Back to the Classics 2012 - Completed!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Woo hoo, I finished the Back to the Classics Challenge! I love this one because it gives me a chance to discover new classics in a ton of categories. It's hosted by Sarah Reads Too Much each year and I hope she does it again next year!

Here's my list and links to my reviews:

1) Any 19th Century Classic: Moby Dick and Bleak House

2) Any 20th Century Classic: Cold Comfort Farm (1935)

3) Reread a classic of your choice: Sense and Sensibility

4) A Classic Play: A Streetcar Named Desire

5) Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction: The Sign of Four and The Stand

6) Classic Romance: My Antonia

7) Read a Classic that has been translated from its original language to your language: The Count of Monte Cristo

8) Classic Award Winner - The Yearling (won the Pulitzer in 1939)

9) Read a Classic set in a Country that you will not visit during your lifetime: Villette (set in the fictional city of Villette)

Reading the States: Pennsylvania

Friday, September 28, 2012



- Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult
- Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh
- Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara
- Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
- The Bread Sister of Sinking Creek by Robin Moore
- In Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden by Kathleen Cambor
- American Rust by Philipp Meyer
- Straight Man* by Richard Russo
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower* by Stephen Chbosky
- The Philadelphian by Richard Powell
- The Lovely Bones* by Alice Sebold
- Rabbit, Run by John Updike

- The Killer Angels* by Michael Shaara
- Pennsylvania Curiosities by Clark DeLeon
- An American Childhood by Annie Dillard
- The Philadelphia Negro by W.E.B. Du Bois 
- The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:
- John Updike
- August Wilson (Pittsburgh cycle plays)
- John O'Hara
- Jane Haddam
- Michael Chabon

Authors Who Lived Here:

- Wallace Stevens
- Lois Lowry
- Jerry Spinelli
- Thomas Buchanan Read
- Dean Koontz

Great Bookstores:
Caliban Books 

Photo by moi. 


Thursday, September 27, 2012

by Sarah Waters

It’s 1874 and Margaret Prior is a spinster at only 29. She’s trapped in an oppressive life with her mother and sees no escape. She’s grieving the loss of her father and the end of a recent romance. She decides to begin visiting Millbank Prison as a “Lady Friend” giving comfort to the female prisons there. She forms a particular attachment with the prisoner Selina Dawes, a spiritualist jailed when she hosts a séance that ends badly.
This one started out pretty slow for me. Fingersmith and The Little Stranger were both more enthralling at the start, but I hung in there and the pay off was worth it. The beauty of Waters’ writing is the way it sneaks up on you and completely envelops you. Just when you think you have a pretty good idea how things are going to unfold, you get blindsided, but in a good way! I actually thought I knew exactly how it was going to end and I was a bit disappointed with what I thought was coming. Luckily for me I was completely wrong. 

Calling this a mystery or ghost story would be ignoring the depth of the book. It is a gothic tale, but it also covers so many different topics: the vast divides in the Victorian class system, depression, sexuality, the nineteenth century obsession with spiritualism and so much more! While crafting this story, Waters lulls you into a false sense of security. You focus on the obvious things, the horrific scenes from the jail, Margaret’s struggle with her feelings for others, all of which are fascinating. But the whole time you’re looking right, a complex tale is being built off to your left and result is intense. 

BOTTOM LINE: Waters has an incredible gift for crafting stories. Even if the story starts out slow, the end makes it all worthwhile. If you’re a fan of gothic stories this one is a safe bet. 

I read this as part of the R.I.P. Challenge.  
A few more excellent reviews:

Wordless Wednesday: Japanese Garden

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Japanese Garden in San Francisco 

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Series I Haven't Finished

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for the Top Ten Series I Haven't Finished (because either you didn't like them, you just have procrastinated, etc.) The top 5 are ones I don’t plan on finishing because for one reason or another the series didn’t hook me enough to want to continue. The last 5 are series that I definitely plan on finishing, I just haven’t gotten to all of the books yet.

Series I Won’t Finish:
1) The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini

2) Gregory Maguire’s Wicked Years series

3) Outlander

4) The Maze Runner

5) The Left Behind series

Series I Plan on Finishing:
6) Howl’s Moving Castle series

7) Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle

8) Mary Stewart’s Merlin Series

9) The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Series

10) Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Mystery Series

I’ve made a big effort to finish quite a few series in the past year for this challenge, including the Lemony Snicket series, Anne of Green Gables series, C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, The Dark is Rising series and the Wolves of Mercy Falls series.

Image from here.

The Count of Monte Cristo

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Count of Monte Cristo
by Alexandre Dumas

This was one of the most intense, intricate plots I have ever encountered in the literary world. It is nothing less than spectacular and it is well worth the time commitment it takes to read it.*

Most people know the basic premise of The Count of Monte Cristo. Edmond Dantes, a sailor who is beloved by his father and fiancé and all the men who work with him, is betrayed by a few jealous men and unjustly sent to prison. What follows is an incredible story of hope, survival and above all, revenge. That’s about all I can say without getting into spoiler territory.

“The unhappy young man was no longer called Edmond Dantes – he was now number 34.”


Edmund’s time in jail is so beautifully written. I felt his despair in every bone of my body. The sheer horror of what happened to him chilled my blood. Dantes was jailed for 6 years, considered mad and completely isolated before he heard the voice of someone other than his jailer. Just for one moment try to understand the absolute torture of that kind of solitude. The hope that he got from the mere thought of someone in the cell near him stopped him from committing suicide.  

“Seventeen months captivity to a sailor accustomed to the boundless ocean, is a worse punishment than human crime ever merited.”

He spends years wasting away and when he finally meets a fellow inmate; their connection is so deep and profound that it truly renews his spirit and gives him a reason to live. He spends years learning from Abbé Faria only to lose him after he becomes his second father. He manages to control his grief and think on his feet and after 14 years in jail Edmund is able to escape.

Instead of immediately racing to the island to claim the treasure Abbé Faria told him about, he spends time working on a ship. He gains the respect and love of those he works with and bides his time. When he finally gets his fortune he proves that once again he’s in no hurry. Throughout the whole book Dantes’ patience is mind-boggling.  He does his homework, learning all the history that unfolded during his 14 years in prison. He then focuses on rewarding those who were loyal to him. Although his father died of starvation and his fiancée married another man, there are still a few people who he wants to anonymously thank.

Dantes old boss Morrel is one of my favorite characters in the book. He is such a good man. He understands the true meaning of loyalty and Dantes remembers him and spends much of his time out of prison repaying that debt. Morrel fought hard to get him released from prison and when all his attempts fail he tries to care for Dantes’ father. He not only paid the funeral expenses when Dantes’ father dies, he did it with the full knowledge that Dantes was considered a Bonapartist and he would be judged harshly for it. In turn Dantes saves Morrel and his entire family in their moment of need. Just when Morrel is in the direst of situations, Dante swoops in and saves them, but he keeps his identity a secret.

“Be happy, noble heart, be blessed for all the good thou hast done and wilt do hereafter, and let my gratitude remain in obscurity like your good deeds.”

When he began his schemes for revenge things got a bit confusing. It was the one part of the novel that was a bit of a struggle for me. He takes on multiple aliases and secret identities, but at first we don’t know the new character is still Dantes. We’re also introduced to many new characters with little fan fare and it was hard to figure out who was who for awhile, but if you hang in there it all makes sense pretty quickly.

I can’t even explain to you how satisfying it is when Dantes starts revealing his true plan and we see his long-awaited revenge finally come to fruition. He slowly inserts himself into the lives of his betrayers, earning their trust as an unknown stranger. The cyclical nature of the book is delightful. For each character there is a fitting end and it’s so satisfying! Both those who are good and evil get their just desserts.

I loved how Mercedes and Albert found out the truth about Dantes situation and how the rest of their story concluded. The scene between Mercedes and Edmond just took my breath away. After his time in prison he had become so hard and calloused, yet with only a few words she still had the power to make him melt. Some corner of his heart never stopped loving her and the same was true for her. Their love story was a tragic one, but there was beauty in it too.

Dantes calculated the perfect revenge for each of his betrayers. Fernand stole his love and the family he would have hard, so his punishment was the loss of his family. Danglars’ motivation for betrayal was greed and jealousy and so he lost his entire fortune and was forced to learn what hunger truly was like. He was the worst of the villains, goading the others into their acts of treachery, and his fate was equal to his crime. Villefort acted out of a loyalty to his father, but also out of a desire to protect his own reputation and future. You could almost understand it if it was only out of love for his father, but in the end it was really a selfish decision. So it was only fitting that Villefort's doom come from within the household he tried to protect. He lost his family and the respect of his entire community.

In the midst of this tale of revenge there are a few beautiful stories of love and redemption as well. Maximilien Morrel’s love of Valentine de Villefort, Valentine’s devotion to her disabled grandfather and Haidée’s love of Dante are all powerful pictures of devotion in their own ways. It’s incredible that in addition to creating such a thrilling adventure story, Dumas also gave the book wonderful characters with depth that will stay with readers forever.  


BOTTOM LINE: Read it! It’s a long haul, but unlike some long novels, the majority of the book flies by and it keeps you interested throughout. Many older classics that take time to get into and adjust to the language, but this one starts off at a run and doesn't let go. Besides one small section in the middle that dragged for me, I couldn't put it down. Curl up with this brick of a book and you won’t be sorry.

“In politics, my dear fellow, you know, as well as I do, there are no men, but ideas – no feelings, but interests; in politics we do not kill a man, we only remove an obstacle, that is all.”

“There are, indeed, some things which appear so impossible that the mind does not dwell on them for an instant.”

“The overflow of my brain would probably, in a state of freedom, have evaporated in a thousand follies; misfortune is needed to bring to light the treasures of the human intellect. Compression is needed to explode gunpowder.”

“There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die, Morrel, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of living.”

Check out Fanda’s post here to learn a bit more about Dumas.

*One thing I would HIGHLY recommend is confirming that you have an unabridged copy of the book before you begin. I had an 800 page copy and assumed it was the full thing, and then my friend, who had just finished the same edition, realized it was an abridged copy. She decided to reread an unabridged copy of the book and she told me dozens of important scenes were cut to “simplify” the story. If you read the abridged version you’ll be missing out on some of the most interesting twists. The complete book should be about 1,250 pages.  

**I found this flow chart of the relationships in the book really helpful. But make sure you don’t use it until you’re near the end, because it definitely includes some major spoilers. 

Reading the States: Oregon

Friday, September 21, 2012



- If I Stay* by Gayle Forman
- Honey in the Horn by Harold Lenoir Davis
- The Jump-Off Creek by Molly Gloss
- Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey
- No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
- The River Why* by David James Duncan
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest* by Ken Kesey
- Geek Love by Katherine Dunn 
- Wildwood by Colin Meloy
- Piecing Me Together* by Renee Watson
- The Ramona Collection* by Beverly Cleary

- Blue Like Jazz* by Donald Miller
- The Oregon Trail: An American Saga, by David Dary
- Blue Moon Over Thurman Street* by Ursula K. LeGuin
- The Good Rain by Timothy Egan
- A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
- Strange Piece of Paradise by Terri Jentz
- Stubborn Twig by Lauren Kessler
- Journals of Lewis and Clark by John Bakeless
- The Oregon Desert by E. R. Jackman
- Living Among Headstones by Shannon Applegate
- Astoria by Washington Irving
- Portland Confidential by Phil Stanford
- Hole in the Sky by William Kittredge 
- Fugitives and Refugees by Chuck Palahniuk

Authors Known for Writing about the State:  
- Blake Nelson

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Abigail Scott Duniway
- Jean M. Auel
- Patricia A. McKillip
- Chuck Palahniuk
- Beverly Cleary

Great Bookstores:
Winter River Books
Sunflower Books

*Books I've Read
Photo by moi

R.I.P. Challenge and The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I participated in Carl's R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, (R.I.P.) Challenge for the first time last year and I loved it! Here's more about it in his own words...

The purpose of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII is to enjoy books and movies/television that could be classified (by you) as: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, Supernatural, etc.

I am absolutely joining in the fun again this year, I'm just a bit late to the game because of our recent road trip. I'm joining at the Peril the First level, meaning I'll read four books that qualify. The challenge runs until Oct. 31st.

I'm planning on reading the following books:  

- The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (completed this week and reviewed below)
- In the Woods by Tana French
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (a re-read as part of the RIP Group Read) 
- Affinity by Sarah Waters

I might add The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and The Final Problem by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to that list if I have time. I hope you'll join in if you feel like it!

Images and more info can be found here.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles
by Agatha Christie

When I started this one I didn’t realize it was Christie’s first published novel and it introduced the world to Hercule Poirot, the now infamous detective. After reading it I can easily understand why Christie became such a hugely successful author.

A murder takes place in an old English manor and suspicion falls on all of the family members of the deceased who live there. The book even provides a “Clue style” map of the home showing its layout and all entrances and exits. There are a few red herrings and fun twists, all-in-all it’s a satisfying mystery.

The story is told through the point-of-view of Lieutenant Hastings. He is the Watson to Poirot’s Sherlock. Their relationship is a constant source of entertainment throughout the novel. Hastings is a typically Englishman, all manners and cups of tea, while Poirot is at times exuberant or flustered, but always carefully calculating and processing all he sees. I thought it was hilarious that Hastings’ kept thinking Poirot was getting a little old and loosing his touch when really Hastings just hadn’t caught up with his thought process yet.

BOTTOM LINE: A classic Christie mystery, not my all-time favorite, but a fun introduction to her large body of work.

“If the fact will not fit the theory, let the theory go.”

p.s. I couldn’t help but think of the Doctor Who episode with Agatha Christie from season 4 while I was reading this one. I love Doctor Who.

Wordless Wednesday: Road Trip Photos!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I suppose this isn't a very Wordless post, but here are the promised vacation photos! The Huz and I drove from Indiana to Montana and we had so much fun! Here's a few photos from our road trip. 

Above is the mountain view after a hike in Glacier National Park in Montana. I can't even describe the intense blue color of the mountains as the sun was setting. Cameras just can't capture that. Then there's us white water rafting down Flathead River (that's me and the Huz in the front), and me enjoying St. Mary's Lake.

The first place we stopped was St. Paul, Minnesota. Above is the St. Paul Cathedral (incredible!), me at F. Scott Fitzgerald's birthplace and the Fitzgerald Theatre where A Prairie Home Companion is filmed. We also stopped by Fort Snelling, attended a tour/tasting at a local micro brewery, went to Garrison Keillor's bookstore (and a few others) and ate our way through some great local restaurants!

ABOVE: The Huz looking our over the Mississippi River while hiking in the Effigy Mounds in Iowa, the Huz and I at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and me enjoying the gorgeous view of the Painted Canyons in Medora, ND. 

The first photo above is from the Many Galcier area in Montana. On the way out to Montana we couldn't resist staying the night in Fargo, ND. We were surprised (and thrilled) to discover that in the last year the town has gotten its hands on the actual wood chipper from the movie Fargo and they let you pop on a hunter's cap and take your picture with it. I couldn't resist. The last photo is of a replica Norwegian church near Fargo. 

Anyway, we had so much fun. Even driving the endless miles through states like North Dakota were a wonderful reminder of just how beautiful and diverse the USA really is. I never get tired of seeing new places throughout the world, but there's something wonderful about discovering new and beautiful spots in your homeland.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by me or the Huz.

Top Ten Bookish People You Want To Meet

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for the top ten bookish people you want to meet (Authors, Bloggers, etc.). There’s the normal list that’s a mile long of deceased authors I would love to meet, but I’m going to skip those this time and only limit myself to living bookish people. 

1) My fellow co-moderators at The Classics Club. There are so many book bloggers I would love to meet in person, but it would be so great to sit down in person with Allie, Sarah, Jillian, Adam and Heather. We are constantly chatting behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly on the blog, but we’ve never met in person.

2) Nancy Pearl
– I would love to discuss books with this author of Book Lust.

3) Ira Glass – I think he would be fascinating!

4) Amy Sherman-Palladino – The creator of Gilmore Girls is an avid reader and her taste in books is impeccable. I want to pick her brain!

5) Stephen Moffat – He writes both Doctor Who and the BBC’s Sherlock. You just know he would be so cool to talk to!

6) Marjane Satrapi – The author of the Persepolis graphic novels has led an incredible life and she seems to have a sharp sense of humor. I’d love to talk to her!

7) Steve Martin – Actor, author, musician, he is an absolute Renaissance man. Oh yeah, he’s also hilarious.

8) Neil Gaiman – From his books to his love of Doctor Who, Gaiman is awesome. His blog also makes it clear that he would be so much fun to hang out with.

9) J.K. Rowling – No explanation needed.

10) Markus Zusak – I just want to meet him. I want to meet the man behind The Book Thief.
**I’ve been lucky enough to meet quite a few of my favorite authors (Jhumpa Lahiri, Margaret Atwood, David Sedaris, Lois Lowry, John Green and Nicole Krauss) in the past couple years, otherwise they would have made the list too!

Images from here, here, here and here.

Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride and a Giveaway

Monday, September 17, 2012

Last week I got to see Margaret Atwood speak as part of the Butler University Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series. Yes, it was just as incredible as you all think it was. She is so witty and hilarious, while at the same time offering sharp, thoughtful insights about the world around her. She has a quiet droll tone and so her quick barbs surprise you at first.

She gave a three-part speech about the future, the difficulties in writing about it and her own experience writing about it. It was fascinating! I don’t think I can quite express how much I enjoyed the talk and getting to meet her in person. Atwood was all that I thought she might be and more. I wish I could just sit and talk with her over a cup of coffee for hours.

According to Atwood:

The outfits the handmaids wear were inspired by the outfit worn by the girl on the Old Dutch Cleaner bottles. Who knew?

She once saw a performance of Macbeth where his head was “played” by a cabbage in the death scene and it bounced about off the stage because they’d gotten one that was too fresh.

“There are writers and there are readers and then there is everything in between. Let’s call it two cans and a string.”

“On the web, that modern day equivalent of consulting an oracle, because you never know if what you find will be true or not...”

After giving her talk Atwood stayed and signed copies of her books. I was lucky enough to get my well-worn copy of The Handmaid’s Tale signed for myself, but I also took a copy of The Robber Bride, (see review below) and got it signed for one of you! I had Atwood make it out to “An Avid Reader” and I’m excited to now open the giveaway for the signed copy!

**UPDATE: Jenners is the winner of the signed copy. If I don't hear back from her within 24 hours I'll pick another winner. Thanks!**

To enter the giveaway please do the following:
1)      Tell me why you love Atwood’s work or why you’re excited to check it out.
2)       Leave your email in the comment as well so I can contact you.
3)      Tweet about the giveaway for an extra entry (leave a comment saying you tweeted).
The contest will be open until September 26, 2012. Good luck!

The Robber Bride
by Margaret Atwood

I have been thrilled to find that each of my reading experiences with Atwood’s books has been completely unique and this one is no exception. Reading each of her novels has been fulfilling in a different way. The Handmaid’s Tale is a big picture look at a possible dystopian future and it makes you think about the role women currently play in society and how that role has changed throughout history. The Blind Assassin is an intricately built plot combining a sci-fi story and a mystery that comes full circle in an incredibly rewarding way. The Penelopiad takes a well-known Greek saga and tells it from a new perspective. Oryx and Crake is a post-apocalyptic break down of society. Whatever people say about Atwood, they can never call her boring.

For me, The Robber Bride holds perfectly true to my past experiences with Atwood. I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. I never know where her books are going to take me and this one surprised me with its simplicity. On the surface it has the most basic of plots: the thin line between jealousy and friendship in the relationships between women. The premise: a beautiful woman named Zenia has destroyed the lives of three women and now she’s returned to wreak havoc again.

The plot revolving around Zenia is technically the thread that holds the story together, but to me it was the least interesting part of the book. Atwood does an excellent job making us care for those characters before we become frustrated with them, but I still wasn’t a big fan of the manipulative evil woman vs. the pathetic and gullible woman premise.

The reason I enjoyed this one was not because of the actual plot. I thought the scenes with Zenia were the weakest aspect of the story. Instead, I loved the character development of the three main women; Charis, Tony and Roz. They are so different, yet men seem to be their one unifying weakness. Atwood presents the characters to us and just when we think we know them, she pulls back layer after layer in their history and we being to understand just how little we knew from our first impressions. None of them are simple or can be boiled down to a generic stereotype. They are all unique and complex and it’s a testament to Atwood’s skill as a writer that she can make us care so deeply about characters, while at the same time being frustrated with their choices.

BOTTOM LINE: Atwood is just brilliant. This isn’t my favorite of her books (it’s The Handmaid’s Tale if you’re curious), but it’s still a solid one and the characters will stay with me for a long time.

Photos by moi.

Reading the States: Oklahoma

Friday, September 14, 2012


- Where the Heart Is* by Billie Letts
- August: Osage County* by Tracy Letts
- Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
- The Grapes of Wrath* by John Steinbeck
- That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx
- True Grit* by Charles Portis
- The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
- Paradise by Toni Morrison
- The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

- The Worst Hard Time* by Timothy Egan
Killers of the Flower Moon* by David Grann
- The Innocent Man* by John Grisham
- Tulsa by Larry Clark 
- The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Hillary Jordan
- S. E. Hinton
- Ally Carter
- Ralph Ellison
- Chuck Norris
- N. Scott Momaday
- Michael Wallis

Great Bookstores:
Gardners Books
Full Circle Book Store 
*Books I've Read

 Photo by moi

Beautiful Boy

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Beautiful Boy
A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction
by David Sheff

This nonfiction book tells the story of a meth addict from his father’s point-of-view. The father was a journalist long before his son became a tweaker, so he already had the writing skills and was able to put his raw emotions into words. It’s a heartbreaking and honest look at how someone can quickly become lost to the world of addiction. His son, Nic, was smart and kind, but on drugs that person just disappeared.

One thing I think it’s important to note is that I’m not a parent. I think that any parent who reads this will have a much harder time with the material. Imagining your own child in this situation is absolutely terrifying and I don’t think I can truly grasp that without kids of my own.

One of the aspects that was the hardest to read about was the effect Nic’s drug use had on his younger siblings. At one point his kid brother (I think he was about 8 years old at the time) realizes Nic has stolen everything out of his piggy bank. The little boy is so hurt and confused by the action.

There are parts of the book that feel a repetitive, but I think that’s the nature of the disease. Addiction is cyclical, rehab, relapse, rehab, relapse, etc. and it’s hard to avoid the book taking on that same pattern. But even with that it was a compulsive read, one that I couldn’t put down. He can’t help but feel their pain. You hope that this time the rehab has worked, but you can’t help but fear a relapse is just around the corner.

I’m curious about the book “Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines” by Nic Sheff. It’s written by the son, the addict that the book revolves around. I think it would be fascinating to see the whole situation from his point of view after reading this.

BOTTOM LINE: The book is wonderfully written, but it will break your heart. Addiction is such a destructive disease and Sheff paints an intimate picture of what they went through.

This one was narrated by Anthony Heald and it was excellent. I think I might have been frustrated by the repetition more if I hadn’t listened to it, but the audio was so well done that it worked for me.

“People with cancer or emphysema or heart disease don’t lie or steal. Someone dying of those diseases would do anything in their power to live, but here’s the rub of addiction. By its nature people afflicted are unable to do what from the outside appears to be a simple solution, don’t drink, don’t do drugs. In exchange for that one small sacrifice you will be given a gift that other terminally ill people would give anything for, life. But, a symptom of this disease is using.”

Image from here.

Wordless Wednesday: Magdalen College

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Magdalen College where C.S. Lewis taught in Oxford, England

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Books That Make You Think (About the World)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for the Top Ten Books That Make You Think (About the World, People, Life, etc.). These are a few that made me think more about the world around me and the world we are creating for future generations. Some because they discuss prejudice or war, others because they look at what humans have accomplished through survival, education or exploration. I didn’t love every book equally, but they all made me think. All 10 books are ones that I would recommend if you want something that will make you explore a country or idea that might be a bit foreign to you.

1) Zeitoun

2) Long Way Round: Chasing Shadows Across the World (Ewan McGregor)

3) Behind the Beautiful Forevers

4) Unbroken

5) The Submission

6) War (Sebastian Junger)

7) Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

8) A Mighty Heart: The Inside Story of the Al Qaeda Kidnapping of Danny Pearl

9) Reading Lolita in Tehran

10) The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

Image from here.


Monday, September 10, 2012

by Joanne Harris

This little gem has been around for awhile, so I’m glad I finally picked it up. Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk have spent their lives on the move. They flit from town to town, never staying in one place for too long. When they stumble upon a festival in a small French town and decide to stay for awhile. They open a Chocolate shop in the middle of Lent season, which makes them the focus of the local priest’s ire.

The novel is so charming that you can’t help being swept away by the magic in it. There are some amazing characters each of whom made the book worth reading. There’s Roux, the local gypsy who is hardworking, but can’t let go of his pride. Lovely Josephine Muscat whose spirit has been broken by her cruel husband; her transformation is one of the most beautiful aspects of the story. The strange, cruel priest Reynaud makes an interesting villain for the story. A sweet elderly man Guillaume and his dog Charly are regulars at the shop. Then there is my favorite, Armande, a strong-willed woman with a sharp wit and a soft spot for her grandson Luc.

In addition to wonderful characters there’s some meat to the story. It touches on the relationship between religion and community. It looks at spousal abuse, care for the elderly, prejudice between different groups of people and more. It held just the right balance of these elements and great storytelling for me.

BOTTOM LINE: I really loved the story and I felt so connected to the characters. Plus the descriptions of the small provincial village and the chocolate treats were mouth-watering. It made me want to hop on a plane to France and visit a chocolate shop. I liked the pieces from the priest’s POV the least, but overall I was a big fan.

p.s. This is a rare case where I think I enjoyed the movie as much as the book. I actually saw it first, but even when I compared the two I still think it holds up well.

“Politics, music, chess, religion, rugby, poetry – they swoop and segue from one topic to another like gourmets at a buffet who cannot bear to leave any dish untasted.”

“Josephine looked doubtful, ‘I don’t see how anyone can celebrate dying,’ she said at last.
‘You don’t,’ I told her. ‘Life is what you celebrate. All of it. Even it’s end.’”

“…she put her face against the counter, and cried silently. I let her. I didn’t say it would be okay. I made no effort to comfort her. Sometimes it’s better to leave things as they are, to let grief take its course.”

Reading the States: Ohio

Friday, September 7, 2012

State: OHIO

- Beloved* by Toni Morrison
- Wineburg, Ohio* by SherwoodAnderson
- And the Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer
- Crooked River Burning by Mark Winegardner
- Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan
- Walk Two Moons* by Sharon Creech
- Middle C by William H. Gass
- Eligible* by Curtis Sittenfeld 
- Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

- The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio* by Terry Ryan
- The Frontiersmen by Allan W. Eckert
- What Moves at the Margins by Toni Morrison 

Authors Known for Writing about the State:  
- Conrad Richter
- Louis Bromfield
- Les Roberts

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Toni Morrison
- James Thurber
- William H. Gass
- Zane Grey
- Sharon Creech
- John Scalzi
- Joan Slonczewski
- Bonnie Pryor
- Margaret Haddix
- Natalie Babbit
- R.L. Stine
- James Thurber
- Chris Crutcher

Great Bookstores:
Blue Manatee Children's Bookstore
Visible Voices Books 
Beehive Books

*Books I've Read
Photo by moi

Where in the World Are You Reading: Waiting

Thursday, September 6, 2012

(Waiting for my hair cut appointment)

This month's Where in the World Are You Reading is "Waiting Reading" hosted by Lisa.

I’m one of those people who always has a book (or two) with me. I keep an extra in my car, I have a kindle app on my iPhone, I keep books by my bed, etc. I always have a back up of two, just in case I run out of reading material. 

So “Waiting Reading” is something I’m very familiar with. I read while waiting to get my hair cut, in the waiting room at the doctor or dentist, on my lunch break at work, at a restaurant while waiting to meet a friend. There are not many places I won’t read.
(Waiting for Shakespeare in the Park to start and for an oil change)

I’ve found that one of the best ways to read while you’re waiting is with audiobooks. I put a book on my phone and read while I’m in line at the grocery store, waiting for the ATM at the bank, and while I’m stuck in traffic at rush hour. 

The picture on the left is from our trip to Montana last week. I was reading on a beach in Glacier Park while waiting on the Huz to finish fishing. The picture on the right is waiting in downtown Indy for my tour of the city's old catacombs to start.

If you find that you never have time to read, you might be surprised by how many pages you can fit into a few 10 minute waiting periods each day!

Photos by moi. 

Wordless Wednesday: Alabama Gulf Coast

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Alabama Gulf Coast

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Pudd'nhead Wilson

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pudd'nhead Wilson 
by Mark Twain

An odd mix of Twain’s work, Pudd’nhead Wilson combines the character swapping from The Prince and the Pauper and the race drama in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It was not at all what I was expecting. The title character, Pudd’head, is actually the cleverest person in the book.

Roxy is a slave, but is only 1/16th African. Her son is only 1/32nd African and in a moment of desperation she switches her son with her master’s child. The boys are almost identical and after the switch they are raised in their new lives with no knowledge of the past. Years later things become even more complicated as Roxy tried to reconcile the man her real son has become.

The other major theme of the book is a very early look at the use of forensic evidence in detective work. It feels like common knowledge to us now, but at the time fingerprinting was a completely foreign concept. Throw in some twins from another country, a gambling problem and some bad choices and you’ve got a novel.

It’s a strange book, one that doesn’t quite feel like Twain. It has some of his trademarks elements; a sharp wit, commentary on race relations, etc., but it’s unique in some other respects. It feels disjointed and a bit thrown together. I read a bit from Twain after I finished the book and he talked about how he set out to write one book and found himself in the midst of another. I think the plot reflects that and in the end it’s not one of his best.

BOTTOM LINE: If you really like Twain, definitely check it out. If you’re new to his work I would check out Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer before this one.

“When angry count four, when very angry swear.”

Need a light? ... for your book?

Monday, September 3, 2012

This is the strangest thing. It's books, shrunk to a tiny size and packaged as a pack of cigarettes. You can find more about there here. I can't imagine a situation when I would need this. Maybe if you had a friend who was trying to quick smoking and also loved to read. I think if I had one of them I would keep it in my car for emergency situations when I find myself without a book.

Photos from TENOVERSIX