Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Friday, April 29, 2011

**If you haven’t read this book, just skip this review. I tried to avoid spoilers, but there is just too much to talk about.**

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
by J.K. Rowling

The fourth book marks a drastic changing point in the series. Until this installment the seriousness of the situation with Voldemort wasn’t clear. Instead of opening the Goblet of Fire with Harry, Rowling chose to start with a much darker scene featuring Voldemort and the death of a muggle. We also learn about the three unforgiveable curses, find out Snape used to be a Death Eater and discover the fate of Neville’s parents. Death reaches the world of Hogwarts and the sense of foreboding at the end of the book is undeniable.

One thing that really stood out to me was the absence of parental figures for Harry. From the beginning of the book that’s a strong theme. Harry’s scar hurts and he wishes he had someone who could give him advice about it. Luckily he has Sirius now, but it’s not like they can chat casually every day. Dumbledore definitely fills a father-figure role for Harry on occasion, but again, there’s a distance between them.

In another scene the Triwizard Tournament champions are sent to a room to greet their families and Harry is shocked to discover Mrs. Weasley and Ron’s brother Bill have come as his “family” to support him. Imagine being a 14-year-old kid and not knowing if there’s anyone in the world who will show up on your family day at school. He’s lucky to have the Weasleys, but it’s still not quite the same. The theme of father/son relationships is continued through Barty Crouch and his father and Voldemort and his muggle father. Both of those characters are deeply affected by their relationship (or lack thereof) with their father.

A few things I'd forgotten about the fourth book:

1) Peeves was completely removed from the movies, but he makes an appearance in every single book.

2) Those awful Blast-Ended Skrewts. I can’t really imagine a worse creature to have to take care of.

3) I’d forgotten all about Ludo Bagman, his gambling problem and his shady past. It’s a great example of how “innocent” people can get involved with the wrong side. Imagine how many people did something like that with the Nazi party.

4) Hermione’s S.P.E.W. efforts, though well-meaning, become tiresome quickly. I definitely understand why they were cut from the movie. I do love the parts with Dobby though.

5) Sirius was corresponding with Dumbledore the whole time he was in hiding. Harry was so surprised to discover that, but it makes sense.

I really loved learning more about Dumbledore in this book. There’s one part in the book where he allows Harry to ask him questions and it’s such a great scene. It shows that he respects Harry and doesn’t just see him as a little kid. He also refuses to answer some things, but he does it in such a tactful way. He is wise enough to know who he can and can’t trust, but strong enough in his beliefs to maintain that trust even when others question it. We also saw his powerful side for the first time. Until now he was almost docile from Harry’s point of view. It was so important for him to understand that Dumbledore has incredible strength and power, he just chooses not to use it for evil.

“At that moment, Harry fully understood for the first time why people said Dumbledore was the only wizard Voldemort had ever feared. The look upon Dumbledore’s face as he stared down at the unconscious form of Mad-Eye Moody was more terrible than Harry could have ever imagined. There was no benign smile upon Dumbledore’s face, no twinkle in the eyes behind the spectacles. There was cold fury in every line of the ancient face; a sense of power radiated from Dumbledore as though he were giving off burning heat.”

Read for the Harry Potter Challenge hosted here.

Are Women Human?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Are Women Human?
by Dorothy L. Sayers

Sayers gained literary fame for her mysteries, which feature Lord Peter Wimsey, and her translation of Dante’s Inferno. This collection of essays looks at the role women play in society. The title essay was actually a speech Sayers’ gave at an event.

I loved the way she lays out the issue and the simplicity of the answer. She makes it clear that she doesn’t know exactly what every woman wants to do with her life, because women want the same options that men have. They want to be able to decide how to live their own lives, nothing more.

I really enjoyed this collection (esp. the title piece) because Sayers never sounds preachy or condescending. She’s just expressing her opinion and stating that women don’t deserve special treatment, but they do deserve equal treatment. This is exactly how I feel. I don’t want different (aka lower) standards for a woman to be able to qualify for a field. If a woman wants to be a firefighter she should have to fulfill the same physical requirements as a man who would want to. It’s not about being “fair” to someone of a smaller size, it’s about being able to lift the equipment and carry someone out of a burning building.

I think Sayers represents this idea well. She thinks, as I do, that any woman should be allowed to be work towards whatever goal or profession she desires, but that doesn’t mean that every woman will want the same thing.

Here are a few good lines…

“What we must not do is to argue that the occasional appearance of a female mechanical genius proves that all women would be mechanical geniuses if they were educated. They would not.”

“Men have asked from the beginning of time, ‘what do women want?’ I do not know that women, as women, want anything in particular, but as human beings they want, my good men, exactly what you want yourselves: interesting occupation, reasonable freedom for their pleasures, and a sufficient emotional outlet. What form the occupation, the pleasures and the emotion may take, depends entirely upon the individual."

The Long Goodbye

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Long Goodbye
by Meghan O’Rourke

This is possibly the most honest review I'll ever write. I read O'Rouke’s book as part of the TLC Book Tour and if I hadn’t had an actual deadline to read and review the book by, I’m not sure I would have made it all the way through it.

It was incredibly hard for me to finish this book, but that’s not because it wasn’t excellent, it’s because it hit too close to home. I saw too much of myself in the circumstances of Meghan's mother's death. My own mom was diagnosed with cancer, then after months of chemo she was declared in remission. A few months after that she relapsed and the cancer killed her after a two-year battle. She was exactly ten years younger than Meghan's mom. I read The Long Goodbye sobbing through many of its pages. As most people who know me well could attest, I don’t cry easily or often. When my own mom died, most of my weeping was done in the middle of the night when no one was around, so when I say I couldn't stop crying while reading this, that's no small thing.

O'Rouke's memoir is so painfully honest. She writes of arguments with her mom, trying to escape the situation and pretend like it wasn't happening, fights with her siblings or Dad, she doesn't hold back on the all-encompassing pain that death causes. It's amazing how far away you can feel from you own family when experiencing a loss like this. Even though you are all losing the same person, you experience that loss in such different ways that it's hard to connect with them.

Then there are the dreams. After losing your mother, this person who has literally brought you into the world, you can't stop dreaming about them. Those dreams, so real that you wake and have to remember their death all over again, haven't stopped for me after 13 years. I still see her, so close to me, and then wake to have to process the loss all over again.

Of course Meghan wasn't perfect while dealing with doctors and people in her own life, but none of us are. We see death closing in and we panic. We decide we can fight it if we just know enough about the disease. Then when that doesn't work we pray, then we argue, then we hope, then, finally, we understand that we can't control it and we grieve.

O’Rouke’s memoir is intensely personal and looks at her own relationships and reactions to the death, but it also deals with broader issues. She discusses American’s lack of traditions and rituals in grieving. We don’t wear black for months anymore or wail with anguish or tear our clothes. Grieving has become the final taboo. You’re supposed to act like everything is ok, when you feel the opposite. No one wants to hear about your grief, especially if it has been a couple months.

I can’t explain quite how much her memoir meant to me. It was like reading my own grief. She put words to so many of my feelings and I completely agree with both her and Iris Murdoch, who once said, “The bereaved cannot communicate with the unbereaved.” To me, this book was one bereaved woman speaking to another.

“When we are learning the world, we know things we cannot say how we know. When we are relearning the world in the aftermath of loss, we feel things we had almost forgotten, old things, beneath the seat of reason.”

**Book courtesy of TLC Book Tours

Play Edition: Twelve Angry Men and The Misanthrope

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Twelve Angry Men
by Reginald Rose

Twelve men are sequestered in a stuffy room and tasked with determining the fate of a boy who was accused of murdering his father. The jurors are indentified only by their numbers (juror two, juror four), which you would think would be confusing, but it isn’t. They take a vote and realize that 11 of the 12 believe the defendant is guilty. They need a unanimous vote for a conviction and in the instant they know this won’t be as easy as they’d hoped.

It’s amazing that Rose was able to pack such a powerful story into just over 60 pages. Every line is taut with energy and irritation. You can almost smell the sweat and fuming testosterone in the room. The jurors are a diverse bunch and each one feels like someone you might know. I loved this play and its message that it takes a brave man to stand alone for what he believes in.

Usually the movie version of a book in wince-worthy, but this is an exception. Henry Fonda’s portrayal of the main juror is wonderful! I’ve also seen this one performed live (starring Richard Thomas from The Waltons) and it’s just as enthralling.

The Misanthrope
by Jean-Baptiste Moliere

I was expecting dry and I got witty. I thought it would be stilted and instead I got clever rapid-fire barbs. Moliere’s cheeky play pokes fun at French aristocracy and social norms of the time. The main character, Alceste, despises the superficial French aristocracy. He refuses to pay false compliments and makes himself unpopular with the court.

Despite his high moral standards and distain for those around him, he’s still deeply flawed. He falls in love with a chronic gossip and flirt, Célimène. Even though he’s willing to marry her, she can’t stand the thought of giving up her constant string of suitors.

I loved the wordplay, which makes me wish I could read the original text in French. I’m sure it’s much better than the translation. I also think this would be an excellent play to see performed. It has a similar feel to some of Shakespeare comedies. It’s a quick read, but a good one.

Good Omens

Monday, April 25, 2011

Good Omens
by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Two angels, one fallen (Crowley), one not (Aziraphale), have formed a friendship of sorts over the millennium. When they discover that Armageddon is rapidly approaching, they decide to work together to attempt to avert it. Toss in the Anti-Christ, the four horsemen, a scatterbrained nun and a dog named Dog and you’ve got a hilarious book.

The book is one part The Omen (the film) and one part Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the book), combining a wry British sense of humor with an account of the End Times. I can’t stress enough how funny this book is. If you like Douglas Adams, Monty Python and comedy along that line (which I definitely do) I think you’d love it.

Gaiman and Pratchett make a brilliant team. There was a lengthy interview section at the end of my copy and both men say it’s almost impossible for them to separate who did what on this book. It was truly a combined effort and the results speak for themselves.

Here’s an example of their sense of humor. In on particularly funny scene, the four horsemen of the apocalypse allow a few Hell’s Angels to tag along with them. The Hell’s Angels decide to rename themselves so they’re more intimidating and they try to pick the worst things they can think of, they came up with…”Grievous Bodily Harm, Cruelty to Animals, Things Not Working Properly Even After You've Given Them A Good Thumping But Secretly No Alcohol Lager, and Really Cool People.” That may not seem hilarious taken out of context, but trust me, it is.

Happy Easter!

Friday, April 22, 2011

I have both Friday and Monday off work (woo hoo!) so I'm looking forward to relaxing and attending lots of Easter lunches/dinners with family. I will be spending time with my husband and Ollie (see above), cooking for said family get togethers, attempting to read a little bit, and possibly doing some cleaning around the house (boo). The weather here is rainy, rainy, rainy, which limits the outdoor activities, but everything else should be fun and keep us very busy.

I hope all of you have a wonderful Easter weekend!

Photo by moi.

Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Captain Corelli's Mandolin
by Louis de Bernières

This book, part war tale, part love story, takes place on the island of Kefalonia during the Italian and German occupation of World War II. The main characters are Antonio Corelli, an Italian captain, and the Greek woman he fall for, Pelagia, the daughter of the local physician, Dr. Iannis.

The plot is a bit slow-going a first and it takes awhile to get into it. Sometimes the point of view is confusing. It bounces between so many different characters and stories. If you can hang in there and get past the beginning though, it’s a really good read. I loved the characters and their interaction. Corelli is wonderfully light for a soldier and Pelagia is stubborn and strong. They bring out the best in each other. At times their scenes are playful and sweet, then a moment later the tragedy of war forces them to be serious.

This book gives an excellent account of the horrors of war on both the soldiers and the towns people left behind. It was that combination that made the story powerful. Many books deal with one aspect (like All Quiet on the Western Front showing the effect on soldiers), but I haven’t read one that’s shown both.

I loved the variety of characters and the anecdotal stories about life in the village. I know these very things can be distracting for some people, but to me they made the story richer. I cared about the people and what happened to them because of the war. My main complaint about the book, and the reason I didn’t give it a high rating, is the ending.


We are made to care so deeply for these characters, then we are suppose to believe that Corelli didn’t try to figure out where Pelagia got her baby? I definitely don’t need a perfectly happy ending, but this seemed like a serious stretch. Either he cared enough to find out if she had really moved on with another man or he didn’t care enough to visit her every year. You can’t have it both ways. Reuniting them after 50 years and making them both realize all that they had missed in those decades just seemed cruel.


I did really enjoy this book and with a different ending I think I would have loved it.

Wordless Wednesday: Bryant Park Carousel

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bryant Park Carousel in New York City

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

by Colm Toibin

Eilis is a young woman living with her mother and sister in Ireland in the 1950s. She moves to New York City to find work and struggles with homesickness. When she leaves her sheltered life in Ireland she’s sweet and young and has never had to truly care for herself. Her older sister Rose has always looked out for her, but once she’s in America she’s forced to grow up.

Yes it’s a coming-of-age tale and it’s an immigrant’s tale, but more than anything it’s Eilis’ tale. The writing is lovely and there are some scenes that I can’t get out of my head, like her tumultuous first ship crossing to America.

It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what makes Toibin’s story so memorable. It’s not filled with melodrama or terrifying twists, it’s just one simple story, but he writes it in such an accessible, lyrical way. He also manages to capture a difficult level of awkwardness in the scenes between Eilis and her mother that anyone who’s once been a teenager would recognize. There’s a palpable sense of indecision and frustration that feels true to life as you near the end. I was left wanting to read more from the talented author.

You’ve Gotta Read This and The Complete Booker both have reviews if you want to hear more.


Monday, April 18, 2011

by Johanna Spyri

Heidi, aka The Mountains Aren’t Handicap Accessible, is the story of an orphaned 5-year-old who’s dropped at her recluse grandfather’s home in the Swiss mountains. Her sunny demeanor changes everyone around her. From her cranky grandpa to Peter the goat-herd to a blind elderly woman, she cheers up everyone she meets.

She’s the picture of innocence and optimism. Her naïve view of the world encourages others and gives them hope. She’s a bit of a Pollyanna and finds her greatest satisfaction in doing things for others.

Soon after moving to the mountains she’s sent off to Frankfurt, Germany to live as a companion to Klara, a rich girl who is confined to a wheelchair. She finds herself battling an overwhelming homesickness for her life in the mountains and detests city life.

It’s a good story, but Heidi is just so sweet. That’s not a bad thing it just meant there wasn’t much to dig my teeth into. I think this would be a perfect book to read with kids, although it was much longer than I expected it to be (almost 300 pages).

“How good it is that the dear Lord doesn’t give us what we pray so terribly hard for when He knows of something much better.”

Friday Favorites: Gift From the Sea

Friday, April 15, 2011

Gift From the Sea

by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Who knew that Charles Lindbergh’s wife was such a wonderful writer? I certainly didn’t. Gift From the Sea is a slim nonfiction book that she wrote on learning to enjoy life and manage the day-to-day struggles we can all relate to. The 50th anniversary edition of the book I read included an added retrospective chapter at the end.

Lindbergh compares different stages in a woman’s life to various shells she finds on the beach. The shells aren’t the point; it’s what they represent that carries the weight of the work. She touches on maintaining your individuality as a woman despite marriage and motherhood, a difficult balance to find.

Lindbergh’s writing is full of simple truths, but they’re ones we often miss in life. Her musings are all the more poignant when you remember that her child was kidnapped and murder. Yet somehow she was still able to maintain some perspective and attain a healthy life despite that tragedy.

I can’t think of a single woman I wouldn’t recommend this to. It’s a lovely reminder to appreciate whatever stage you’re in at the moment. I always fill my days with a million commitments and small tasks and this was a wonderful reminder to slow down and just enjoy the bliss of doing nothing sometimes.

Her words can speak for themselves, so here’s a few of the lines I loved…

“We Americans, with out terrific emphasis on youth, action, and material success, certainly tend to belittle the afternoon of life and pretend it never comes.”

“By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time off. They are the great vacationless class.”

“Perhaps both men and women in America may hunger, in our material, outward, active, masculine culture, for the supposedly feminine qualities of the heart, mind and spirit – qualities which are actually neither masculine or feminine, but simply human qualities that have been neglected.”

“I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious.”

Monster Mash

Thursday, April 14, 2011

When people first started inserting monsters into classic novels I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I mean, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, really? I read that one and was mildly entertained, but I was left just wanting to re-read the original. Yes, I do think it was a clever idea at first, but now it’s getting ridiculous.

The latest installment, The Meowmorphosis, takes Franz Kafka’ famous novel and turns its protagonist into a kitten instead of a bug. I think we’ve officially gone too far. You know that moment when the trend becomes exhausting? That fleeting bit of rage that skips across your subconscious, “If I see one more preppy jerk in an ironic trucker hat I’m literally going to lose it and punch him in the face.” Yeah, I think I’m there with these books.

It wouldn’t bother me if I thought they were introducing people to classics or that lovers of the classics were the ones reading them, but I don’t think that’s the case. I’m sure it is for some people, but I think that a lot of the readers will never pick up the real Sense and Sensibility and realize there are no sea monsters in the story and that makes me sad. I also wonder what the authors would have thought of this bastardization of their books. I don't think their evil or anything, I just think it's time we moved on.

Am I being ridiculous or is anyone else sick of seeing ghoulish variations of their favorite books’ covers and knowing that some people will never get past that version?

Wordless Wednesday: Blarney Castle

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Blarney Castle in Ireland

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

The Crystal Cave

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Crystal Cave
by Mary Stewart

I’m a sucker for anything having to do with the Arthurian legend. Camelot, Guinevere, the Knights of the Round Table, I love them all, but I’ve always found Merlin particularly captivating. Stewart’s series, published in the 1970s, has been called the best modern re-telling of this story, so I had to check it out.

The story is told from Merlin’s point-of-view and follows his life as a young boy in Wales, his adolescence in Less Britain and his return home as an adult. Stewart maintains all of the legend’s major points, including the fall of King Vortigern, Merlin’s role as a prophet to the kings and how Arthur is conceived.


There are a few elements I really liked about this particular version of the myth. I enjoyed the role Stewart gives Merlin in rebuilding Stonehenge. She also sheds some like on the story of his parentage. He is born a bastard, but we meet his father, Ambrosius, and find out that he is really Arthur’s cousin (Uther is Ambrosius’ brother). That twist gave an added gravitas to the role Merlin plays in orchestrating Uther’s obsession with the Lady Ygraine.


A new character in this re-telling is Merlin’s servant Cadal. I loved their friendship and it was a testament to Merlin’s integrity that he considered his servants his dearest companions. I also liked Merlin’s teacher, Galapas, and have some suspicions about where that story line will go in future books.

I did enjoy this one and I think I’ll continue the series. It wasn’t unputdownable and it didn’t cover too much new territory, but I always enjoy a good Merlin tale. I’m hoping that this book, as it often is with most first books in a series, isn’t the best of the lot. It establishes the main players and premise, but ideally future books will delve deeper into the story and develop our love of the characters.

Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon: Part 3

Sunday, April 10, 2011

(Ollie in my library chair)


It's 2 a.m. here and I'm now reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I'm going to read as long as I can and then probably fall asleep. I'm planning on waking up and posting before the 24 hours is up. Hang in there everyone!

**Hour 12 Update***

The 24-hour read-a-thon is officially half over. I hit a bit of a wall around 4 p.m. (it's now 8 p.m. here) and I took a nap. I also had to play with the pup for awhile (see above), so my momentum definitely slowed down. I'm hoping I can keep going for quite awhile though. Up next is French Milk**, then Affinity or Harry Potter 4.

Here's how I've done sine 8 a.m. this morning...


Pages Read:
1,148 pages
Books Finished: 4 (Twelve Angry Men, Are Women Human?, Unafraid, Howl's Moving Castle, Persepolis)
Breaks Taken: 8 (blogging, lunch, blogging, nap, played with Ollie, dinner)
Coffee Consumed: 4 cups + a Starbucks Doubleshot
Music Listened To: Adele, Joshua Radin and The Avett Brothers
Current Location: Back and forth between the chair in my library (see above) and the couch.
Biggest Distraction:
A random wasp that was flying around my house (don't worry, my husband and I teamed up and killed it).
Mini-Challenges Completed: 9

(Page 27, where the heck are the first 26 pages?)

**So update on French Milk. I opened the book to start reading and realized that the first page is #27 (see above). It was missing the first 26 pages of the book. I bought this at Powell's in Portland last year and had been so excited to read it. I'm pretty bummed out, so that's not cool.

**Another note on French Milk**
A Powell's staff member e-mailed me and offered to send a new copy of French Milk. How incredibly awesome are they! Seriously guys, book people are the best!

Photos by moi.

Book Title Sentence Mini-Challenge

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Midnight Book Girl is hosting a mini-challenge right now. You're suppose to make a sentence using only book titles. This is what I came up with...

I know why the caged bird sings one true thing about a boy.

It's surprisingly difficult to do.

Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon: Part 2

read-a-thon started at 8 a.m. my time. I was up, coffee in hand, to begin at that time. Seriously people, that's a lot for me on a Saturday. Here's a list of the books I'm attempting to tackle in the read-a-thon (not necessarily all of the book, just some). I may add or delete books as I go, but here's what I've got so far...

Affinity, Twelve Angry Men, Howl’s Moving Castle (in honor of Diana Wynne Jones' passing), French Milk, Unafraid, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Are Women Human?, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

This has been such a great morning. I love seeing how many people are participating all over the world (Finland!) and what everyone is reading.

Here's how I'm doing so far...

Pages Read:
344 pages
Books Finished: 3 (Twelve Angry Men, Are Women Human?, Unafraid)
Breaks Taken: 4 (blogging and breakfast)
Coffee Consumed: 4 cups
Music Listened To: Iron & Wine and Josh Garrels
Current Location: Back and forth between the chair in my library and my front porch.
Biggest Distraction:
Getting Ollie, my puppy breakfast and getting on the computer to check on everyone's progress.

Also, here's an awesome map created to show where everyone in the world is reading.

p.s. I won a prize in Hour 4!!! I picked an audiobook that's been on my TBR for a long time, The Plague of Doves. So exciting!

Photo by moi.

Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon: Part 1

It's begun and I've got a huge cup of coffee and stack of books. Here's the first post from Dewey. We're asked to answer the following questions....

1)Where are you reading from today?
2)Three random facts about me…
3)How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?
4)Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?
5)If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, any advice for people doing this for the first time?

1) Indianapolis, IN
2) a. I've been to 14 countries and 31 states within the USA (I don't count driving thru/Four Corners/airports)
b. I love thunderstorms more than I can say
c. I'm 26 (27 next month!) and one year into married life
3) 8, we'll see how that goes.
4) No, I just want to have fun and get through as many books/mini challenges as I can. Maybe next time I'll make some goals.
5) This is my first!

Ok, back to reading. I'll post an update on how I'm doing in an hour or two. Good luck everyone!

Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon

Friday, April 8, 2011

Tomorrow I'm participating in Dewey's Read-a-Thon. This is the first read-a-thon I've ever done, so I'm pretty excited. The goal is to read as much as you can in one 24 hour period.

I've cleared my schedule and despite a few play dates with my puppy Ollie, I should be able to get a lot of reading done. I have a loose list of books I'd like to get to, but I don't want to list them and change my mind.

I'll post on my progress throughout the day and would love any encouragement you guys want to give. I hope some of you join in! There's nothing like a great excuse to spend a whole day reading.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

by Jonathan Franzen

Do you guys have any books that you just dread reading? I had firmly decided not to read this. I read Franzen’s first book, The Corrections, and I hated it. The characters were selfish and whiny and it just wasn’t for me. Then there’s all the drama about the author himself being a self-important jerk who is too good for his readers. All-in-all I was just left with a bad taste in my mouth.

Then Freedom was released and everyone had Franzen fever again. The hype was overwhelming, everyone, and their great-grandma and best friends, etc. was reading the book and everyone had an opinion. I didn’t care; I wasn’t going to read it.
Then my book club chose it and… well I had to read it.

So, about 100 pages in and I was actually enjoying it. Patty and Walter Berglund live a suburban life with their kids in a small community. The story delves into Patty’s adolescence and college years where she grew up with distant parents. Now she’s overly attentive to her son Joey and he lacks discipline.

I found Patty and Walter’s story fascinating, but once we got to their son Joey’s section, I lost interest. It was all sex, masturbation, selfish behavior and callous indifference. Joey is cavalier about committing adultery, but completely disgusted when someone cheats on him. His strange double-standards were disgusting after awhile.

The characters are exhausting. I don’t want to read about a long argument between neighbors discussing whether or not they should let their cat play outside. I realize that real life is made up of that frustrating minutia, but that’s exactly why I don’t want to read it. If I loved the characters or was rooting for them, maybe I would care, but there’s something about the people Franzen creates that always leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. They are always selfish and self-righteous, a bad combination. Even when one of them is taking advantage of another, I can’t feel bad for either because they deserve each other.

Bottom line, if you liked/loved The Corrections I truly think you’d like this one. I think it is a more mature book in some ways. If on the other hand you didn’t like The Corrections or haven’t read it, I don’t recommend this. I didn’t like it and it will definitely be my last attempt at Franzen. This was round three (How To Be Alone was #1) and really that is plenty of chances. He’s just not for me.

“Injustice had a shape, and a temperature and a texture and a very bad taste.”

** One thing that was an interesting coincidence, the book talks about War & Peace multiple times and because I read it earlier this year I understood the references. It’s funny how it works out that way sometimes.

Wordless Wednesday: Oxford

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Oxford, England

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

The Jane Austen Handbook

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Jane Austen Handbook
by Margaret Sullivan

I am an unabashed Janeite. I’ve read all of her novels and most of her smaller/unfinished books. I love her writing; the social observations, the wonderful characters, the love stories, the relationships between sisters, everything.

So when Margaret Sullivan, (creator of the blog Austenblog.com), re-released her book The Jane Austen Handbook, I knew I needed to read it. This is a book that someone like me just soaks up. It’s wonderful to learn more about the time period Jane wrote about. It provides an added depth and context to her work because it gives a better understanding to how livings were made and kept and why women wanted to find husbands so badly.

The book offers information on the etiquette of the time. You learn about how to dress, where to vacation, how to pay a call, how to court, etc. If you’ve ever wondered what it meant to “take the waters” you’ll learn that to.

It’s the perfect companion book to Austen’s novels. I always wondered exactly what kind of card game whist was and what all was involved in becoming “accomplished.” The handbook has step-by-step instructions and illustrations on anything you could possible relate to Austen.

If you love Austen, or even that time period, definitely pick it up. If you couldn’t care less, this one’s probably not for you, but then the title tells you that from the get go.

**My copy was provided by Quirk Books

The Lost City of Z

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Lost City of Z
A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
by David Grann

In the 1920s exploration into unknown lands was still incredibly popular. In this nonfiction tale, Grann tells the story of three men who headed off on the adventure of a life time. They went to the Amazon to find a fabled lost city, which they call “Z.” They’re never heard from again.

The party included Percy Fawcett, his son and another man, all of whom disappeared in 1925. Grann follows in the footsteps of dozens of others, who have all searched for any sign of what happened to them. The book is wonderfully written and hard to put down. The story is part mystery and part adventure novel. Grann’s own experiences don’t overshadow Fawcett’s story, but instead they add to the reader’s understanding of what the man must have gone through.

The Amazon is full of hundreds of life-threatening elements, including the bugs, Oh my gosh the bugs, there are mosquitoes, blood-sucking gnats, sweat bees and more. There are also huge snakes, tribes of cannibals, diseases in the water and more. Part of my fascination with the book was bred not from a desire to go there, but to understand the people who were driven to explore that intimidating terrain.

This book is exactly how I like my nonfiction. It’s fascinating to read, I’m learning about a subject I have limited knowledge of, but it doesn’t overload me with unnecessary details. It was just right and I loved all the literary connections the story has (with King Solomon’s Minds and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Friday, April 1, 2011

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
By J.K. Rowling

Another summer has past and Harry has suffered through weeks or torment from his relatives, the Dursleys. News reaches him that a vicious murderer, Sirius Black, has escaped from prison. Soon he realizes that Black is more than just you’re average criminal and his escape means danger for Harry.


This is the first book that abandoned the formulaic big battle with Voldemort at the end of the story. Instead it delves into the deeper mythology of the story. We learn a bit about Harry’s Dad’s past and how it relates to Snape’s grudge against Harry.

Crookshanks, a cat the Hermione buys, is a huge character in this book. Rowling’s description of him is perfect… “Its face looked grumpy and oddly squashed, as though it had run headlong into a brick wall.” We find out that Crookshanks has been helping Sirius all along, which makes me wish Rowling had given a little more explanation about who the cat really is. How can he know so much if he’s just a regular feline? Also, it’s interesting the Rowling decided to let all of the students have pets if they want them. What if other students have pet allergies?

There were some things, as always, that were lost when this one was turned into a film. In the book Harry volunteers to approach Buckbeak in Hagrid’s first class. In the movie he’s chosen against his will. That’s a huge difference, because the book demonstrates Harry’s kindness and value of Hagrid’s friendship.

There are a few big series points that are foreshadowed in this book. Professor Trelawney’s prediction in Book 5 is referenced and Dumbledore comments on Pettigrew’s debt to Harry, which is huge in the final book. We also meet both Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang for the first time. They are both Quidditch seekers for other teams. Cedric is friendly to Harry and treats him kindly even though he’s the competition. I love that Rowling introduced these characters, so important in the upcoming books, before their story was crucial. She does a great job incorporating new characters into the fabric of the story early on.

In this novel Neville is compared to Peter Pettigrew (before you know Peter is bad), which is interesting. It once again highlights Neville’s honor. He chooses to stand up for what’s right throughout the series, even though people often perceive him as a weaker character.

The major thing I came away with from this re-read is Snape’s story. Once you finish the series and learn his entire back story, this book becomes heartbreaking. You can see how painful it would be for him to have to work side-by-side with Lupin and see Sirius escape from Azkaban. Obviously he’s not great at moving on and letting things go, but he also can’t seem to catch a break. Even though his bitterness and sour disposition makes him hard to love, he still chooses the right side, even when it’s incredibly difficult.

A few things I'd forgotten about the third book:

1) The two weeks Harry spends by himself in Diagon Alley. He’s only 13 and this is the first time in his life that he’s really on his own.

2) Sir Cadogan, the humorous knight in a painting that takes over for the Fat Lady at the Griffidor common room entrance.

3) Hagrid tells Harry and Ron that their friendship with Hermione is more important than the things they’re fighting with her about. This is a testament to Hagrid’s character and his love for all of them. The movies tend to trivialize him and make him more of a quick joke, but he’s such a great character.

Read for the Harry Potter Challenge hosted here.