Happy New Year!

Friday, December 31, 2010

(Meatballs I made for tomato soup)

At the end of 2009 I made a few new year’s resolutions for 2010. My resolutions tend to be goals, rather than changes in my life. Here’s how I did…

1) Watch at least 10 Best Picture Oscar winning films – Done – Patton, Hurt Locker, Mutiny of the Bounty, Mrs. Miniver (really good!), Tom Jones, A Man For All Seasons, Going My Way, The Lost Weekend, Marty and All Quiet on the Western Front

2) Complete all of my reading challenges – Done – 2010 100 Challenge, Color Challenge, Audiobook Challenge, 101010 Challenge, Random Book Challenge

3) Travel to a new state – Done, I went to Wisconsin, Maryland and Oregon all for the first time this year.

(Me at Poe's grave in Baltimore, MD)

4) Start my first garden – Done, but it was a very small garden and only the tomatoes were really a success.

5) Learn how to knit – Done, I’m still learning, but I can do it now.

6) Learn how to cook at least one good recipe to go with each meat – Done, I learned how to cook a ton of recipes this year! I should add that before this year I could make scrambled eggs and… well that’s about it. Some favorites include…
Chicken - Chicken with Pan Sauce and Havarti Stuffed Chicken
Beef – Tomato and Meatball Soup (I made the beef meatballs from scratch!)
Lamb – Lamb with lemon mint marinade
Seafood – I made recipes with tilapia, salmon, halibut, scallops, shrimp, crab legs and mahi mahi.
Pork – Pork tenderloin wrapped in prosciutto

7) Give blood for the first time (learn my blood type) – Done, B+

(Cilantro marker in my garden)

I am pretty proud of the things I accomplished, so here’s next year’s list.

2011 New Year’s Resolutions (goals)

1) Learn how to use my sewing machine. I will be happy if I can complete simple things, like hemming pants and curtains.

2) Complete all of my reading challenges. This includes ignoring the number of books I read in 2011 and focusing on completing some massive ones instead.

3) Again… travel to a new state, learn how to cook new things and watch Oscar Best Picture Winners.

4) Put at least $100 into savings each month.

5) Work out once a week. Yes, I know this seems like nothing, but I hate working out and will be proud of myself if I do it at least once a week.

There are a million other things I want to do in 2011, be a more patient person, work on putting others first, be a better wife, friend, daughter, sister, blogger, etc. The above list is just a few tangible goals that I can try to work towards.

Happy New Year! Bring it on 2011.

Photos by moi and a friend.

Book Reviews: City of Thieves

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The City of Thieves
By David Benioff

I tend to love books that deal with WWII. There are so many different amazing stories to tell about people at their best and worst that take place during that awful war. Despite that, I’ve read very little about WWII in Russia, so I was excited to read this book.

Lev, the narrator, is a young naive man, is paired up with the worldly-wise Kolya when both men face disciplinary action in the army. They are assigned the odd task of finding a dozen eggs for a superior officer's daughter's wedding cake. Their adventure forces them to cross paths with some vicious people. Lev is forced to grow up quickly as he copes with all that he sees.

The plot and style of writing reminded me of the film Inglorious Bastards. There’s a good story there but you have to wade through some violence and crass language to get to it. It’s definitely targeted at a male audience with frequent references to sex, defecating, etc., and though I could have done with less of that, it’s still a great story.

This is definitely not a book for the faint of heart. Leningrad was no picnic during the Siege and Lev must face some heinous situations. Yet Benioff doesn’t dwell on the violence, he uses it to show the atrocities that human beings can do to one another under the blanket of war. It’s a powerful book that’s at once funny and heartbreaking.

“The truth might be stranger than fiction, but it needs a better editing.”

“I’ve always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept.”

Side Note: Benioff has written the screenplay quite a few films, including The Kite Runner and X-Men: Wolverine, which explains why the book felt like it was paced like a movie (not in a bad way). He’s also married to actress Amanda Peet, who knew?

Wordless Wednesday: Wisteria

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wisteria in Zurich, Switzerland

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Book Reviews: Packing for Mars

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
by Mary Roach

I always enjoy Roach’s books. She manages to blend scientific research with humor in a delightful way that makes each topic interesting. I’ve read Stiff, Bonk and now this one. Roach has a biting wit and makes keen observations about science in a way that I’ve grown to love.

In Packing, Roach asks great questions about NASA’s procedures and preparations for trips. She shares details that make the astronauts human and accessible, like frequent attempts to smuggling alcohol on board or their tendency to get fed up with each other and the food selection. She dwells on sex (or lack there of) and bathroom procedures in space for a really long time. Those sections became a bit tiring after awhile.

In the end, it’s Roach herself that make her books so enjoyable. Her sense of humor, irreverent approach to any topic and tireless fascination with the world around her make her books worth reading. I always feel like I learn something and I get a lot of laughs while reading one of her books. If you’re looking to try one I would recommend Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, as a good place to start.

Book Reviews: ROOM

Monday, December 27, 2010

by Emma Donoghue

Jack, a 5-year-old, lives in Room with his Ma. In Room they have Table, Bed, Wardrobe and a few other things. Jack loves their home and his happy life there. Sometimes Old Nick brings them food or other surprises, but only at night.

In reality, Ma was kidnapped when she was 19 and Room is the 11x11 foot prison that she’s lived in for seven years. Old Nick is her capture and Jack is the product of rape. This sounds horrific, but the story is presented entirely through Jack’s innocent eyes, making it absolutely memorizing. Inspired by a true story, Donoghue let her imagination run wild and created a nightmare situation for her characters. The brilliance truly lies in narrator she chose. Telling the story through a child allows her filter the heavy material. Jack can’t be disturbed by something he doesn’t understand, so he avoids much of the heartache his mother is saddled with.


I really loved the fact that Donoghue showed us what happens after they leave the Room. There’s no happily ever after, instead the story is as much about their transition into the “real” world as it is about their confinement.

Imagine surviving something so horrific for seven years and then being mobbed by media figures while talk show hosts questioned your parenting choices. It’s an unbelievably impossible situation.

At first the breast feeding thing really weirded me out. I know that’s mainly because a) I’m not a mom and have never breastfed and b) Our society has made it a taboo. That being said I thought about living in a tiny room where you can’t control your food source. You have a child to care for and the person you’re dependant upon for sustenance is evil and vindictive. Would you really cut off your one reliable source of food for your child? No, of course you wouldn’t.


Room is one of the most fascinating books I read this year. It was thought-provoking and engrossing. It took a terrifying situation and presented it in an accessible way. I connected with the characters and didn’t want to say goodbye at the end of the book. It was everything you can ask for from a novel.

Merry Christmas

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas (tomorrow) guys!!! I hope you all have an amazing day. Relax with your family and friends, eat too many cookies, drink some egg nog, open some presents (hopefully books!) and watch a Christmas movie. I'll be back on Monday.

Photo by moi.

Book Reviews: All Quiet on the Western Front

Thursday, December 23, 2010

All Quiet on the Western Front

by Erich Maria Remarque


A young man, Bäumer, goes off to fight for his country in WWI and finds the battlefield a much different place than he was expecting. He and his fellow men quickly become disenchanted with war. They also become desensitized to violence and disconnected from civilian life. Returning home to a “normal” existence is nearly impossible for most soldiers, even today, and this book addresses that.

I found the sections where Bäumer goes home on leave to be particularly poignant. He has seen so much death and his family expects him to be the same man he was when he left. Even though he tells the story, I never felt connected to Bäumer. His voice feels cold and distant. While it certainly gets the main theme and message across, I was never emotionally invested.

One thing that really surprised me about this book is that it’s from a German soldier’s point-of-view. For some reason I just assumed it was from the point-of-view of a French or British soldier. Hearing about the hardships of war from a German soldier was incredibly powerful. It humanized the enemy and reminded me that they were just young men following orders.

Wordless Wednesday: Imperial War Museum

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Imperial War Museum in London.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Book Reviews: The Maze Runner

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Maze Runner
by James Dashner

A young boy, Thomas, wakes up in a strange place surrounded by other boys, remembering nothing but his name. He soon finds out he is in the Glade, a place surrounded by a dangerous maze. Every day a few of the boys brave the maze, despite all of the evil beast within it, to try to find a way out. The “runners” main foes are Grievers, part machine, part animal.

The Glade feels vaguely familiar to Thomas though he doesn’t know why. His relationship with the other boys is complicated when a girl shows up claiming everything is about to change.

The book feels like a combination of The Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies, but it falls short of attaining the same impact as either of those books. There are some good characters, Alby, Chuck, Minho, all of whom I liked, but Thomas felt hollow to me. I didn’t dislike him, but I wasn’t attached to him. The book kept my interest, but many parts were predictable and repetitive. I think it’s a good addition to the YA dystopian genre, but certainly not the best.

Book Reviews: The Fire Next Time

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Fire Next Time
by James Baldwin

Baldwin’s slim book about race problems in America provides a powerful picture of the tumultuous time period he was living in. It begins with a line from an old slave song, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water, the fire next time.” He goes on to talk about how black and white people in America are picking each other apart and destroying themselves in the process.

Baldwin wrote this in 1963, while the nation was embroiled in the Civil Rights movement. His thoughts on the matter are both universal and deeply personal. He manages capture the feelings of many African Americans at that time, frustration and anger at a world filled with injustice, and blend them with his own cry for a peaceful persistence as they fight for equality.

He wrote much of this book to encourage his nephew and convince him that he shouldn’t see himself as unworthy because white people may treat him that way. This is my first taste of Baldwin and while I was impressed by his writing style, I’ve heard his fiction is even better.

“It demands great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck and an even greater miracle of perception and charity not to teach your child to hate.”

Friday Favorites: I Capture the Castle

Friday, December 17, 2010

I Capture the Castle
by Dodie Smith

The Mortmain family lives in a rundown castle in the English countryside in the 1930s. The book is presented as the 17-year-old Cassandra’s journal and in this way we see the world through her eyes.

There’s her father, a famous author who has become temperamental and withdrawn and no longer writes a thing. Topaz, her stepmother, a free spirit convinced that her purpose in life is to inspire great works in others. Rose, Cassandra’s older sister, is a beauty whose goal in life is to marry a rich man and escape poverty. Thomas, her brother, is a clever boy who never steps into the story’s spotlight. Finally there is Stephen, the son of their deceased maid, who lives with them and helps take care of the grounds. He’s a kind, humble boy and is devoted to Cassandra. He spends his extra time and money trying to make her life better in every way that he can.

Despite their financial ruin, Cassandra and her family are rather content. They make do with what they have, though it’s not a lot. Their lives are turned upside down when two wealthy American brothers, Simon and Neil Cotton, move into the mansion up the road. The two very different families find their fates unavoidable intertwined.

Like many literary second daughters before her (Jo March, Elizabeth Bennet) Cassandra makes a wonderful central character. She’s someone who you just want to be friends with. She’s a bit naïve for her age, but that’s because she’s grown up with almost no social interaction outside of her family. Throughout the book we watch her mature and begin to understand not only the world around her, but also herself.

This is one of those books that I just knew I was going to love. I’ve been saving it to read when I was in just the right mood. People had recommended it to me for years, comparing it to some of my favorites like, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Near the beginning of the book Cassandra and her sister share this exchange…

"How I wish I lived in a Jane Austen novel!"
“I said I'd rather be in a Charlotte Bronte.”
"Which would be nicest - Jane with a touch of Charlotte, or Charlotte with a touch of Jane?"

Please tell me how I could have resisted a book with a passage like that.

In the end it was all that I hoped it would be. The characters are rich, but deeply flawed. The plot is much more complicated than a simple happily ever after. The writing was wonderful and completely engrossing. Throughout the story I felt like I was there, enjoying the Midsummer Night’s Eve or sipping from my first glass of port on a rainy day right beside Cassandra. It did what so few books can do, left me wanting more from the characters who now felt like my friends.

A couple great lines…

“Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression.”

“They went on interrupting each other in a perfectly friendly manner.”

Book Reviews: Annie John

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Annie John
by Jamaica Kincaid

This coming-of-age story follows a young girl, Annie, as she grows up on the island of Antigua. There are eight episodes, each a picture of Annie's life as she tries to understand the world around her.

Annie wasn't a likeable character, though I suppose few young teenage girls are likeable in real life. So in that way Kincaid's portrayal of the girl felt very real, but at the same time, it's hard to love such a selfish and often cruel character.

Annie has a tendency to become obsessed with her friends. She lets one girl become the focus of her world and then, just as quickly, she loses interest in her and moves on. Kincaid has said in interviews that she never meant for Annie's character to be interpreted as homosexual, but at the same time, the relationships feel more like crushes than friendships.

As a child Annie idolizes her mother, but as she grows older she begins to hate her. She develops a deep resentment of her mother and never overcomes it. The book skirts around many issues and in doing so left me wanting. It touches on depression, giving the reader a glimpse
of that condition in Annie, but just as quickly drops it. Overall it was an interesting read, but didn't really work for me.

If the basic story sounds good I'd recommend, The Meaning of Consuelo and The House on Mango Street. I enjoyed both of those books more than Annie John and they have similar premises.

1001 Books Challenge

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I bought this book a few years ago and have been checking off titles as I read them ever since. I've found some great books on this list so far and have read 123 out of the daunting 1001. Now Caitie at Pub Writes is hosting a challenge to read books on the list. Since I do that anyway, I'm joining. I'm shooting for the PhD level, which is 16+.

The challenge is simple – read some books from the list! If you don’t own the actual book, you can find a simple list online. For the most basic, check out the Listology list. There are spreadsheets outs there that you can look at too that are more complex.

High Schoo Diplomal: 5 books from the list

Bachelor’s Degree: 6-10 books

Master’s Degree: 11-15 books

PhD: 16+

Challenge runs January 1 2011 – Decemeber 31 2011.
You don’t have to make a list beforehand.
You can use any version of the list, not just the current, since they update it every couple years

Book Reviews: Suite Francaise

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Suite Francaise
by Irene Nemirovsky

Split into two section, A Storm in June and Dolce, this book was originally set to be made up of five parts. The author, a Jewish woman, died in Auschwitz during the very war she was chronicling before she could finish her tale. Perhaps because of that, the sprawling novel never quite manages to make all of its ends meet.

Despite that, Nemirovsky created a powerful portrait of France during WWII. A Storm in June follows the mass exodus of Paris as German troops advance on the city. The desperation of the people leads them to do selfish things as they try to survive. I love how the author shows examples of both the wealthy and poor classes struggles during this time.

Dolce focuses on a small provincial town which is occupied by Germans during the war. The French people are forced to allow Germans to live in their homes and each family reacts in a different way to the intrusion.

There are so many characters that it’s hard to remember how they all connect. I have a feeling that their stories would have become clearer and more complete through the final three volumes she was planning on writing, but we’ll never know for sure. It’s heartbreaking to discover one more life cut too short by war.

2010 Reading Survey

Monday, December 13, 2010

Here's a few fun reading questions that I saw at Literary Musings and The Perpetual Page-Turners. How about we all just agree from the start that I’m going to cheat and list two books on some (most) of these. I tried, I just can’t narrow it down. That being said, here we go…

1. Best book of 2010? The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – A British butler who has lived a detached life and is coming to terms with his regrets; a British teen who is completely in love with life. Two absolute gems that I will definitely be rereading in future years. 

2. Worst book of 2010? For One More Day by Mitch Albom – Seriously, why do I keep reading his fiction? It’s awful!

3. Most Disappointing Book of 2010? A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick – So overrated, I expected a mystery and got a wannabe romance novel. 

4. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2010? Maus I & II Art Spiegelman – Pulitzer-Prize winning graphic novel about the Holocaust featuring Jews as mice. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was wonderful.

5. Book you recommended to people most in 2010? Still Alice by Lisa Genova – A brilliant woman’s descent into the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, from her own perspective. I’ve found myself recommending it to just about everyone.

6. Best series you discovered in 2010? Percy Jackson and the Olympians Rick Riordan and The Dark is Rising Susan Cooper – Why are all the good series for young adults? Obviously that’s an exaggeration, there’s some great adult stuff too, but these two are my two favs this year and they both fall in that category. So does the Hunger Games, though I discovered that one last year.

7. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2010? Sarah Waters, Willa Cather and Terry Pratchett – Masterful Victorian twists, quiet farmers in Nebraska and clever British quips, each author left me wanting to devour everything else they’ve written.

8. Most hilarious read of 2010? The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby and Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse – Hornby writing about reading, but in his own hilarious way and Jeeves and Wooster will never fail to make me laugh. 

9. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2010? The Girl Who Played With Fire Stieg Larsson – I loved the rest of the series too, but this one never slow down for a second.

10. Book you most anticipated in 2010? Great House by Nicole Krauss and The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – These two authors wrote two of my all-time favorite books. When they both released new novels this year I could hardly stand the wait until I had them in my hands.

11. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2010? Other than the glorious Penguin classics, Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, Juliet, Naked Nick Hornby and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (see picture above)

12. Most memorable character in 2010? Flavia de Luce from the Alan Bradley mysteries and Aibileen from The Help by Kathryn Stockett. One is a precocious 11-year-old British girl, the other is a stoic black maid in Mississippi during the Civil Rights movement. Such different creations, but both stayed with me long after I finished the books.

13. Most beautifully written book in 2010? Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – New York City in the 1970s, provincial France in the 19th century, luscious prose in both. 

14. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2010? The Haidmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – What a book! Go read it immediately.

15. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2010 to finally read? Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – I just loved this one and though I’ve read a lot of Dickens in the past, I’ve never had that reaction before.

How about you guys? New favorite authors, best book you read, how was your 2010 in reading?

Friday Favorites: The Polysyllabic Spree

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Polysyllabic Spree
by Nick Hornby

This collection of Hornby’s essays from the magazine The Believer, was beyond delightful. He writes about what books he bought each month and which ones he read. In anyone else’s hands that concept could be as dull as dirt, but Hornby makes you feel like you’ve just asked your friend, “So what have you been reading lately?”

He read a wide range of subjects in fiction, nonfiction, classics, etc. so there’s something for everyone. The funny thing was, it really wasn’t about the books themselves, it’s more about his personal reading experience. You can love his columns without ever picking up one of the books he mentions (though I evitably will).

It’s his humor and cheek that made this book so great. The way he describes reading is spot on and I couldn’t help laughing as I recognized myself in so many of his observations. Here are a few great ones…

“I don't reread books often; I'm too conscious of both my ignorance and my mortality.”

“When reading is going well, one book leads to another and to another, a paper trail of theme and meaning; and how, when it's going badly, when books don't stick or take, when your mood and the mood of the book are fighting like cats, you'd rather do anything but attempt the next paragraph or to reread the last one for the tenth time.”

“What you must do is work unceasingly, day and night, read constantly, study, exercise willpower... Every hour is precious.”

Book Reviews: Girl in Hyacinth Blue

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Girl in Hyacinth Blue
by Susan Vreeland

This collection of short stories begins with the reclusive owner of a beautiful painting, which he believes to be a Vermeer. The seven that follow trace the ownership of the painting back through decades. Some touch on the Holocaust, other delve into Dutch history, all the stories are connected by the common thread of the painting and the effect it has on each of its owners.

There are love stories, tales of poor farmers and rich aristocrats, and even one featuring Vermeer himself. I was expecting this to be a boring read (I have no idea why), but I found myself really enjoying each account of the paintings journey through the years. Vreeland gives us a glimpse into eight very different worlds, obviously some of the tales work better than others, but all of them are interesting. She also manages to capture the reader’s attention with the first story and give the collection a sense of resolution with the final one.

Wordless Wednesday: Cheese Shop

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A San Francisco cheese shop (aka heaven)

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Book Reviews: The Grim Grotto

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

** There are no spoilers of Book 11, but this review assumes you’ve read the first 10 books in the series.

The Grim Grotto (Book 11)
By Lemony Snicket

I’ve been disappointed with the past few books in the Series of Unfortunate Events, but book 11 reminded me of why I liked it to begin with. After this one, there are only two more volumes left in the series, so I was happy to find that the Baudelaire orphans were making some headway in solving the mystery of VFD.

Sunny, Violet and Klaus meet Captain Widdershin and catch a ride on his submarine, the Queequeg. His step-daughter Fiona is both kind and knowledgeable and Klaus takes a particular liking to her. The novel is funny and clever, especially the first half. I found myself enjoying the book much more before Count Olaf made an appearence. His scenes tend to wear me out because they rarely vary.

Along the way we catch up with old characters and meet a few new ones. Fiona and her step-father are great additions to the series. We also get a few more answers and for the first time I felt like we were nearing a resolution.

Victorian Literature Challenge

Monday, December 6, 2010

Let the challenges begin! In the last two weeks I have seen 2011 reading challenges popping up all over the blogosphere. I can’t believe it’s already time for that! I will probably join a couple challenges for 2011, but I’m trying to reign myself in a bit. I tend to want to join every single one I hear about, because I love making lists and crossing things off.

Bethany is hosting the
Victorian Literature Challenge at words, words, words and I can’t help myself. There are so many Victorian era authors I love and a dozen more that have been on my TBR list for too long. So here are some of the details (you can visit her site for the rest)… 

This challenge will run from Jan. 1, 2011 - Dec. 31, 2011.

Participants can sign up at any time throughout the year.

Read your Victorian literature.

Queen Victoria reigned from 1837-1901. If your book wasn't published during these particular years, but is by an author considered "Victorian," go for it. We're here for reading! Also, this can include works by authors from other countries, so long as they are from this period.

Literature comes in many forms.

There are so many Victorian reads out there, including novels, short stories, and poetry. One poem doesn't count as a "book," though. Instead, pick up an anthology instead!

Choose from one of the four levels:
Sense and Sensibility: 1 - 4 books

Great Expectations: 5 - 9 books 

Hard Times: 10 - 14 books
Desperate Remedies: 15+ books

1) Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895)
2) Villette by Charlotte Bronte (1853)

3) The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1902)
4) Middlemarch by George Eliot (1874)
5) David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)

6) Lady Susan by Jane Austen (1871) 
7) The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881)
8) The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1905)

9) Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (1848)10) The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (1897)
11) Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868)
12) North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (1855)
13) The Warden by Anthony Trollope (1855)

14) Heidi by Johanna Spyri (1880)
15) Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901)

16) Cousin Bette by Honore de Balzac (1846)
17) King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard (1885)
18) Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (1869)

19) The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
20) The Yellow Wall-Paper and Other Writings by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)
21) War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869)

22) A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1887)
23) Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass (1845)

Despite my giant list, I’m committing to the Great Expectations level of 5 to 9 books. But I tend to get a bit ambitious with these things and I might end up doing the Desperate Remedies level (15+), we’ll see. I figured I would list 20 I want to get to this year, then I will hopefully read at least half of them.

I haven’t read any of the books on this list, but Austen, Dickens, Doyle, Bronte, James and Wharton are old favorites and I try to read at least one new thing from each of them each year.

I’ve read books by Gaskell, Verne, Kipling, Collins, Eliot and Wells, but want to get to know each author better.

I have never read anything by Trollope, Thackeray, Spyri, Balzac, Haggard, Gilman, Hardy or Dumas, but have always wanted to. I didn’t want to read any author twice for this challenge, so that’s the list I’m going to be choosing from.

Happy reading to all and I hope some of you join in on this challenge if it sounds like fun.

***UPDATE: The books I completed are in bold above. I read 15 books for the challenge and completed the Desperate Remedies Level!**

Friday Favorites: Half Magic

Friday, December 3, 2010

Half Magic

by Edward Eager


It’s rare to stumble upon a book that makes you wish you were a kid again, just so you could read it for the first time while you were young. That’s exactly how I felt about Half Magic.

In the beginning the story is a simple tale of a magic charm which grants wishes in halves. By the end of the book Eager has captured a deeper essence of fear and pain that haunts not only children, but grown-ups as well. Even as adults we can baulk at life when we lose someone we love or must accept new circumstances we don’t enjoy.

The writing reminded me of Roald Dahl, which is the highest compliment I can give. The author portrays the kids so honestly. They were neither angels nor devils, they were just children. At times they were selfish or silly or scared, but all of those emotions rang true.

In one section (ch. 6) Eager describes the four categories that adults fall into when they are around children. It’s a brilliant description that’s both insightful and funny. Eager found that perfect balance of creating a wonderful story, while at the same time slipping in some life lessons.

Here’s a few great lines …

“All of the four children hated Charlie Chaplin, because he was the only thing grown-ups would ever take them to.”

“One of the least admirable things about people is the way they are afraid of whatever they don’t understand.”

Book Reviews: The Book of Lost Things

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Book of Lost Things

by John Connolly

The story opens with David, a 12-year-old boy in England, who is grieving the loss of his mother. Soon his father remarries and moves with his step-mother and half-brother to a new home. He’s frustrated and lonely and he turns to books for comfort, but when he follows their tempting whispers he ends up in another world with no way to get home.

This book is an odd mix between a coming-of-age story a fairy tale and a horror story. Connolly’s brilliantly re-imagines classic fairy tales with adult endings. For example, there are communist dwarves who live with an abusive, obese Snow White. The book’s ultimate foe is the Crooked Man, one of the cruelest, most depraved villain’s I’ve ever encountered in a novel. He is manipulative, evil, violent and vindictive.

This is definitely not a book for kids, but the author never intended it to be. I was a bit shocked by it at first because for some reason I thought it was a YA book. In actuality it’s a fairy tale for adults. At its core it is about remembering the pain of growing up and accepting the heartaches and tough decisions that follow you through life. Once I understood that I enjoyed it much more.

I don’t think this book is for everyone, but even though some moments made me squeamish, I really liked it. I’ve found myself returning to the story frequently after finishing it. I think about the characters and David’s journey and I’ve discover new depths to the challenges he faced along the way. To me, any book that has the power to linger for so long is worth reading.

“Um, and what about happily ever after? asked David. “What does that mean?”

“Eaten quickly,” said Brother Number One.

Wordless Wednesday: San Fran Sunflowers

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sunflowers in the San Fran Saturday market.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.