The Book Thief... a Play!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

I am so excited about something and I thought I'd share. The Book Thief, one of my absolute favorite books of all time, was selected as this year's One Book One Town for Chicago. As part of the festivities, author Markus Zusak collaborated with a playwright to turn his wonderful book into a stage production.

The show will be at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago this fall and I have tickets!!! I will be seeing the show October 20th and I can't wait. Here's more info and here's where you can get tickets. 

I'd love to hear if any of you guys end up going! 

Reading the States: Missouri

Friday, June 29, 2012


- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn* by Mark Twain
- Finn by Jon Clinch
- Becky: The Life and Loves of Becky Thatcher by Lenore Hart    
- Sharp Objects* by Gillian Flynn
- This is Graceanne’s Book by P.L. Whitney
- Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
- Little Farm in the Ozarks by Roger Lea Macbride
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer* by Mark Twain
- Stoner by John Williams
- Gone Girl* by Gillian Flynn

- Missouri, a Bicentennial History by Paul C. Nagel
- Jesse James, Last Rebel of the Civil War* by T. J. Stiles
- Autobiography of Mark Twain by Mark Twain
- Truman by David McCullough
- On Her Own Ground by A'Lelia Bundle  

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:
- Mark Twain
- Rett MacPherson

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Maya Angelou
- William S. Burroughs
- Langston Hughes
- Kate Chopin
- Jonathan Franzen
- A. E. Hotchner
- T.S. Eliot

Great Bookstores:
*Books I've Read
Photo by moi.

What Makes a Good Narrator?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

There are so many elements that go into a good audiobook. Obviously the plot of the book itself, but you must consider a slew of other factors. I know that I have a few preferences and I’d love to discuss those today. 

I love when the narrators’ sex matches that of the main character. I hate it when some male tries to do an awful high-pitch imitation of a woman when speaking for a female character. A few examples of perfect narration that come to mind are Lenny Henry’s reading of Anansi Boys, Frank Mueller’s reading of Motherless Brooklyn, and Jenna Lamia’s reading  of The Secret Life of Bees.

I enjoy a full cast of narrators when there are multiple main characters. For example, I’ve listened to a few of Shakespeare’s plays that were done with a full cast and they are excellent! Also, the audiobook of The Help was done this way and it is one of the best I’ve heard.

I almost always dislike it when authors read their own work. For the most part, authors do not have the skill of a seasoned narrator. There are a few major exceptions to this rule that come to mind. Neil Gaiman and David Sedaris are wonderful at narrating their own work! Also, I know Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling both did their books and they’re both great. 

I particularly dislike special effects or music in the background of the performance. Some audiobooks rely on this as a way to explain what is happening to a reader. Here’s a tip, if the book says, “And then he closed the door,” I don’t need to hear the sound of a door closing.

As far as genres go I’ve found that I prefer listening to nonfiction on audio rather than reading it. I’d highly recommend trying one of Erik Larson, Bill Bryson or Mary Roach’s books if you’re interested. Young Adult books, especially series also worked beautifully on audio. I’d recommend the Percy Jackson series, the Flavia de Luce series, the Harry Potter series, the Lemony Snicket series and The Dark Materials series as good audiobooks.

My biggest pet peeve when it comes to narrators is blatant mispronunciations. It drives me bonkers! I don’t mean an English to American difference, like pronouncing aluminum Al– Loo – Mini – Um. I mean just saying the word wrong. Some are funny and others make me cringe. Does this bother anyone else?

Here’s a few of my favorites…

Despot … pronounced DespoTATE

Fruition … pronounced Froot – Uh- Tay - Shun

Guillotine … pronounced GILL – Uh- Teen

Carnagie … pronounced Car – NEG – E

How about all of you, what do you love or hate about audiobook narrators?

This post is part of Audiobook Week hosted by Devourer of Books

Image from here.

In the Sea There are Crocodiles

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

In the Sea There are Crocodiles
Based on the True Story of Enaiatollah Akbari
by Fabio Geda

With the help of his mother Enaiatollah Akbari leaves Afghanistan when the Taliban takes power in 2000. At only 10 years old he escaped to Pakistan, traveling alone and trying to find work. His journey takes him through Iran, Turkey, Greece and finally to Italy.

The story is considered fiction, but just like Dave Egger’s What is the What it’s a retelling of a true story based on someone’s memories. It reminded me a lot of Egger’s book, but it wasn’t quite as good. The story is told from Akbari’s point of view so it’s very straightforward and simple in the way a child would speak.

There are occasional questions from the author sprinkled throughout the narrative. I found this very distracting. In the middle of hearing about some terrible event we pause while the author says something like, “Tell us more about that” or “Were you scared when that happened?” The questions always seemed to come out of nowhere and they really took me out of the flow of the journey.

Despite the shaky structural elements, Akbari’s struggle to escape to freedom was an amazing one and I was glad to learn more about that part of the world.

BOTTOM LINE: Read it if you’re interested in Afghanistan and learning more about the struggles the Taliban’s rule have caused. If you really enjoyed The Kite Runner or What is the What you’ll probably like this one too.

AUDIO PRODUCTION: The unabridged book makes for a quick listen but the narrator, Mir Weiss Najibi, didn't work for me. The tone of his voice, his pacing, it felt all wrong. I wish I'd read a print version of this one.

The Loved One and Chicken with Plums

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

We've all read books by authors we love and been disappointed. I happened to read two back-to-back. 

The Loved One
by Evelyn Waugh

Dennis Barlow is a poet by night and works at a pet cemetery by day. The British man lives in L.A. and falls in love with Aimee, a woman who does the make-up at a local mortuary. She seems smitten with her co-worker at the funeral home, Mr. Joyboy.

This satire never quite gets off the ground. The characters are sketches of people who never have any depth. It combines comedy and tragedy, but manages to do so in a way that’s neither funny nor touching.

It was a big disappointment to read something so stale from the man who wrote Brideshead Revisited. I know it’s one of his lesser known novels and next time I’ll try one of his more popular ones like Scoop or Decline and Fall.

BOTTOM LINE: A swing and a miss from a great author. We all have our bad days and I’ll chalk this up as one of his.

Chicken with Plums
by Marjane Satrapi

Nasser Ali Khan, was a famous Iranian tar player. When his favorite tar is destroyed he looses his focus and reason for living. Despite having a wife and children, he decides he wants to die.

The graphic novel delves into Khan’s past; his first love, his relationship with his mother and his introduction to tar music. These elements are interesting, but Khan himself is so hopeless that it’s hard to find a reason to root for him.

Khan is the author’s great uncle, so I understand why she wrote the book, but it’s definitely not her best. She is an incredibly talented artist and story teller, but the book fell flat for me. There was no emotion and Khan  comes across as incredibly selfish.

I still loved the artwork and it was a quick read, but it was disappointing in comparison with the author’s other work.

BOTTOM LINE: Skip it and go read Persepolis.

Your Audiobook Year

Monday, June 25, 2012

Hello, my name is Melissa and I’m an audiobook addict. I’ve loved audiobooks ever since my Dad encouraged me to try them when I was in high school. I didn’t listen to them regularly until my first summer home from college. I took a job running an exterior house painting crew (I know, odd). One of my main duties was to canvas local neighborhoods and give estimates. I hated the job, but I loved being able to listen to audiobooks all day as I drove around.

As far as places I listen, I feel like they’re endless! Obviously the car is a major one, but my commute is incredibly short. I listen while taking a shower and getting ready in the morning. Also while doing dishes and cleaning the house. I love listening while I walk my dog or play fetch with him. The options are infinite!

I get almost all of my audiobooks at book sales or by borrowing them from the library. I keep one in my car and another in my house. I may be one of the last people in the world still listening to audio cassettes. I can find them so cheaply at library book sales and I still have a few audio cassette players.

I would also like to add that some people claim listening to audiobooks isn’t actually reading them. To them I say this; the great tradition of story telling was around long before written books were available. Odysseus’ travels and Arthurian legends were shared in front of fireplaces before anyone took the time to record them on paper. I can’t imagine anyone claiming those people didn’t know the stories they heard.

Sometimes listening to an audio version of a book makes me appreciate the writing more because you have to listen to every word instead of skimming a paragraph. It also gives me a deeper appreciation for favorite books that I’ve already read in print version.

I’m currently listening to Alan Rickman reading The Return of the Native and Wil Wheaton reading Ready Player One. Both are absolutely excellent and I would highly recommend them.

This post is part of Audiobook Week hosted by Devourer of Books

Image from here.

Victorian Discussion

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Victorian Celebration is in full swing now and I came across an interesting discussion that I thought I’d share with you all. In the introduction (written by Q. D. Leavis) of my copy of Villette the definition of “Victorian author” is debated. Here’s interesting passage:
“Charlotte was born in 1816 (Emily two years later), and with tastes and character formed early in life the sisters were decidedly not Victorian, but like most of those we think of as the great Victorians (Dickens, Thackery, Trollope, George Eliot, for instance), were essentially pre-Victorian, critics of the Victorian scene and characteristics that they saw visibly and potently threatening or superseding the culture of an older and healthier England, which they felt to be in some important respects preferable. (The real Victorians were those formed entirely in the Victorian era and who reacted against it by exaggerated unconventionality, like Swinburne, Oscar Wilde, William Morris, Samuel Butler, and Shaw.)”

So I’m curious, what do you think? Are the true Victorian authors those who published during that time period or those who were formed by that period? 

I always think of Vic. authors as those who published during that time, but I’d never considered this before.

Reading the States: Mississippi

Friday, June 22, 2012


- The Help* by Kathryn Stockett  
- A Time to Kill* by John Grisham 
- Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter* by Tom Franklin
- The Year of Jubilo by Howard Bahr 
- The Optimist’s Daughter* by Eudora Welty 
- As I Lay Dying* by William Faulkner 
- Mudbound by Hillary Jordan 
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry* by Mildred D. Taylor 
- Mother of Pearl by Melinda Haynes 
- Jewel by Brett Lott
- The Sound and the Fury* by William Faulkner
- The Robber Bridegroom by Eudora Welty 
- Long Division by Kiese Laymon

- The Last Train North by Clifton L. Taulbert
- Ever Is A Long Time by W. Ralph Eubanks 
- Delta Blues by Ted Gioia
- Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody 
- Black Boy* by Richard Wright

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:
- John Grisham
- William Faulkner   

Authors Who Lived Here: 
- Tennessee Williams  
- Eudora Welty  
- Richard Ford 

Great Bookstores: 
Square Books 
Lemuria Books

*Books I've Read 

Photo by moi.

The Scarlet Pimpernel

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Scarlet Pimpernel
by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

The Reign of Terror in France is in full swing and members of the Royalty are getting their domes loped off left and right by the handy-dandy guillotine. With the help of the infamous “Scarlet Pimpernel” many are fleeing the country to the safe shores of England. Unfortunately the Pimpernel, whose identity is a mystery, is being hunted by the French.

Marguerite, a French woman who made it out of the country, is being blackmailed to help with the search for the Pimpernel. Her estranged husband, Sir Percy Blakeney, disapproves of her past actions and she’s left to find a solution on her own.


I really loved the ending. It wasn’t shocking, but I felt like it was a good twist and wrapped everything up nicely. In a funny way, it reminded me of Batman. The story of a dimwitted playboy who is actually a super hero saving lives. He never tells his love interest who he is, but he manages to save her and others multiple times. It felt like a super hero action movie.


BOTTOM LINE: It’s fun and entertaining; a great adventure book, but don’t expect too much depth. Read it if you’re in the mood for a bit of swashbuckling.

“A woman’s heart is such a complex problem, the owner thereof is often most incompetent to find the solution of this puzzle.”

Wordless Wednesday: Schronnbrunn Statue

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Statue at Schronnbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

The Sign of Four

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Sign of Four
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Watson and Sherlock are back in this delicious mystery, one of only four full Sherlock novels. This one has it all and is my personal favorite. It opens with Sherlock shooting cocaine as a concerned Watson questions the addiction. Things just get better from there. We have a mysterious treasure from India passed down from father to son, murder, great disguises from Sherlock and even a bit of romance for Watson.

I love that this novel gives us the full range of Sherlock’s emotions. He is obviously troubled, both when he is bored and when he is frustrated by a case. At other times he is completely joyous and playful as his mind ticks at a rapid pace, miles ahead of everyone else as he connects the dots.

The relationship between Watson and Sherlock is at its best here. It’s still in its infancy in A Study in Scarlet and it’s almost completely missing in The Hound of the Baskervilles. This book captures the core of their friendship. They balance each other, Sherlock needs someone to think of the emotional side of things and Watson loves being involved in the thrill of a new case, though he wouldn’t pursue this line of work on his own.

We also have Sherlock’s fussy landlady, Mrs. Hudson, who worries about her tenant and the client, Miss Mary Morstan, who catches Watson’s eye. Then there’s the Baker Street Irregulars, a ragtag group of boys who occasionally help Sherlock with his cases. The novel also has a helpful dog named Toby and some of Sherlock’s most infamous lines. You can’t go wrong with this one.

BOTTOM LINE: This is definitely my favorite Sherlock Holmes novel so far. I also think it would be a great starting point for anyone who is new to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work.

"My mind," he said, "rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world."

"The chief proof of man's real greatness lies in his perception of his own smallness."

“No, I am not tired. I have a curious constitution. I never remember feeling tired by work, though idleness exhausts me completely."

“Miss Morstan and I stood together, and her hand was in mine. A wondrous subtle thing is love, for here were we two who had never seen each other before that day, between whom no word or even look of affection had ever passed, and yet now in an hour of trouble our hands instinctively sought for each other.”

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

I read this as part of the Victorian Celebration hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey.

As I Lay Dying

Monday, June 18, 2012

As I Lay Dying
by William Faulkner

Faulkner, why do you make my brain spin in such a disorienting way? This novel, like many of Faulkner’s books, has multiple narrators telling a story that is centered around one major event. In this case, Addie Bundren is dying and she has asked her husband and adult children to travel to another county in Mississippi with her body to bury her in her hometown when she dies.

The thing about Faulkner is that you often don’t know where you stand with his books. His work seems intentionally obtuse, almost like he doesn’t want you to understand what’s going on; he’s famous for this. His narrators are often unreliable, sometimes because they are lying to the reader and distorting the truth until it’s unrecognizable (Absalom, Absalom). Other times it’s because the narrators themselves are confused (The Sound and the Fury). In this book you have a bit of both. Everyone has their own agenda and they tell their story while hiding their secrets from each other and sometimes the reader.

I’ll admit, usually I’d prefer to know where I stand when I’m reading. There are certainly exceptions to this, but I tend to prefer narrators that I can trust. I really struggled to follow the flow of this book. I knew what was going on, but keeping everyone (and their back stories and motivations) straight is difficult. There are so many characters and as we progress across the state with Addie’s coffin in tow, we learn how each character has reached this point in their lives. None of them seem happy with their lot in life and it’s not hard to understand why.

The thing that always redeems Faulkner’s work for me is the descriptions. The writing is just so beautiful and that far outweighs the disjointed plot. His writing is poetic and since I struggle with poetry to begin with, it’s no hard to see why Faulkner is a stretch for me.

Absolutely worth reading, it’s an American classic, but go into it knowing Faulkner is going to take you for a ride. Sit back and enjoy the words that will take you there and don’t get too stressed about the details along the way.
“I can remember how when I was young I believed death to be a phenomenon of the body; now I know it to be merely a function of the mind -- and that of the minds who suffer the bereavement. The nihilists say it is the end; the fundamentalists, the beginning; when in reality it is no more than a single tenant or family moving out of a tenement or a town.”

Reading the States: Minnesota

Friday, June 15, 2012


- Peace Like a River* by Leif Enger
- Shiver* by Maggie Stiefvater
- Freedom* by Jonathan Franzen
- Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik          
- Lake Wobegon by Garrison Keillor
- Main Street* by Sinclair Lewis 
- In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien
- On the Banks of Plum Creek* by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- The St. Paul Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Weatherman by Steve Thayer
- Orphan Train* by Christina Baker Kline
- Betsy and Tacy* by Maud Hart Lovelace
- War for the Oaks by  Emma Bull
- Kitchens of the Great Midwest* by J. Ryan Stradal 

- Under a Flaming Sky* by Daniel James Brown
- Minnesota: A History by William E. Lass
- The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang
- How to Talk Minnesotan by Howard Mohr
- Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country by Louise Erdrich
- The Music of Failure by Bill Holm

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:
- Garrison Keillor
- John Sandford (Prey series)
- Jon Hassler

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Sinclair Lewis 
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Louise Erdrich
- Leif Enger
- Al Franken

Great Bookstores:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
by Stephen Chbosky

Charlie is an intelligent, sensitive boy who is about to begin his freshman year in high school. His awkward nature makes it difficult for him to make new friends. This coming-of-age novel is written as a series of letters to an unknown recipient.

The first time I read this book I was an 18-year-old college freshman. It was the first book ever recommended to me by a new friend and ten years later she’s still a close friend. I’m not saying it’s because of this book, but it certainly was a good sign of things to come.

Now that I’m older and farther from the innocent days of high school I was nervous that it would lose some of its magic upon rereading. Everything is so intense when you’re young. Each moment can feel like either the best or worst in our short life. Songs have the potential to change you forever and love is a completely new concept. As you get older things often don’t have the same impact as they did when you were young.

I shouldn’t have worried though, the second time around the book was just as powerful as before, but in a different way. It made me nostalgic for those thrilling nights when you would drive around with your friends imaging what the future might hold. It made me feel protective of Charlie and desperate for him to find happiness. Charlie is naïve and innocent, but in the best way possible. As his friendships with the beautiful Sam and kind Patrick blossom, so does his awareness of the world.

The books impact comes from the raw honesty of Chbosky’s writing. He expresses feelings and thoughts that we’ve all had, but he makes them feel brand new. The novel doesn’t shy away from serious issues. It deals with under-aged drinking, drug use, molestation, suicide, sex, depression and abusive relationships. Like I said, it deals with incredibly serious subject matter, but it does so in a delicate way. Nothing is ever done for shock value, it’s all realistic, the way life itself is. You can’t avoid things just because they are difficult to deal with and this book acknowledges that.

Rereading the book was strange in some ways. It took me back to the time when I read it ten years ago. As I near thirty the intensity of daily life is somewhat diminished, but it’s not entirely gone. There are still moments when I discover a new song or book and for a time, I feel infinite.

BOTTOM LINE: Charlie’s journey is an incredible one and it shouldn’t be missed. If you are recommending it to a teen make sure you’re ready to talk about the issues discussed in the book. I don’t know what it would be like to read this book for the first time as an adult, but I think it’s a perfect read for seniors in high school or freshman in college.

“We accept the live we think we deserve.”

“Sometimes, I look at my parents now and wonder what happened to make them the way they are.”

“I was looking at the old photographs, I started thinking that there was a time when these weren’t memories.”

“Try to be a filter, not a sponge.”

Roof Beam Reader has a wonderful review of the books here.

If you haven’t already seen the movie trailer (coming out this fall) check it out here!

Wordless Wednesday: Multilingual Staircase

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A multilingual staircase in Hallstatt, Austria

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Books I'd Recommend as Good Beach Reads

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for the Top Ten Books I'd Recommend as Good Beach Reads.

The other day a friend, who is a serious reader, asked for some light reading recommendations. She's going on vacation and needed something fun and not too dark, but still literary. I realized that the vast majority of books I recommend deal with some heavy issues; World War II, death, heartbreak, suicide, cancer, etc. It's not that those aren't excellent books, but I was having a hard time coming up with titles that could be considered “fun” and still made me feel engaged. So I decided to make a list of some fun, but intelligent books.
1) Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

2) Stardust by Neil Gaiman

3) Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

4) Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

5) Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

6) Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

7) 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

8) The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

9) Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

10) Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

Photo from here.

Sense and Sensibility

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen

Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are sisters but their temperaments are wildly different. Marianne is full of fire and enthusiasm while Elinor is more reserved and logical. Despite this the two sisters are devoted to one another. When their father dies and they find themselves moving into a new cottage with their mother and younger sister they must find a balance between their divergent natures as they fall in love.

At its heart, S&S is a book about the relationship between sisters. You love them, you want to protect them and you want them to be happy, but often there’s no one more different from you. There is romance, but it takes a back seat to the unique bond shared by the Dashwood sisters.

Like all of Austen’s novels, there are some wonderfully funny characters and others that it’s a joy to despise (I’m looking at you Lucy Steele). The book also as one of the most heartbreaking love stories, Marianne and Willoughby, and one of the sweetest romantic scenes, when Elinor and Edward finally get together after she’s convinced he’s already married. Austen had an incredibly gift for making her readers fall in love with her characters.

I think the reason this book resonated so much with me when I first read it, (10 years ago) and now again as a reread, is because I see my own relationship with my sister in this book. She met her husband and a year later, at age 20, she got married. Now, ten years later she has four kids. She’s not a fan of planning or traveling. She’s late everywhere she goes, she doesn’t like to read and she has the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met. She’s incredibly sweet and hates fighting with anyone.

I on the other hand, met my husband and we dated for 9 years before getting married. We’ve been married for 2 ½ years and we’re still not ready for kids. I have traveled to 12 countries and obviously love reading. I’m a type A planner and can be very confrontational if I’ve got an issue with someone. In other words, we have polar opposite personalities.

I identified with this book because despite our differences, we love each other so much. Like Elinor and Marianne, we don’t necessarily understand the other’s life choices, but we respect them and support them.

BOTTOM LINE: I love Austen’s work and this one is no exception. Though the plot certainly includes love stories; the passionate Willoughby, pining Col. Brandon and loyal Edward; the real story is about the relationship between the sisters. The unconditional love they share defies their differences. It’s a beautiful reminder to readers that sometimes the things that set us apart as individuals are the very elements that make our relationships stronger. We should learn from our friends and family member’s strengths and weaknesses instead of criticizing them.
“Elinor was to be the comforter of others in her own distresses, no less than in theirs; and all the comfort that could be given by assurances of her own compose of mind, and a very earnest vindication of Edward from every change but of imprudence, was readily offered.”

“I have frequently detected myself in such kind of mistakes,” said Elinor, “in a total misapprehension of character in some point or other: fancying people so much more gay or grave, or ingenious or stupid than they really are, and I can hardly tell why or in what the deception originated. Sometimes one is guided by what other people say of them, without giving oneself time to deliberate and judge.”

“Between them no subject is finished, no communication is even made, till it has been made at least twenty times over.”

p.s. I read the new Bath Bicentennial edition and it is gorgeous! 
p.p.s. If you've never seen the 1995 film version of the book (starring Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson) go see it immediately! It's one of my absolute favorites.

Reading the States: Michigan

Friday, June 8, 2012


- Tom Lake* by Ann Patchett
- Middlesex* by Jeffrey Eugenides
- Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
- The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway
- The Feast of Love* by Charles Baxter
- Them by Joyce Carol Oats
- The Wanigan by Gloria Whelan
- What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage
- Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell
- Split Images by Elmore Leonard
- The Virgin Suicides* by Jeffrey Eugenides 

- Have a Little Faith* by Mitch Albom
- The Third Coast by Ted McClelland
- Stitches: A Memoir by David Small
- Arc of Justice by Kevin Boyle
- The Other Side of the River by Alex Kotlowitz 
- The Watsons Go To Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:
- Jeffrey Eugenides
- Elmore Leonard

Authors Who Lived Here:

- Edna Ferber
- Audrey Niffenegger
- Michael Moore
- Judith Guest
- Tim LaHaye
- Jerry B. Jenkins
- Neil LaBute 

Great Bookstores:

Photo by moi.

A Victorian Celebration Giveaway!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Giveaway Closed: Kerry @ Entomology of a Bookworm is the winner!

Last year I participated in a Victorian Literature Challenge and read 15 books that fall into that category. I developed a huge appreciation for the genre* and realized how much I enjoy it. I also discovered a few new authors whose work I’m looking forward to exploring.

So when Allie at A Literary Odyssey decided to host a Victorian Celebration this summer I couldn’t resist. To join in the fun I’m giving away three Victorian novels that I love: Jude the Obscure, Jane Eyre and Great Expectations. All three are wonderful in their own ways and if you haven’t read them yet, this is the perfect opportunity.
For a chance to win all three books (seen above) leave a comment with your email address and your favorite Victorian novel. This giveaway is open to US residents only, sorry guys!

For my own reading choices for the Celebration I decided to definitely read Villette by Charlotte Bronte (1853) and The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (1878). I’m also going to try and fit in a couple more from the following list:

- The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1890)
- Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868) 
- The Warden by Anthony Trollope (1855) 

- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844) 
- Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (1848)

If you’re looking for other ideas of Victorian books to read, here are the books I finished for last year’s Challenge.
1) Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895)

2) The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1902)

3) Middlemarch by George Eliot (1874)
4) David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850) 

5) The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881)
6) The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1905) 

7) The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (1897)
8) Heidi by Johanna Spyri (1880) 
9) Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901) 
10) King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard (1885) 
11) Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (1869)

12) The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)

13) War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869) 

14) A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1887)

15) Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass (1845)

* The Victorian era is usually defined as the lifespan of Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837-1901. Books published during these particular years and authors who lived during this time usually fall in the “Victorian” category.

Wordless Wednesday: Bridge at Bellingrath Gardens

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

My favorite part of the Bellingrath Gardens in Alabama,
a beautiful overgrown bridge.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Authors that Deserve More Recognition

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

This week we’re allowed to pick any old topic for the Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish. I wanted to focus on authors I think deserve more recognition.

It’s always amazing to me that some authors get loads of hype while others fly under the radar. You never quite know why one book gets a flurry of attention and another equally good one never becomes the new “it” thing to read. So here are a few authors that I wish more people would sit up and recognize. This isn’t to say no one reads their books or they haven’t won any awards, it’s just to say that they aren’t household names like John Grisham or Charles Dickens.

1) Carlos Ruiz Zafon – I love this man’s books. His writing is like magic to me, but sadly many people have never heard of him. TRY: The Shadow of the Wind

2) Richard Russo – He tends to be lumped into the modern white man category with Philip Roth, John Irving and John Updike, but I think he stands alone in his ability to create relatable characters and excellent small town dynamics. TRY: Empire Falls or Bridge of Sighs

3) J.D. Salinger – Yes, I know that everyone knows who he is, but usually it’s because of Catcher in the Rye and not his other work. I honestly didn’t really like that book, but I adore his others. Two many people read Catcher and write him off. TRY: Nine Stories or Franny and Zooey  

4) Kate Morton – She writes fantastic gothic mysteries with wonderful characters and yet I just heard about her last year! TRY: The Forgotten Garden

5) Graham Greene – He’s well-known in readers’ circles, but he’s often overlooked by people just starting to explore the classics. TRY: The End of the Affair

6) Mary Roach – Anytime a book is dismissed because of its genre I think that’s a mistake. Roach writes nonfiction, but because her books aren’t memoirs people assume they’re serious. In reality Roach writes hilarious books about a variety of strange subjects. TRY: Stiff

7) Douglas Adams – He was brilliantly funny, but just like it is with movies, comedy is rarely respected. How often do comedic movies win the Oscar for best picture? Sometimes I think it’s much harder to truly be funny than to be serious. TRY: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

8) E.M. Forster – I have no idea why, but he’s never at the top of any “Best of” classics lists. His novels are some of my favorites! TRY: Howards End or A Room with a View

9) Dennis Lehane – In recent years Lehane’s books have become popular fodder for movies. There’s Mystic River, Shutter Island and Gone Baby Gone, but as it usually is, the book is better. He creates amazing characters and his books are hard to put down. TRY: Mystic River

10) Roald Dahl – Not his kid’s books, we all love those. I think Dahl’s adult stories are really underrated. They are clever and creepy and I love them! TRY: Umbrella Man

Photo from here.

Armchair BEA Introduction

Monday, June 4, 2012

Why yes I did forget Armchair BEA started today. Fail. Sorry this is just going up, but I still wanted to participate. I enjoy my fellow book bloggers so much and I feel like a slacker when I don't join in on some of these big events. So here it goes...

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?
My name is Melissa, I'm 28 and I live in Indianapolis with my pup and the Huz. I work full time at a medical journal and review Indy theatre and write a book blog for fun. I've been blogging since Jan. 2010 and I started because I love talking about books and writing.

2. What are you currently reading?
I'm currently reading Villette, Beautiful Boy, The Stand and I'm rereading The Perks of Being a Wallflower  (a classic, a nonfiction, a YA and a newer fiction book, yup that's how it usually is)

3. Tell us one non-book-related thing that everyone reading your blog may not know about you.

Everyone I'm close to calls me Lissa (not Lisa) and I love planning and taking roadtrips and weekend getaways with friends of the Huz. Oh, also I love good TV. Give me a season of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Doctor Who, etc. and I'm good to go.

4. What is your favorite feature on your blog (i.e. author interviews, memes, something specific to your blog)?
I started a Reading the States feature this year and I hope it will be a good resource for people in the future. Whenever someone wants to read more books set in a specific states (whether they're about to travel there or they're just curious) they'll be able to find each state through the Reading the States page.

5. Where do you see your blog in five years?
Still around I hope. I love having a group of people to talk books with and each year it seems like I've done a few new things (RIP challenge, hosted a readalong, Dewey, etc.)

6. Which is your favorite post that you have written that you want everyone to read?
One of my first posts was on creating my library when I moved into my first home. I love that one and I don't think anyone read this blog back then. Also, my 2011 year end survey would be a good way to get a feel for what I read.

7. If you could eat dinner with any author or character, who would it be and why?
Neil Gaiman, there are authors I may love more (though most are dead), but Gaiman is so fantastic and we could not only talk about his books, but also about Doctor Who!

8. What literary location would you most like to visit? Why?
I've gotten to see a lot of my dream places (Stratford-Upon-Avon, the courthouse that inspired To Kill a Mockingbird, the Algonquin Round Table, Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore, Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey, etc.), but I would really love to go East and visit Walden pond, Louisa May Alcott's home and Mark Twain's Connecticut home. 

9. What is your favorite part about the book blogging community? Is there anything that you would like to see change in the coming years?
The people! I've loved making friends with readers all over the world. I probably never would have met them otherwise. I hope that bloggers continue to welcome new members to the community and connect with them one-on-one. As this group of people grows I think that will become harder to do.

10.  Have your reading tastes changed since you started blogging? How?

Yes! I read so many more new releases. I used to wait to read almost all new books because I couldn't afford to buy new books on a newspaper reporter's salary. Now it's so hard to resist when the whole blogosphere is buzzing about a new release.

The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The first time I read this book (in 2007) I consumed it. It’s almost 500 pages, but I couldn’t put it down. This time I took it slow. I savored every line and absorbed each character. I paid closer attention and let the mystery enfold me and it was definitely a different experience. It was wonderful.

Set in Barcelona in 1945, the book begins as a coming-of-age tale, but quickly becomes more complicated than that. The story is told from the point-of-view of Daniel Sempere starting when he’s only 10 years old. His father takes him to a secret place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where Daniel finds a book by the author Julián Carax. The rest of the story follows Daniel journey to discover what happened to Carax and the rest of his work.

The Shadow of the Wind is reminiscent of old gothic novels. The story is a heady mixture of mystery and romance, political tyrants and broken hearts. I had forgotten how enthralling the mystery is. The twists and turns and unexpected connections Daniel makes as he walks the alleys of Barcelona haunt me even though I’ve returned the novel to my bookshelf.

Zafon’s supporting cast of characters is one of the best parts of the book. There’s Daniel’s father, a quiet man with a kind heart who loves his son. Chief Inspector Francisco Javier Fumero is one of the most vicious baddies in literature; he’s black to the core of his being. Then we have Miquel, Julian’s clever best friend and Nuria Monfort a mysterious woman who seems to know more about Julian than she’s willing to say. Finally there’s Fermin Romero de Torres, perhaps my favorite person in the book. He’s a homeless beggar who has been broken by his past, but still has a future ahead of him if someone is willing to give him a chance. He has a lust for life that is both entertaining and inspiring.


One of the things I love about this book is the way Daniel’s life mirrors Julian’s. They both fall in love: Daniel with Bea, the sister of his best friend and Julian with Penelope, the daughter of Don Ricardo Aldaya who has become Julian’s patron of sorts. They both have obstacles to that love: Bea is engaged to another man and the Don doesn’t want Julian to be with Penelope (though Julian doesn’t know why).

Soon Julian begins to see Daniel as the only way to redeem himself. He feels that his life and his love have been wasted, but if Daniel can be happy then it will all balance out. At the same time, Daniel is consumed with solving the mystery of Julian’s life and can’t really move forward with his own until he has done that.


About halfway through the book I thought maybe I had overestimated my love for it. What if it wasn’t as good as I remembered? What if it didn’t live up to my expectations? Luckily any doubts that I completely love it were dispelled when I reached the end. It’s just as brilliant as I remembered and remains one of my favorites. It’s not just an enthralling story or the captivating characters. Those are both great things, but the main thing I love is the writing. Zafon has a masterful way of turning everything to poetry. He takes my breath away with his descriptions and his love of reading emanates from every page.

BOTTOM LINE: Read it, just read it. If you love gothic mysteries (like Rebecca) or wonderful characters or good writing, there’s something for everyone and you should read this book! 

“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.”

“Presents are made for the pleasure of who gives them, not for the merits of who receives them.”

“I had never known the pleasure of reading, exploring the recesses if the soul, letting myself be carried away by imagination, beauty and the mystery of fiction and language.”

“Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later – no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget – we will return.”

“Making money isn’t hard in itself; what’s hard is to earn it doing something worth devoting one’s life to.”

“War has no memory, and nobody has the courage to understand them until there are no voices left to tell what happened.”

p.s. Anyone curious about Zafon’s work should definitely start here. If you read this one and love it, I’d recommend reading The Angel’s Game next. It’s loosely connected to this book, but takes place a couple decades earlier in Barcelona. Also, he has a new book, The Prisoner of Heaven, coming out in July! I can’t wait.

I love this book so much I'm giving away a copy.

To enter, just tell me one of your all-time favorite books in the comments and leave your email address. I'll pick a winner by the end of the week and I'll email that person and update this post with the winner's name. Then I'll mail them the book, sorry US mailing addresses only this time.

Reading the States: Massachusetts

Friday, June 1, 2012


- Mystic River* by Dennis Lehane
- Little Women* by Louisa May Alcott
- The Bostonians by Henry James
- The Scarlet Letter* by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman
- The Late George Apley by John Phillips Marquand
- The Namesake* by Jhumpa Lahiri
- On Beauty* by Zadie Smith
- The Penderwicks* by Jeanne Birdsall
- The Bell Jar* by Sylvia Plath
- Run* by Ann Patchett
- The Heretic's Daughter* by Kathleen Kent
- The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
- Ethan Frome* by Edith Wharton
- The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant
- Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund
- Faith by Jennifer Haigh
- The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever

- Walden* by Henry David Thoreau
- The Perfect Storm* by Sebastian Junger
- Land's End* by Michael Cunningham
- Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick
- A Death in Belmont* by Sebastian Junger
- Running with Scissors* by Augusten Burroughs
- The Wordy Shipmates* by Sarah Vowell
- Hometown by Tracy Kidder
- Upstream by Mary Oliver

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:
- Henry David Thoreau
- Dennis Lehane

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Louisa May Alcott
- John Updike
- Emily Dickinson
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Jane Yolen
- Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel)
- Erin Morgenstern
- Tom Perrotta
- John F. Kennedy
- e.e. cummings
- Alice Hoffman

Photo by moi.