Happy New Year

Saturday, December 31, 2011

It's been a wonderful year.
I'd like to end it with some wonderful words from Neil Gaiman.
I hope those things for all of you.

Poster from here.

The Paris Wife

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Paris Wife

by Paula McLain

I was fascinated by this book. I’ve said before that I’m not the biggest fan of Ernest Hemingway. I enjoy his short stories, but most of his novels just don’t work for me. In A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls, the women come across as empty pictures of one man’s idea of what a perfect woman should be. Hemingway himself was as chauvinistic as they come and that doesn’t appeal to me.

Yet despite my mediocre reaction to those books, I’ve always been intrigued by his life. When I read his nonfiction memoir about his time in Paris, A Moveable Feast, I was completely in love with it. It was the first thing I’d read of his that rang true for me. I adore reading about Paris in the ‘20s. I would have loved to visit the City of Lights when some of the great authors and artists of the century were gathered together there. So when I heard about this novel, a fictionalized account of that same time period from his wife Hadley’s point-of-view, I couldn’t wait to read it.

I think that it was because of all the background that I enjoyed this book so much. There were constant references to his novels and it helped that I had already read them. Hadley’s view of Hemingway, as her husband and closest friend, softens him a bit in my eyes, but at the same time I just wanted to smack him. His actions are so selfish and cavalier, it’s hard to watch him break her heart. It must have been so difficult to share your life with someone so volatile. He was such a child in so many ways. He needed to be coddled and loved, but never discouraged.

I can’t imagine how lonely it was for Hadley. Think about living with a group of friends made entirely of artists and writers, but to not actually be one of them. You’re always on the fringes, not quite up to their level of talent. I think Hemingway also made her feel that way and over time she began to lose her feelings of self-worth.

There was never a question in my mind on how it would all end because I’d read a biography on him before and knew of his multiple wives. So it was a bit like watching a train wreck in slow motion. I read it more to see it all unfold from a new angle. The writing was beautiful and even though I don't see myself in Hadley, I still felt connected to her.

I don’t think this one is for everyone, but if you liked A Moveable Feast, you should definitely read this. If you haven’t, you should read that first. Also, if you like that book or this one, check out Woody Allen’s latest movie, Midnight in Paris. It’s so much fun.

“We clung hard to each other, making vows we couldn’t keep and should never have spoken aloud. That’s how love is sometimes.”

“To marry was to say you believed in the future and in the past, too—that history and tradition and hope could stay knit together to hold you up.”

Perfect Fifths

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Perfect Fifths

by Megan McCafferty

This is the fifth and final book in the Jessica Darling series. I’m not going to spoil anything about this book, but I’d skip this review if you haven’t read the rest of the series.

This series perfectly corresponded with my personal timeline. I graduated from high school in 2002, just like Jessica. I have always been sarcastic and snarky and felt like I finally found a character who was the same way. She was smart and funny, when so many teenage or twenty-something "heroines" are ditzy or struggling with shopping issues or how to talk to the cute boy next door. Obviously our lives are very different, but there was something about her personality that I immediately connected to.

In this final book, which came out in 2009, we are the same age and I love that. I don't know if I would have become so attached to this series if I hadn't read each book around the same time Jessica was going through the same things I was. I read the first book my senior year of high school and each time a new one came out I read it immediately. We finished high school at the same time, went to college, graduated, started real jobs, watched our friends marry, etc.

Jessica and Marcus have a long and complicated relationship. They’ve been on and off and then finally, in the fourth book, they broke up for good. Now, a few years later, they run into each other in an airport and we readers get to reconnect with the unlikely pair. The scales are tipped a bit as Marcus realizes just how badly he wants to reconnect with Jessica and that gives an added sweetness to the books.

I didn’t love this one as much as the earlier books, but I really wanted closure and that’s what I got. If you aren’t a fan of the series, obviously you don’t need to read this one, but if you love Jessica and Marcus in all their quirky brilliance, this book is a must.

"...writing those editorials when I was sixteen, seventeen... it was the first time I found the courage to speak aloud about issues that were important to me."

Top image from Write Meg.

Wordless Wednesday: Golden Gate Bridge

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Golden Gate Bridge, shrouded in fog of course.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Favorite Books I Read in 2011

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for our Top Ten Favorite Books I Read in 2011.

This has been an interesting year for reading. There have been some amazing new authors, great classics and some that I know will be favorites for years to come. There are also some that I'm so glad I read, and I got so much out of, but they might not make it in the top ten, like War and Peace and Middlemarch. It's not that these aren't amazing books, it's just, there were so many great books and I'm basing this list off my personal enjoyment as well as the brilliance of the book.

1) David Copperfield by Charles Dickens - I think this is my favorite Dickens so far, though Great Expectations is a close second place.

2) Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett - End of the world story with a huge dose of British humor. I already knew I loved Gaiman, but this book sold me on Pratchett as well.

3) Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck - The follow up to Cannery Row, this one was a lovely return to some great characters.

4) The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell - Priests in space, but somehow not weird. This was one of the most surprising books of the year. It's an absolute gem.

5) Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh - So much wisdom packed into a small book. I know I'll reread this one at every new stage in life.

6) A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan - Criss-crossing a dozen lives and multiple decades, it made my brain hum.

7) The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton - Gothic mystery, multiple continents, English cottages, I couldn't ask for more.

8) Persepolis 1: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi - One woman's childhood in war-torn Iran, and it's funny to boot!

9) We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson / The Woman in Black by Susan Hill - I suppose this is cheating, because it's two books, but I loved them for the same reason! Both are wonderfully creepy and perfect fall reads.

10) The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton - A heart-wrenching tale of a New York socialite, just beautiful.

Bonus: I don't count re-reads in my best of the year lists (usually because they made it in a top ten list from an earlier year). But I'd like to say I loved re-reading the entire Harry Potter series this year. It made me fall in love with the series all over again. The same is true for re-reading Pride & Prejudice. I'm going to make an effort to re-read a bit more next year, because I've learned I get so much more from the book each time.

Christmas is Awesome

Monday, December 26, 2011

I don't know about you guys, but I had a wonderful Christmas! Santa was amazing! An Out of Print t-shirt, bookstore gift cards, vintage books with gorgeous covers, a lovely edition of Sense and Sensibility, the Annotated Phantom of the Tollbooth, I'm feeling ridiculously spoiled.

This photo is of a lamp my sister-in-law to be (my brother is getting married in May) made me! She used old book pages and created the coolest library lamp I've ever seen. I saw some examples of that project on Pintrest, but it looks so much better in person.

My sister got me book earrings made by a woman in Italy! They're beautiful and so tiny, I love them. With all that loot I can't help but be grateful, not just for the amazing gifts, but for friends and family members who know me so well. I feel so blessed. My Christmas weekend was filled with fun get togethers, too much food and so many wonderful people. I hope all of you had great holidays as well.

What was your favorite Christmas gift this year?

Photos by moi.

Christmas Movies

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tonight I'll be having wine and cheese with a few good friends and watching my favorite Christmas movie of all time, It's a Wonderful Life. There is just something about Jimmy Stewart, with his earnestness and desperation that makes it irresistible for me. It always makes me cry and I'm not a big crier. I can't wait to watch it again.

I'm a big fan of Elf, Love Actually, Home Alone and White Christmas too. The Huz loves Christmas Vacation. What is it about the holidays that brings out the sap in all of us?

What's your favorite Christmas movie?

Image from here.

Chaos Walking Series

Thursday, December 22, 2011

So here’s the thing, I’ve been dragging my feet on writing reviews for this series because there are so many great ones out there already. I don’t want to repeat what everyone has already said, so here’s what I’m going to do. I’m writing one big post about the whole series. I read all three books, plus the short prequel story in one nonstop stream and so they felt like one book to me anyway. I’m also not going to do a recap explaining the whole premise behind the books. I think just about everyone knows that at this point (if you don’t, Google it and you’ll find a million summaries).

If you haven’t read the series yet, I would recommend not reading these reviews. I’m reviewing the whole series in one post, which makes it almost impossible not to spoil something along the way. For you guys, let me just say that the series is good. It has some flaws, but it’s incredibly engaging and readable. If you like dystopian novels or coming-of-age in the midst of war style books, I would highly recommend it. Now stop reading this so I don’t ruin it for you.

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Book One of the Chaos Walking trilogy)
by Patrick Ness

I had incredibly high expectations for this series and I was a bit nervous going into it. I wasn’t sure the talking animals and casual dialogue would work for me and at first it was hard to adjust to, but then I was hooked. I’m not even sure when it happened, somewhere around the time Viola started talking or when we started to learn a bit more about the real story behind Prentisstown.

Todd Hewitt, who lives in Prentisstown, is the youngest boy in the village. There are no women at all. The entire first book is told from his point of view. He ends up on the run, trying to escape Mayor Prentiss and the crazy priest, Aaron. Along the way he meets a girl, Viola Eade, which throws a wrench in his whole world, because he’s never met a girl in his entire life.

Todd’s dog, Manchee, is the first example we have of the planet’s speaking animals. He sounds exactly like any dog would sound, “Squirrel, hi Todd, hungry Todd.” As silly as that sounds, you fall in love with him and just want to take him home with you… then Ness kills him off. Seriously, it was one of the most shocking moments of the entire trilogy for me.

The 1st book’s main theme is really protecting the innocence of youth. This continues throughout the series, but it’s especially important in Knife. Ness also brings up questions about the value of self-sacrifice, blindly trusting authority, and the roles of men and women in society. There are a lot of big issues and nothing is resolved by the end. Instead we are left with a cliff-hanger and an emotionally draining climax. That’s not a bad thing, but I’d hate to have had to wait for the next book.

The Ask and the Answer (Book Two of the Chaos Walking trilogy)

The Ask and the Answer was my favorite book in the trilogy. We were already immersed in the characters’ stories, so we skip a lot of introduction. We also got to know The Mayor, Viola and 1017 better, but they were aslo still a bit of a mystery. By the final book I was a little burnt out on aspects of their stories.

This book rotates back and forth between Todd and Viola’s points of view. I loved getting to know more about Viola and hearing what she was thinking. I also thought Mayor Prentiss became a much more fascinating villain in this installment. He’s not just a big bad guy, he’s one of those delicious creeps who walk the line between kindness and cruelty. There’s no doubt that he is evil, but he does his dirty deeds with a smile on his face, while shaking your hand.

The Mayor’s son, Davy, is one of the series most intriguing characters. He's not good, but he's also a product of his environment. You have to wonder how you would turn out if you were raised by such a cold, calculating father. His development throughout this book was so well-done. It's rare to have a character start off so detestable and then gain your sympathy so quickly.

I also loved 1017, a Spackle (the planet's native race), when he was an enigma in Book 2 more than I did in Book 3 when we got to know him. I loved seeing him only through Todd’s eyes and having to wonder what he was thinking.

The second book is masterfully paced. We are given bits and pieces of information, but never enough to understand everything. Seeing the world through both Todd and Viola’s is confusing, but in a good way. They don’t always know who they can trust and so neither do we.

There isn't just one good guy and one bad guy. You have to look not only at everyone’s actions, but at the true motivations behind those actions. Then Todd and Viola are left to try and determine where their allegiances lie.

Monsters of Men (Book Three of the Chaos Walking trilogy)

The third and final book of the trilogy is even darker than the first two. There are some aspects of the book that I loved, like the addition of a few crew members from Viola’s ship, but at times the plot felt repetitive. Just as they defeated one enemy another would present itself. There was an endless stream of fighting, which left less time for character development.

I also struggled with the ending. All of you who have read it will know what I’m talking about. I felt so emotionally invested in the characters and the end twist felt like Ness was pulling the rug out from under me. I understand not wanting to give them a cheesy happy ending, but I felt like the challenges Viola and Todd faced in re-establishing a new society and maintaining peace with the Spackle were more than enough to keep things complicated. For me, the ending cheapened the struggle they'd survived for three books.

The New World (prequel short story from Chaos Walking trilogy)

I loved this brief glimpse into Viola’s life before she landed on the planet. She seems so much younger and more carefree. She’s worried about the things any teenager would worry about, missing out on something fun, what her friends think of her. War forces her to grow up so quickly. I’m so glad Ness allowed us a chance to meet her before that happened.

Chaos Walking Trilogy
by Patrick Ness

In the end, I would definitely recommend the trilogy. It is a fascinating read. I did have a few complaints, but overall it was the characters that made the journey well worth it. I would read them all over again for a chance to spend time with Ben, Wilf, Manchee, Viola, and even the vicious Mayor Prentiss. They are characters that stay with you, whether it’s because you love them or love to hate them. I gave the individual books their own ratings, but I would give the whole series 4 stars. It really was wonderful to read, but aspects of the first and final installments left me a bit frustrated. But, there’s something to be said for an author that can make you so emotionally invested in his characters that you feel protective of them.

Three books + one short story
1st book: 496 pages, 2nd book: 519 pages, 3rd book: 603 pages, Prequel: 23 pages
= 1,641 pages total

Wordless Wednesday: Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The tree and the pup. Merry Christmas guys!
More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Books I Hope Santa Brings

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for 10 books you're dying to get for Christmas.

1) Underdogs by Markus Zusak

2) Sense and Sensibility: The Bath Bicentenary Edition by Jane Austen

3) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

4) Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

I adore the Penguin Hardcover series and have been slowly collecting them over the last couple years. I would love to add a few more to my shelves.

5) Lady Chatterley's Lover (Penguin Hardcover Classics) by D. H. Lawrence

6) Northanger Abbey (Penguin Hardback Classics) by Jane Austen

7) Bleak House (Penguin Hardback Classics) by Charles Dickens

8) Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

9) The Adventures of Robin Hood (Puffin Classics) by Richard Green

10) Out of Print clothes - I know these aren’t books, but the final bookish thing on my wishlist is T-shirt from Out of Print. I’m completely enamored with them, especially the new Women’s Catch-22 and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Image from here.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It

Monday, December 19, 2011

Jane Austen Made Me Do It
Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart
Edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

This collection contains more than 20 original short stories by many well-known authors. Some are set in modern day; others pick up the threads where they left off in one of Austen’s beloved classics. The book was edited by Austen fan Laurel Ann Nattress, creator of Austenprose.com.

The subject matter covers almost everything Austen wrote. We see what happens to Emma and Mr. Knightly after they marry and have to take care of her father. We learn about Mr. Bennet’s youth, before he married Lizzy’s exasperating mother. Persuasion’s Anne and Captain Wentworth retell the story of their romance to friends in “Waiting.”

Even though I did enjoy some of the pieces, I never found myself reaching for the book. Instead it sat, untouched, until I reminded myself that I really needed to finish it. I’d pick it up, read a few stories and by the next day I had all but forgotten them.

My problem with the collection is the same one I have with most Austen fan fiction. The stories either return to one of Austen’s original characters or the main character is obsessed with Austen’s work. They try to add a new element to the story or make some reader fantasy come to life. Either way, the stories tend to make me want to re-read the original books instead of the new one. They always feel a little weak or empty compared to Austen’s work and when you write fan fiction you can’t help but set yourself up for that comparison.

I did enjoy Syrie James’ story, which provides a nightmare scenario where all of Austen’s characters confront her with their complaints about how their stories unfolded. “Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss," by Jo Beverley, was another one that worked well for me.

Interestingly, the book closes with Laurie Viera Rigler’s story "Intolerable Stupidity." The premise is that Darcy is suing authors of Pride and Prejudice spin-offs and films because their stories are affecting his everyday life. In other words, he’ll grow vampire fangs in the middle of dinner with his wife or walk down the street and realize his shirt is soaking wet. The reason this story was ironic, in my opinion, is because it’s criticizing the very category of fiction that it falls into. Obviously, by the end it justifies these stories and shows their importance, but I can’t say I was convinced.

I agree that fan fiction has made Austen more popular, but is that really a good thing if the people who are introduced to it never read the original books? I know many people who have read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but don’t intend to ever read the original. In fact, they now think they already know the story, so they don’t need to and that’s truly a shame. I know many others read the fan fiction because they already love the originals, which is great, but it has never worked that way for me.

If you adore Austen fan fiction, you’ll probably love this. If you love Austen and have read all of her major novels, you might enjoy this one. If you have dabbled with a few books, but aren’t sold on her, this probably isn’t for you.

Other reviews:
Devourer of Books
Iris on Books

Also, here’s an interview with the editor done by Write Meg

I received my review copy from Laurel Ann Nattress.

2011 End Of Year Book Survey

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Who’s ready for a fun end of 2011 survey from The Perpetual Page-Turner? My answers cover all the books I read, definitely not limited to 2011 releases.

1. Best Book You Read In 2011?
David Copperfield – There were so many great ones this year and my top ten list will be up soon, but I think this one grabs the top spot by a narrow margin. It feels so much more honest than Dickens other work and it’s packed to the brim with fantastic characters. There’s a good balance of humor and drama and I just really enjoyed reading it.

2. Most Disappointing Book?
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen – To be fair, I had a feeling I might hate it after reading The Corrections, but it managed to surpass even my expectations by making me like it at first and then taking a rapid nose dive.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2011?
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – I know I’ve said it before, but Jesuit priests in space, I can’t believe how much I loved it.

4. Book you recommended to people most in 2011?
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman – This book is so hilarious. I found myself mentioning it to so many people, especially those who share my love for the Hitchhiker’s Guide trilogy.

5. Best series you discovered in 2011?
Persepolis – I suppose that it’s really just a two-part book, but there’s a whole series of connected graphic novels by the author, Marjane Satrapi, like Embroideries and Chicken and Plums

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2011?
• Kate Morton
• Carolyn Parkhurst
• Patrick Ness

7. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2011?
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson and The Woman in Black by Susan Hill – Both books are mysteries; one a detective story, the other a ghost story. I loved the pace and style of both books and I couldn’t’ put them down!

8. Book you most anticipated in 2011?
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – Obviously it wasn’t released in 2011, but I knew I was going to read it this year and I was really excited (nervous) about it.

9. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2011?
A Passion for Books – I love covers with pictures of books on them.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children – Super creepy, especially when you look at it closely.

10. Most memorable character in 2011?
Actually I have two and they happen to have the same name. First, Lily, who was a real person, not technically a character, from Half-Broke Horses - She was so strong and unapologetic about her life. Second is Lily from The House of Mirth – Another strong woman, but in a very different way. She’ll stay with me for decades.

11. Most beautifully written book read in 2011?
The House of Mirth – The writing, oh my gosh, it was just lovely.

12. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2011?
The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke – Turns out reading a nonfiction work about a woman losing her mother can be incredibly difficult if your own mother died. O’Rourke’s memoir is so raw I couldn’t help see my own grief reflected back at me.

13. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2011 to finally read?
The 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith – I read constantly as a kid and this was one of my favorite movies. How did I miss this book when I was growing up?

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop CafĂ© by Fannie Flagg – I loved this movie as well and the book sat on my shelf for years until my trip to Alabama prompted me to pick it up.

14. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2011?
“No one knows how greatness comes to a man. It may lie in his blackness, sleeping, or it may lance into him like those driven fiery particles from outer space. These things, however, are known about greatness: need gives it life and puts it in action; it never comes without pain; it leaves a man changed, chastened, and exalted at the same time – he can never return to simplicity.” – Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck

“Reading was my escape and my comfort, my consolation, my stimulant of choice: reading for the pure please of it, for the beautiful stillness that surrounds you when you hear an author’s words reverberating in your head.” – The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster

15. Book That You Read In 2011 That Would Be Most Likely To Reread In 2012?
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – I don’t know if I’ll re-read this one so soon, but I think I’d like to. There are so many threads to follow. I think I would get even more out of it the second time around.

16. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!
Jude, The Obscure by Thomas Hardy - Oh my gosh, that scene! Father Time and his completely unexpected actions, seriously, I was so shocked.

How about you guys? How was your 2011 reading?

Photo from here.

Shakespeare and Comapany Bookstore

Friday, December 16, 2011

(The shop during my visit there)

I just wanted to say that yesterday's death of the owner of the Shakespeare and Company bookstore filled me with both sadness and joy. It breaks my heart when anyone who loves books that much passes away, but it's also wonderful to remember that people like him exist in the world. George Whitman created a place where readers and writers could reveal in the joys of the written word.

My visit to the Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore was one of my very favorite parts of my first trip to Paris in 2005. That shop is filled to the brim with treasures and you can't help but feel a thrill when you think of the authors that have wandered through those shelves. Right now I'm actually reading my copy of A Room of One's Own that I bought there. So anyway, thank you Whitman, for creating such an amazing haven for book lovers.

“I wanted a bookstore because the book business is the business of life,” - George Whitman.

p.s. If you want to read more about the shop, I'd recommend a memoir written by Jeremy Mercer, a writer who lived there for awhile. It's called "Time Was Soft There" or "
Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs" depending on where you get it.

Photo by moi.

And the Pursuit of Happiness

And the Pursuit of Happiness
by Maira Kalman

This book is a graphic novel, illustrated poem, love letter to democracy, etc. Call it what you will, I just loved it. It’s a sweet look at our government and the world around us. It’s simple and joyful. The goal is not to give you a history lesson, but it manages to share some wonderful bits about our fore father in a playful way. The hefty book is over 400 pages, but it’s mainly illustrations and so it’s a quick afternoon read.

Kalman seems to find joy in the simplest things, like the funny quirks of the people she meets or the signs she sees above a public restroom in the Capital building. Her drawings and thoughts are so endearing. She talks about the food she ate on her trip and the people she met, even if they aren’t essential to what she’s saying. She gets sidetracked, but that’s part of the charm.

The book is split into 12 chapters, one devoted to each month of the year. It explores the lives of a few of our well-known presidents (Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington), including tidbits about their marriages and personal lives. The whole thing is done in such a lovely, whimsical way that each page is a treat.

p.s. For some reason I thought the drawing on the front was suppose to be some Russian guy, it’s not, it’s Ben Franklin.

p.p.s. This one was especially perfect for the Dewey Read-a-Thon. I hit a wall after about 12 hours of reading and this book acted as a palette cleanser, giving me a much-needed boost of energy.

You’ve Gotta Read This had this to say... “It makes you feel good about our country, about determination and confidence, and about finding happiness in the smaller things in life.”

The Great Bridge

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Great Bridge
by David McCullough

I’ve always had a strange fascination with the Brooklyn Bridge. Long before I saw it in person, I thought it was one of the most beautiful architectural structures in the world. Like the Taj Mahal and Rome’s Colosseum, images of the Brooklyn Bridge have always made me stop dead in my tracks with awe. I can’t explain it. It only got worse when I was able to walk across the actual bridge. There’s something so majestic about those gothic arches and images of it have become iconic. So when I saw a book about the story behind the bridge, written by the famous presidential biographer McCullough, I knew I had to check it out.

The book tells the epic tale of the building of the bridge. It begins with the plans created by John A. Roebling. Unfortunately, he died early in the project. He was injured on the site, but was so stubborn that he resisted care until it was too late. He even tried to tell his doctor how he should be taking care of him. His son, Washington Roebling, took the reins and was the driving force behind the completion of the project.

The bridge broke all the molds on how bridges had been built in the past. It was more ambitious and in the end, more successful than most bridges that were created before it or that have been created since. One interesting aspect of the story was the surprising part that “the Bends” played in the building of it. The disease, caused by rapid changes in pressure, was almost unknown before this. Many men died from the condition while working on the bridge and because of that, some of the earliest reported cases came from this construction project.

It gets a little dry in the middle. I love learning about the people behind the bridge, but hearing the specifics of the timber and structure beams got a bit old. I did love the way McCullough mixed in bits about the history of Brooklyn and the way the bridge changed the destiny of the New York borough. I also was surprised and delighted to find out that Washington’s wife Emily played a big part in managing the project once her husband became ill and was confined to his home. How wonderful that a woman played a role in the creation of such a beautiful structure.

“The towers, the ‘most conspicuous features,’ would be identical and 268 feet high. They would stand on either side of the river, in the water but close to the shore, their foundations out of sight beneath the riverbed. Their most distinguishing features would be twin Gothic arches – two in each tower – through which the roadways were to pass. These arches would rise more than 100 feet, like majestic cathedral windows, or the portals of the triumphal gateways.”

“True life is not only active, but also creative.” – John A. Roebling

Image from here.

Wordless Wednesday: Garmisch-Partenkirchen Picnic

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A picnic from the market in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

A Study in Scarlet

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Study in Scarlet
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Years ago I was on a Sherlock Holmes kick and I think I might have read this, but it's been so long I just wasn’t sure. The cases all sort of jumble together in my head, so it was time to read it again.

This is the very first Sherlock Holmes adventure. Watson, a doctor who served in India and Afghanistan, is in need of a roommate. A mutual friend introduces him to Holmes and soon they are renting a flat on Baker Street and the fun begins. Sherlock is called in to consult on a murder and takes Watson with him. Soon the clues are piling up and Sherlock’s keen eye is catching things that every other detective seems to miss.

The book is written from Watson’s point-of-view and I love the descriptions he gives of Sherlock. He's surprised by how much he knows, but also by how little he knows on certain subjects (like literature and astronomy). Sherlock explains that he can't clutter up his mind with hundreds of details; instead he must fill it only with that which he believes will be useful to him. I also thought it was interesting that even early-on Watson that Sherlock might be addicted to a narcotic (in later books we learn he smokes opium).

Watson also notes that Sherlock's method of deduction reminds him of Edgar Allen Poe's fictional detective, Dupin. To which Sherlock, in his classic condescending style, says he thinks Dupin was a very inferior fellow.

The book takes a really strange turn in the second half. The first half follows Sherlock and Watson as they try to solve the mystery. At the end of part one Sherlock catches the killer, but then part two starts and we are in Utah years earlier. The story introduces brand new characters, including crazy Mormons who kidnap women settlers and force them into marriage. It’s an odd way to plot the story. It all makes sense in the end, but it took me a minute to figure out what was going on.

I would say this isn’t my favorite of the Sherlock books. That’s mainly because of the huge section in Part 2 that he is completely absent from. I still really enjoyed it, but that part just threw me for a loop.

I loved reading this after seeing the BBC version of Sherlock, which begins with the episode "A Study in Pink." The showed stayed remarkably close to the original story (minus the Mormons), mainly changing the time period and a few case details. If you haven’t already watched that series (seen above) you should! It's so good.

p.s. This was my 15th and final book for the Victorian Literature Challenge hosted by Subtle Melodrama. I reached the top level, Desperate Remedies, yay!

Bottom image from here.

The Grey King

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Grey King
by Susan Cooper

This is the fourth book (out of five) in The Dark is Rising series and so far, one of my favorites. Will Stanton is young boy on the outside, but he’s also one of the “Old Ones,” who are in the midst of fighting a continuous battle against the dark forces that try to corrupt the world. In my opinion, the later books do not work well as stand alones. You really need to read the earlier ones to understand who the Old Ones are and grasped the overall story, so start at the beginning.

In this book Will gets sick and his family sends him off to Wales for a little R&R with some extended family. Once there he makes friends with Bran, a kind albino boy, and his faithful dog Cafall. Bran is a wonderful addition to the stories mythology and I love watching his story unfold. I was also glad to see Merriman make an appearance as well.

I will admit that I’m sure I would have loved this series even more if I’d read it when I was younger. A mystery, good vs. evil, a bit of fantasy, it would have been right up my alley. That’s not to say I still don’t love it, it’s just different when you can read a series with a certain innocence. Your mind isn’t already saturated with hundreds of books and each new addition is startlingly new and wonderful.

As it has been with the other books in this series, the best part of the plot comes as things are wrapped up in the end. There’s always a little twist or new bit of the story revealed and I particularly loved this one. I won’t give anything away, but I am really looking forward to reading the final book in the series.

Here are my reviews of The Dark is Rising and Greenwich (the 2nd and 3rd books in the series).

Books Lead to More books

Friday, December 9, 2011

(Gratuitous puppy pic because I love my dog)

One of my favorite things about reading is the crazy way books connect. Every time I read a book it tends to lead to another one. Sometimes it’s because an author of novel is specifically mentioned in the book. Other times it’s because it’s a book inspired by something else or a re-telling of a classic story, etc.

For example, just after finishing Robinson Crusoe, I started Kindred, in which the main character reads parts of Robinson Crusoe to another character. I love those unexpected connections. You find them frequently in books where a character is a bookseller or an avid reader, but they pop up other times too.

In When You Reach Me, the main character talks about her favorite novel, A Wrinkle in Time. Also, her mother tells her she's named after a character in The Tempest. In The God of Small Things the characters read books by Rudyard Kipling.

I love it every time that happens. It makes it feel like all the books in the world are somehow connected, like a giant game of Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon… but with books.

Has this ever happened to you guys? If so, with what books?

Photo by moi.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Will Grayson, Will Grayson
by John Green and David Levithan

To begin, I’m a big fan of John Green. I read Looking for Alaska and fell in love with his writing. I read Paper Towns and was captured by his characters. I watched the nerd fighter vlogs he makes with his brother Hank and I felt like he was someone I’d love to grab a beer with. I love he and his brother’s sense of humor. They can joke about things, while at the same time talking about something real. All that to say I'm a big fan.

I’ve only read other collaborative works by David Levithan, including two (Nick and Norah and Dash and Lily) that he did with Rachel Cohn. Each time I really enjoyed the books, but I don’t know how much of that was because of Cohn and how much was him. I’ve never read a book solely written by Levithan.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is collaboration between Green and Levithan. They wrote alternating chapters about two teenage boys, both named Will Grayson. Green’s Will is a straight kid with a chip on his shoulder and a flamboyant gay best friend named Tiny Cooper. The other Will is gay and struggles with depression. Their paths cross one night in Chicago.

It’s hard to explain exactly why this book works so well, but a big part of it is the cynicism of the two Will Graysons. Both characters are so jaded that it balances Tiny’s optimism and enthusiasm. Without that balance the story would have felt like getting punched in the face by sunshine every time Tiny spoke, but it never feels that way. Instead Tiny is the anomaly. He’s the exception to the sarcastic rule and because of that it’s so refreshing for everyone in the story to have someone in their life that’s encouraging and joyful about life, despite whatever hardships he’s going through.

At first I didn’t love the second Will Grayson’s chapters. His whole section is written only in lowercase and that drove me nuts. He is so pessimistic and kind of mean, but he grows on you. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I began to enjoy the 2nd Will’s story so much more after Tiny becomes a part of it. You quickly realize that Tiny brings out the best in almost everyone.

The first Will Grayson’s father adds so much to the story. Parents tend to be absent in YA books, but his Dad makes a brief appearance here and it reminded me how important good parents are. Sometimes just being there or saying I love you can make all the difference in a child’s life and I loved the quiet scene Will and his Dad shared.

It’s truly a story about friendship and connection, there’s no other agenda being pushed. The real love story is one between best friends. Because it’s written by two authors I’m going to allow myself to rate them separately. I gave it an overall 4 stars, but I think Green’s sections really earned 4.5 and Levithan’s earned 3.5.

“Love is the most common miracle.”

Wordless Wednesday: NYC, old and new

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I love how big cities, like NYC, perfectly blend old and new.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Childhood Faves

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for our Top Ten childhood faves. I spent so much of my childhood up a tree with a book and so looking back at some of my favorites was so much fun. I became a lifelong reader as a kid and these are some of the books I read over and over again.

1) From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E.Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

2) Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic by Betty MacDonald

3) The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

4) The Mystery of the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks

5) Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

6) Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O'Brien

7) The Littles series by John Peterson

8) Sideways Stories from Wayside School and other Louis Sachar books

9) The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

10) Midnight in the Dollhouse by Marjorie Stover

Bonus: I also loved everything by Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl. There are just too many great books to list.

*Me as a kiddo, too young to read these books, but I was getting there.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows

Monday, December 5, 2011

I Am Half Sick of Shadows
by Alan Bradley

Christmas at Buckshaw is just what I wanted. Only Flavia de Luce would think of flooding an entire portrait gallery to create an indoor ice skating rink. The amateur chemist and detective is back for a holiday adventure. Her overly-logical brain has worked out a plot to “catch” Santa with a sticky chemical solution applied to the roof. She’s so clever it’s easy to forget that she’s still a little girl, wondering if Santa exists.

As the de Luce family’s finances dwindle, Flavia’s father decides to rent out their home, Buckshaw, to a movie studio as a filming location. An entire crew, including the director and aging movie stars arrive in the small English town and set things buzzing.

Instead of having Flavia flit about the town of Bishop’s Lacey, as she has in the other novels, the entire town heads to Buckshaw. The actors agree to perform a scene from Romeo & Juliet to raise money for the local parish and the villagers brave the snow and head to Flavia’s home for the show. A blizzard ensures that they won’t be leaving anytime soon and the novel takes on the feel of an Agatha Christie novel. When an unexpected murder occurs, all of the suspects are confined to one location. Throw in a few crabby sisters, some fireworks and an on-going battle of the wits with local Inspector Hewitt and it’s the perfect holiday treat.

I would say the pacing is very similar to the first three books. If you loved those, like I have, you’ll probably love this one as well. Many feel unsatisfied with the books thus far and I would say that this one isn’t a deviation from the previous ones. There are bits and pieces revealed about the main characters, but nothing huge. I would think that most of us know if we like a series or not by the fourth book, so go with your instincts.

Dogger has always been one of my favorite characters in the series. Even if he’s not in the spotlight, he’s always standing quietly in the background, loyally waiting to provide whatever is needed. This book sheds more light on why he is the way he is and I was so glad to get to know him a bit better.

The restricted setting really worked for me. I loved having all the characters in one place. I think it helped move things along quickly. The murder mystery is always a background for the bigger story of the de Luce family itself and setting the entire book in their home helped hone that focus.

It boils down to this, if you love Flavia and the whole crazy de Luce household, this is a must for the holiday season.

“Impertinent children ought to be given six coats of shellac and set up in public places as a warning to others.”

“There are those of us who create because all around us, things visible and invisible are crumbling.”

My reviews of the first three books in the series can be found here: one, two and three

This book is a review copy provided by LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.

The House of Mirth

Friday, December 2, 2011

The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton

This turn-of-the-century novel tells the story of Lily Bart, a beautiful woman caught between what her heart wants and she thinks she should want. When Lily is orphaned as a young woman, an aunt provides for her, leaving her cared for, but never wealthy. At age 29, Lily is still hoping to marry well, despite her financial problems. Yet every time she seems close to making a match, something causes her to withdraw a bit from her pursuit.

I’ve read Wharton’s The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome and with each books I was impressed with the writing and restrained portrayals of the characters, but never more so than with this book. For me, The House of Mirth made me love Wharton, instead of just appreciating her.

Wharton finds the most eloquent way to say things, but still manages to keep it simple and not overly-flowery. It’s not like Dickens, who I do love in a different way, but the man was wordy! She’s not writing to fit more words in each paragraph, instead it feels like things have been pared down until what’s left is only what is necessary to tell the compelling story.

I read it slowly, savoring each line instead of barreling ahead. I didn’t want to miss anything and I found myself highlighting so many lines that I connected to. It felt like she had chosen each word so carefully and so in turn I wanted to make sure I gave each word its due as I read it.

Lily Bart is a character so caught up in trying to attain what society tells her is the perfect life, that she completely denies her true feelings. She ignores what makes her happy and focuses all of her intelligence and planning into finding a wealthy husband of the right social standing. At a young age, her mother taught her that this was what was important in life and Lily never quite let go of that mindset.

Lily has been raised to believe she needs a life of riches to be happy, but when she’s put in a position where those things might not be available to her anymore she doesn’t know what to do. She’s desperate and believes that her only choice is to sacrifice the life she thinks she loves or her happiness. It’s Madame Bovary without the selfish abandon in decision making.

This is the quote that sums it all up for me…
“…sometimes I think it’s because, at heart, she despises the things she’s trying for. And it’s the difficulty of deciding that makes her such an interesting study.” –Mrs. Fisher

The scenes between Lily and her friend Seldon are electric. They are sprinkled throughout the book and so each time you stumble upon one it breathes new life into the story, just as it does in Lily’s own life. Their chemistry radiates off the page. There are so many men who want Lily and yet Seldon is the only one that makes her feel alive. She refuses to acknowledge even to herself, that she feels anything for him.

“She knew herself by heart too, and was sick of the old story. There were moments when she longed blindly for anything different, anything strange, remote and untried; but the utmost reach of her imagination did not go beyond picturing her usual life in a new setting.”

The few moments when she is truly happy are tucked away in her memory. She never allows herself to dwell on those moments of joy. Instead she focuses on whatever problem is at hand, financial or social. She believes her problems don’t exist if she escapes to another setting, so she’s constantly trying to run away from them. The transition that she goes through from the beginning of the novel to the end is startling. She’s so carefree and hopefully at the start. Her playful nature begins to drain away as her circumstances become direr.

I loved the fact that despite having no idea how to achieve happiness in her life, she’s not helpless. She plans and schemes, often at her own expense, to solve her problems. She doesn’t wait around for someone to fix everything. She doesn’t make excuses for herself or allow herself to wallow in self-pity. She accepts the consequences of her actions, even if they sometimes seem unfair and I respect that. She’s proactive in her life and when she runs out of options, she’s willing to do whatever it takes to survive.

I loved the character of Lily and the story grew on me as I read it. By the end I didn’t want to put it down and I know I’ll be returning to it in the future.

“What Lily craved was the darkness made by enfolding arms, the silence which is not solitude, but compassion holding its breath.”

“It had always seemed to Seldon that experience offered a great deal besides the sentimental adventure, yet he could vividly conceive of a love which should broaden and deepen till it became the central fact of life.”

The End

Thursday, December 1, 2011

** There are no spoilers of Book 13, but this review assumes you’ve read the first 12 books in the series.

The End (Book 13, the final book)
by Lemony Snicket

We have come to the end… finally. For me, this was a long time coming. I loved this series at the beginning, but after 6 or 7 books it felt repetitive to me. I stayed with it though, reading only two or three of the books each year, because I wanted closure.

As I mentioned in my review of the 12th book, I had high expectations for this final installment. I’ve had a mixed reaction to some of the books in this series, but to me, this was one of the better ones. I loved all of the literary references to Moby Dick and The Tempest. I thought the “Call me Ish” bit was particularly funny.

I do think that there were still quite a few unanswered questions and that was a bit of a disappointment. There was such a big build up to the finale, I guess I thought there would be a lot more about the past and what led everyone to this final point. There was some of that, but not quite enough.

Here are a few things I wish were different about the entire series:

1) I understand that 13 is an unlucky number, but there didn’t need to be 13 books. The first 4 are great, books 5-10 have some good moments, but they are also incredibly repetitive. I think the series would have worked better if it had been condensed to about 10 books.

2) There are a few moments in the final book where the orphans think back on sweet memories they shared with their parents. I really wish there had been more of those throughout the whole series. There are very few times when we learn what their parents were like and I think I would have been more invested in the kids if I’d known more about their life before they became orphans.

3) I wish the book provided more closure for different characters. We never got to see the Quagmire triplets again. The books alluded to one of the Baudelaire parents possibly being alive, but unless I missed it, we never find out if that’s true or not. I just wish there had been a bit more information across the board.

Overall, I’m glad I read the series and there are so many things I loved about the way it was written. It was clever and funny. I think it would be a perfect read for preteens and a great vocabulary lesson for young readers. There are things I disliked and things I wish were different and because of that I can’t say I loved the series. But I’m glad I stuck with it and I would definitely read it with my niece and nephews one day if they were up for it.

“It's almost as if happiness is an acquired taste, like coconut cordial or ceviche, to which you can eventually become accustom, but despair is something surprising each time you encounter it.”

“It is a well-known, but curious fact that the first bite of an apple always tastes the best.”