Thursday, June 30, 2011

by Tina Fey

Oh Tina Fey, how I love your sense of humor. I wanted Bossypants to be funny and clever. I wanted it to make me laugh and let me get to know the author a bit better and I feel like it did all of these things. If you already think you’d like this one, you probably will.

I’m not a big fan of celebrity memoirs… a fan at all really, but this isn’t one of those. It feels more like a David Sedaris book. It makes you laugh out loud or squirm uncomfortably as you recognize and identify with the awkward teen or new employee you’re reading about. I loved seeing the photos of Fey in hilarious outfits as a kid and the comparison airbrushed shots of her on a magazine cover. She acknowledges the huge differences, but embraces them with humor.

If you already love 30 Rock, which I do, the chapter detailing the birth and growth of the show is really fun. If you’ve never watched it, it might not be as interesting. I think my favorite section was a mother’s prayer for her young daughter. She asks for simple things for her child, like no tramp stamps and a job where she can where comfortable shoes.

Bossypants is by no means a perfect book. There are a few small sections that drag, there is some name dropping and funny celebrity anecdotes, but Fey makes all of these things work. In the end, you can sign me up as a fan of Fey. I will absolute be buying whatever else she has to offer.

*Photo on right is
Tina Fey's American Express ad

Wordless Wednesday: Graffiti in Slovenia

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Awesome graffiti in Slovenia
(the skater was created with boards nailed to the wall)

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

NYC and the Giveaway Winner

Monday, June 27, 2011

(Me walking the glorious Brooklyn Bridge during my trip to NYC in 2009)

First things first, the GIVEAWAY WINNER is..Brenna at Literary Musings. Yay! I can't wait to send you some Sedaris love.

As some of you may have guessed from my bonus question on the giveaway, I'm going back to New York City for a long weekend in July. I'm staying with a wonderful friend who lives in Brooklyn and I can't wait. Thank you all so much for the tips on things to do and see.

I already have tickets to see the Harry Potter exhibit and to see War Horse. Most of the shows we looked at seeing that weekend were already sold out, but I'm crazy excited about this one. I'm also hoping to add a return trip to The Strand in there or at least one bookstore.

I'm reading through all of my favorite travel books and also a few NYC related books like, The Great Bridge and Forever. After reading Brenna's review of The Brooklyn Follies, I think I may try to fit that one in before I go.

If anyone has any additional suggestions of things to do while in NYC I'd love to hear them!

*Photo by my friend

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Friday, June 24, 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 Half-Blood Prince
by J.K. Rowling

I’d forgotten how much I adore this book. It’s one of my favorites of the whole series. The stakes are high as Voldemort begins his full-force attack. People are disappearing or dying and all of the main characters realize that they will probably lose some loved ones before it’s all said and done.

I love the way Rowling beings the book in the office of the British prime minister as he receives a visit from Fudge. It was the perfect way to catch readers up on all the mayhem that happened over the summer. It also helps us understand how the two ministries (magical and non) work together or at least touch base on occasion.

Harry’s trip to Slughorn’s with Dumbledore is incredibly awkward because they’ve never had a private conversation outside of Hogwarts. Also, their relationship changed forever at the end of Book 5, when Harry was broken-hearted and screamed and railed at Dumbledore. Throughout this book we watch their relationship deepen as they spend more time one-on-one and Dumbledore treats Harry more like an equal, instead of as a student. He is training Harry, like an apprentice, in what he’ll need to know to fight Voldemort.

I love the scenes where Dumbledore and Harry explore the memories that shed light on Tom Riddle’s transformation into Voldemort. We see his parents and horrible grandfather. We learn about his time at the orphanage and tendency towards violence before he even knew he was a wizard. We see him as a loveable, manipulative student and a charming young shop clerk. These scenes are what make Voldemort such a great villain. We see behind the curtain of pure evil into the roots of his desire for power and control.

Dumbledore was incredibly observant during his first meeting with Riddle. When he looks back on that memory he realizes just how much information he gathered. Tom liked to collect treasures from his victims; he had no friends and didn’t want help from anyone; he used magic to control and dominant others; he desperately wanted to be different and “special.” All of those elements are very much a part of Voldemort and help Dumbledore find his weaknesses.

During Christmas break Harry stands up to the new Minister, Scrimgeour, and sides with Dumbledore instead of the ministry. He shows such bravery and loyalty. I love the scene later when he tells Dumbledore about the exchange …

“He accused me of being ‘Dumbledore’s man through and through.’”
“How very rude of him.”
“I told him I was.”
Dumbledore opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again.

It always broke my heart the Dumbledore died at the end, but now on my fourth re-read, I think I finally understand why it was crucial for it to happen that way. Harry has to fight the final battle on his own. Dumbledore was the only other person who truly could have helped him, so he had to die for Harry’s path to become inevitable.

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

1) Harry’s the Quidditch captain this year. I honestly think I they could have cut out half of the Quidditch scenes in the series and I wouldn’t have noticed. I like the fact that they’re used to demonstrate things like Ron finding self-confidence, but I’m just not a big fan of those parts.

2) At Dumbledore’s funeral Harry has a strange urge to laugh. That’s such a relatable moment for me. When you’re grieving your emotions are so raw and laughter is nestled right to crying.

3) Ginny is so sassy in this book. She and Ron fight, she dates other guys and she stands up for her friends. I love how her relationship with Harry develops as he gets to know her better.

4) In one scene Mrs. Weasley says, “It was a lucky day for the Weasleys when Ron decided to sit in your compartment on the Hogwart’s Express, Harry.”
I feel like it was lucky for Harry as well, because Ron, with all his bumbling faults, is such a wonderful friend for Harry. He keeps him grounded in the normalcy of being a teen.

5) Dumbledore tells Harry he should tell Ron and Hermione exactly what the prophecy said, because he needs his friends. He’s so wise.

"But he understood at last what Dumbledore had been trying to tell him. It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there is little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew - and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents - that there was all the difference in the world."

Read for the Harry Potter Challenge hosted here.

Shakespeare: Coming to a town near you!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Have you guys heard about this?

In 2010, four of the plays performed at the Globe theatre in London were filmed for the big screen. Now they’re being shown across the nation. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing two plays live at the Globe in London and both were amazing. I can’t wait to see these.

Shakespeare’s Globe London Cinema Series

-Monday, June 27th – The Merry Wives of Windsor
-Monday, August 1st – Henry IV Part 1
-Thursday, August 18th – Henry IV Part 2
-Thursday, September 15th – Henry VIII

I’m a huge fan of the Bard, especially seeing his work performed live. I already have tickets to the June 27th show and I’m hoping to make it to as many of the others as I can. It looks like there are theatres in almost every single state that are participating and I hope some of you get a chance to go!

Photos from here.

Wordless Wednesday: Wine Tasting in Napa

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wine tasting in Napa Valley, CA

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Sedaris Giveaway

Sunday, June 19, 2011

I've said before how much I love David Sedaris' sense of humor, particularly on audio, but I don't think I've ever mentioned his sister Amy. She is a comedian in her own right and has been in tons of TV shows and movies (Elf, Strangers With Candy, Sex and the City, etc.). A few years ago I read her book I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence and it was hilarious.

Now both she and her brother have new books out. I thought I would take this opportunity to share some Sedaris love and give away a copy of each of their new books, Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People by Amy Sedaris and Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris. I'm giving away the audiobook version of both, because I think that's the best way to experience their work.

I haven't read either of these yet, so I can't say whether I love them, but I can say that their other books crack me up.

To enter, leave a comment below with the following info:

1) Your e-mail address

2) What book or author never fails to make you laugh?

For a BONUS entry:
If you've been to New York City, tell me your favorite thing you did there. I'm especially curious to hear bookstore recommendations (I've been to the Strand), places with literary significance or things to do in Brooklyn.

The giveaway will close on Friday, June 24, and the winner will be chosen at random.

United We Read

Friday, June 17, 2011

For the past five years I’ve been part of a wonderful committee in a smallish community in Indiana. It’s called United We Read (formerly One Book, One Town) and its goal is to choose one book for the whole county to read and then schedule programming that coordinates with the topics or themes in that book.

The committee is made up of a variety of members of the community, one was the town council president, others were teachers or librarians, etc. I was originally invited to join the panel because I was a reporter at a local daily newspaper. I’ve since moved on to a different job, but for some reason they keep asking me back and I love it! It’s like a book club on steroids.

We meet in the middle of March each year and get the list of books (about 15-20). Then we meet again in April and May to discuss the books and narrow the list. Then we hold our final meeting in June when we decide on the book. It can be fiction/nonfiction, long/short; it doesn’t matter as long as it can appeal to a wide audience.

Past year’s selections have been The Heretic's Daughter (Kent), The Nine (Toobin), Montana 1948 (Watson) and The Soloist (Lopez). Each time we try to find a book that offers up some fascinating issues to discuss, isn’t too “literary” (aka boring for people who don’t read too much), isn’t so popular that everyone has already read it, etc. One of the most important things to achieve is to find a book that is easy to schedule programming around. For example, when The Soloist was chosen, the library scheduled classical concerts, a viewing of the film based on the book and a discussion (with experts) on how mental illness is affected by music.

Cities all over the country offer similar programs, including Chicago, Atlanta, Kansas City and New Orleans. How wonderful is that! Not only is it encouraging literacy, it’s also making it a communal thing. It’s bringing people together to discuss books and dig deep into the issues they bring up.

This has been one of the most satisfying book-related things I’ve had the pleasure of being involved in. No, my favorite book doesn’t always get picked. Yes, sometimes people fiercely disagree on whether a book is good or not, but that’s the joy of having 10 or so people from very different walks of life reading the same book. It’s a lot of work to read all of the books as quickly as possible, but in the end it’s worth it.

So I’m curious, do any of your towns offer something like this?

Also, what books would you recommend for this program? Are there any books that immediately come to mind as being appropriate for male/female/young/old readers?

Lineage of Grace

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lineage of Grace Series
by Francine Rivers

The Lineage of Grace series consists of 5 books, all fictional accounts of biblical women in the genealogy of Christ. Rivers does a good job portraying each of the famous characters and giving their point of view in the unique situations. Most people are familiar with at least some of these stories, but reading a personal account shines a different light on the well-trod ground. The five books are listed below with the title and the woman they feature.

Unveiled – Tamar
Unashamed - Rahab
Unshaken - Ruth
Unspoken - Bathsheba
Unafraid - Mary

My favorite two of the series are Unveiled and Unshaken. I’ve always loved Ruth’s story and I knew very little about Tamar’s story. My lease favorite was Unspoken, which tells the story of David and Bathsheba. It was hard to connect to the characters' selfish motives.

One aspect I really like about the books is the fact that River prints the complete Biblical passage at the end. That allows the reader to see what she took from scripture and what she fictionalized. There’s also a devotional with relevant questions at the end of each book. I think they would be perfect for a small women’s Bible study or something similar, because the questions could spark good discussion.

Wordless Wednesday: Spring in Zurich

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Spring time in Zurich

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Awesome Sauce

Monday, June 13, 2011

Have you guys seen this Tumblr page? It's literally just awesome people hanging out together, hence the name. I kinda love it. Kurt Vonnegut is on there!

I think my favorite might be the one with Nancy Reagan and Mr. T.

Photos from Awesome People Hanging Out Together

I Love England aka Sisterchicks Go Brit! review

Friday, June 10, 2011

(Me posing with Ben and my beloved Paddington station)

Sisterchicks Go Brit!
by Robin Jones Gunn

I am an undeniable anglophile. Obviously there are many literary greats that hail from the UK (Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, the Brontës, etc.), but it’s not just the authors that leave me itching to cross the pond. I love the cranky bartenders at the pubs. I love the rolling hills in the countryside. I love the limitless new plays that cycle through the West End. I love double-decker buses, the Tate, cathedrals, day trips to sleepy villages, the Tube, Tower Bridge and posh politeness from strangers.

My Brit love boiled over when I lived in London. Instead of sating my thirst, it only cemented it. The first time I visited England I don’t know if I stopped smiling the whole trip, which probably made it painfully obvious that I was a tourist. I was only 19 and I flew into Heathrow by myself. I visited a friend who was living in London and then we traveled to Bath and Stonehenge for a few days.

I flew over to Ireland and wandered through that country on the same trip. Though I passionately loved the land of Guinness, it wasn’t quite the same devotion I felt for England. Two years later I managed to swing a semester in London, which made it officially my permanent home away from home.

All of that is to explain why Sisterchicks Go Brit!, a light read from one of my favorite authors when I was a preteen, was so much fun for me. It was a great reminder of all of the above. Gunn’s characters travel to England for the first time and just like me, they are smitten. I felt like I was reading about my own experience in many parts. They did so many of the things that I (and many tourists before me) did. They shopped in Portobello Road, saw Les Miserable, posed with Big Ben, traveled to Oxford to visit the Eagle and the Child pub (where the Inklings hung out!). The book itself isn’t life changing, it’s just a sweet walk down memory lane.

Do you guys have any places that you’re felt drawn to your whole life?

Photos (other than cover) taken of or by moi.

The Man in the Brown Suit

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Man in the Brown Suit
by Agatha Christie

A newly orphaned young woman, Anne Beddingfield, heads off to make her way in the world and finds herself embroiled in the midst of an unexpected adventure. Anne is spunky, if a bit too naïve and reminded me a bit of Catherine in Northanger Abbey. Anne’s read too many mystery novels (as opposed to Catherine’s penchant for gothic novels) and sees a bit of mystery in everything.

I wasn’t thrilled with this one. I won’t get into the plot too much, except to say Anne witnesses a death, meets lots of people and ends up falling in love. It was nothing to keep you up at night flipping pages, which is kinda what I want from a mystery. It was less creepy goodness and more whodunit with a dollop of romance.

It’s not a bad book, just a light entertaining read. It’s not quite up to par with some of Christie’s darker murder mysteries, like my favorite, And Then There Were None. I’d skip this one and pick up a different Christie instead.

On Audiobooks

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

(My stockpiled audio cassettes from the library)

On thing I've rarely talked about on this blog is my deep and abounding love of audiobooks. In honor of Audiobook Week, hosted by the wonderful Jen at Devourer of Books, I thought I expound on the topic.

I started listening to audiobooks sometime in high school and have been a devoted listener for the past decade. I quickly found that I could double my reading time by listening to audiobooks while driving, cleaning, showering, cooking, etc. I've also found that listening to a favorite book, instead of re-reading a hard copy, adds a new layer of depth. It draws my attention to different aspects and makes me notice things I may have missed before.

(One of the last audio cassette players I've been able to find)

There are some genres I prefer to listen to in audiobook format. I love listening to nonfiction because a huge tome on WWI or a massive biography on a dead president might be daunting to pick up if it's a hardback, but listening to it makes the book fly by. I also prefer light mysteries, like the Kinsey Millhone series, in audio format, because they're easy to dive into while doing something else and I never want to write down quotes or highlight passages. Audiobooks are a great way to introduce yourself to new series or different genres. You don't look at a cover every time you pick it up to read, so it's easier to set aside preconceived notions and try out a western of sci-fi book for the first time.

My brother LOVES to tease me about my obsession. He'll ask "Oh did you read that book or just listen to it, because that's not really reading." He only does it because he knows it drives me nuts. I actually pay more attention to a book when I listen to it than when I read a hard copy. It forces you to listen to every single word instead of skimming a paragraph and pulling out all of the major ideas. I often take more from the book when I listen to it, because I spend more time with it. The narrator will never speak as fast as I can read.

(My record player, which also has a CD and cassette player for my beloved audiobooks)

I've been incredibly lucky with the wide selection of audiobooks my library offers. I've only used audible once or twice. It's great, but I go through too many books to be able to afford it. I pick new audiobooks each week. I listen to mps on my iPod while walking the dog and cleaning. I listen to a CD audiobook in my car. And I may be the last person alive to do this, but I also listen to cassette tapes at home. I love being able to turn them on while getting ready for work and then hitting stop and knowing I won't lose my place. The technology is faulty and the reels often get caught, but I still love them. I buy them whenever I find them online or at yard sales. My library has been getting rid of all of its audiobook cassettes and so I've been stocking up at every book sale they hold. I'm not sure what I'll do when I run out.

If you've never read an audiobook before I'd encourage you to give it a shot. Maybe listening to it in the car won't work for you, instead you can try listen to a book while going on a walk and give it your full attention. Try starting with a book you've already read. The Harry Potter books (narrated by Jim Dale) are fantastic. I also loved The Help and The Secret Life of Bees. Audiobooks narrators are as diverse as the authors themselves and if you find one that doesn't work for you, just put it down and try another.

Happy listening!

Photos by moi.

Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind

Monday, June 6, 2011

Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind:
A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood

by Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley Jr.

I’ve never read a book about a book before. Instead of writing another biography of Mitchell or the making of the movie, the authors have created a nonfiction account of the making of a book. It discusses everything from the writing process to the publisher’s correspondence to selling the movie rights and defending the copyright.

I feel like this book should have been titled “Don’t Ever Write a Book If You’re An Introvert.” Poor Margaret Mitchell spent years crafting Gone With the Wind, only to discover that when it was finally finished her headaches had just begun. This book chronicles the decades of back and forth between the author and her publisher, literary agent, fans, movie producers, etc.

From the moment Mitchell handed the first scattered chapters over to the publisher, her privacy and free time seemed to be “gone with the wind” (sorry, I couldn’t help myself). Mitchell’s husband worked with her to manage all of the contracts/letters/lawsuits that went hand-in-hand with her success. It was amazing how one book, even a wonderful one like GWTW, could create such an avalanche of both money and stress.

The fact that the book’s success came in the midst of the Great Depression is a testament to its overwhelming popularity. People were willing to pay $3 for a copy, a huge sum at that time. The fact that America joined WWII only a few years after GWTW’s publication also had a big effect on foreign translations and distribution. Hitler even banned the book because his regime didn’t want people reading a story about strong characters surviving during a horrible war.


I had no idea that Mitchell was hit by a car and died only 13 years after her book was published. I was completely shocked by that. I wonder what other books she might have written if she’d had a longer life.


It is a fascinating read, but I don’t think it would be for anyone who doesn’t either love Gone With the Wind or have a deep desire to get a behind the scenes look at the publishing world. As someone who loved GWTW, I enjoyed the book, but I felt it was bogged down with too much minutia in the middle. But it definitely make me want to re-read the original story again and gave me a deeper appreciation of the phenomenon that was (and is) Gone With the Wind.

The Portrait of a Lady

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James

Isabel Archer, a young headstrong American, arrives in England and everyone she meets is completely taken with her. Three separate men pursue her, but she’s unwilling to settle for a marriage without mutual love. She smart, kind and witty, but not easily swayed in her beliefs.

I was in love with this book for about the first 1/3 (maybe more), but then it took a drastic turn. I loved Isabel’s character and her refusal to take the easy road in life. Unfortunately her decisions seem to lose all logic at a certain point and that’s when I lost my respect for her.

I never want books to have a perfectly happy ending just for the sake of pleasing the reader, but I was heartbroken for Isabel and incredibly disappointed in her choices. I always root for characters I love, but it’s easy to feel betrayed by them if they make a choice that you wouldn’t have made.

Despite the plot, James’ writing is beautiful. He catches the nuances of importance in a single glance or polite conversation. He makes you question who is acting out of Isabel’s best interests, who is making selfish choices, who should you trust, etc. The book isn’t just about Isabel in the end, it’s about the delicate balance people maintain in their own lives, often choosing the lesser of two evils and settling in, even if they’re unhappy, instead of rocking the boat.

I loved much about this book, but I don’t think I could bring myself to read it again now that I know how it all turns out.

“You’ve lived with the English for 30 years and you’re picked up a good many of the things they say, but you have never learned the things they don’t say.”

“The great thing about being a literary woman was that you could go everywhere and do everything.”

The Iliad

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Iliad
by Homer

Set in Ancient Greece, The Iliad is an epic poem about a decade-long war. The book starts when the Trojans and Achaeans have already been at war for years. The war itself begins because Paris (a Trojan), steals Helen, the wife of Menelaus (an Achaean). This gives the Achaeans an excuse to load up their ships and head to Troy to attack them. Helen is the woman behind the infamous “face that launched a thousand ships.”


Paris’ brother Hector is a great warrior, unlike Paris, and because of this he leads the Trojan side of the battle. The Achaeans’ greatest warrior is Achilles, but a falling out with Agamemnon (Menelaus’ brother, leader of the Greeks) over spoils of war causes Achilles to refuse to fight. It’s not until Hector kills his close friend, Patroclus, that Achilles rejoins the war to avenge his friend’s death.

Confused yet? It’s pretty straight forward while you’re reading it, but it sounds convoluted when you try to summarize it. It’s considered the greatest war story ever told and so obviously there are a lot of battle scenes.

I really liked the moral dilemmas, but after awhile the battles seemed repetitive. I loved The Odyssey, (Homer’s book that followed one of the warriors on his journey home after the Trojan War), so much because it’s one man’s journey and every aspect of his adventure is new and unexpected. With the Iliad, Homer has to convey the exhaustion the men feel after fighting the same battle for years. The fatigue was contagious and I felt it about half way through the book. Things pick up towards the end because big players are dying and you know it’s all coming to a head.

The plot is frustrating at times, because the meddlesome gods cause more problems than they solve. They’re petty and territorial and they choose humans that they want to champion and they don’t care who is hurt along the way. It also seems to remove the element of free choice in the warriors; lives. They can choose to do something, but the gods will just prevent it from happening if they want to.

After Hector is killed there is a brief mention of Helen's loneliness. She was taken from her home and is treated horribly by most people in Troy because they see her as the reason for the war. Hector was always kind to her and she realizes that none of her only friends is now dead and the loneliness is overwhelming. Even though this is a tiny part, it was really poignant to me. She’s always painted as a guilty party in this legend, leaving her husband for another man, causing a war, etc. I never thought about how terrible her life must have been.

I couldn't believe that the infamous Trojan Horse makes no appearance in The Iliad. It's my own fault for assuming it was part of the book, but I kept waiting for that part ... and then it ended. Apparently the Trojan Horse in mentioned in The Odyssey, which I remember, and then the full story is found in The Aeneid by Virgil.

One of my favorite scenes in the book is the exchange between Priam and Achilles. Priam (Hector’s father) goes to talk to Achilles after his son is killed. He begs Achilles to let him have Hector’s body. The beauty of this scene is that it strips away ten-years of war and reduces the powerful Priam and Achilles to two grieving men. They aren’t on opposite ends of an epic battle; they’re just heartbroken individuals lamenting the cost of war.


In the end, The Iliad is a must read, not because it’s the best book ever, but because it’s a cornerstone of literature. It has provided the basis and inspiration for countless war stories in the centuries since its creation. It’s one of the oldest and most well-known stories in existence and that’s not something anyone should miss. But I would recommend The Odyssey over The Iliad if you’re only going to read one, even though that story comes after this one in chronological order.

I read this as part of A Literary Odyssey’s read-along.

Wordless Wednesday: Grand Central Station

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Grand Central Station in New York City

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.