Reading the States: Washington

Friday, November 30, 2012


- The Last Town on Earth* by Thomas Mullen
- Twilight* by Stephenie Meyer
- Snow Falling on Cedars* by David Guterson
- Citizen Vince by Jess Walter
- The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
- Annie Jordan: A Novel of Seattle by Mary Brinker Post
- Bread Alone by Judith R. Hendricks
- No-No Boy by John Okada
- The Art of Racing in the Rain* by Garth Stein
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie 

- Atomic Farmgirl by Teri Hein
- The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald
- Blazing The Way by Emily Inez Denny
- The Northwest Coast by James Gilchrist Swan
- The Good Rain by Timothy Egan
- Where Bigfoot Walks by Robert Michael Pyle
- The Stranger Beside Me* by Ann Rule
- Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen
- Skid Road by Murray Cromwell Morgan
- Bretz's Flood by John Soennichsen
- Truth Like the Sun by Jim Lynch 
- The Boys in the Boat* by Daniel James Brown 

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:
- Jo Dereske
- Lucile Saunders McDonald

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Chris Crutcher
- Tom Robbins
- Pete Dexter
- Steve Martini
- Glenn Beck
- Raymond Carver

Great Bookstores:

*Books I've Read

Photo by moi.

Catching Fire

Thursday, November 29, 2012

**I want to discuss the book, not really review it, so there are SPOILERS**

Catching Fire
by Suzanne Collins

Katniss Everdeen returns to District 12 after winning the Hunger Games with Peeta Mellark. They are quickly learning that despite their elevated status, not too much has changed. The people in the district are barely scrapping by and they never have enough food. Katniss and her friend Gale are trying to figure out their feelings for each other. During the games Katniss and Peeta used the story of a romance to try and keep themselves alive.

I first read this in 2009 and I loved it. As I re-read it this month I noticed more details and themes that resonant through the whole trilogy and it made my love of the book deepen. The reason this is my favorite of the books is because of the political plot that becomes much bigger in this installment. The first book is mainly about the games themselves and just trying to survive. In this book we learn so much more about the history of the uprising and the power the Capitol holds over all of Panem.

From the beginning when Katniss walks in on President Snow in her home, we realize that the government views her as a threat. Snow’s quiet manipulation is so disturbing. He threatens her, but in the most casual of ways and she’s knows he’s deadly serious. The games are celebrating the Quarter Quell (75 years) this year and they’ve decided all of the tributes will be drawn from the existing pool of winners. Because of this Katniss and Peeta must return to fight in the arena once more.

In this book we learn that the mockingjay pin that Katniss’ friend Madge gives her once belonged to Madge’s Aunt Maysilee who was killed in the games the same year that Haymitch won. The weight and power of the pin was so magnified once we realize the fate of its former owner. We also learn that Katniss’ mother was close friends with Maysilee and so when her daughter was called as a tribute she’d already watched one person she loved be sent off to the games, never to return.

There were a few things I’d forgotten since I first read the book. Katniss works hard to mend her relationship with her mother. After surviving the Hunger Games she realizes that sometimes grief cuts so deep that you can’t function. She’s able to forgive her mother for the depression she fell into after her father’s death. Katniss, along with the other winning tributes, struggles with PTSD after surviving the war-like conditions of the games.

There one moment where we learn that the Head Peacekeeper in the village has been paying young girls for sex. Instead of judging those girls, Katniss understands that they were doing what they could to put food on the table for their families. She knew that she would have been one of them if she’d been unable to hunt. She has such a straight-forward and realistic way of looking at the world. It’s a hard attitude to take, but the life she leads has forced her to become like this. There are only a few moments when we really see her loose control over her emotions, once when she finds out she’s returning to the games and once at the end when she learns Peeta wasn’t rescued with her.

I’d also forgotten how much Katniss dreaded the thought of marrying Peeta. It really had nothing to do with Peeta; she hated the thought of being forced into a marriage by the Capitol. She wanted the freedom to choose her own life. Her fear of marriage and having children was connected to the future she knew was in store for them. She didn’t want to watch her own children head off to the Hunger Games.

I’m so impressed with the handling of minor characters in this series. Ever person plays an important part. The former peacekeeper (Darius) who stands up for Gale when he is being whipped is later seen in the Capitol, he’s been turned into a voiceless Avox as a punishment. His presence is a clear message from President Snow to Katniss and she is heartbroken to see his fate. We meet a few new characters in this book, including Beetee, Wiress, Mags, Finnick, Johanna and Plutarch Heavensbee. Each one adds another layer to the plot and plays an important role in the story.

I always thought the prep team was one of the most interesting elements in the story. Katniss looks at them almost as pets; they are sweet but also completely oblivious to the gravity of the situation. They are products of their environment, but they are also willfully choosing to ignore the reality around them and focus only on the frivolous things. Cinna is from the same world, but he chooses to take a stand against it.

BOTTOM LINE: I love this series, but this remains my favorite book of the three. In Catching Fire we really see the birth of the revolution and the choice of a leader to step up and fight instead of running away. It’s a story about an oppressed people finding their voice and finding the courage to fight back and regain their freedom. 

Image from here

Wordless Wednesday: Fitzgerald Museum

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fitzgerald home and museum in Montgomery, AL

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Mini Reviews of Children’s Books: Jazz ABZ, Kenny and the Dragon and Knight’s Castle

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Jazz ABZ
An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits with Art Print (edition 2007)
by Wynton Marsalis, Paul Rogers (Illustrator)

Part children’s book, part poetry collection, this alphabetized introduction to jazz artists is a must for all parents who value artistic learning! The author and illustrator picked 26 major figures in jazz and then provided a poem and portrait of each one. The combination creates a beautiful effect, a book that flows just like jazz itself, through the history of the musical movement.  

The poetic book combines dozens of different writing styles. At the end there are biographies of each jazz artist and a page recommending albums from each performer. There’s also a section describing the various poetic styles used throughout the text (ode, haiku, calligram, sonnet, free verse, etc.) This gives kids a chance to learn about jazz and poetry at the same time. What an excellent pairing!

“A songwriter, a sonneteer, a sorcerer of sorghum sonatas, so sweetly sung.”

“My bass drum can blacken a big man’s eyes and injure a hero’s pride.”

Kenny and the Dragon
by Tony DiTerlizzi

There are dozens of books about kids making new friends and looking past outward appearances, but this one takes the cake. A bookish rabbit named Kenny meets a dragon named Grahame and the two become fast friends. Things get complicated when Kenny’s only other friend, George the local bookseller, is hired by the king to slay the dragon.

The short book is packed with great life lessons: finding nonviolent solutions to your problems, respecting your parents, talking out your problems with others, not judging people before you get to know them, etc.

The lovely illustrations and sweet story made this one an absolute delight. I particularly loved Kenny’s parents and their development. It’s been added to my permanent collection of kids’ books.

Knight’s Castle
by Edward Eager

When Roger and Ann’s father finds out he is ill, the family must travel with him to Baltimore while he receives medical treatment. Roger and Ann move in with their cousins, Jack and Eliza, and spend their days playing with a knight’s castle and toy soldiers.

Roger’s older toy soldier comes alive and with a bit of magic he sends Roger into an unknown land. The children soon all travel into the world they’ve built with their toys and they must learn to navigate the territory which holds Robin Hood and Ivanhoe. I was strongly reminded of the Narnia book, Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Eager’s series is fun because each book holds adventure and life lessons for the kids. Start with Half Magic and then keep reading!

The House at Riverton

Monday, November 26, 2012

The House at Riverton 
by Kate Morton

Morton’s novels are always fun reads for me and this one didn’t disappoint. With shades of du Maurier’s Rebecca and the BBC’s Downton Abbey, the book was a wonderful mystery. I read this as part of the read-along hosted by Words and Peace, but I couldn’t manage to slow down long enough to keep to the reading schedule. Oh well.

We meet Grace at the end of her life. She is living out her days at a retirement home when she finds out a movie is being made about a dramatic event that happened in her youth. As a teenager Grace worked as a house maid at a large manor, Riverton, in the English countryside. A young poet committed suicide at the home one night and the mystery surrounding the evening has always left people wanting to know more. Grace decides it might be time to finally reveal the truth of what happened.

Like all of Morton’s novels, this one has themes of mother/daughter relationships, long-kept secrets and the English countryside. Grace’s mother used to work at Riverton and we slowly learn bits of her history as well.

After a few years at Riverton Grace becomes a lady’s maid for the Hartford sisters, Hannah and Emmeline. Their close relationship allows Grace to give us a wide-view of the happenings in the house. As the years pass and relationships become more complicated the story reminds us that one man’s happiness is another man’s prison.

I thought the relationship between Hannah and Emmeline was one of the most fascinating elements of the story. The relationship between sisters is like no other. It tends to be fraught with both love and jealousy, creating a strange and precarious balance. Morton captured this perfectly, allowing us to understand and sympathize with both sisters throughout the novel.
I really enjoyed it. The Forgotten Garden is my favorite of her’s so far, but I have a theory that your first Morton is always your favorite. This one was the perfect book to give me a Downton Abbey fix until I can watch the third season. Curl up and read it while it's cold outside!

“‘No. Not a mystery. Just a nice safe history.’ Ah my darling. But there is no such thing.”

“…for home is a magnet that lures back even its most abstracted children.”

“It is an uncanny feeling, that rare occasion when one catches a glimpse of oneself in repose. An unguarded moment, stripped of artifice, when one forgets to fool even oneself.” 

“Reading is one of life’s great pleasures; talking about books keeps their worlds alive for longer.” (This last quote actually came form an interview with Morton at the end of my book)
You can’t find my thoughts on the beginning of the novel here.

Reading the States: Virginia

Friday, November 23, 2012


- The Known World* by Edward P. Jones
- Hour Game by David Baldacci
- Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani
- The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
- Bridge to Terabithia* by Katherine Paterson
- The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
- Meet Felicity: An American Girl* by Valerie Tripp
- Lie Down in the Darkness by William Styron
- Against the Country by Ben Metcalf

- Animal, Vegetable, Miracle* by Barbara Kingsolver
- Notes on the State of Virginia by Thomas Jefferson
- Battle of Cedar Creek by Theodore Mahr
- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
- American Slavery, American Freedom by Edmund S. Morgan

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:
- Patricia Cornwell
- Rita Mae Brown
- Thomas Jefferson

Authors Who Lived Here:
- V. C. Andrews
- Willa Cather
- David Baldacci
- Tom Wolfe

Great Bookstores:
Blue Plate Books

*Books I've Read

Photo by moi.

Wordless Wednesday: Prague Castle

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The view from the top of the castle in Prague.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

In a Sunburned Country

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

In a Sunburned Country
by Bill Bryson

I’ve been having a one-sided love affair with Australia for as long as I can remember. After years of planning and saving I still haven’t made it to the great Down Under. But until I can plan a trip there, I can console myself with Bryson’s wonderful book.

The hilarious travel writer has been a favorite author of mine for a long time now. Between his stories of growing up in Iowa (The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid), his time living in England (Notes from a Small Island) and even his books on the English language (Mother Tongue), I’ve grown to appreciate his work. A few of his have been misses for me, but I usually love his dry sense of humor and cynical view of travel. This one definitely makes it into the top three favorites list of his books for me.

He writes about everything in Australia from the Great Barrier Reef to the tiny towns in the far west. He covers the history of the Aborigines and the exile of convicts to the continent from England. I love the way he weaves all of this together, adds a big dollop of local beer drinking and meandering through small museums to create an entertaining book. He pairs good information with rye comments on the state of local hotels and supposed “attractions.”

One of my favorite bits was his description of his narrow escape from wild dogs. He told the whole thing from the point of view of the woman whose back yard he stumbles into. I couldn’t stop laughing for about 10 minutes.

Yet despite his teasing, he never looses his ability to gush about the natural beauty of an incredible place. Even when he’s joking about the names of the towns or crazy political systems his love of the place is still obvious. It’s like he’s talking about a relative, he can criticize them a bit, but you know he would defend them to someone else in a heartbeat.

BOTTOM LINE: Do you love travel memoirs or Australia? If yes, then this one is a must. I think it’s also a great introduction to Bryson’s work if you’re curious about him and want to try one of his books. A Walk in the Woods is another great one to start with.

**The audiobook is read by the author and it’s just fantastic!

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street
by Helene Hanff

When I read 84, Charing Cross Road in 2009 I was completely in love with it. Helene Hanff’s first book is a collection of letters between herself and the British bookseller, Frank Doel. For years the two wrote back and forth, never meeting in person but sharing a deep love of literature.

In this sequel Hanff finally had the opportunity to visit London for the first time. Unlike her first book, this one is written in journal form as she chronicles her time there. Her quick wit and acerbic nature make the whole thing so much fun. The nonfiction account hit a soft spot for me. I’m such an anglophile that when she describes her lifelong desire to visit London (see below) it was like I was reading my own thoughts.

“All my life I’ve wanted to see London. I used to go to English movies just to look at streets with houses like those. Staring at the screen in a dark theatre, I wanted to walk down those streets so badly it gnawed at me like hunger. Sometimes, at home in the evening, reading a casual description of London, I’d put the book down suddenly, engulfed by a wave of longing that was like homesickness. I wanted to see London the way old people want to see home before they die. I used to tell myself this was natural in a writer and booklover born to the language of Shakespeare.”

I felt the need to visit London from a young age. I just always knew that one day I would go. When I was 19 I planned my first trip to Europe, hopped on a plane by myself and met a friend in London. During that trip I visited Bath, Windsor and London, and then traveled to Ireland and explored Dublin and some coastal towns. It was absolutely everything I imagined it would be. Seeing poets corner in Westminster Abbey, Twelfth Night performed at the Globe, dinner in a pub, etc. I loved everything about it. Later I moved there for a few months to do a semester abroad and my love of London grew ten-fold.

Hanff’s experience was similar to my own (except she was a bit of a celebrity because of her first book). She was in awe of everything see saw and all she wished for was more time. She made friends along the way, pinching every penny so she could spend just one more day in her beloved city.

BOTTOM LINE: I loved it so much! If you’re an anglophile or you loved 84, Charing Cross Road don’t miss this one!

“I seem to be living in a state of deep hypnosis, every time I mail a postcard home I could use Euphoria for a return address.”

p.s. Hanff wanted to personalize every book she signed and at one point she has to sign a stack of books for a bookseller to take to his shop and she said…

“I still couldn’t bring myself just to write my name and let it go at that, it seems unfriendly. Wrote “To an unknown booklover” in every copy.”

I wish so badly that I could get a signed copy of this book!

Photo by moi.

Reading the States: Vermont

Friday, November 16, 2012



- Testimony* by Anita Shreve
- The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian
- The Secret History* by Donna Tartt
- All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn
- Crossing to Safety by Wallace Earle Stegner
- Bittersweet* by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
- Jip: His Story by Katherine Paterson
- Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez
- Where the Rivers Flow North by Howard Frank Mosher
- Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
- Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
- In One Person by John Irving
- Round Mountain by Castle Freeman
- In The Fall by Jeffrey Lent
- Witness by Karen Hesse
- Midwives by Chris Bohjalian
- Songs in Ordinary Time by Mary McGarry Morris  
- Pollyanna* by Eleanor H. Porter

-  The Farm in the Green Mountains by Alice Herdan
- A Part of Myself by Carl Zuckmayer
- Wandering Home* by Bill McKibben
- An Odd Kind of Fame by Malcolm MacMillan 

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:
- Chris Bohjalian
- Anita Shreve
- Archer Mayor
- Howard Frank Mosher
- Mary McGarry Morris

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Castle Freeman
- Annie Proulx
- Shirley Jackson
- Jamaica Kincaid
- Frank Miller

Great Bookstores:

*Books I've Read

Photo by moi. 

Mini Reviews: Language, Mindless and Woke

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Language of Flowers
by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Victoria has spent her life bouncing from one foster home to the next. When she turns 18 she is emancipated and homeless. She starts out sleeping in parks but quickly finds a job at a florist shop which allows her to spend time caring for flowers, her one interest in life.

I know a lot of people loved this one, but it reminded me so much of White Oleander, another book which blends foster care and flowers. I couldn’t help comparing the two as I was reading and White Oleander had a much bigger impact on me.

Victoria’s utter and complete detachment is so foreign to me that it felt very fake. I’m sure there are people like this in the world, but I had a hard time believing some of her actions.

My favorite part of this one, by far, was the Victorian language of flowers. It’s something I knew very little about before reading this and I thought it was fascinating. I wish there had been a greater focus on that instead of the giant (a.k.a. predictable) secret that the novel kept building towards. The ending didn’t work for me either; it was a bit too easy and cookie-cutter.

BOTTOM LINE: An average story with some interesting elements, not something that will stick with me, but I didn’t dislike it.

Mindless Eating
Why We Eat More Than We Think
by Brian Wansink

I loved this one. I’m not a fan of self-help books or diet books, but give me something where research has been done on how the human brain works and I’m sold. This particular book gives us study after study showing how and why we eat the way we do. I loved seeing all the examples of the author’s theories in action; stale popcorn at the movies, bottomless soup bowls, full dishes of Buffalo wings,

The mindless margin was a particularly helpful bit. Apparently our bodies won’t notice if we eat about 200 calories more or less, so aim for less and your body will never know! There are the obvious hints about using smaller plates, leaving the serving dishes in the kitchen to make yourself think a bit harder about that second helping, and keeping food out of your line of sight, etc. But most of their info comes across as fresh and interesting.

Helpful tips with easy real-life application. A must for anyone attempting to change their eating habits or anyone interested in seeing how our brains work.

When She Woke
by Hillary Jordan

The concept is incredibly good. What if we couldn’t escape our sins or hide them from others? What if our skin was dyed a specific color showing our crimes to the world? In theory I should have loved this dystopian re-telling of The Scarlet Letter. However, the book never quite found its footing with me.

There was no subtlety in their stark world. Either you were a crazy religious fanatic dead-set on persecuting “criminals” or you were the victim of their persecution. The main character, Hannah, starts out firmly in the religious camp and slowly finds her prejudices and belief system crumbling away as she sees the hypocritical world around her.

One of the best parts of The Scarlet Letter is the inner struggle of the father of the child (I won’t say who just in case someone out there hasn’t read that classic yet). His guilt and self-torture were so powerful. I felt like the equivalent character in this book just came across as weak. He’s married, but what he does is ok because he loves her. There's a little character growth in the novel, but it felt like too little too late.

I do think this one is well written and interesting. There were parts that were powerful and moving, but overall it fell short.

BOTTOM LINE: I wanted more from a book with so much promise. I think this would make a great book club selection. It brings up a slew of controversial issues, though I wish it would have shown a bit more diversity in its agenda.

Wordless Wednesday: Frankfurt Trees

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Crazy trees in Frankfurt, Germany 

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Housekeeping vs. the Dirt and A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Housekeeping vs. the Dirt
by Nick Hornby

Hornby’s column may have switched magazines since the collection published in The Polysyllabic Spree, but it retained its acid wit. This edition contains 14 monthly columns published in The Believer, chronicling the author’s book purchases and what he’s read.

Along the way I found a couple books I want to read, but mainly I just enjoyed his writing. I love the sections where he talks about wanting reading to be a joy, not a chore. He gives such a refreshingly honest look at reading. He reads what he wants. He knows he isn’t always reading the “best” books, but he’d rather read something he enjoys.

I think I tend to read books I think I “should” read, but I also balance that with books I want to read. I’ve also found that I often end up loving the “should read” books more than the others. I think the important thing is just to keep reading no matter what.

BOTTOM LINE: Start with The Polysyllabic Spree and enjoy Hornby’s snarky observations.

"If I felt that mood, morale, concentration levels, weather, or family history had affected my relationship with a book, I could and would say so."

"We often read books that we think we ought to read, or that we think we ought to have read, or that other people think we should read."

"One of the problem, it seems to me, is that we have got it into our heads that books should be hard work, and that unless they're hard work, they're not doing us any good."

"If reading books is to survive as a leisure activity - and there are statistics which show that this is by no means assured - then we have to promote the joys of reading rather than the (dubious) benefits."
A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge
by Josh Neufeld

This beautiful graphic novel tells the true story of a few Hurricane Katrina survivors and the obstacles they faced.   

I loved that Neufeld told the specific stories of five individuals who lived in New Orleans, instead of giving a wide lens view of the catastrophe. Readers are able to see what happened through the eyes of those that experienced it. It reminded me in many ways of Dave Egger’s book Zeitoun, which covers the same event.

I hadn’t thought about the people who evacuated the city, but lost all of their belongings. They other books and articles I’ve read tended to focus on those who stayed, but the others still experienced a huge tragedy. They had to watch news stories of their homes and treasured possessions being destroyed. They’re lives were washed away while they struggled to find a temporary place to stay in another city.

I also think people often assume those who stayed made a selfish or stupid decision. Why would you stay if there was a mandatory evacuation and you knew what was coming? It’s easy to forget that many of those people had no where to go and might not have even had enough money for gas to leave the city.

BOTTOM LINE: I think many of us know the general story of the Katrina, but this novel delves deeper into individuals’ experiences. I think it will be even more valuable for future generations that weren’t alive when it happened. 

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Monday, November 12, 2012

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
by Barbara Kingsolver

Oh Barbara Kingsolver, you are so amazing and brilliant… wait, I mean condescending. Sorry for the snarky comment, but after awhile her attitude was a bit much for me. Yes, the lifestyle she advocates is a wonderful idea, but having someone tell you over and over again that you really have to grow your own food because fast food is bad for you gets old fast. I just wanted to yell “WE KNOW!”

It’s not a bad book, it’s just, most of what she says feels like common knowledge and she just comes across as so self-congratulatory. I also don’t think it’s feasible for many people to pack up and move from Arizona to the Appalachian mountains in order to grow a garden, which is what she and her family do.

Most people in America (at least most of the people who are reading books like her’s) already understand that buying local is better for the environment, economy and our personal health. We know that working in a garden can be hard, but it’s also rewarding. We know that it’s not impossible to eat all local foods, but it can be difficult.

My parents are living a very similar life. They raise their own chickens for eggs and meat. They grow all their own veggies, do their own canning and make their own jams. So maybe I’ve just heard all of this before. I really loved learning more about the process, I just would have enjoyed it more without the patronizing style of the book.

There are certainly things I liked about the book. I think Kingsolver is right when she says that having a family dinner together is important. I also love how she teaches her kids the importance of these things.

I love that she reminds us good things are worth waiting for. I think it’s also interesting that she emphasizes the value of cooking from scratch and notes that it has become a negative thing because it makes women seem “domestic” which is “bad” in America.

I definitely learned some new things from the book and I appreciate that, I just wish it had been written in a slightly different way.

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re interested in growing and raising your own food and curious about the ins and outs of the process then this is a must. If you already have a good base of knowledge and understand that a farmer’s market is a good place to shop, skip it.

Check out Nymeth and Kailana's great discussions here and here

*Photo of Kingsolver and her family

November Classic Club Question

Saturday, November 10, 2012

This month's the Classics Club asks the following question: 

What classic piece of literature most intimidates you, and why? And has your view changed at all since you joined our club? 

There are a couple classics that absolutely intimidate me. The main two are Ulysses by James Joyce and Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust. I have a feeling I'll read both at some point, I'm just not there yet.

I will say that over the past couple years I've tackled a lot of the books that used to terrify me. I found out that Moby Dick, Les Miserables and War and Peace are all wonderful in their own way. Each one has so much to offer, but you can't read them for the sake of "getting through them." You have to read them you would any other book, to enjoy them and to learn something!

I've also found that read-alongs really help me with these big ones. I did one for both Moby Dick and War & Peace. They offer accountability and motivation if you get discouraged. And more importantly other readers can offer great observations about the books that you may have missed. You're able to discuss the books as you go and that always deepens my reading experience.

So go tackle that giant classic you've been avoiding! It's probably not as bad as you think it is.

More about the Classics Club here.

Reading the States: Utah

Friday, November 9, 2012

State: UTAH


- When the Emperor was Divine* by Julie Otsuka
- The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
- The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
- The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald
- A Study in Scarlet* by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey
- Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey
- Papa Married a Mormon by John D. Fitzgerald

- The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer
- Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith* by Jon Krakauer
- Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston
- Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert by Terry Tempest Williams
- American Massacre by Sally Denton
- The Poet and the Murderer by Simon Worrall
- Nothing Like It In the World by Stephen E. Ambrose
- Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:
- John D. Fitzgerald

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Shannon Hale
- Richard Paul Evans
- Louise Plummer
- Dan Wells

Great Bookstores:

*Books I've Read

Photo by moi.  

The Dharma Bums

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Dharma Bums
By Jack Kerouac

This thinly veiled account of Kerouac’s travels and spiritual awakening takes place after the events in On the Road.

I couldn’t help but feel like Kerouac was full of crap through much of this book. He talks about the poor, stupid people who spend their lives working, trapped in one place because they have a spouse and kids. He thinks they aren’t truly living because they aren’t doing exactly what they want to do each moment. This way of thinking is not only incredibly selfish, it’s also unrealistic. Kerouac’s protagonist does travel around doing what he wants, hitchhiking and climbing mountains, but he then returns home and stays with his mother for free.

It’s hard to take someone seriously when they seem trapped in a cycle of arrested development. I know the people around him were frustrated too, because he talks about his brother-in-law being fed up with him staying at the North Carolina farms and refusing to help with any chores. He glorifies his life as being free and wild. Living on the wind and going where he chooses, but in reality he is mooching off everyone around him. He takes advantage of the people he knows and then neglects them for months at a time.

I really enjoyed On the Road when I read it, but that was years ago when I was in college. I think that’s the time to read Kerouac, because if you want until you’re out in the “real” world paying bills, etc., it’s hard to enjoy his condescending ramblings.

But here’s the thing, after all of that I still ended up loving parts of the book. Kerouac’s love of life is infectious. He may be naive, but he’s sincere and you can’t help but see some of that joy in his writing. So although the first half of this review is a bit of a rant, I can’t deny the beauty of his writing.
If I’d read this in high school or college I might have loved it. I’m a bit too logical to ever embrace the gypsy lifestyle, but Kerouac’s romanticized version of Ray’s life made me want to smack him and tell him to get a job. You won’t hear me claiming that the man can’t write though. His words are poetry; it’s the content that bugs me.
“The human bones are but vain lines dawdling, the whole universe a blank mold of stars.”

“The yard was full of tomato plants about to ripen, and mint, mint, everything smelling of mint, and one fine old tree that I loved to sit under on those cool perfect starry California October nights unmatched anywhere in the world.”

Where in the World Are You Reading: Reading Companion

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

This month's Where in the World Are You Reading, hosted by Kailana, Lisa, and Trish is "Reading Companions."  I have one obvious reading companion, my big dog Oliver. Ollie will be two years old in December, but it's hard to remember what reading was like before we got him.

Whether he's curled up on my lap (which he is way too big to do, but still attempts) or playing fetch while I read with him outside, my big 75 lb baby keeps me company when I read. Ollie is a Chesapeake Bay Retriever and has a ton of energy, so I enjoy the moments when he's tired and ready to curl up for a nap.

I especially appreciate him in the winter when it's freezing cold. He's the equivalent of a giant space heater! I've had cats in the past and love curling up with them as well, but they never keep you quite as warm.

Photos by moi.

Top Ten(ish) Book Blog Recommendations

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish is a freebie. Recently a non-blogging friend who loves to read asked for recommendations of other book bloggers I follow, so I thought I would make her a list.

Here’s an older post with quite a few of my favorites, definitely check it out if you’re looking for new blogs, they are all awesome.

In this top ten list I’ll mention only ones that aren’t already in that original post.

There are so many book bloggers out there and I know I’ve only found a tiny number of them. Here are a few that I enjoy both the books they read and review and because of their personalities. I know I’m going to forget some great ones, but there are so many!

Dead White Guys 

The Sleepless Reader

No Page Left Behind

Nose in a Book

Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity

Care’s Online Book Club

Fizzy Thoughts

At Home with Books

Coffee and a Book Chick 


Capricious Reader

Book Pairings

Image from here.

House at Riverton Read-along

Monday, November 5, 2012

I think I've made it clear that I love Kate Morton's books. So when Words and Peace decided to host a read-along of one of her books that I hadn't read, The House at Riverton, I just had to join in. She posted a list of questions for everyone to answer. So here are both the questions and my answers. There might be some spoilers of Part 1.

On Part 1: from 'Ghosts Stir' to 'Until We Meet Again'

Please share your favorite lines:

“I was not a rebel – indeed, back then I had a fierce sense of duty – but to live without Holmes and Watson was unthinkable.”

“…for home is a magnet that lures back even its most abstracted children.”

“It is an uncanny feeling, that rare occasion when one catches a glimpse of oneself in repose. An unguarded moment, stripped of artifice, when one forgets to fool even oneself.”

Ghosts Stir:

What effect do the first 2 sentences have on you, as a reader?

It immediately reminded me of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

Does this chapter draw you in? How does the author manage to do this?

Yes, it sets up the secrets and the mystery. I wanted to know how the main character’s life is woven in with the Hartford sisters.

The Nursery:

If you mentioned the title of another book in question #1, do you find here more things in common with that book?

Yes, a new person being introduced into a home, but this book is told from a servant’s POV instead of the lady of the house’s POV.

Waiting for the recital:

What’s your feeling toward the Game?

It sounds like child’s play, but there’s some serious foreboding as well.

All Good Things:

Merriam-Webster describes “suspense” as “pleasant excitement as to a decision or outcome” of a novel. How does the author create the suspense here?

She shows Hannah attempting to push the boundaries with her father and the war starts.

Morton often integrates the themes of memory, relationships between generations, secret, in her novels. How has she worked them, and other themes you may have identified, in this story?

The story is all about Grace’s secret, her relationship with her own mother and relationship with her daughter. That theme echoes all of Morton’s other books.

In The West:

What do you like most in this chapter?

I loved meeting Robbie and learning about his history; his mother the Spanish maid and his father, a wealthy Lord.

Until We Meet Again:

How would you define what a Gothic novel is? Does your definition apply to the first chapter of this book? Why or why not?

Gothic novels are defined as “a genre or mode of literature that combines elements of both horror and romance.” I think this book definitely fits into this category because it combines multiple romances (Alfred, Teddy, etc.) with mysteries. It’s also very atmospheric, set in a huge English manor with the memory of a death hanging over everyone.

*** *** ***

Next up are the following sections. I'll be following everyone else's posts on Nov. 12 and 19, but I will save my thoughts for a final post on Nov. 26. I finished the book and I don't want to confuse the sections in earlier posts. Happy reading!

November 12: Part 2 – from 'The Twelfth of July' to 'The Ball And After'
November 19: Part 3 – from 'Catching Butterflies' to 'The Choice'
November 26: Part 4 – from 'Hannah's Story' to the end

Reading the States: Texas

Friday, November 2, 2012

State: TEXAS 

- Lonesome Dove* by Larry McMurtry
- Holes* by Louis Sacher
- That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx
- No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
- The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
- Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
- 11/22/63* by Stephen King
- Giant by Edna Ferber
- Corpus Christi by Bret Anthony Johnston
- The Time It Never Rained by Elmer Kelton
- You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon
- Texas by James A. Michener
- The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson 
- Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories by Sandra Cisneros

- The Liar's Club* by Mary Karr
- Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation by John Phillip Santos
- Isaac's Storm* by Erik Larson
- Let’s Pretend This Never Happened* by Jenny Lawson
- Half Broke Horses* by Jeannette Walls
- Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans by T. R. Fehrenbach
- A Line in the Sand: The Alamo in Blood and Memory by Randy Roberts
- Goodbye to a River by John Graves
- The Path to Power by Robert A. Caro
- Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria E. AnzaldĂșa

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:
- James Michener
- Cormac McCarthy

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Larry McMurtry
- Lisa Tuttle
- Philipp Meyer
- William Humphrey

Great Bookstores:
River Oaks Bookstore
Booked Up
The Tattered Jacket
Blue Willow Bookshop

*Books I've Read
Photo by moi.

Let's Read Plays: Troilus and Cressida

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Troilus and Cressida 
by William Shakespeare 

“She is a pearl, whose price hath launch'd above a thousand ships."

The story of the Trojan War and the beautiful Helen is well-known, but this Shakespearean tragedy about it is not. Troilus and Cressida is the story of two young Trojans caught in the midst of a nation at war. Despite being surrounded by the problems of others they find themselves falling in love. Troilus is the brother of the infamous warrior Hector and the lovesick Paris who ran away with the married Helen, incurring the wrath of the Greeks.
The entire play is filled with passionate declarations of both love and war. The Greeks, like King Agamemnon and the hotheaded Ajax, are itching for a fight. Ajax doesn’t realize until too late that he is only a pawn in the hands of the generals. The Trojans on the other hand aren’t sure how they want to respond. Paris wants to defend Helen’s honor, but his older brother Hector has to decide if she is worth the fall of an entire nation. From his opening scene he has an impossible task. He knows the right thing to do in theory, but the obligations of honor and family loyalty prevent him from doing it.

The play is full to the brim with remarkable supporting characters. From the tragic Cassandra, whose prophetic wails go unheeded to Pandarus, Cressida’s uncle the meddling matchmaker.
I was surprised to find one of the most poignant wooing scenes I’ve ever come across in a play. Usually the man takes the lead in these scenes, but in this one a guarded Cressida finally reveals how much she cares for Troilus. She been attempting to play hard to get, but she can’t hide her feelings any more. She gushes then quickly chides herself, finally begging him to kiss her so she’ll stop talking.  

“And yet, good faith, I wish'd myself a man; 
Or that we women had men's privilege 
Of speaking first. Sweet, bid me hold my tongue; 
For, in this rapture, I shall surely speak 
The thing I shall repent. See, see ! your silence, 
Cunning in dumbness, from my weakness draws 
My very soul of counsel: Stop my mouth.”

This is a tricky play though because there are so many different plots. There’s the romance between Troilus and Cressida and another one between Paris and Helen. There’s the central story of war between nations. In the midst of all of this the title characters often feel secondary, which can make it hard to become invested in their relationship.
The title may be Troilus and Cressida, but that’s really a misnomer. While their romance is sweet, it’s truly the story of the Trojan War and the dicey decisions that warriors must face in battle. What is a single life worth? For Achilles, his love for one man is enough to make him fight or to stay his hand. For the love of his brothers Hector is willing to pick up his sword. The tragedy of war is that it’s a cyclical game; one death always leads to the desire for vengeance from the other side. Grief and bloodshed fuel only more of the same and this play is a poignant reminder of that
BOTTOM LINE: A powerful story of the destructive force of war intertwined with a doomed love story. A must read for Bard enthusiasts and lovers of Greek tragedy.

I read this as part of the Let’s Read Plays yearlong event hosted by Fanda. She has selected categories/authors for each month. From November 2012 to October 2013 participants will read 12 classics plays throughout the year, at least one each month. I’ve read almost all of Shakespeare’s well-known plays, but I’m looking forward to digging in to some of his other work. 

Here are my choices…  
Let' Read Plays Schedule based on Themes:

Nov '12 Shakespeare's Tragedy: Troilus and Cressida
Dec '12 Shakespeare's Comedy: Love's Labour's Lost
Jan '13 freebie: The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O'Neill
Feb '13 Shakespeare's History: Henry V
Mar '13 Greek: Oresteia by Aeschylus
Apr '13 Shakespeare's 
Tragedy: Coriolanus
May '13 Shakespeare's Comedy: Two Gentlemen of Verona
Jun '13 Oscar Wilde: The Importance of Being Earnest
Jul '13 Other author: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams
Aug '13 Shakespeare's Comedy: Comedy of Errors
Sep '13 freebie: Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov
Oct '13 Shakespeare's Tragedy: Cymbeline