Everything Austen II - Complete!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

I've just completed Stephanie's Everything Austen II challenge. I don't think I could ever burn out on Austen and so this was fun. Here's what I completed for the challenge...

1) The Watsons
by Jane Austen

I wish this one was a complete novel, but I'll take what I can get.

2) The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen
by Syrie James

Loved it! It's a treat for any Austen lover.

(Lost in Austen)

3) Lost in Austen
(2008 Mini series starring Jemima Rooper)

This one was delightful. It's a bit cheesy but so fun. Amanda Price lives in modern day England and is obsessed with Jane Austen. She ends up magically switching places with Elizabeth Bennet. Chaos ensues as she tries to fit into the Bennet family and their society.

4) Emma
(2009 BBC starring Romola Garai)

This is my new favorite Emma adaptation. Garai is the perfect Emma, blending selfish naivete and sincere kindness.

(Northanger Abbey)

5) Persuasion
(2007 ITV starring Sally Hawkins)

I recognized Sally Hawkins, who plays Anne Elliot, as the exuberant Poppy from the movie Happy-Go-Lucky. It was strange to see her as the quiet and caring Anne, but she was great. Though it's good, it's not my favorite. I loved the 1995 version starring Amanda Root.

6) Northanger Abbey
(2008 starring Felicity Jones)

Jones makes a great Catherine Morland. She's sweet and innocent and she let's her imagination run wild. But I think that it's JJ Feild's Tilney that makes this such a good adaptation. He's perfect!

So what have we learned from this challenge? You can never have too much Austen!

Friday Favorites: And Then There Were None

Friday, July 30, 2010

Ten strangers stranded on a deserted island, each one hiding a dark secret. Could you possibly have a better set up for a mystery? I think not. And Then There Were None was my very first Agatha Christie novel. I was only 11 or so when I read it for the first time, which made the murder and mayhem all the more exciting. The set up is similar to CLUE (the movie), but so much better. It's impossible to put down and at only 200 pages it's easy to read in one sitting.

This excellent mystery has remained one of my all time favorites because it has it all. There is a devious mastermind who remains unknown until the end. There are uncovered dark pasts and delicious suspicions. Christie deftly weaves the back stories together and sucks you in so completely that you can't help wonder if you're next.

Sidenote: When I was in London I saw the stage version and though the show was fantastic, I was so disappointed that they changed the ending. Apparently (I found out later) Christie herself changed it for the play, but I still thought the book's finale was much better.

(RED) Penguin Covers

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Penguin has introduced a new line of covers for some classics to raise money to fight AIDS. I love them! Each one has a snippet of text from the book worked into the cover design. Wouldn't you just love to be reading one of these on the subway?

You can read more about the project and see more covers here.

Wordless Wednesday: Salisbury

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The cathedral is Salisbury, England has my favorite
stained glass window. It's all beautiful shades of blue.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Book Reviews: Fingersmith

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

by Sarah Waters

Before reading this all I really knew about it was it is set during the Victorian era in England and there are lots of unexpected twists. That being said, I'm not going to give any of those twists away. Here's the basic premise, without any spoilers.

Sue Trinder is a young woman orphaned at birth. She is raised in a family of thieves (a tongue-in-cheek reference to Oliver Twist) and is convinced by "The Gentleman" to assist in swindling a young heiress out of her fortune. She moves to the country house to act as a maid to Maud, the young woman. From there you can't really say anything else without giving something away.

The book comes full circle and I love that. I also thought Waters did an amazing job describing a mental institution during that time period. It took almost nothing to have a woman committed at that time and that's terrifying!

I will say that I enjoyed the book. I think this is one of those unfortunate times when the hype had an effect on my experience. I've read so many excellent reviews of this that it would be hard for any book to live up to my expectations. It was really good and I enjoyed reading it, but I think I knew a bit too much going in to it. I've loved Sarah Waters' work so far and will definitely be reading more of her books in the future.

Here's two other great reviews of the book...

You've Gotta Read This

Park Benches and Book Ends

p.s. I watched the BBC miniseries of this book after reading it and was really impressed. They did a fantastic job and I would highly recommend it.

Book Reviews: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
by John Boyne

Bruno is the 9-year-old son of a Nazi officer during WWII. His father is transferred from Berlin to Auschwitz and he takes his family with him. Bruno misses their home and his friends and can't understand why he can't play with the kids at the local "farm," which he thinks is called "out-with." He meets and befriends Shmuel, a boy who lives on the other side of the fence and wears striped pajamas.

The strength of this story lies in the innocence of the narrator. Just like To Kill a Mockingbird and other similar stories, we see what Bruno experiences through his own naive eyes. At times this is a fault as well as a strength. Bruno occasionally felt intentionally dense or obtuse. His spoiled childhood made him a bit rude, even when Shmuel was flat out telling him something Bruno just ignored it and barreled on with whatever he was talking about.

At times it was hard to believe that Bruno could be completely clueless to what was happening, but then again, he's a child who has lived a sheltered life. There's a chapter near the beginning called, "How Mother took credit for something she hadn't done." It was one of my favorites because it explained a lot about the relationships between the characters and how Bruno could be oblivious to what was going on.

I had a hard time rating this one, because it is well written, but I just couldn't connect with Bruno. As the inevitable tragedy approached I felt less pity than frustration. It was like watching a scary movie and shouting, "Don't go in there!" at the screen. I would recommend this one, but it's not one I'll re-read.

Friday Favorites: Little Women

Friday, July 23, 2010

From the very first sentences of Little Women we know the four daughters in the March family: the eldest, Meg, tomboy Jo, gentle Beth and vain Amy. Soon we meet their kind mother, Marmee and from those first moments the reader is part of the family.

Set during the Civil War the March family is left with no men in their household when the father is sent off to war. The remaining house full of women is left to manage on their own.

I first read this when I was in grade school and I was thrilled to discover the character of Jo. She was a stubborn tomboy who longed to be an author and on the very first page she's described as "Jo, who was a bookworm." It was me in every way. Jo was the antidote to every sugary sweet character tossed my way in other books. She wasn't a lady, but she was strong and loving and she was willing to sacrifice anything for the good of her family.

The other characters, their neighbor Laurie, their selfish Aunt March, etc. are engraved in my mind forever. I longed to be there, in their world, acting out the Pickwick Portfolio with them in the attic.

Alcott wrote about intimate family dynamics in a time when little was known about women's interaction in the privacy of their own homes. The book was published in 1869, shortly after the end of the war. She created a family full of women with very different personalities, who must struggle through some horrible trials, but survive because their love for each other holds them together. It's a beautiful story that everyone should read.

Top Ten Picks: Favorite Male Literary Characters

Thursday, July 22, 2010

This week's Top Ten list from Random Ramblings asks for your top ten Male Literary Characters. Here's mine...

1) Hamlet: Confused, angry, frustrated, Hamlet was the original troubled teen. His brilliant character spawned legions of similar characters, Holden Caulfield, James Dean's character in Rebel Without a Cause, etc.

2) Death (The Book Thief): Markus Zusak didn't invent the character of Death, but he was the first author who ever made the reader love him. In Zusak's hands Death became a sympathetic creature who is caught in the midst of the horrible war, just like everyone else.

3) Arthur Dent (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy): He is the quintessential British man, except he's swept away in an intergalactic adventure. The hapless Dent is sweet and sincere and the perfect straight man in the midst of Douglas Adams hilarious story.

4) Gandalf (Lord of the Rings): He was the original good wizard. He resists power and fights for what's right. He is fiercely loyal and kind, but you can't forget that he's not just your average guy and like any wizard he always has another trick up his sleeve.

5) Rhett Butler (Gone With the Wind): He's a rouge and an unashamed cad, but he's a good man. Despite his reputation you can't help but root for him and he has some of the best lines, "Frankly my dear..."

6) Jeeves: He is the brilliant manservant to Wooster's hopeless gentleman. Jeeves epitomizes the straight man, a frequently mimicked character, who is always in control.

7) Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird): Perhaps this is an obvious one, but Finch remains one of my favorite characters ever created. He was a moral compass in a town where minding your own business was the easy thing to do. He was kind and loving to his children, while also standing his ground against popular opinion.

8) Bean (Ender's Shadow): Ender is the famous character from the Ender series (obviously), but it was Bean's story that blew me away. Small in size, but full of courage and stubbornness, Bean grows up on dangerous streets and survives by his cleverness.

9) Jean Valjean (Les Miserable): He was a thief, an adoptive father, a mayor, a factory owner, but above all he was a man. He rescued a child and showed mercy to the merciless. He was complex and filled with guilt. He is the reason that Hugo's epic novel has moved readers for generations.

10) Miles Roby (Empire Falls): At first glance Roby is a schmuck. He manages a diner in a small town and is respected by no one, including his wife, but the beauty of this character is the way Miles grows on you. He is everyman. He puts everyone else's needs before his own. I found myself loving him and cheering for him. He has a quiet strength that surprises you and stands up for what's right when it counts.

Wordless Wednesday: Gardens

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

When you have some unexpected events happen in life,
a few hours wandering in the gardens of an
art museum can really help clear your mind.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Book Reviews: Reel Culture

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Reel Culture: 50 Classic Movies You Should Know About
by Mimi O'Connor

This book was so much fun to read. In addition to being an avid reader, I'm a total movie addict. I've seen all but 6 of the 50 movies discussed in the book. Each movie has a short chapter which gives a summary of the plot, memorable quotes and then explains what the "fuss" is about with that particular film. It also includes a list of the lead actors, directors and a few other movies they've done.

The final bit in each chapter is a page covering what people still talk about in regards to that movie. For example, Rebel Without a Cause is still famous for James Dean's red leather jacket and people will always remember the shower scene in Psycho. There are also a few additional sections with fun trivia bits, like "Legendary Oscar Moments" and "Top Movie Couples."

The book is a great way to learn a bit more about the movie industry in a fun way. If you're already a movie buff or you're just wishing you could pick up on a few more references your friends make, this is a good place to start. And after you've read it you'll definitely want to update your Netflix queue.

This book was an Advanced Reader Copy courtesy of Zest Books.

Book Reviews

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Willoughbys
by Lois Lowry

The Willoughbys are an unhappy family of six. Timothy is the bossy eldest child, Barnaby A and Barnaby B are twins and the youngest is Jane, a shy girl. Their awful parents are trying to get rid of them and so the kids decide to try and get rid of their parents. Throw in a sweet nanny and a confectionary tycoon and you've got a great story.

It's a very tongue-in-cheek version of an old orphan story. Most of the parents portrayed in the story are indifferent to their children at best. It reminds me a lot of Snicket's series of unfortunate events. Lowry weaves good vocab words into the story and includes a glossary at the end, which defines the words in a funny way.

Here's one funny bit...

"Oh lovely," said nanny. "You are an old-fashioned family like us. We are four worthy orphans with a no-nonsense nanny."

"Like Mary Poppins?" suggested the man, with a pleased look of recognition.

"Not one bit like that fly-by-night woman," nanny said with a sniff. "It almost gives me diabetes just to think of her: all those disgusting spoonfuls of sugar."

From the Dust Returned
by Ray Bradbury

B.T. (aka Before Twilight) there were other vampire stories. This particular one is a collection of connected stories about the Elliotts, an Illinois family of vampires. The story is told through the eyes of Timothy, a 10-year-old mortal boy who was dropped off at the Elliotts house when he was a baby. The family includes Cecy, who sleeps eternally but travels about by possessing other people's bodies, Great Grandmère, Nefertiti's mummified mother and Uncle Einar, a jovial character who can fly.

The stories seem disconnected. They present interesting characters, but it seems like Bradbury never quite fleshes any of them out. I've really enjoyed some of his books, like The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, but this one didn't work for me. I never cared about anyone in the book.

The audiobook I listened to included an interview with Bradbury at the end. He talked about creating the characters based on his own relatives. Illustrator Charles Addams worked on an illustration inspired by the stories and later they became the basis for his creation The Addams Family.

Friday Favorites: Ender's Game

Friday, July 16, 2010

I strongly resisted reading this book. Everyone who recommended it to me liked the sci-fi genre and I didn't. For that reason alone I thought that it wasn't for me. When I finally caved and picked it up I couldn't put it down. I tore through it and went on to rapidly read seven more books in the series.

Andrew (Ender) Wiggin is a young boy recruited for battle school. The earth is in the midst of a long war with an alien race and they've been trying to train kids to be war generals.

The book deals with moral ambiguities, children's rights and genocide; all big enough issues on their own, but together they create a book of epic proportions. It spawned two separate trilogies, a companion book and additional sequels and short stories.

In the midst of all these reasons to read it is Ender. He and the other major characters, Petra, Bean, Valentine, etc. are what make the book stand apart from other sci-fi novels. They are such strong, complex people that you can't resist them. Bean's character even got his own book, Ender's Shadow, to explain his past.

Ender's intelligence, along with his helplessness in the face of an overwhelming situation, is a big part of the book's allure. It's easy to forget that at the beginning of the book Ender is only a child. He is taken from his family and forced to train for war. No matter how brilliant he is that would still be incredibly hard.

This is the book that opened my eyes to genre stereotyping. It's the book that made me decide I shouldn't judge by covers or genres. I may not love sci-fi or bibliographies or whatever else, but I can certainly love books within those genres. I think there are books that are so wonderful they rise above any category you could put them in and knowing that has taught me that I should give each book someone recommends a chance. I never know which one will be the next I fall in love with.

Book Reviews: King Lear Edition

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I love Shakespeare. I love his wit, his stories, the comedies, the tragedies, the characters, the language, I love it all. I try to read a couple plays by the bard each year and this year I decided to read King Lear. Lear, of course, led to Fool, which led to A Thousand Acres, both of which are re-tellings of the original play.

I decided I would read all three and compare them. In addition to that, I watched the 2008 Royal Shakespeare Company production of King Lear starring Ian McKellen and Romola Garai, which was delightful (in that horribly tragic kind of way).
I'm a bit King-Leared out now, but it was interesting to read them all at once.

King Lear
by William Shakespeare

King Lear decides to divide his kingdom between his three daughters based on how clearly they express their love for him with words and flattery. Cordelia, who loves him best, refuses to participate in the charade, because her actions over the years should be testament enough. Because of this Lear gives his other two selfish daughters his entire kingdom. They quickly strip him of power and he realizes his mistake, but it's too late to avoid the horrible consequences.

This is a tragedy in every possibly way. The characters make horrible decisions, which lead to their inevitable downfall. The thing I found fascinating about this play is the family dynamics. Relationships between a father and his daughters, sisters, brothers, a father and his sons; these are the real heartbeat of the story. More than Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet or Othello, King Lear dives deep into the world of families and questions why we do awful things to the people we're suppose to love.

I loved the writing, but was so frustrated with the characters. Even the good characters were destroyed in the end. I wanted someone to punish the bad, without harming the good, but alas, that's not how tragedies end.


by Christopher Moore


A bawdy re-telling of King Lear from the clever Fool's point of view. Moore's hilarious satire introduces us to King Lear's fool, Pocket, and through his eyes we see the tragedy unfold. Moore infuses humor into the dire situations, which breathes life into the story. In this version the Fool plays a pivotal role in the drama, prodding the characters to make certain decisions and suggesting solutions to others.

Pocket and his apprentice Drool have a very "Lenny and George" style relationship. Pocket is small and clever, while Drool is large and dim, but their friendship is sweet. Pocket is hilarious and the language throughout is so clever. Moore showers his readers in puns and plays with words just like Shakespeare himself loved to do.

"Carpe Diem!"

"What? The Fish of the Day?"

This was my first taste of Moore's work and I will definitely be back for more. Sometimes satires based on a classic can fall flat, but this one only enhanced my reading of the original Lear. Jenners of Find Your Next Book Here, has been singing his praises for a long time and I'm glad I listened!

A Thousand Acres

by Jane Smiley


In this retelling of King Lear, Ginny, the eldest daughter, tells the story from her point-of-view. Set in modern day Iowa an elderly farmer, Larry, decides to give his daughters joint ownership of his farm. He cuts his youngest daughter out of the deal after she disagrees with the decision. The names of the characters are all close to the original characters' names (Larry is Lear, Ginny is Goneril, Rose is Regan, and Caroline is Cordelia), which makes it easy to see the mirrored plot.

The book uses the story of King Lear very loosely, as more of a jumping off point than a true re-telling. We learn about Ginny's frequent miscarriages and troubled relationship with her sisters and father. Her neighbor (a loose recreation of Edmund) becomes a distraction from her sedate marriage as the rest of her life spirals into conflict.

In this version of the story, Ginny and Rose are the victims and Larry/Lear is a controlling, abusive father who has been exploiting his daughters for years. Caroline is spoiled and oblivious to much of the family's history and so she doesn't see her father for who he really is. This twist of the original tale reminds me of Gregory Maguire's books (Wicked, etc.), which rewrite fairy tales from the "villain's" point-of-view.

After awhile I felt really frustrated by Ginny's character, she's so weak and so malleable. I had a hard time connecting with her. Rose is hard to love, but at least she's honest about how she feels. The book drags a bit and I felt like it could have cut a lot without hurting the plot. I'm glad I read it to compare it with King Lear, but it won't stick with me like the original will.

"I have often thought that the death of a parent is the one misfortune from which there is no compensation."

Wordless Wednesday: Warwick

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Today is a good day for castles.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Book List: 3 Favorite Genres

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

This week's meme, from Lost in Books, asks, "What are your 3 favorite genres?"

Here is my list:

1) Travel Memoirs: I love reading well-written accounts of peoples' travels. Travels with Charley, Blue Highways, Imagined London, Long Way Round, are all great examples. I tend to really enjoy ones that avoid whining about personal issues and focus on their experience during the trip and the people they meet.

2) Historical Fiction: Whenever I read historical fiction I feel like I'm learning something while being entertained. Great historical fiction is always well researched. The Red Tent, The Book Thief and anything by Tracy Chevalier are all good examples and I was surprised to learn that Memoirs of a Geisha is listed as the best historical fiction book ever written.

3) Classics: It's a big genre with many sub-genres, but overall it's one of my favs. I've found that most books stand the test of time for a reason. Obviously there are classics that aren't my cup of tea, but many of my favorites would fall in this category.

2010 100 Book Challenge Completed

Monday, July 12, 2010

June was a good month. I read 20 books and I've officially completed the 100 + Reading Challenge hosted here. I upped this challenge by turning it into a 101010 book challenge (10 books from 10 categories in 2010), so I finished the 100 books, but also completed all 10 categories.

Favorite authors (10/10)

-"The Angel's Game" by: Carlos Ruiz Zafon - ★★★★☆

-"Paper Towns" by: John Green - ★★★★

-"The Sandman Vol 1: Preludes and Nocturnes" by: Neil Gaiman - ★★★☆

-"Juliet, Naked" by: Nick Hornby - ★★★★
-"Fantastic Mr. Fox" by: Roald Dahl - ★★★★
-"The Murders in the Rue Morgue" by: Edgar Allan Poe - ★★★☆


-"Cannery Row" by John Steinbeck - ★★★★
-"Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" by: Rudyard Kipling - ★★★
"Silver Wedding" by: Maeve Binchy - ★★★
-"The Watsons" by: Jane Austen - ★★★★

Nonfiction / Travel Related (10/10)

-"The Wordy Shipmates" by: Sarah Vowell - ★★☆
-"Zeitoun" by: Dave Eggers -★★★★☆
-"Bright-sided" by: Barbara Ehrenreich - ★★★☆


-"A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906" by: Simon Winchester - ★★☆

-"The Happiness Project" by: Gretchen Rubin - ★★★★

-"Literary England" by: Richard Wilcox - ★★★
-"The Kitchen Confidential" by: Anthony Bourdain - ★★★★

-"The Poe Shadow" by: Matthew Pearl - ★★☆

-"Autobiography of a Face" by Lucy Grealy - ★★★★

-"Tales of the City" by Armistead Maupin - ★★☆

Recommended (10/10)

-"For One More Day" by: Mitch Albom - ★☆

-"The Bean Trees" by: Barbara Kingsolver- ★★★

-"The Mezzanine" by: Nicholson Baker - ★★★★

-"Holly's Inbox" by: Holly Denham - ★★★


-"The Jungle Book" by: Rudyard Kipling - ★★★★
-"Over Sea, Under Stone" by: Susan Cooper - ★★★★

-"What Was Lost" by: Catherine O'Flynn - ★★★★


-"The Little Stranger" by: Sarah Waters - ★★★★☆

-"Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History" by: Art Spiegelman - ★★★★☆

-"Beat the Reaper" by: Josh Bazell - ★★★★

Plays (esp. Pulitzer Prize Winners) (10/10)

-"Dinner with Friends" by: Donald Marguiles - ★★★
-"Glengarry Glen Ross" by: David Mamet - ★★★

-"Driving Miss Daisy" by: Alfred Uhry - ★★★★

-"August: Osage County" by: Tracy Letts - ★★★★
-"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" by: Edward Albee - ★★★
-"A Doll's House" by: Henrik Ibsen - ★★★★☆

-"RENT" by Jonathan Larson - ★★★★★
-"Waiting for Godot" by Samuel Beckett - ★★★


-"All's Well That Ends Well" by: William Shakespeare - ★★★☆

-"The Crucible" by Arthur Miller - ★★★★

Short Stories / Poetry Collections (10/10)
-"Carry On, Jeeves" by: P.G. Wodehouse - ★★★☆

-"Keats: Selected Poems" by: John Keats - ★★★★

-"Revolting Rhymes" by: Roald Dahl - ★★★★

-"Heaven and Other Poems" by: Jack Kerouac - ★★★★


-"Blue Moon Over Thurman Street" by Ursula K. LeGuin - ★★☆

-"The Whore's Child and Other Stories" by Richard Russo - ★★★★★
-"100 Poems by 100 Poets: An Anthology" by: Harold Pinter - ★★★★★

-"The Matisse Stories" by: A.S. Bryatt - ★★★☆

-"I Feel Bad About My Neck" by: Nora Ephron - ★★★☆
-"Tell Me the Truth About Love" by: W.H. Auden - ★★★★☆

1,000 Books (10/10)

-"Great Expectations" by: Charles Dickens - ★★★★★
-"Black Water" by: Joyce Carol Oates - ★★★☆
-"The Big Sleep" by: Raymond Chandler - ★★★

-"Les Miserable" by: Victor Hugo - ★★★★☆

-"Silas Marner" by George Eliot - ★★★☆


-"Candide" by: Voltaire - ★★★★
-"Fury" by: Salman Rushdie - ★★★
-"The Woman in White" by: Wilkie Collins - ★★★★☆
-"Cranford" by: Elizabeth Gaskell - ★★★★
-"The Nine Tailors" by: Dorothy L. Sayers - ★★★☆

Sequels (10/10)


-"G is for Gumshoe" by: Sue Grafton - ★★★

-"The Girl Who Played with Fire" by: Stieg Larsson - ★★★★☆

-"The Lost Symbol" by: Dan Brown - ★★☆
-"Unshaken" by: Francine Rivers - ★★★

-"Anne of Ingleside" by: L.M. Montgomery - ★★★☆
-"Fourth Comings" by: Megan McCafferty - ★★★
-"The Slippery Slope" by: Lemony Snicket - ★★★

-"The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" by: Stieg Larsson - ★★★★☆

-"Sacred" by: Dennis Lehane -
-"Ender in Exile" by: Orson Scott Card -

Book Awards (Pulitzer, Booker, Orange) (10/10)

-"The Color Purple" by: Alice Walker - ★★★★
-"The White Tiger" by: Aravind Adiga - ★★★
-"The Known World" by: Edward P. Jones - ★★★☆

-"The Remains of the Day" by: Kazuo Ishiguro - ★★★★☆
-"Olive Kitteridge" by: Elizabeth Strout - ★★★

-"Invisible Man" by: Ralph Ellison - ★★☆
-"Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles Began" by: Art Spiegelman - ★★★★★
-"Let the Great World Spin" by: Colum McCann - ★★★★☆
-"Blindness" by Jose Saramago - ★★★★☆
-"Holes" by Louis Sacher - ★★★★

Book Club (10/10)


-"Blame" by: Michelle Huneven - ★★★☆

-"How Starbucks Saved My Life" by: Michael Gates Gill - ★★★☆

-"The Postmistress" by: Sarah Blake - ★★★☆

-"The Help" by: Kathryn Stockett - ★★★★☆
-"Still Alice" by: Lisa Genova - ★★★★☆


-"In an Instant" by: Lee and Bob Woodruff - ★★★☆

-"The Heretic's Daughter" by: Kathleen Kent - ★★★★

-"The Unnamed" by: Joshua Ferris - ★★★★

-"The Lacuna" by: Barbara Kingsolver - ★★★★

-"The Little Giant of Aberdeen County" by Tiffany Baker - ★★★☆

Random Book Challenge (10/10)

-"Strait is the Gate" by: Andre Gide - ★★★
-"Their Eyes Were Watching God" by: Zora Neale Hurston - ★★★☆

-"Blue Highways: A Journey into America" by: William Least Heat-Moon - ★★★★☆
-"Little Children" by: Tom Perrotta - ★★★★

-"Proof" by: David Auburn - ★★★★


-"O Pioneers!" by: Willa Cather - ★★★★★


-"Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan - ★★★★☆


-"Fool" by: Christopher Moore - ★★★★☆
-"The Lightning Thief" by: Rick Riordan - ★★★★

-"The House on Mango Street" by: Sandra Cisneros - ★★★★

Etsy Literary Love

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lately I've been finding way too many literature inspired pieces on Etsy.
My favorite is this coffee mug with a quote from Mr. Darcy (P&P), found

Do I need this coffee mug? No, of course not. Do I want this coffee mug?
Absolutely! Coffee + quote from Jane Austen = Be still my heart.

Another fun one, a pillow with an illustration from
The Chronicles of Narnia, found

And one final Pride and Prejudice item, hand-painted art found here.
They also have a wonderful Jane Eyre bookmark.

p.s. Etsy is dangerous.

Friday Favorites: The Book Thief

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
★★★★★ (I'd give it 6 stars if I could)

The first time I read The Book Thief, three years ago, I couldn't stop crying when I finished it. You might think that I wouldn't want to do that to myself again, but it's absolutely worth it. I couldn't put it down. I just finished rereading it and once again, as I read those final pages the waterworks started up.

The book is about a young orphaned girl named Liesel and it takes place in Germany during World War II. That being said, this book is like no other WWII book I've ever read. It's full of hope and love and humor. It is narrated by Death, but not in a creepy way, in a brilliant way. Who could possibly give you a better look at WWII than Death? 

The writing is what truly sets it apart. Zusak has a gift for saying simple things in a way that makes your heart ache. The story unfolds like a poem. He wrote the characters so well that I got goose bumps when I reread it, because it was like hearing from old friends. Liesel's best friend Rudy is loyal and sincere and her tough foster mother Rosa is more than meets the eye. A Jewish man named Max changes her life, but more than anyone else, Liesel's foster father Hans Hubermann stole my heart.

This is one of my favorite books I've ever read and one of the few that I universally recommend to people. I have yet to find anyone who hasn't loved it. I will never fully be able to explain the beauty of this story, but I would encourage anyone who hasn't read it to do you immediately!

 (Book Illustrations)

"I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race – that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and it's words and stories so damning and so brilliant." – Death

***Side note: If you listen to the audiobook make sure you look at a hard copy at some point. It includes a few illustrations that are important to the story.

Book Reviews: The Inferno

Thursday, July 8, 2010

For more discussion about the book visit Caravana de recuerdos who hosted a read-along for the whole Divine Comedy, including The Inferno.

The Inferno
by Dante Alighieri

This famous book is really a poem, a really long poem. Our narrator is the author himself and the year 1300. Guided by Virgil, Dante travels through the nine circles of hell and describes what he sees in each one. Here's a rundown of what sin imprisoned the individuals in each of the nine circles.

First Circle - Limbo
Second Circle - Lust
Third Circle - Gluttony
Fourth Circle - Avarice and Prodigality
Fifth Circle - Wrath and Sullenness
Sixth Circle - Heresy
Seventh Circle - Violence
Eighth Circle - Fraud
Ninth Circle - Betrayal

One thing that surprised me was the order of the sins. I would have expected violence to be considered worse than fraud. I also would have expected lust to be worse than gluttony. It was interesting to see how Dante ranked them in his version of hell. The "active" sins, like intentional betraying someone, were considered much worse than "passive" sins, like sullenness. The premise being, if you're intentional doing something to hurt or take advantage of someone else than you are more evil than someone who just lets life happen or focuses on the wrong things. It makes sense and I still wouldn't want to suffer the punishments for the passive sins.

I thought it was interesting to read about all the different people he runs into in hell. There are historical figures, like Cleopatra, literary legends like Medusa and people like Cain, from the Biblical. It was such a diverse group representing each of the circles of sinners.

The thing that was the most fascinating to me was the method of pain and torture inflicted in each circle. The crime definitely fits the punishment and is described in disturbing detail. In a section of the 8th circle flatterers are covered in human excrement, which represents the words they spewed on others during their life. How fitting is that! The souls in hell are trapped in a perpetual cycle of torment that they have selected by their choices in life.

The writing and descriptions in The Inferno are intense and often hard to follow. I found myself re-reading many sections to make sure I understood everything. It's absolutely worth reading, but it's heavy material and I can't say it was exactly enjoyable.

Here's an example of one of the beautiful sections of the Inferno...

For flames I saw, and wailings smote mine ear:
So that all trembling close I crouch'd my limbs,
And then distinguish'd, unperceiv'd before,
By the dread torments that on every side
Drew nearer, how our downward course we wound.

As a side note I found out that one of the most famous translations of The Inferno was done by Dorothy L. Sayers, who wrote The Nine Tailors, which I just finished.

Paris in July: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

It's time for Paris in July hosted by Thyme for Tea and BookBath. There's nothing like a little something French to help you endure the summer heat. So I decided to read the French novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog and watch the movie Priceless.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
by Muriel Barbery

Renée is a middle-aged concierge in a luxury building in Paris. Paloma is a brilliant 12-yr-old who lives in the building. The two narrate the story with surprisingly similar voices. They philosophize on class systems, the meaning of life, etc.

The book didn't pick up for me until a new tenant, Ozu, moved into the building. His character sets everything in motion. Until he appears it's mainly just Paloma and Renée's self-centered thoughts, which were becoming a bit tiring. Once Ozu is introduced there is more of a plot and I really enjoyed his interaction with both Paloma and Renée. Once I got into the rhythm of the book I really liked it, though I preferred Renée's sections.

It is a very French book, debating social status as opposed to true knowledge and love of art. Its greatest strength is the quiet interaction between the characters: Paloma and Renée, Ozu and Renée, Renée and her best friend Manuela. It's those relationships and conversations that give the books its spark.

"But we all know perfectly well that in essence dreams and waking hours do not have the same texture."

Here's a bit from the book which explains the title...

"Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside, she's covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary - and terribly elegant."


Priceless stars Audrey Tautou, who captured everyone's heart in Amélie, and Gad Elmaleh, who is new to me, but equally delightful. Tautou is a gold digger who mistakenly thinks she's found a new rich man in Elmaleh. He is thrilled by her interest, but she soon discovers he's only a hotel clerk. It's a sweet story that is a perfect summer treat.

Random Book Challenge

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


1. Random Book Selection. Go to the library. Position yourself in a section such as Fiction. Then write down random directions for yourself (for example, third row, second shelf, fifth book from right). Follow your directions and see what book you find.
Book: "Their eyes were watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston
- ★★★☆

2. Random Word. Go to this random word generator and generate a random word. Find a book with this word in the title. Read the book and write about it.
Word: Highway
Book: "Blue Highways: A Journey into America" by William Least Heat-Moon
- ★★★★☆

3. Birth Year Book. Find a book that was published in the year of your birth.
Year: 1984
Book: "The House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros
- ★★★★

4. Judge A Book By Its Cover. Pick out a book based SOLELY on the cover.
Book: "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
- ★★★★☆

5. Phoning An Author. Pick a random last name out of the phone book. Find an author with the same last name and read a book by them.
Name: Cather
Book: "O Pioneers!" by Willa Cather
- ★★★★

6. Public Spying. Find someone who is reading a book in public. Find out what book they are reading and then read the same book.
Book: "Little Children" by Tom Perrotta
- ★★★★

7. Random Bestseller. Go to Random.org and, using the True Random Number Generator, enter the number 1950 for the min. and 2008 for the max. and then hit generate. Then find the bestseller list for that year and pick a book.
Year: 2007
Book: "The Lightning Thief" by Rick Riordan
- ★★★★

8. Turn on your iPod and hit play, the first song that comes on at random, find a book that shares at least one word in its title with the title of that song.
iPod song- Fool for a Lonesome Train by Ben Harper
Book: "Fool" by Christopher Moore
- ★★★★☆

9. Have Random.org give you a number between 1 and 1,000 and read the book that is that number of the list of 1,000 books to read before you die.
Number: 689
Book: "Strait is the Gate" by André Gide
- ★★★

10. Movie/Book Comparison. Find a book that you haven't read that has a movie based on it that you haven't seen. Read the book and watch the movie within a few days of each other.
Book: "Proof" by David Auburn
- ★★★★☆

Photo by moi.

Book-A-Minute Classics

Monday, July 5, 2010

Who knew dramatic classics could be so funny. When I need a quick laugh, I love looking at the Book-A-Minute summaries of classic novels. I wouldn't read any of the summaries for books you haven't already read though, because there is usually a spoiler.

Here's a few examples...

Huckleberry Finn
By Mark Twain (Ultra-Condensed by David J. Parker

Huckleberry Finn: (Goes rafting. Goes home.)


The Catcher In the Rye
By J. D. Salinger (Ultra-Condensed by David J. Parker)

Holden Caulfield: "Angst angst swear curse swear crazy crazy angst swear curse, society sucks, and I'm a stupid jerk."


Book Reviews: The House on Mango Street

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The House on Mango Street
by Sandra Cisneros

The book is written as a series of vignettes about the life of a young Latino girl growing up in Chicago. The girl, Esperanza Cordero, is the eldest child in her family. Her brief glimpses into the life there are sometimes sad, sometimes wonderful. Some deal with her, others with neighbors or friends, but all of them paint a picture of the Mango Street, where she lives.

The story of her friend Sally was particularly heart wrenching. She's abused by her father and then married off to a controlling man while still a teen. She tries to escape her life but instead just traps herself in a new cycle of pain.

The book is a sweet little gem. I loved Cisneros' style of writing. Her descriptions are fresh and come alive. Here are a couple of my favorite examples...

"It's small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small you'd think they were holding their breath."

"Our laughter for example. Not the shy ice cream bells' giggle of Rachel and Lucy's family, but all of a sudden and surprised like a pile of dishes breaking."

Friday Favorites: A Prayer For Owen Meany

Friday, July 2, 2010

In 2008, after traveling through Europe for more than a month, I ran out of books. On long train rides I made my way through half a dozen books I'd brought with me and now I was stranded in Budapest with nothing to read. Luckily, the hostel I was staying in was run by ex-Brits and they told me about an English used bookstore in the area. Since I have zero knowledge of the Hungarian language I was thrilled.

The bookstore was called Tree Hugger Dave's and was small, selling perhaps 200 books at any given time. There was so much pressure to choose the perfect book. I was tight on cash and the next day I would be headed to Eger, a tiny town a few hours from Budapest, which certainly wouldn't have an English bookstore. My options were limited, but after thumbing through some classics and bestsellers I found a battered copy of A Prayer For Owen Meany. I made up my mind, dug out a few notes and paid for my selection.

(Széchenyi thermal bath)

Throughout the next few days it acquired a few new battle scars, drips of water at a
thermal bath, a splash of hot chocolate as I took refuge from a storm in a cafe, drops of bull's blood red wine in the evenings, it went everywhere with me. I'm sure that one of the reasons I connected with this book so immediately was because of the situation in which I was reading it, but I think I would have loved it no matter where I had been.

(Me in Budapest)

About the book:

Owen Meany's best friend John narrates the story as an adult. He reflects on their childhood together and how he has grown bitter over the years; you slowly learn why as his story unfolds. The story takes place in the middle of the 20th century and takes you from a small New England town to a boarding school to Canada.

The characters in this book are just wonderful. John's single mother is the perfect balance of strength and grace. His grandmother is a pip and her unlikely friendship with Owen is odd, but somehow works. Owen himself is like no other character I've ever read about. He is tiny, physically stunted, but has a strange voice and a commanding presence. He believes he was created for a specific purpose, though he doesn't know what that is. He is fiercely intelligent with a self-deprecating wit and unwavering loyalty.

I've heard some people complain about the length, but for me it was perfect. It allowed me to revel in the story, get acquainted with the characters. The funny thing is, as much as I loved this book, I certainly haven't loved everything by Irving. So don't be put off from it if you haven't liked his other work.

A small section of this book was turned into the movie Simon Birch a few years back. I thought that because I'd seen the movie I knew what to expect. Turns out the film covers only a small slice of the plot and distorts even that section. It's not a bad movie, but it barely scratched the surface.

The novel deals with friendship, love, religion, fate, guilt, forgiveness, faith, destiny, and so much more. It's part coming-of-age, part coming to terms with the past. With all of those intense issues you would think this book would be awfully serious, but it's so funny. Owen provides a steady stream of humor both intentionally and unintentionally.

For me this was a strange book, but one that I found myself reflecting on months later. I would think about different characters and scenes and marvel at how well executed the whole thing was. It's an odd premise and it could easily have come across as gimmicky, but Irving avoided those pitfalls and instead, gave us one of the most memorable characters in modern literature.

Photos by moi (and a random elderly couple in Hungary)