The Painted Veil

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Painted Veil
by W. Somerset Maugham
Kitty is a young woman who got married for all the wrong reasons and doesn’t love her husband, Walter. She rushed to marry after realizing her younger sister might beat her down the aisle. Walter is a nice but boring man who takes his wife to Hong Kong in the 1920s where he works for his work as a bacteriologist. She quickly falls in love with a dashing married man named Charlie and they embark on an affair. When her husband discovers the relationship he gives Kitty two options: she can get divorced and married Charlie or she can travel with him into the midst of cholera outbreak in mainland China.
That whirlwind of events happens in the very beginning of the book. The vapid Kitty reminds me so much of Daisy Buchanan. She shares her selfishness and disenchantment with life. But while Daisy never really changes, Kitty’s transformation throughout the novel provides a poignant picture. Spending time with the nuns leads her to re-evaluate her life, but it doesn’t change who she is as a person. The story is realistic in that sense. She becomes more aware of who she is and what wrong with the choices she has made, but that doesn’t make her a better person overnight. 
While living in the mainland Kitty and Walter meet Waddington, a British officer who has been living there for quite a while. His objective point of view and direct personality give the audience a unique view of the estranged couple. Waddington talks to Kitty about both Walter and Charles, opening her eyes to the real nature of both men. 
One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is the exploration of love. It refuses to follow logic, which is both its beauty and its tragedy. We so often fall in love with the person who is the worst for us and we can’t make ourselves love someone if we feel nothing for them. We see this over and over again through Kitty, Walter and even Waddington. Love defies common sense, which often has tragic results.
At first I was disappointed when Kitty returns to Hong Kong and seems to fall into her old patterns, but by the end I thought that whole section was beautifully handled. We needed to see Kitty back in that environment to see whether or not Walter’s death and her work with the French nuns changed her permanently or not. Her conversation at the very end of the novel with her father makes it clear that she realized how spoiled she was and that she wants to change, she also wants something better for her own child. She’s no longer content to live a sheltered existence in a big city being treated as someone’s property.
BOTTOM LINE: This story was just gorgeous. Kitty’s transformation and her slowly changing view of the world were beautifully conveyed. I know I’ll return to this one. 
“I have an idea that the only thing which makes it possible to regard this world we live in without disgust is the beauty which now and then men create out of the chaos. The pictures they paint, the music they compose, the books they write, and the lives they lead. Of all these the richest in beauty is the beautiful life. That is the perfect work of art.”
“One cannot find peace in work or in pleasure, in the world or in a convent, but only in one's soul.”
“She could not admit but that he had remarkable qualities, sometimes she thought that there was even in him a strange and unattractive greatness; it was curious then that she could not love him, but loved still a man whose worthlessness was now so clear to her.”

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Witch of Blackbird Pond
by Elizabeth George Speare
This young adult historical fiction novel is a well-loved favorite for many, but I somehow missed it when I was young. Kit is an orphaned girl who travels from her home in Barbados to Connecticut in 1687. She moves in with her aunt and uncle, but her strong-willed nature makes the adjustment to their Puritan way of life difficult. Her arrival brings her to New England in the midst of the Salem witch trials, when the slightest variation from normal meant you might be accused of being a witch.
Kit meets and befriends Hannah, an older woman who is outcast from the local society. She’s also being courted by the small community’s eligible bachelor and she gets to know Nat, the son of a local sailor. There is a great reference to Shakespeare's Tempest, which was awesome.
I loved this story and I badly wish I’d read this one when I was young. It’s the exact kind of book I thrived on when I was in about fourth grade. It reminds me so much of “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle,” one of my favorites at that age. It’s a wonderful blend of history and a great story.
BOTTOM LINE: A great story with pieces of history and life lessons tossed in for good measure. This one is definitely going on the shelf to be shared with others in the future.

Wordless Wednesday: Oil Rig

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Alabama Gulf Oil Rig

More Wordless Wednesday here.
Photo by moi.

Top Ten Dogs from Literature

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish is a freebie week, so I decided to pick my top ten dogs I love from different books. 
1) Charley from Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley; a road-tripping dog.

2) The brilliant “watchdog” Tock from The Phantom Tollbooth

3) Odysseus’ dog Argos from The Odyssey; never stops hoping to see his master again.

4) Hagrid’s dog Fang from the Harry Potter series

5) Mr. Rochester’s dog Pilot from Jane Eyre

6) Crab from Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona

7) Kojak from The Stand; the most loyal pup ever.

8) Nana from Peter Pan, who wouldn’t want a nanny that’s a dog?

9) The Starks’ direwolves from Game of Thrones (I know they aren’t technically dogs)

10) Harold from the Bunnicula series.

Mini Reviews: Whale Rider, Here and Now and Cinder

Monday, May 26, 2014

Whale Rider
by Witi Ihimaera

I was interested in this one because I’ve been wanting to read more books set in New Zealand and Australia before I travel there later this year. This fictional story introduces us to Kahu, the 8-year-old granddaughter of the Maori chief Koro. She is a disappointment to Koro because only sons can carry on the honored tradition of being a Maori whale rider. Despite Kahu’s clear connection with the whales, her grandfather never sees her for who she is.
BOTTOM LINE: The short novel doesn’t give readers long to get to know the characters and perhaps that was why I didn’t love it. I definitely liked learning more about the Maori culture and reading more about the myths in their culture. It’s also a great story for young girls to read. It encourages them to embrace who they are, even if society tells them they aren’t worthy of their male counterparts. I would highly recommend the film version as well, it’s wonderful!
The Here and Now
by Ann Brashares
The latest in a string of YA dystopian books comes from the author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Prenna is part of a time traveling group that’s returned to the past to help save their future. The story is one part “When You Reach Me” and one part “Twelve Monkeys.”
Ethan is a “time native” who meets Prenna after she has traveled to the past. The two have an undeniable connection even though she does everything she can to keep her distance and obey the rules of her group.
The book definitely has a message it’s trying to get across and it’s not very subtle about it. To the point where it felt more like a PSA then a novel at times it felt like a PSA. We’re all ruining the planet and soon the mosquitos will kill us all. Lest you think I’m exaggerating:
“We also wrecked the planets her own habitation and the mosquito will win. And less we succeed in changing of course, it will win.”
BOTTOM LINE: Outside of an overarching environmental message the book felt very forgettable. Only days after finishing it I’m having trouble remembering characters’ names and plot points. Another is a long line of YA books that don’t leave a deep mark.
“Sometimes I only hear what we don’t say. I only think the things I shouldn’t think and I remember what I should forget. I hear the ghosts in this room, all the people we lost in our old life who are crying out to be remembered.”
"No matter how our hearts break, we bend toward life, don't we. We bend toward hope."
by Marissa Meyer
This is the first books in the Lunar Chronicles, an incredibly successful series. Cinder is a cyborg in this retelling of Cinderella. Some of the classic elements remain the same, there’s an evil stepmother and a handsome prince, but many things have changed. Cinder is a talented mechanic with a strong personality and dreams of her own. I loved all of those aspects of the book.
My problem was that I knew most of the major plot points in the first 10% of the book (read it on my kindle.) I remember reading one line and thinking, well obviously this is what's going to happen and then in the final few pages that was the big “twist.” It wouldn’t have bothered me so much if they hadn’t made that a huge reveal at the end. I felt like I didn’t even need to read the remaining 90% of the book at that point.
BOTTOM LINE: It’s a quick read and an interesting one. The predictability let me down, but I definitely give it points for being an original version of a well-known story. I haven’t decided if I’ll read the next book yet.

Pairing Books with Movies: The Lotus Eaters

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Lotus Eaters
by Tatjana Soli

My goodness I love this book so much. It’s a historical fiction novel about a female photographer in Vietnam during the war. As much as I’ve read about World War I and II I know very little about that war. Soli paints an intense picture of the horror of battle and the beauty of the country. The novel is full of beautifully drawn characters trying to come to terms with the contradiction of reporting what’s happening and the inevitability of becoming part of the story of the war.

At first you think the book is a love story, but the story that unfolds is not the one you’re expecting. We begin at the end and then trace our way back to the beginning to better understand the characters of Helen and Linh. Structuring the novel in this way makes the whole thing more powerful. Seeing the long journey that our main characters take to get to each other is just enthralling.

Yes it's a love story, but it's also story of loss and grief and coping with the trauma of war and the return to the banality of civilian life. It’s about the complicated nature of war and the adrenalin rush that comes from being in danger. It’s about the inevitable impact an invading nation has on the society it’s attempting to “save” Helen’s conflicting feelings about getting the perfect shot and exploiting the people felt so real and relatable. It’s something that all journalists in extreme situations must come to tussle with. She struggles with the potent mix of fear and excitement as she becomes entrenched in the world of Vietnam.

**SPOILER**The book has two very complex love stories. Usually when that happens it’s difficult to make the reader connect with both without making one feel unimportant. I felt like the author did a wonderful job with that. She included a crucial time period when Helen is back in the states with neither man. When she returns to Vietnam and reconnects with Lihn while he is helping her recover from her wounds their relationship feels very natural.

There is also a stark difference between her relationship with Darrow and the relationship with Linh. Darrow doesn’t coddle her, he challenges her. Linh tries to protect her, not because he sees her as incapable or weak, but because he’s already lost the woman he loved and he doesn’t want it to happen again.

BOTTOM LINE: This novel, the writing, the characters, the story, was all just gorgeous. I was completely enraptured by the way it evoked the scenes of a foreign war zone and the people affected by it so vividly. The end did feel a bit rushed, like it deviated from the feel of the rest of the book, but it didn’t bother me too much and it certainly didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book overall.

“The possibility of time going on, her memories growing dim, the photographs of the battles turning from life into history, terrified her.”

“She thought of the rolls of film in the car, the images cradled in emulsion, areas of darkness and light like the beginnings of the universe.”

Pairing Books with Movies: The Year of Living Dangerously and Empire of the Sun, the first is another great look at journalists in the midst of war. The second gives us a picture of the conditions of an occupied country and the people caught in the midst of the chaos.

Frog Music

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Frog Music
by Emma Donoghue

This highly anticipated novel from the author of Room takes readers into the sordid world of San Francisco in 1876. Using the known facts of an unsolved murder, Donoghue weaves the intricate story of Blanche Beunon, a former circus performer turned burlesque dancer with a bit of prostitution on the side.

Blanche is suffering through a harsh heat wave and a smallpox epidemic when she meets the feisty Jenny Bonnet, who we learn in the first chapter is murdered. Before meeting Jenny, Blanche’s life consists of an unhealthy relationship with Arthur, a brute who is hard to stomach and a constant string of “jobs” with random men. The constant shifts in the time in the narrative were hard to follow. In one moments we’re in the hours following Jenny’s death and a second later we’re month or years in the past. 

I found the historical aspects of the book fascinating. Learning about the smallpox epidemic, burlesques, Chinese neighborhoods, and French circus was so interesting. It was the fictional elements of the book that fell flat at times for me. Blanche became an exhausting character to read about. She seemed to constantly put herself in bad situations or be surprised when awful people betrayed her. Jenny is the heart and soul of the book and I wish she had played a bigger part in the action. Her fiery demeanor and lust for life infected everyone around her.  

I was incredibly disappointed when Blanche and Jenny slept together. I understand that it was important to the plot, but it was such a letdown. Blanche sleeps with everyone, from Arthur to his friend Ernest to her clients; she uses her body to make money. But Jenny was the person that was a true friend to her. She wasn’t scared to give her an objective point about her life and she was there for Blanche in a way to no one else was. I was frustrated that they slept together because to me it cheapened their relationship. I felt like there was more depth to their friendship when sex was not on the table because sex was so common and cheap in Blanche’s world.

BOTTOM LINE: Interesting, well writing and great on audio, but I tired of hearing about Blanche’s troubles and I wished we heard more from Jenny.

Wordless Wednesday: 30th Birthday

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Saturday night I was completely surprised by a birthday 
dinner my friends organized. It was an incredible night and 
by the end I felt spoiled rotten. What a way to ring in your 30s!

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photos by friends.

Top Ten Books about Friendship

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for Ten Books about Friendship.
1) Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett – The well-known author’s nonfiction memoir about her friendship with Lucy Grealy will break your heart.
2) The Likeness by Tana French – A trippy look at a strange group of friends, their connection and what they’re willing to do to protect it.
3) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky by – A shy high school freshman finds hope and strength in the unexpected friendships he forms.
4) Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – Two cowboys, Call and Gus, have a formed a friendship that survives decades of working together in the west.
5) The Little Prince by Antonie De Saint-Exupery – A children’s tale with an adult message. The Little Prince teaches readers about the value of friendship and how it changes us.
6) A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving – Johnny and Owen’s unlikely friendship changes the course of both of their lives forever.
7) Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – Migrant workers, George and Lennie, have been traveling together for years. The books’ tragic story asks readers what lengths they would take to protect their best friend.
8) Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – It’s the story of four sisters, but it’s also about the touching friendship between Jo and Laurie and the difficult line between romantic love and devotion to your best friend.
9) The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares – Four friends face the struggles of first love, grief, parents remarrying, and more in this coming-of-age story. It’s their friendship that holds them together through it all.
10) Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy – Through the eyes of Benny we see both the benefits of true friends, like Eve, and the harm of false ones.

On Turning 30

Monday, May 19, 2014

Today I turned 30, so I couldn't help but think about the past decade. It has been an incredible one filled with unexpected trials and joyful moments.
In the last decade I have ...
- Graduated from college
- Lived in London
- Worked at a daily newspaper, ad agency, and medical journal
- Become an aunt
- Made friends that will last me a lifetime
- Visited 12 countries in Europe
- Joined the book blogging community
- Bought my first house
- Gotten married to a handsome devil
- Gained a wonderful family of in-laws through my husband’s family and siblings’ spouses
- Taken dozens of road trips across the United States
- Read hundreds of books
- Gained an 80lb bundle of canine love
- Become the editor of a monthly magazine
- Learned how to cook
- Seen 321 plays and musicals
I loved my 20s. They were full of adventures and struggles and they taught me so much. I learned how important it is to be unashamed of who you are. I learned that strength comes in many forms and that it's the people in your life that make it both wonderful and challenging. I learned that I need grace every day. I learned to never put your dreams off for another time. If something is important to you, do it now. You don't know how many tomorrows you get and you'll never regret taking one more trip.
So here's to whatever the next decade holds. I have so much to learn and so much I want to do. I think it’s going to be even better than the last.

30 Books to Read Before You Are 30

Friday, May 16, 2014

A few years ago I found this list of 30 Books to Read Before You Are 30. I decided to tackle it before my own 30th, which is now 3 days away. I finally finished it! I've linked the the books I read and reviewed on the blog. Others I read, but it was either pre-blogging or I didn't write a review.

Not every one was my cup of tea and I definitely don't think this is the definitive list of books to read before you're 30, but I still glad I read them all! What would be on your "MUST" list for others to read before they turn 30? I think I might add Kerouac because I don't think many people would love him as much after their 20s.

-Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
-1984 by George Orwell
-To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
-A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
-For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
-War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
-The Rights of Man by Tom Paine
-The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
-One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
-The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
-The Wisdom of the Desert by Thomas Merton
-The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
-The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
-The Art of War by Sun Tzu
-The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
-David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
-Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot
-Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
-The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
-The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
-The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
-Walden by Henry David Thoreau
-The Republic by Plato
-Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
-Getting Things Done by David Allen
-How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
-Lord of the Flies by William Golding
-The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
-The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Image from here.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

by Craig Thompson
This brick of a graphic novel explores first love, the changing dynamics of sibling relationships, religion, and more with startling honesty. The writing and illustrations made me feel like I knew the author and could easily relate to his Midwestern upbringing. He is open about what he believes, what he struggles with and what he’s going through. Thompson’s art is gorgeous and captures the angst and insecurity of teenage years with a quiet simplicity. Even the most heartbreaking moments of his childhood are not shouted from the rooftops, but instead they are mentioned as a part of life, but not the only part that defines him.
The tender way he describes falling in love for the first time immediately made me remember those first relationships in my own life. The blind devotion we show our early paramours is so relatable. The innocence and earnestness that pair so perfectly in our hearts when we fall for someone is at times hard to look away from, but beautiful to see. 
As someone who also grew up in a Christian household and attended Christian camps, I could identify with some of the religious questions he brings up. For me, my faith boils down to believing in God vs. believing in religion. Man screws up. Man is selfish and petty and hypocritical. If you base your faith on the actions of the people around you, whether it’s your own family or the pastor of your church, you will inevitably be disappointed. Thompson comes to a different conclusion, but it's his journey along the path and his sincerity in searching that makes the book so enjoyable.
The way that Thompson writes the story allows him to float through his memories. He tells us about his first moments of infatuation, and then he takes us back to childhood memories of school bullies, and forward again to his observations of a man who is watching his family slip through his fingertips. He's at once observant and mature and touchingly naive. He talks about his vulnerability and the things he regrets with no hesitation. Though I'm sure parts of the book were painful to write, he never lets the reader feel as though they are intruding in his life. 
BOTTOM LINE: Just a wonderful graphic novel, one of my favorites I’ve ever read. I wish the author had delved a bit more into his relationship with his brother, but I also understand that between siblings, sometimes the most important things are never said. If you’re a fan of coming-of-age stories and don’t mind a bit of teenage angst, definitely give this one a shot.

Wordless Wednesday: Botanical Gardens

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Washington D.C. Botanical Gardens

More Wordless Wednesday here.
Photo by moi.

Mini Reviews: Railway Children, Magician's Elephant and The Missing Ticket

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


The Railway Children 
by Edith Nesbit
In the great tradition of British children’s literature, Nesbit’s name is always mentioned with reverence. This is my first book of her’s but I can’t wait to recommend her to my nieces and nephews. The story, published in 1906, is about an English family whose father is accused of espionage and imprisoned. His role is rarely mentioned (think of the father in Little Women) and is more notable in his absence than presence. 
The children walk to the railway station almost every day and make friends with the regular travelers. They also help an ailing Russian man who is looking for his family. Their mother is strong and supportive, shielding her kids from knowing about their struggles.
BOTTOM LINE: The sweet story is a perfect one to read aloud with young kids. The adventures are very episodic and would work well being spread out over the course of a week or two. It reminded me of Swallows and Amazons, another good British children’s book. 
The Magician's Elephant
by Kate DiCamillo
A young orphan named Peter visits a fortune teller in the hopes of finding out whether his sister is still alive. Her confusing answer leads him on an odd journey. Meanwhile a magician accidently makes an elephant appear out of nowhere in the midst of a performance. The story is full of strange characters and impossible situations, but that just makes it all the more delightful.
As the dream-like tale unfolds we meet a nun at a local orphanage, a beggar and his clever dog Iddo, and Hans Ickman, who once had a dog who could jump incredibly high. There’s nothing earth-shattering in this novel, but the way it’s written is charming.
BOTTOM LINE: For a slim little novel this story packs a punch. There were little lines full of wisdom that resonated with me. I can’t wait to share this one with my nieces and nephews.
“Magic is always impossible,” said the magician. “It begins with the impossible and ends with the impossible and is impossible in between. That is why it is magic.”
“We must ask ourselves these questions as often as we dare. How will the world change if we do not question it?”
“It is important you say what you mean to say. Time is too short. You must speak words that matter.” 
The Missing Golden Ticket and other Splendiferous Stories
by Roald Dahl
I’ve always been a huge fan of Roald Dahl, from reading The BFG and Matilda as a child to discovering his adult short stories years later. This fun book gives readers a glimpse behind the curtain to learn a bit about how he worked. It includes some fun facts and information about characters that he cut from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
BOTTOM LINE: Don’t expect a lot of depth, but this quick read is provides a few interesting tidbits about Dahl and one of his most famous novels.

Classics Club Spin #6

Sunday, May 11, 2014


The Classics Club is hosting another Classics Spin! Pick 20 books off your Classics Club List. On Monday (the 12th) they will announce a random number and you have to read that number off the list you created sometime before July 7th. I’ve listed a mixture of books I’m dreading, ones I’m looking forward to, very old ones, relatively new ones, big ones, small ones, etc. Can’t wait to see what I’ll be reading.

We have a winner! It's #1 Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin. I’ve been meaning to read this book for a long time and it’s not a huge one, so I’m pretty happy!
1) Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
2) Cousin Bette by Honoré de Balzac
3) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
4) Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
5) American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
6) Light in August by William Faulkner
7) Maurice by E. M. Forster
8) The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
9) Twenty Years by Alexandre Dumas
10) North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
11) The Quiet American by Graham Greene
12) The Trial by Franz Kafka
13) Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey
14) Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope 
15) King John by William Shakespeare
16) Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe
17) All My Sons by Arthur Miller
18) In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck
19) Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
20) Germinal by Émile Zola
You can check out the complete details here.
Image from here.