I adore the times spent with my fellow members of the Paige Turner Book Club...but I have a literary appetite that simply cannot be sated with just one book a month. This blog is a place for me to talk about more of my reading adventures. Reviews, summaries, highlights, warnings, praises and quotes. Because after all, it can be a jungle...er...savannah...out there.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes

Characters and story-lines and shenanigans abound!  What a delightful tale. 

Things I knew before I started listening to this book:  1) There would be lots of intersecting plots as the story followed the tenants of a particular apartment building.  2) The story would be narrated by an observing spirit/presence.

Things I failed to observe:  Keyes' story is set in Dublin, Ireland...and the main character would become the delightful narrator -- who gave a whimsical and pitch perfect performance.  Never in a million years would I have been able to give as much spunk and pizazz to the story as the narrator captures with each breath.  If you've never entered the world of audiobooks, I order you to pick up this recording, kick back (or drive on) and escape.

As to the story itself, I enjoyed it.  (It doesn't hurt that the ending is completely satisfying.  *wink*)  It took me a minute to catch on to what was going on.  But there *are* four floors/sets of players to get to know.  Also, Keyes does something very interesting with the time-line in the story.  Time is moving forward and backward all at once.  But once you get into it, it's easy to fall under Keyes' spell.  I found myself rooting for all the players...even the ones who are a bit rough around the edges. Also, I found it impressive that Keyes could explore some keep and heavy subjects, while keeping the overall tone of the book light and quirky.

I'll be looking to read more from this author.  Maybe I can convince my book club to come along for the ride.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen

This is one from my TBR pile.  My sister gave it to me over a year ago and assured me that it was hilarious and that I would really enjoy it.  For some reason, I was dubious.  Despite the cleverly written back cover, I was sort of put off by the title.  So I just kept passing it by when it came time to grab my next book.

But a few weeks ago, some friends and I took a bus ride up to Philly to support the USA soccer team in their friendly match against Turkey before heading to the World Cup in South Africa.  It's a 3-hour drive each way, and I went prowling for a the perfect book to take with me.  Skinny Dip won the prize.

I got a good feeling when one of hte other bus patrons passed me and said, "Oh, that's a great book.  You'll love it."

This is a snippet from Amazon's review: 
Charles "Chaz" Perrone fancies himself a take-charge kind of guy. So when this "biologist by default" suspects that his curvaceous wife, Joey, has stumbled onto a profitable pollution scam he's running on behalf of Florida agribusiness mogul Red Hammernut, he sets out right away to solve the problem--by heaving Joey off the deck of a luxury cruise liner and into the Atlantic Ocean, far from Key West. But--whoops!--Joey, a former swimming champ, doesn't drown. Instead, as Carl Hiaasen tells in his 10th adult novel, Skinny Dip, she makes her way back to shore, thanks both to a wayward bale of Jamaican marijuana and lonerish ex-cop Mick Stranahan, and then launches a bogus blackmail campaign that's guaranteed to drive her lazy, libidinous hubby into a self-protective frenzy.
It's ridiculous.  It's over the top.  It's funny... Have you seen the Sprite commercial that focuses on a group of writers sitting outside a Hollywood studio?  They're all just tapping their pencils and looking lost.  But then a pirate ship, a panda, a cheerleader, and a martial arts fight all start falling out of the stratosphere, and when the main character takes a drink of sprite they all 'splash' into his imagination and you hear him say, "Ok, I got it.  We'll start with a cheerleader..." 

That's how I imagine Carl Hiaasen came up with some of this characters and plot devices.  They're just that ridiculous.  (For example:  A woman made independently wealthy because her parents died in a plane crash while transporting their juggling circus bear home from the specialist who needed to treat the bear's impacted tooth.)  But you forgive him.  Because it's just so entertaining.

So thank you Amanda.  I should have trusted you.

Wings by Aprilynne Pike

Can you judge an audio-book by it's CD-sleeve?  I'm going to answer with a very decisive, "sometimes."  *grin*

The cover art of this book grabbed my eye:

And the story was very satisfying.  It's a coming of age tale, with a bit of love, and a tad of the paranormal.  I really enjoyed it.  The main characters are just at the beginning of high school, and the language and tone of the plot fits them perfectly.  The narrator of the story sounded like she was in high school too, which I wanted to find fault with, but just couldn't bring myself to do it.  Her voice just fit the part.

It's a great summer listen, that looks at the whimsical side of life without delving into vampires and werewolves.  I recommend it!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Reading Update

It's about time for another update...don't you think?

Raw Stats:

39 books read.  (up from 12 in March)
18,072 pages.  (up from 5,601 in March)
28 new (72%).
11 re-reads (28%).


    TBR Challenge - Goal:  12 books.  Completed: 5 books.  I'm still on pace to finish by the end of the year.
    Audio Book Challenge - Goal: 20 books.  Completed: 11 books.  I can't believe I'm getting ready for the 12th book of the Wheel of Time!  This series has been a constant presence in my car since January. (You haven't seen any reviews/reports yet because I'm waiting to finish the whole series first.)
    Support Your Local Library Challenge - Goal: 50 books. Completed: 27 books.  I'm in love with the library! 

      Books I'm reading right now:

      Star Trek by Alan Dean Foster - Thanks to a tip from my friend Heather, I get to listen to Zachary Quinto perform this book based on the new movie.  It's fantastic!!
      Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver - a Bible Study assignment.
      All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque - Recommended by one of my former students who couldn't believe I hadn't read it when I was in high school.  It's supposedly one of the most loved war novels of all time. 

        Coming up:

        The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan - then I'll be officially caught up!
        The Eleventh Commandment by Jeffrey Archer - a thriller.
        A Chance to Die:  The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot - from my TBR list
        In My Hands:  Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Opdyke - a book club assignment

        There are seven books I have read but haven't blogged about yet, but that's not too bad.  I'll work on remedying that situation soon.  Is there anything I should add to my list?

        Tuesday, May 25, 2010

        The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

        I picked this book for my book club for two reasons.  1) It was a Hugo Award winner.  2)  It's an alternate history that looks at the world 20 years after WWII, but as if the Axis powers had won. The book follows several characters as they navigate their lives in a United States that has been parceled out to both Japan and Germany, with a buffer zone in the center.

        Bottom line:  It was wierd.

        I forced myself to finish hoping that it would all make sense at the end.  But it didn't.  It just left me with a very unsatisfying "huh" feeling.

        Thankfully, I had some insight into one of the major plot devices because of another book I've been reading:  Watching the Tree by Adeline Yen Mah.  Thanks to Yen Mah, I sort of understood the I Ching (Book of Changes).   But Dick takes the I Ching and uses it in a completely different way than Yen Mah described.  Based on what little I know, I would say it was a completely wrong way.  (But I'll be the first to admit I'm not an expert.)

        In addition to the the wierd and disjointed plot, I found the characters and the writing dry.  It was hard to root for any of them.  Maybe I'm just not into the storytelling of the time period.  But there it is.

        Even with it's award and it's fame, I would skip this book.

        Monday, May 24, 2010

        My Struggle With Faith by Joseph Girzone

        I knew that Joseph Girzone was the author of "Joshua" series. I didn't know that he was also a Catholic priest.  So when I saw this book on a library shelf, I was immediately intrigued.

        I'm glad I picked it up.

        I learned a lot about the Catholic faith:  about the sacraments of confession, about their take on marriage and communion, about a lot of things.  (I found it fascinating that while catholic and protestant ideas can be very different from each other, we often use the same passages as our inspiration.  We just interpret them differently.)

        Girzone's tone is very conversational and approachable.  I loved that he was able to share (and even critique) without getting preachy or nasty or bitter.  He's not afraid to let the reader know when he doubts, when he's still figuring things out, or even when he disagrees with the stance of the Church.  Sometimes on very big things like the necessity for priests to be celibate, or the process of marriage annulment.

        The more I read, the more I felt like I had discovered a kindred spirit.   For example:  In one passage he writes "It was not easy for me to keep digging and digging for a ‘reason for my faith.’… In their dedication to dogma, they lost total sight of the gentle, forgiving Jesus they were supposed to be representing.  Instead, the did more damage to the name of Jesus and to people’s faith than heretics did with all their strange theological ideas. ….It was downright depressing."  I've had similar thoughts in my long relationship with the church.

        Girzone's book is full of honesty and compassion.  If you're curious about the Christian faith, (or even if you have a disappointed view of the Church as an institution), I would strongly recommend this book. 

        Monday, April 19, 2010

        Tempted by P.C. and Kristin Cast

        Somehow in the blur that was my week, I managed to find time to read the latest House of Night novel.  On one hand, I'm glad that I'm all caught up.  On the other, now I have to wait for the new books to come out.  The wait will be terrible!

        This one was probably my favorite of the series.  The theme of "choice" is front and center.  It reminded me of the sage words of Albus Dumbledore:  "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."  There are several major characters that face the choice for good or evil.  Another type of choice was also there -- to follow stereotypes and expectations, or to be true to yourself.  Not an easy stand, but one that's worth making.

        So in the middle of the fun and the fluff, I keep finding a lot of great stuff in this series.  Tempted keeps the high pace and the teenage drama.  But it held some new twists that really changed the game.  After a cliffhanger ending, it will be a long wait for the next chapter!

        Monday, April 12, 2010

        Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners by Josephine Ross

        This book is a must-read (or peruse) for any Jane Austen fan. It goes behind the scenes of Austen's world to give insight into the "Compliments Charades and Horrible Blunders" of her day -- from "Forms of Introduction" to "Calling and Conversation" to "The Subject of Matrimony." It's written as if to members of the Regency Era, and it mixes lightheartedness and wit in a perfect blend.

        I loved that it had one of those built in ribbon bookmarks -- the kind that you would find in a Hymnal.  I imagine it comes in handy if you want to mark your favorite page.  Maybe this one from "Calling and Conversation" (it made me laugh out loud): "It was an awkward ceremony at any time to be receiving wedding-visits, and a man had need be all grace to acquit himself well through it.  The woman was better off; she might have...the privilege of bashfulness."  Haha!  Poor men.  They get to weather the awkward moment all by themselves.

        However, my favorite part of the book was the watercolor illustrations of Henrietta Webb. They're beautiful and charming and a treasure all their own.

        The World According to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers

        I picked up this little gem on a walk around the library.  I thought it would be memoir-like, but instead I was happily surprised with a colleciton of quotes and excerpts from Mister Rogers writings.

        "A timeless collection of wisdom on love, friendship, respect, individuality, and honesty from teh man who has been a friend and neighbor to generations of Americans"

        Here's a taste from each section of the book:

        • The Courage to Be Yourself - "The values we care about the deepest, and the movements within society that support those values, command our love.  When those things that we care about so deeply become endangered, we become enraged.  And what a healthy thing that is!  Without it, we would never stand up and speak out for what we believe."
        • Understanding Love - "In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers."
        • The Challenges of Inner Discipline - "I hope you're proud of yourself for the times you've said "yes," when all it meant was extra work for you and was seemingly helpful only to someone else."
        • We Are All Neighbors - "The real issue in life is not how many blessings we have, but what we do with our blessings.  Some people have many blessings and hoard them.  Some have few and give everything away."  Bonus: "'L'essential est invisible pour les yeux.' (What is essential is invisible to the eyes.) The closer we get to know the truth of that sentence, the closer I feel we get to wisdom."

        I grew up watching Mister Rogers Neighborhood, and this kindhearted man is one of my heroes.  With every page turn, I could almost hear his voice, and picture him in his foyer dolling out his final thought of the day while donning his outdoor coat.  

        When I was doing a lot of paper-writing in college, I collected books like these to augment and inspire my writing.  I'll be adding this one my little shelf of treasures.  It's not one that you read cover to cover, but one that you come back to when you need encouragement or a little reminder about what's really important.

        Thursday, April 8, 2010

        Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan

        **Spoilers this time**

        This may be considered as cheating in book-blog land, but I want to talk about all five Percy Jackson books together. Because to me, there really is one big story arc that ties them altogether. They’re broken down into very digestible pieces (which is good considering they are young adult adventure fiction), but to me, once you get going it’s hard to stop until the resolution in book 5.

        I watched the movie before I embarked on the journey though the books. Because of that, in some ways The Lightning Thief was ruined for me. The movie changes quite a number of things from the book, and I was pretty distracted by them. Instead of being able to sit back and enjoy the extra characters (some of them quite important) and the different circumstances (some of them quite pivotal), I found myself impatient to get through to events I knew were coming. Probably not the books fault. If I had read it first, I’m sure I would have had a different experience.

        One of things I really enjoyed about this series is that Percy Jackson isn’t the only hero. For example, in The Sea of Monsters, he isn’t chosen to lead (or even go on) the quest to recover the Golden Fleece. So for me, the Percy Jackson series shares more with Lord of the Rings than it does with Harry Potter. Why? Because each member of the Fellowship had moments of glory, and things that made them heroes in their own right. Frodo had to carry the ring, Aragorn had to claim the throne of Gondor, Glorfindel saved the day at Helm’s Deep, etc. I really like that in this series lots of the demigod children get the chance to shine and have their moment. Getting back to book 2. I love the character Tyson -- Percy’s cyclops half-brother. He can seem a little simple at times, but appearances are deceiving. He’s got the heart of a lion, and is constantly proving that a person doesn’t have to follow the stereotype. What a great character! And I adored the final line of the book. It was a game changer, and makes you want to pick up the next book and keep right on going. (That’s exactly what I did).

        The final three books really string together. The big bad guy remains the same, and some key characters face challenges that span through the rest of the story arc to the end of the saga.

        I think The Titan’s Curse was the first book I really truly enjoyed. Percy is off on another rescue mission (a common occurrence in the series). And for some reason, things started hitting their stride for me -- from the different characters to the pacing to the humor. I also love it because you get to meet Nico. He’s one of my favorite characters in the series. I really liked the way he grows and develops. He doesn’t walk an easy path, and I enjoyed watching his choices and character unfold.

        The Battle of the Labyrinth gets heavier and darker in tone. Much more time is spent in the realm of the Underworld, so there are more eerie and spooky things. I didn’t notice at first because I was firmly in Rick Riordan land. But I found out that a friend’s daughter had started with the fourth installment, and was strongly discouraged from reading the others. That changed my perspective a bit, and I started seeing how it could be quite scary for younger readers.

        After another cliffhanger ending, the fast paced plot that started in Titan’s Curse carries through the end of The Last Olympian. And while I liked the 3rd book a lot, I think the finale is my favorite. You learn a lot of back-story of Luke, Annabeth, and Thalia. And the theme of “family” comes full circle. **Big spoiler** I loved the theme of family that concludes in The Last Olympian. The love of family, even if it’s a family of choice and not of blood, is what helps Luke to make an important decision. The importance of family is a major bargaining chip in confrontations between Percy and several of the gods. And there is a strong message for parental support, attention, and involvement in the last book (really in the whole series). i.e. If the Greek gods had been more involved in their children’s lives, many things could have turned out differently. And I think Percy’s last big choice (and his reasons behind it) in the book would make for wonderful discussion with one’s own child.

        Overall: I thought it was a satisfying series. True, it is a little juvenile in tone. But I think that’s completely appropriate since it’s meant for a younger audience. I liked the contemporary spin Riordan gives to classic Greek mythology. It was fun to remember (and learn more of) the tangled web of roles and relationships held by the Titans and Olympians.

        One other thing I really liked: Each of the main characters has a “fatal flaw,” and each are given the chance to overcome it. As I mentioned before, I found Nico’s journey the most dramatic. But all the major characters – Percy, Annabeth, Thalia, Nico, Clarisse, Grover, Tyson, Luke – are given the chance to face their flaws and triumph (or fail *wink*) in turn.

        And it will be redundant, but I love good message of love, family, loyalty, and selflessness. All are included in the Percy Jackson series. Add in the constant stream humor and action, and I think it makes for a wonderful literary adventure. It’s just plain fun…with a lot of heart to boot.

        Thursday, March 18, 2010

        Decoding the Universe by Charles Seife

        This was a happy find during a random walk-through my library.  I was hooked from the moment I read the subtitle:  "How the new science of information is explaining everything in the cosmos from our brains to black holes."  How could I resist?  Then I read the first line:  "Civilization is doomed."  Yep.  This one was going to to be a winner. *grin*

        I found this book fascinating.  Sometimes it got a little heavy and I had to pause and process what I was reading, but Seife does and extraordinary job pulling everything together.  You know why analogies work?  Because things are connected.  And Seife puts quantum physics, information theory, and other such fare into language I could understand.  But better than that, it was language that I enjoyed!

        One thing I love about science:  While we're constantly figuring out new and mind boggling things, the old saying holds that "the more we learn, the less we know."  To me, this reinforces a state of wonder and amazement for both the created world, and the creator behind it.  I think I enjoyed this book so much because Seife writes from a similar optimistic and amazed point of view.  He welcomes the paradoxes and questions, and admits that there are things we have yet to answer or figure out.  Those questions keep us pushing and discovering. 

        If you want to exercise a different part of your brain, if you're curious about science, astronomy, or mathematics, or if you're just in the mood for something different...pick up this book.  I think you'll like it!

        Cleaving by Julie Powell

        "Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession" is Julia Powell's second book. I picked it up because I was curious. I had seen the movie "Julie and Julia," and wanted to read more about the woman behind the movie.

        Of course, the person Julie is much more complex than the character in the movie. In fact, I had to giggle over a quote by Amy Adams (the actress who portrayed Julie Powell in the movie). When an interviewer told her that Julie was coming out with a new book which talked about her extramarital affair, Amy exclaimed "Not my Julie! My Julie Powell would never do that."

        But of course, the real Julie did. And as "Cleaving" recounts, it was not just a short term thing. Her affair truly was an obsession. It encompasses every part of her life.

        "Cleaving" follows Julie's thoughts during an "Eat Pray Love" type year. She gets sick of her affair and decides to stop it (sort of), takes up butchery to get her mind off things, and ends up going on a trip to visit with butchers around the world to continue her soul-searching.

        But like "Eat Pray Love," I don't know that the soul-searcher ends up any different at the end of the journey. Some of Julie's analogies and comparisons are pretty good, but overall, I was disappointed.  I probably wouldn't recommend this book to others.

        One last note. At the end of her book, Julie writes this acknowledgment: "Most of all, I thank Eric and D. Writing your own story is easy enough; having your story written by another is hard. I am grateful down to my toes for you both, for your generosity and grace in handling a situation difficult and not of your choosing." I realize that in a way, Eric is probably simplified from his real-life self (then again, this book is very raw and an "overshare" in several places), but he's a saint. I can't imagine the sheer amount of grace, forgiveness, and patience this man has. I hope for his sake that the Powell's survive this storm and experience marital bliss once again.

        Wednesday, March 3, 2010

        Reading Update

        I thought I would post an update on my reading so far this year:

        Raw Stats:

        • 12 books read.
        • 8 new (67%).
        • 4 re-reads (33%).
        • 5,601 pages.  


        • TBR Challenge - Goal:  12 books.  Completed: 2 books.  Not bad there.  I'm on pace to finish by the end of the year.
        • Audio Book Challenge - Goal: 20 books.  Completed: 4 books.  I'm almost done the 5th, with number 6 waiting in the wings.   You haven't seen any reviews/reports yet because I'm waiting to finish the whole series first.
        • Support Your Local Library Challenge - Goal: 50 books. Completed: 8 books.  Almost done the 9th (an audio book), and am in the middle of number 10. 

        Books I'm reading right now:

        • The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan - part of my quest through the Wheel of Time series
        • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - a book club assignment.
        • Cleaving: A Story of Marraige, Meat and Obsession by Julie Powell - the follow-up to "Julie and Julia."
        • The Pursuit of God: A 31-day experience by A.W. Tozer- a Bible Study assignment.
        • Decoding the Universe: How the new Science of Information is Explaining Everything in the Cosmos, from our Brains to Black Holes by Charles Seife - surprisingly engaging and really interesting stuff.

        Coming up:

        • The Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan - the quest continues
        • The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis - both for the TBR challenge and for book club.
        • The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) by Rick Riodan - After enjoying the movie, I'm looking forward to diving into the books.

        Anything I should add to the list? *grin*

        Tuesday, March 2, 2010

        The Boys are Back by Simon Carr

        I'm discovering a love for memoirs.  Well, cleverly written ones anyway.  This one certainly fits the bill.   

        This is what Amazon had to say:   
        "So there we are, a father and two sons in a household without role models, males together in a home different from anything I'd known--an idyllic Lost Boys' world with a house full of children and as few rules as possible."

        When Simon Carr's wife Susie lost her battle to cancer, Carr was left to raise his 5-year old son, Alexander, on his own. Soon after, Hugo, his 11-year old son from a previous marriage comes to live with them. Now, this motley crew of boys have to learn how to be a family. Along the way, Carr reveals some illuminating truths about parenting and the differences between mothers and fathers. His messy household bears no similarity to the immaculate home his wife kept; his response to mothers on the playground fretting about his son's safety on the handlebars is, "If he falls, at least he'll know not to do it again." Emotionally honest and sharply witty, Carr's story is at once heartbreaking and wonderfully life-affirming.

        One thing I'll readily admit:  There were some parts of the book I just didn't get.  But I won't blame that on the writing.  I'll blame it on the differences between men and women.  I think it would be interesting to discuss some of my "huh?" moments -- whether it was a joke I didn't get or an anecdote that didn't quite resolve -- with a bookworm of the male persuasion. 

        One thing I really liked:  I discovered this book because I watched the movie "The Boys are Back" starring Clive Owen as Simon Carr.  And moments I loved most in the movie were taken word for word from Carr's original. I love that.  Now granted, Carr is a writer by trade.  So he's used to expressing himself through words.  But I still adore that Hollywood chose to stick with him. Not all details of Carr's life remain the same.  But I bet you that the lines that will get quoted from the movie are straight from the inspired pen of Simon Carr.

        This memoir is full of clever lines and touching moments.  "Death by tetanus would have had disastrous political consequences on my theory of hygiene."  "I found myself sobbing too -- not exactly because I was unhappy, but to make him hear me up three flights of stairs, to show him he wasn't alone."  Totally worth picking up and devouring.

        Drops Like Stars by Rob Bell

        Do you have a "go-to" genre?  A fellow book-worm and I were talking the other day and she admitted that she always returns to epic adventures (in the vein of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, etc).  Actually "admitted" is not the best word.  She's not ashamed at all.  Those are the books to which she comes home.  Other literary forays are fine and good.  But when she needs revitalization, that's where she returns.

        For me, it's to books like this one:  "Drops Like Stars: A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering."  Only 145 pages.  And granted, it's more a work of art or a song than a book (a fact which frustrated some online reviews).  But it's pure inspiration.  I revel in the analogies and insights and questions.  They encourage and affirm a part of me that gets worn down in the daily grind.  If you've never picked up a Rob Bell book, treat yourself to this gem.  I doubt you'll be disappointed.

        Monday, February 15, 2010

        Hunted by P.C. and Kristin Cast

        "Hunted" is book 5 in the House of Night series.  A collection of books that has become my rainy day guilty pleasure.  Each installment only takes a few hours to read.  Plus, since each book only advances the plot a few days or so, I can read one long after I've read the one before without becoming lost.  In any case, the main character's constant internal battles and remeniscing fill in any potential blanks that might have formed. 

        Similar to Twilight, the protagonist's main weakness is the men in her life.  But what I like about this series is that it explores deeper topics even while it embraces the vampire angst.  The focus of "Hunted" is faith and free will.  And I have to admit, it's one of my favorite of the series so far. 

        I especially love that Zoey has faith in herself, in her Goddess, and in her support system, even while she is obviously struggling with doubts as well.  Is she ever 100% sure?  Not really.  But does she step out and make the decisions she believes she must to do what is good and what will save those she loves?  Always.  I can't help but admire that.

        The series is planned to include 13 novels.  I'm looking forward to following the story arc through to the end.  (Even if it does move slower than the Wheel of Time series.  And *that's* saying something!)

        Tuesday, February 9, 2010

        The Color Purple by Alice Walker

        "The Color Purple" a classic, a prizewinner, a film, and now a musical.  For any and all of these reasons, it's been on my TBR list for quite some time.  A snowy weekend provided just the excuse to cuddle up in a blanket and enjoy Alice Walker's work!  In fact, with the wonder of Netflix instant-play, I watched the movie after I finished the book and had quite a lovely evening.

        This book continues a theme of sorts (actually a few themes): epistolary novels, and novels about racism, relationships and female empowerment.  (Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Blood Done Sign My Name, To Kill a Mockingbird, Secret Life of Bees....).

        Bottom line:  I enjoyed this book, but it wasn't my favorite. 

        The first half of the book is letters from Celie to God.  It took me a while to get into.  (I think part of it was getting used to the language.)  Once I did, I found it brutal, honest, and engaging.  Celie's voice is matter of fact, and straight from the heart.  To be honest, I think that's the way we're supposed to talk to God.  Talking about any and everyting.  Pouring out our hearts and hurts.

        But I was very glad when Walker introduced a second voice:  the letters from Nettie to Celie.  The sisters were separated from each other at the beginning of the story, and since Celie never heard from her sister she presumed Nettie was dead.  I really enjoyed how Walker structured the second half of the book.  The sister's never talk to each other.  Their letters never actually change hands.  Yet they catch up and dialogue with each other.  It's brilliant.

        I read somewhere that the color purple is a major theme and symbol in the book.  However, I disagree.  It's briefly mentioned once (granted, in a pivotal conversation between two of the main characters), but that's it. Surprisingly, pants are a major theme.  When Celie comes into her own, pants are a major symbol of that independence.  She shows her insight, creativity, and self-sufficiency through something as simple as making pants.  I really enjoyed that.

        Favorite line of the book:  "Whether God will read letters or no, I know you will go on writing them; which is enough for me."  It was in a letter from Nettie to Celie.  She almost decides to stop writing her letters, since she knows there was almost no chance her sister would get to read them.  But then she remembered Celie's habit of writing letters to God, because she couldn't bring herself to talk about them out loud.  And whether or not God would answer, Celie was determined to write.  I feel that way about praying sometimes.  The most important part may not be the answer, it's the simple fact that I keep talking.

        Favorite moment of the movie:  There's a scene where Shug is entertaining a crowd on a dock, and they are within earshot of a church service.  At first there's a bit of duel between the choir's song and Shug's performance.  Then she starts singing the choir's song, and leads a procession from their hang to the church.  The choir's soloist give's way to Shug's voice, and Shug pours her heart out in song at the base of the alter as the Pastor just stands there teary-eyed.  They finally embrace...and it's a beautiful picture of a prodigal coming home.  This exchange was a departure from the book, but it was my very favorite scene.  There are so many little moments in it for each of the main characters, and it's just...moving. 

        Long story short:  I would recommend this book (the movie too).  It might be interesting to discuss it along with Blood Done Sign My Name, and The Secret Life of Bees... in case you need ideas for a book club or something *wink*

        Sunday, February 7, 2010

        Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

        I read this book after it was recommended to me by my cousin.  She was in DC for a work conference, and we met and had a wonderful evening of catching up and getting to know each other.  Turns out, we both share a passion for a reading.  So it didn't take long for recommendations to fly back and forth.

        Outliers:  The Story of Success explores the factors that set people up for greatness.  He explores this phenomenon in several settings, with very enlightening conclusions.  Long story short - success is part talent, part timing, part practice, and part history.

        I really enjoyed the chapter entitled "The 10,000-Hour Rule."  Do you know what the Beatles, Bill Gates, and Mozart have in common?  They all put a lot of time into learning their craft.  Much more time than any of their peers.  No one would ever claim that they didn't have an enormous amount of natural talent.  But that talent alone wasn't the secret to their success.  It was the time they put into honing and developing that talent.  Note to self:  This is one area in which I've never excelled.  I'm a hard worker and enjoy learning new things.  But I've never focused that time in one area.  I'm more of a Renaissance woman - fairly good at lots of things.  Which I suppose is a type of success.  But there's really no way around it.  To have the kind of success these men did, you need to decide where to focus...and then put in the time. 

        I also liked the chapter "Rice Patties and Math Tests."  I liked it for two reasons.  First, Gladwell has a fascinating (and believable) theory that explains why Asians excel at math.  (It's based on the way their language handles mathematics.  Pretty cool actually.)  Second, he explores the different approaches Eastern and Western cultures have for education and the impact that approach has on the children of each culture.  They're both rooted in agriculture.  But the appraoches are as different as rice patties and corn fields.  In Eastern cultures, students are expected to put in long hours year round.  Gladwell quotes a farmer who states: "No one who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich."  Before dawn.  360 days a year.  That's the kind of focus these cultures place on education as well as tending rice patties.  And it shows in the academic achievements of their students.

        I also enjoyed Gladwell's conclusion at the end of the book.  I don't want to steal his thunder, so I'll leave it there in hopes that you pick it up and read it for yourself.  It's worth it.  (And it's an easy read, so it won't take you that long to conquer.)

        Sunday, January 31, 2010

        Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult

        My book club read A Change of Heart in January.  I thought it was ok, but I wasn't blown away by it's awesomeness.  Two friends said that "Handle with Care" and "My Sister's Keeper" were two of Picoult's really good ones.  "Handle with Care" was readily available at the library (the other book is a little more hard to find since the movie is out), so I decided to give it a try.

        "Handle with Care" follows the story of the O'Keefe family and the decisions and struggles they face raising a daughter (Willow) who has brittle bone disease.  After an especially harrowing experience, Willow's parents are presented with the idea of filing a wrongful birth lawsuit.  Doing so would be a problem for a number of reasons, two of them being 1) Charlotte (the mother) would have to say that they would have chosen to abort Willow they had known of her illness and 2) the OB/GYN in the case is Charlotte's best friend. 

        It was bizarre.  I was hooked from the beginning, totally invested and engrossed throughout the plot.  Picoult explored issues from abortion to marriage to cutting to adoption to sibling dynamics to medical ethics to morality... great stuff!  But then I was completely angered and let down by the end.  Seriously.  I was livid while the book was wrapping up.

        I honestly can't remember being so engrossed and yet so let down by a book.  One character in particular that bothered me throughout the book:  Charlotte, Willow's mother.  I can't decide if I like that, or if I don't.  After all, it's good writing if the author gets me that invested, right?  But I just don't understand her.  I can't get behind her.  And the repercussions and results of her actions are strongly to blame for my unhappiness at the end.

        For Picoult aficionados, can I ask you a question?  Do you think the final chapter is where Picoult gives her stance/opinion/leaning on the hot topic of her book?  After reading both "A Change of Heart," and "Handle With Care," I'm tempted to think that's the case.  It might be an interesting discussion question for a book club setting.

        Before I go off on a tirade and give a gazillion spoilers, I'll leave this one be.  But I can safely say that after the two Picoult reading experiences I've just had, I doubt I'll pick up another one of hers soon.  I need a break.  Silver lining:  it's one more book for the library challenge.  *grin*

        Wednesday, January 27, 2010

        And I quote...

        The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - that you thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you've never met, maybe even someone long gone. And it's as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.

        ~ The History Boys.

        Thursday, January 21, 2010

        Violin by Anne Rice

        Have you ever chosen a book for its title?  That’s what I did when I picked up “Violin” by Anne Rice.  I was walking through Goodwill, and thought that it might be a good adventure.  Especially since it was ½ off day and it would cost me all of $0.50.  I like Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles,” and her book “Called out of Darkness” is also on my TBR list.  Plus, I play violin.  I convinced myself that this was a wise Goodwill impulse buy.

        The first page of “Violin” is captivating.

        What I seek to do here perhaps cannot be done in words.  Perhaps it can only be done in music.  I want to try to do it in words.  I want to give tot the tale the architecture which only narrative can provide – the beginning, the middle and the end—the charged unfolding of events in phrases faithfully reflecting their impact upon the writer.  You should not need to know the composers I mention often in these pages…My words should impart the very essence of sound to you.  If not, then there is something here which cannot be really written. But since it’s the story in me the story I am compelled to unfold—my life, my tragedy, my triumph and its price—I have no choice but to attempt this record.

        What followed was confusing, convoluted, and almost unresolved.  The main character is a 54-year old woman named Triana who has experienced some deep and devastating losses.  She’s visited by a ghost named Stefan who, in between serenades on a Stradivarius, verbally spars with Triana in an effort to drive her crazy.  They end up going on a journey through time and distance, working through grief and guilt with music (and the violin itself) as a very large catalyst to that process.

        So did I like it?  Kind of.  I have to admit, I probably wouldn’t have finished reading it if I wasn’t trying to get out of running by walking this week on the treadmill.  As one reviewer said, “The novel is a beautifully written mess, a poetic pile of events which failed to capture the reader in a moment in time because this book moves too quickly and erratically to hold the reader in one place for long enough.”  About halfway through, I figured it out.  This isn’t a novel as much as it is an author grieving through a story.  From what I understand (after a bit of research when I finished the book), “Violin” is very autobiographical.  Knowing that, it makes sense to me that an author would best grieve through a story and characters.  And if you enjoy books that are more about the journey than the destination, then you may enjoy it.  But I was expecting a bit more plot. Serves me right for judging a book by its cover.  *grin* 

        Speaking of covers:  This is the one on my copy.

        But I think this one I found is much more appropriate.

        Has anyone else read this book?  Or do you have a story about picking up a book just because you liked the title?  Feel free to share!

        Wednesday, January 6, 2010

        Goals for 2010

        To Be Read Challenge

        Pick 12 books – one for each month of the year - that you’ve been wanting to read (that have been on your “To Be Read” list) for 6 months or longer, but haven’t gotten around to.

        * Violin - Anne Rice
        * Called Out of Darkness - Anne Rice

        * The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
        * Extraordinary: The Life You're Meant to Live - John Bevere
        * A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael - Elisabeth Elliot
        * The Color Purple - Alice Walker
        * A Million Miles in a Thousand Years - Donald Miller
        * The Genesis Trilogy - Madeleine L'Engle
        * The entire bookshelf in the guest bedroom...
           Skinny Dip by Carl Haissen
        Audio Book Challenge
        I'm going for "Obsessed" – Listen to 20 Audio Books.

        The challenge begins January 1st thru December, 2010. Audio books only, and only books started on January 1st count towards this challenge. You can list your books in advance or just put them in a wrap up post. If you list them, feel free to change them as the mood takes you.

        I am listening my way through the "Wheel of Time." - So that's 11 books to start...

        Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge

        I'm like my blogging friend Heather with this one.  I get a lot of  books from the library anyway, this will be more of a "patting myself on the back" thing. I won't be making a reading list for this one, just adding them as I pick them up.

        I'm going for the "Just My Size" level  – Check out and read 50 library books.

        Audio, Re-reads, eBooks, YA, Young Reader – any book as long as it is checked out from the library count. Checked out like with a library card, not purchased at a library sale. No need to list your books in advance. You may select books as you go. Even if you list them now, you can change the list if needed.  My favorite part?  Crossovers from other reading challenges count!