finally hooked me was ch. 13 Stopped Payment. When a local bank has unexpected troubles we have a chance to see Miss Matty's goodness shine. She is so selfless in her concern for others that it broke my heart. Her sincere love for her friends and neighbors knows no bounds. When Miss Matty own finances seem dire, the dear ladies of Cranford come together to help her without her knowledge. That's the true heart of this sweet book, friendship that rises to the occasion, silently offering a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold.

To me, this quote from Miss Pole summed up how the women of Cranford see themselves ...

"We, the ladies of Cranford, in my drawing-room assembled, can resolve upon something. I imagine we are none of us what may be called rich, though we all posses a genteel competency, sufficient for taste that are elegant and refined, and would not, if they could, be vulgarly ostentatious." - p. 160

This is my final post on Cranford for the read-along hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey. This was my first read-along and I loved it. I'll definitely be participating in more in the future.

I have the first disc of the BBC miniseries adaptation of Cranford at home and I can't wait to watch it. Has any one else seen it?

Book Reviews

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians)
by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson is a 12-year-old who is struggling in school and hates his step-dad. But unlike other "normal" kids, he finds out that he is a demigod, the son of Poseidon. After discovering his mythical heritage he settles into life at the half-blood academy. He finds himself having to try to save the world when Zeus, Poseidon and Hades are on the verge of an epic battle.

I love all of the references to Greek mythology. It reminds me in a lot of ways of Harry Potter. The main character is special in someway, but doesn't know it, then he goes off to a school with other special kids and ends up battling evil in some way with new friends. The kids are divided into houses within the camp and there are banquets, magic and bullies, all reminiscent of HP. But these similarities didn't feel forced. It's a unique story and Percy is not as clean-cut as HP.

Much of the story is predictable, but it has a good pace and never becomes dull. I enjoyed reading it, but it didn't hold my attention to the point where I couldn't easily put it down. I would have given it a slightly lower rating, but I think the information about Greek mythology will be enough to make me read more of the series.

The Nine Tailors
by Dorothy L. Sayers

An amateur detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, is snowbound in a small English town on New Year's Eve. He helps the town's people ring in the new year on their church bells. Three months later Wimsey is called upon to solve the mystery of a dead body found in the churchyard. The 20-year-old theft of an emerald necklace lies at the heart of the case. The book's title comes from a specific ringing of the church bells to note a death in the parish.

This is my first experience with Sayers and the infamous Wimsey. I really enjoyed it. It's a delicious English detective story, complete with polite inquiries and afternoon tea. It's certainly not fast-paced and can lag a bit as they toss ideas back and forth, but it pays off in the end. I'll have to pick up more of Sayers' work, but mysteries and other essays she's well known for.

"Bells are like cats and mirrors, always queer, doesn't do a thing to think too much about them."

by Dennis Lehane

This is the third book in Lehane's Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro series. The two detectives are hired to find the missing daughter of a dying millionaire and stumble upon the strange company, Grief Relief, Inc. The simple case gets more complicated with each turn as a fellow private eye goes missing and Kenzie and Gennaro travel to Florida to pursue a lead.

This book fell a bit flat for me. I've loved a lot of Lehane's other stuff, but this one didn't catch me in the same way. The detectives still had great chemistry and there is a wonderful humor in Lehane's writing, but it's not quite up to par with his other books. If you want to try out the author I would highly recommend Mystic River and Shutter Island, both are great reads.

Don't forget to enter my Giveaway if you haven't had a chance!

The Woman in White

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Woman in White
by Wilkie Collins

This book always seems to get mentioned in the same breath as Jane Eyre and Rebecca. Those are two of my favorites and so it's surprising that it took me this long to read anything by Collins. That being said, the mystery didn't disappoint.

There are plenty of twists and turns in this gothic tale. I didn't love it quite as much as Rebecca or Jane Eyre, but I think that's because it has a rotating narrative that often feels more informative than captivating. The telling of the story sometimes has a sterile feel, as if the tellers want to leave their emotions out of the equation.

An art instructor, Walter Hartright, travels to Limmeridge house to teach a young woman named Laura Fairlie, whom he falls in love with. Laura, an heiress, is engaged to Sir Percival Glyde. Intertwined in their story is Anne Catherick, the mysterious Woman in White, who has escaped from a mental institution. She makes appearances at the most inopportune times, forcing the main characters to wonder if she is mad or if there is truth buried in her warnings. After Laura marries Sir Percival she quickly realizes he is a cruel, selfish man who only wants her money.

My favorite character was Marian Halcombe, Laura's half-sister and companion. Where Laura is beautiful, but weak, Marian is resourceful and clever. She loves her sister dearly and is willing to do anything to protect her. Sir Percival's devious friend Count Fosco is also delightful. He is cold and calculating where Percival is short-tempered.


My only major disappointment was Marian Halcombe's ending. She was such an intelligent, caring woman and I felt like she deserved more than just becoming Laura's nanny. I do think she was happy, but I wanted more for her. Her happiness seemed so overlooked in the book.


One of the things I loved about the book was the delicious supporting cast. There's Laura's uncle, Frederick Fairlie, a hypochondriac with an obvious disdain for everyone he meets. Then we have Hartright's friend Pesca, an exuberant Italian, and the chilly Mrs. Catherick. There are so many wonderful creations. Also there are some great lines in the book...

"... then, with that courage which women lose so often in the small emergency and so seldom in the great..."

"It is very hard for a woman to confess that the man to whom she has given her whole life is the man of all others who cares least for the gift."

All in all it's a great read. Have any of you read it?

Book Reviews: 100 Poems by 100 Poets: An Anthology

Saturday, June 26, 2010

100 Poems by 100 Poets: An Anthology
by Harold Pinter

This year I've been trying to read more poetry. It doesn't usually appeal to me. I tend to be on the literal side of things and so poetry can be a struggle for me. I've been reading this collection for months because I wanted to savor each poem, instead of wolfing them down.

This anthology collects 100 poems, the editor's favorite from each of the poets. It was a wonderful way to get a taste of the various styles of different authors without reading an entire collection from them. It introduced me to some poets I'd never read and gave me new poems from authors I already loved. Here's a couple great lines...

John Donne - "No more can you judge a woman by her teares, than by her shadow, what she weares."

John Hall - "How real are our fears! they blast us still, Still rend us, still gnawing passions fill; How senseless are our wishes, yet how great! With toil we pursue them, with what sweat!"

I didn't love every poem, but there was such a great variety that it provided the perfect sampler. I would highly recommend this collection to widen your appreciation and knowledge of poetry.

Friday Favorites: On Writing

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Yes, it's Stephen King, but it's not what you'd expect. It's a nonfiction book King wrote about his personal experience with becoming a author and tips for other writers. Told by a master storyteller the book is fascinating. With such simple subject matter it could have been dry and boring and coming from a successful author, the advice could feel condescending. But King has the ability to put the reader at ease. You instantly feel comfortable, like you're chatting with a friend.

King mixes his personal stories in with the advice and is candid about his struggles and failures. He allows the reader to see the negative aspects of being an author along with the positive. When he discusses how to write he covers dozens of topics. He talks about the importance of showing a reader vs. telling them. He also encourages writers to leave their book alone for a while when they finish it, so they can gain some distance and perspective.

"The most important things to remember about a back story to remember are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn't very interesting. Stick to the parts that are and don't get carried away with the rest."

When I read this book I hadn't read anything else by King. He talks in detail about a lot of his books, referencing characters and plots frequently, so I'm sure I would have enjoyed it even more if I'd read his work. But my point is that you can absolutely enjoy it with out being a King fan.

"Someone once write that all novels are really letters aimed at one person."

Book Reviews

by Salman Rushdie

Malik Solanka is a middle-aged Indian man living in London. He finds himself overwhelmed by an uncontrollable fury and decides to leave his wife and son and move to New York City because he's terrified he'll hurt them. He gained wealth and fame earlier in life when he created a doll called "Little Brain" that became a sensation and quickly spiraled out of his control. Once in NYC he meets two other women he becomes involved with and begins to pursue a new creative venture.

I didn't have any attachment to Solanka and struggled to stay interested in the book. I really enjoyed Rushdie's writing though. He goes back and forth between social commentary and inner struggle. The story didn't work for me, but it has made me decide I definitely need to try some of his other well-known books. Any suggestions?

"Life is fury, he thought, fury: sexual, Oedipal, political, magical, brutal. It drives us to our finest heights and coarsest depths. Out of fury comes creation, inspiration, originality, passion, but also violence, pain, pure unafraid destruction, the giving and receiving of blows from which we never recover."

The Matisse Stories
by A.S. Byatt

A collection of three short stories, each one resolves around a Matisse painting, by the author of the award- winning book, "Possession." One story deals with a hair salon, another with professors, sexual harassment and a student who hates Matisse, but the one that stood out to me was called "Art Work." The story introduces us to a family and their inimitable cleaning lady. Debbie, her artistic husband and her kids depend on their cleaning lady to keep their house running smoothly, but she has secrets of her own that they know nothing about. The collection is small, but interesting and it made me look up more paintings and information about Matisse himself, even though he is only a peripheral part of the book.

Tell Me the Truth About Love
by W.H. Auden

While most poems fly over my head, Auden's poetry has always made sense to me. It's beautiful without being too abstract and it always seems to strike a chord for me. Auden had a wonderful gift for conveying emotion in only a few lines. This sweet collection includes one of my favorite poems, "Funeral Blues." Here's one section from the poem...

"He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong."

It just makes my heart ache. I also loved the poem "Lullaby," here's a taste...

"Not a whisper, not a thought, 
Not a kiss nor look be lost."

Wordless Wednesday: Zurich

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wishing I was playing a giant game of chess in Zurich today.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Book List: 3 Books You Wish Had a Sequel

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

This week's meme, from Lost in Books, asks "Where's a sequel when you need one?" What are 3 books that you wish had a sequel. This was a harder question than I thought it would be. There are lots of books I loved, but I think they wouldn't benefit from trying to delve deeper into the character's lives. Like, "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," I love that book, but one of the best parts is Francie's innocent voice. Hearing her story as an adult would have a completely different feel and you would no longer have the freedom to imagine her life however you want. Anyway, here's what I came up with...

1) Motherless Brooklyn: I would love to read more stories featuring Lionel Essrog, the private eye with Tourette's syndrome. He was a hilarious narrator and provided a fresh voice to the classic detective story.

2) Neverwhere: Adventures in a world beneath London, I love it! Richard Mayhew is a regular guy who ends up in a dangerous sideways world. I think the possibilities are endless.

3) The Red Tent: I don't want a sequel exactly, but a series of similar books. This one retells a biblical tale from the woman's point of view. It was so good and I think there are lots of other stories in the Bible that would be fascinating from the woman's perspective, Jezebel perhaps, or maybe Bathsheba. Francine Rivers has done something similar, but her Lineage of Grace series lacks the depth of The Red Tent.


Monday, June 21, 2010

This giveaway is now closed.
Thanks for participating!

I'm hosting my first giveaway (woo hoo!) courtesy of CSN Stores, which offer home furnishings, lights, cookware and more. This is my very small way of saying thanks to all of you who read this blog, leave comments, send me recommendations, etc. You guys are awesome.

One reader will win this Three Drawer Book Box. I'm all about functional furniture. I have three nesting tables in my house in the shape of books. Each one opens up to provide additional storage. This box works the same way. Each book opens to provide storage, I love it.

You can enter the giveaway in up to three ways.

1) Leave a comment with your e-mail address.

2) Leave a second comment telling me if you follow my blog or subscribe to the RSS feed.

3) Blog about the giveaway and leave me a comment with the link to you post.

Anyone within the U.S.A. is eligible.

You have until the end of the month to enter. I will randomly pick the winner next Thursday, July 1, and will e-mail them to get their home address.

Friday Favorites: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Friday, June 18, 2010

Words are my life. I write for a living, I read for pleasure, I speak with family and friends. I can't imagine losing my ability to do all of these things.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the nonfiction memoir of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the former editor of the French Elle magazine. Bauby suffered a stroke at age 43 and woke to find himself completely paralyzed, able to move only his left eyelid. He was a victim of Lock-In Syndrome, his mind worked perfectly, but he was unable to move.

Using only his eyelid and a complicated # of blinks = letters system, he wrote this book to describe his experience. I was blown away by his lyrical prose. The writing would have been impressive on its own, but then you remember that he had only his eyelid to communicate with and he had to blink out each letter. It makes you think about how carefully he chose every single word. It gives each sentence such weight and power.

Bauby's sense of humor, though tinged with bitterness, haunted me long after I'd finished the short book. In someone else's hands the memoir would have been a depressing narrative, a cautionary tale that makes you wallow in sadness. Instead Bauby's book reminds readers to savor life and hang on to hope.

"Want to play hangman? asks Theophile, and I ache to tell him that I have enough on my plate playing quadriplegic. But my communication system disqualifies repartee: the keenest rapier grows dull and falls flat when it takes several minutes to thrust it home."

The book is a testament to how quickly life can change. No matter how horrible my day has been I can still give someone a hug or make myself a drink or laugh out loud. If you can read this and not value the little things in your own life (at least for a week or two) I would be shocked.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I'm new to the book blogging world and because of that I'm also new to Book Blogger Appreciation Week. After reading about it on a dozen blogs I decided to check it out for myself. I'm thrilled I did. It sounds like a lot of fun and a great way to find new blogs.

I decided to compete in the "Best New Book Blog" category. It feels strange to nominate myself, but that's the way they do it. I'm excited to participate because I'd love for more people to find my blog and I can't wait to find more blogs I find to become addicted to.

Here are the posts I'm submitting for consideration...

Review Post: Friday Favorites: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Review Post: Book Review: Blindness

Review Post: Friday Favorites: A Moveable Feast

Article: Lois Lowry Lecture

Article: New Bookshelf

For more information about Book Blogger Appreciation Week or to register, visit here.

Everything Austen II

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

(Emma 2009)

Stephanie is hosting an Everything Austen challenge and really, I can't resist that. I've read all six of Austen's complete novels and my TBR list is already overwhelming, so I love that she suggests watching Austen movies or reading Austen themed books as an alternative to re-reading the originals.

So here's what I'm doing for the challenge...

1) The Watsons by: Jane Austen

2) The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by: Syrie James
3) Lost in Austen (2008 Mini series starring Amanda Price
4) Emma (2009 BBC starring Romola Garai as Emma)
5) Persuasion (2007 ITV starring Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot)
6) Northanger Abbey (2008 starring Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland)

The first two are books. I read The Watsons in anticipation of this challenge and I'm going to read James' fictional take on Austen's memoirs. The other four are movies/miniseries of Austen's books or related to them.

I tend to love all things related to Austen, so this should be fun. If you want to join in head over here.

Wordless Wednesday: Trafalgar Square

Lovely London, because it makes any day better.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Cranford Read-Along: Part 1

Monday, June 14, 2010

This first post covers the first half of Cranford, chapters 1-8, for the read-along hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey.

The book consists of a sweet meandering through quiet country life in England in the 1840s. There's no major plot or drama, just 16 chapters of little anecdotes about the town of Cranford and its residents. Mary Smith, a young woman who frequently visits the town, is our narrator. The old women in the town, many of whom are spinsters or widows, rule the roost. Matty and Deborah Jenkyns are the elderly sisters at the heart of the book and their brother Peter plays a role in the story as well. I liked the chapter that deals with his deciding to leave Cranford forever.

I'm not enthralled by the book, but I really don't think I'm supposed to be. It reminds me quite a bit of Jane Austen's work, but without the romantic entanglements. It also has a similar feel to L.M. Montgomery's books (especially Anne of Windy Poplars). It's all about the social standing, fashion, etiquette, etc. I felt myself wishing there was a main character to become attached to. Austen had Elizabeth, Montgomery had Anne Shirley, but Cranford has only Mary and she has taken herself out of the action for the most part. It's about what she sees and what the other women do, not anything about herself.

I've still enjoyed it though. It's sweet and there's definitely a sarcastic humor, which I love. Here's a little snippet from chapter 8.

"The stars are so beautiful." (Miss Matty)

"Are you a fan of astronomy?" (Lady Glenmire)

"Not very," Miss Matty replied, rather confused at the moment to remember which was astronomy, and which was astrology - but the answer was true under either circumstance... she never could believe that the earth was moving constantly, and that she would not believe it if she could, it made her feel so tired and dizzy whenever she thought about it.

What did everyone else think?

My second and final post on the book will be done on Wednesday, June 30.

Book Reviews

I Feel Bad About My Neck
by Nora Ephron

This collection of essays is written by Ephron, who is the mastermind behind beloved movies like When Harry Met Sally and most recently, Julie & Julia. She waxes philosophical about everything from purses to parenting. She is honest about the frustrating aspects of being a woman, like constantly having hair removed. In one essay she says she saw an unkempt homeless woman on the street and thinks that she would look exactly like that in very little time if she let her "maintenance" regime go and stopped dying her hair, exercising, etc.

I really loved her essay called "Moving On" when she discusses how New York City is very livable, it's when you leave and try to visit that it feels foreign. I felt that way about London. Loved it, but when you visit later that pub is closed, that restaurant moved and you somehow feel your nostalgia has been betrayed. Her essay "On Rapture" was probably my favorite. She talks about the rapture you feel after reading an amazing book. The feeling of being so enthralled by it that all you want to do is disappear into its pages. I think we can all relate to that.

It was a fun quick read, but didn't leave me thinking anything too deep.

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner
by Stephenie Meyer

Bree is one of the "newborn" vampires we meet during the Eclipse book. She's only around for a heartbeat, but this book tells her side of the story. Told from her point-of-view we see what the vampire army was like before they attacked the Cullens. She was in an impossible situation, which quickly spiraled out of control. An interesting glimpse at the Twilight world from the outside, but it's nothing you can really sink your teeth into... pun intended.

**As a side note, Meyer is offering this book for free (to those willing to read it online) until July 7th. Visit this link to check it out.

Tales of the City
by Armistead Maupin

The books is a collection of fictional stories about twenty-somethings in San Francisco in the '70s. A conservative young woman, Mary Ann Singleton moves to San Fran from Ohio and becomes friends with a diverse group of people including her pot-smoking landlord, Anna, bohemian neighbor Mona and a sweet gay man, Michael.

The stories read more like a TV show than a book. Lovers are interchangeable and lives overlap as the characters deal with relationships, roommates, jobs and the AIDS epidemic. The writing isn't bad, there was just too much soap-opera style drama for me. Some of the characters are likable, but I found myself not caring too much about any of them.

Photo by moi.

Book Reviews: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
by Stieg Larsson

The final book in the Millennium trilogy gives us a resolution for the complicated story of Lisbeth Salander. The book picks up only moments after The Girl Who Played With Fire's ending. After an initial frenzy of events, things start to lag a bit as Larsson delves into the complicated details of government agencies, conspiracy theories, the inner workings of Millennium and Lisbeth's recovery. Hang in there though, because after a little while
I remembered why I loved Larsson's work. He weaves complex plots that include half a dozen brilliant female characters. Because it was originally written in Swedish the names of supporting characters can be a bit confusing, but after I'd been reading for a bit it all came back to me.

There's a subplot with Millennium's editor Berger that didn't seem crucial to the main story, but I still enjoyed it. It's a testament to Larsson's skill as a writer that he can give us a side story that barely includes the addictive main character, Lisbeth, and we still love it.

As Larsson himself puts it in one section of his book, "When it comes down to it, this story is not primarily about spies and secret government agencies; it's about violence against women, and the men who enable it."

There are a lot of complications in this book, but in the end it's a story about women. I'm not going to discuss the final details and spoil anything, but when I was reading the courtroom scenes I couldn't wipe a silly grin off my face. To me, it was a wonderfully satisfying conclusion to Larsson's saga. It makes me wish I could read more from the deceased author.

Friday Favorites: Here is New York

Friday, June 11, 2010

I read this in the week leading up to my first trip to New York City last year. I loved it, then I visited the city and I loved the book even more. It's amazing to me that someone could so perfectly capture the magic of that city and write about it in a way that still rings true 60 years later.

(Lovely Bryant Park and the back of the NY Public Library)

The author, famous for his children's books, Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web, was living in the city in 1948 when he wrote the slim book. White understood that despite being filled with people, NYC can be a lonely place. It gives its inhabitants privacy and anonymity in the midst of its bustling streets. It somehow allows you to feel connected and disconnected at the same time.

I love how White talks about both the city as a whole and the diverse neighborhoods that make up the city. He saw the beauty of the pockets of familiarity within the intimidating beast. He embraced the paradoxes within New York, parks and pavement, rich and poor.

(Me on the gorgeous Brooklyn Bridge)

The essay is a glowing love letter to the city of New York, but there are elements that ring true for any city. The attachment a person can feel for a place, the unique personality a city has, etc. Pick it up before your next trek to the Big Apple or really anytime.

Photos by moi.

The Book Thing

Thursday, June 10, 2010

While in Baltimore I discovered the unicorn of bookstores. That's right, the mythical beast we all dream of but didn't think actual existed... a bookstore where everything is free! No seriously, it's real!

Located a bit off the beaten path, The Book Thing of Baltimore is an organization which collects donated books and offers them to anyone who wants them. Their mission is "to put unwanted books into the hands of those who want them." It's as simple and wonderful as that.

With a few winding rooms, The Book Thing is filled with hundreds and hundreds of books in every imaginable genre. There were classics, mysteries, travel books and so much more. There's no limit to how many you can take. Just like any used book store's inventory the quality of the books varies, but did I mention they are free?

Here's my loot. I found so many good books (about 20)! I had to contain my enthusiasm though, because I was flying home and they tend to have weight limits on the bags. So I tried to steer clear of huge tomes and hardbacks.

If you find yourself in the Baltimore area don't miss The Book Thing. Their website has all the details you need.

Photos by moi.

Wordless Wednesday: Frankfurt

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Frankfurt, Germany is filled
with these crazy trees and I love them.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Book List: 3 Books You Thought You'd Love But Ended Up Hating

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

This week's meme, from Lost in Books, reverses her last question and asks "What are 3 Books You Thought You'd Love But Ended Up Hating?" Here's what I came up with...

1) The Corrections: Everyone seemed to love this book, but I couldn't stand it. The characters were so selfish and whiny. I get that you can't ever really go home, but I didn't need to read about this self-absorbed family to figure that out.

2) Running with Scissors: I've really enjoyed memoirs on occasion and Burroughs' is a dozy. But in the end it left a bad taste in my mouth, and not just because everyone involved has been living in crazy town for years.

3) Everything by Candace Bushnell: That might seem like an exaggeration, but it's not. I hated Trading Up, Four Blondes and Sex and the City. So, you may ask, why did I keep reading her books? Good question. I loved the show, so I thought there was some redeeming quality I was missing, nope. Her books all lack one important thing: likable characters. In the show you grow to love the four women, even when they make selfish decisions. In the books her characters are so one-dimensional that there's no room to grow to love them.

How about all of you, any books you thought you'd love but hated?

May Monthly Summary

Monday, June 7, 2010

May was a fantastic reading month for me. I finished 23 books, including 2 for my Color Challenge, (
Briar Rose - ★★★★★ and Silver Wedding). I also completed one for my Random Book Challenge and quite a few for my 101010 challenge. Here's the summary and links to reviews.

101010 book challenge
(10 books from 10 categories in 2010)

-Favorite authors (10/10)
-"The Watsons" by: Jane Austen - ★★★★
-"Silver Wedding" by: Maeve Binchy - ★★★

-Nonfiction / Travel Related (9/10)
-"Autobiography of a Face" by Lucy Grealy - ★★★★

-Recommended (10/10)

-Plays (esp. Pulitzer Prize Winners) (10/10)
-"The Crucible" by Arthur Miller - ★★★★

-Short Stories / Poetry Collections (6/10)
-"Blue Moon Over Thurman Street" by Ursula K. LeGuin - ★★☆
-"The Whore's Child and Other Stories" by Richard Russo - ★★★★★

-1,000 Books / GG List (9/10)
-"Carrie" by Stephen King" - ★★★★
-"Silas Marner" by George Eliot - ★★★☆

-Sequels (8/10)
-"The Slippery Slope" by: Lemony Snicket - ★★★

-Book Awards (Pulitzer, Booker, Orange) (10/10)
-"Let the Great World Spin" by: Colum McCann- ★★★★☆
-"Blindness" by Jose Saramago - ★★★★☆
-"Holes" by Louis Sacher - ★★★★

-One Book One Town / Book Club (10/10)
-"The Lacuna" by: Barbara Kingsolver - ★★★★
-"The Little Giant of Aberdeen County" by Tiffany Baker - ★★★☆

-Random Book Challenge (7/10)
-"Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan - ★★★★☆

"The Bell Jar" by: Sylvia Plath - ★★★★
"If I Stay" by: Gayle Forman - ★★★★
"Olivia" by: Ian Falconer - ★★★★
"Matchless: A Christmas Story" by: Gregory Maguire - ★★★
"Rip Van Winkle" by: Washington Irving - ★★★
"A Reliable Wife" by: Robert Gollrick - ★★★
"King Lear" by: William Shakespeare - ★★★★

Here's January, February, March and April's summaries.

Photo by moi.

Book Reviews

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
by Alan Bradley

Set in England in the 1950s, the 11-year-old, chemistry-obsessed Flavia de Luce tries to solve the mystery of a mysterious dead body she finds in her family's garden. The word precocious may have been invented to describe Flavia. The preteen sleuth reminds me of Kate in What Was Lost, whom I loved. The story weaves in fascinating information about stamps, chemistry and magic tricks.

One of my favorite elements of the book is Flavia's relationship with her distant father and crabby older sisters. Her mother died when she was a baby, so these people are all she has and yet their affection for each other is stoic at best. I really loved the characters, including the loyal gardener, Dogger. The mystery was so-so; enough to keep me interested, but it wasn't enthralling. The strength of the book really lies in the charismatic firecracker that leaves you wondering if you should send her to her room or give her a hug. I'll definitely be reading the sequel.

"It occurred to me that heaven must be a place where the library is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. No, eight days a week."

The Watsons
by Jane Austen

This is one of two unfinished books by Austen. There's no ending, but the first half of the story introduces us to Emma Watson, a young woman who was raised by her wealthy uncle and aunt. Her uncle dies and her aunt remarries and she's sent back home to live with her ailing father and siblings. She's been estranged from her family for so long, it's a hard transition. Her two sisters are desperately trying to find husbands. Emma on the other hand realizes the importance of marrying someone you love and respect, instead of someone who just has wealth.

It's hard to judge a book that's half finished, but Austen did tell her sister how she intended to end it, so there's that. It reminded me a bit of Mansfield Park, but Emma was a bit easier for me to stomach than Fanny. I would say this one is a must for any true Austen devotee, but definitely not before reading all of her completed works.

by Voltaire

A young, naive man, named Candide, lives a sheltered life of luxury until he's kicked out of his home. The plot follows his extensive travels and mishaps around the world. He meets dozens of people with strange stories of loosing fortunes, being persecuted, loosing loved ones, etc. Each person has a unique worldview, some optimistic, some pessimistic or realistic, each affects the way Candide sees the world. His one goal is to find and marry his love, Cunégonde, from whom he keeps getting separated.

One of the big issues explored in this satire is the role money plays in finding happiness. The story is told almost like a parable, a simpleton learning about the world through others stories. Some of the stories are truly strange, but prove their point. Voltaire writes in a way that's clearly a thinly veiled social critique, but he does it without preaching at the reader. Candide is a must read. It has affected so many books written since then and it's points still ring true more than two centuries later.

Friday Favorites: Falling Angels

Friday, June 4, 2010

Recently LindyLouMac posted a list of the top ten books of the decade here. I loved the list! It included quite a few of my absolute favorites. It also had a few books I may not have loved, but that led me to read more from the author and find ones that I did love. Falling Angels is a perfect example of this. I read The Girl With the Pearl Earrings, but didn't love it. I was intrigued by the style, which led me to Chevalier's Falling Angels, which I did love.

The story is set in Edwardian London between 1901 and 1910 and follows the interconnected worlds of two families. The Waterhouses are a conventional middle-class family and the Colemans are from a more privileged class. The two daughters from these families, Lavinia Waterhouse and Maude Coleman, become friends despite their differences. Maude's mother Kitty sits at the heart of the novel. She's dissatisfied with her life and eventually gets involved with the Suffragette movement.

Chevalier rotates the narrative between the many characters, giving the reader a chance to see how everyone is affected by the decisions of others. Though the plot sounds simple enough, it's the characters I became attached to. Through their eyes we learn about the power of friendship, love, class distinctions, neglectful parenting, and so much more. It's by far my favorite from Chevalier.

Book Reviews

Thursday, June 3, 2010


by Louis Sacher

Stanley Yelnats is a teenager who's wrongly convicted of stealing a pair of sneakers. He is sent off to dig holes in a correctional facility. Once he arrives he meets a bunch of misfit boys and a vicious warden. Sacher's Newbery-award-winning book weaves one boy's story in with a much larger tale of greed, racism, outlaws and curses. It's also a great story about friendship and the odd places you sometimes find it. The book is well-written and fun to read. You know it's a great YA book when you learn something, have great discussable issues and you actually enjoyed reading it.

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
by Tiffany Baker

Truly has had a rough life. She was born huge and her mother died in childbirth. Her beautiful sister gets pregnant by a selfish man named Bob Bob and Truly is left to clean up the mess. She helps raise the troubled boy while putting up with Bob Bob's insults for years. Along the way she discovers the secret of Bob Bob's grandma's herbal remedies and begins to use them to help the people around her.

Truly really grew on me (no pun intended). At first I just wanted her to stand up for herself and realize that she had a lot to offer people. But gradually I began to understand her better and see how years of being put down could break a person's spirit. I loved watching her become more comfortable and confident. The book really felt like a celebration of misfits to me. Most of the main characters had something that set them apart from "normal" people. But it was those people that the reader loves the most. Overall a good book, not great, but good.

by Ian Falconer

This delightful children's book features an energetic pig named Olivia. I love that the book uses actual pieces of art (that Olivia sees at the museum) mixed in with the cartoon drawings. The book's illustrations are done in black, white and red, which makes the well-known paintings stand out even more.

Silver Wedding
by Maeve Binchy

Desmond and Deirdre Doyle are about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Binchy's novel profiles each of the important people involved in the original wedding and the couple's three children. The groom, bride, each of the adult offspring, the best man and the maid of honor all have individual chapters telling their story.

I've always had a soft spot for Binchy. I love her character-driven tales and have read almost everything she's written. This is definitely not one of my favorites. It's a quick read with some interesting aspects, but I won't remember the characters. If you want to try her out I would recommend Evening Class, Circle of Friends or Tara Road.

The Slippery Slope
by Lemony Snicket

The 10th book in the Series of Unfortunate Events gives readers more of the same. The three orphans are still battling Count Olaf and his crew, but they have been separated from each other. Olaf has kidnapped the youngest, Sunny and the two older siblings, Violet and Klaus, are trying to rescue her. The book does a lot of rehashing of the previous books. It felt like the author was just trying stretch it out to cram more books in the series than the story needed. The only major plot advancement was the introduction of Quigley Quagmire, the third triplet who is believed dead before this book. I know I'll finish the series, because my curiosity must be satisfied, but I think the series' plot could easily have fit into 10 books.

Photo by moi.

Wordless Wednesday: Poe's Grave

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I'm back from Baltimore and for today's Wordless Wednesday, here's
the Westminster Hall Burying Ground where Poe is buried.

(The marker in another part of the burial ground where Poe was originally buried)

(Me and Poe's grave)

(The back of Poe's grave)

It was a beautiful cemetery and there was no one in sight the whole time we were there. I was surprised that people in Baltimore don't seem to care one way or the other about Poe, but I suppose not everyone is a literary nutcase like me.

Photos by moi.

Book Review: Blindness

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

by: Jose Saramago

As an epidemic of blindness spreads throughout the country and people have no idea what is causing it. While government officials work to contain it, those who have already been struck blind are interred in a mental hospital with no supervision. The wicked individuals rise to the top and take advantage of everyone else.

This book is a study of what happens when our precious civilization is stripped away and people are forced to resort to their most animalistic state to survive. It's like Lord of the Flies with adults. The writing is beautiful and though you're reading about some intensely disturbing situations, Saramago writes in a way that makes sure you can't look away. He gives his characters no names, only descriptions (i.e. Girl with the Dark Glasses), which gives the story a feeling of anonymity. This could be anyone, in any town.

The most horrific aspect of the story is the fact that one of the main characters can still see. Everyone thinks she's blind, but she lied so she could stay with her husband and take care of him. Because of this, individuals don't disguise their actions around her and she can see everything that is really happening. The book is equal parts profound and disturbing.

**One note on the text. It's written in a way that can be a bit confusing. The dialogue is written in paragraphs, rarely noting who is speaking. It looks a bit like this: "How are you? I'm fine. Has work been busy? Yes, we have a new client." So you need to pay close attention to who is speaking in order to follow the characters trains of thought. If you're an audiobook listener I would highly recommend the audio read by Jonathan Davis. He has slightly different inflections for each of the characters, which makes it easy to follow.