Top Ten Books I Think Would Make Great Book Club Picks

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for the Top Ten Books I Think Would Make Great Book Club Picks. A good choice for a book club is not just a good book. It needs to be one that sparks discussion and leaves you with some questions. If people come away from the book with varying reactions, that’s even better. I decided to list books my book club has actually read and had great discussions about.

1) The Bell Jar – Nothing gets book clubs talking like depression, women’s role in past decades and attempted suicide.

2) Middlesex – I read this years ago, but my book club is discussing it in a few months. The book is so funny, but it’s also epic. I can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks.

3) Loving Frank – Reading a book that blends fiction and history leads to good talks about what is and isn’t factually in the story.

4) Blame – This is a strange book. It’s about a woman who wakes up after a night of drinking to find out she killed someone while driving drunk. I didn’t love it, but it dealt with so many issues, the discussion was great.

5) April 1865: The Month That Saved America – Civil War details at their best. Everyone in my club loved this one and we had fun talking about the aspects of the war we didn’t know before reading this.

6) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – I like it when book club encourages me to pick up something I might not have read. This nonfiction book about cells and science doesn’t sound appealing at first, but it was wonderful.

7) Still Alice – If you’ve ever had a loved one suffer from Alzheimer’s this isn’t an easy book to read, but it’s a powerful one.

8) A Classic We’ve read All the President’s Men, Pride and Prejudice and others. I’ve found that I always gain new insights into these books when I discuss them with a group. Book clubs don’t have to pick the latest hit to have a good club.

9) We Need to Talk About Kevin – This book gets a strong reaction (good or bad) from everyone who reads it. I didn’t read this one with my book club, but I think it would be a great choice to add to our list in the future.

10) Books you aren’t emotionally attached to. My final choices isn’t a book, it’s just a general idea. I think it’s a bad idea to have your book club read and discuss a book you’re devoted to. Mine read The History of Love at my recommendation and they hated it. I love that book, so it was probably a bad idea to suggest it.

Image from here.

The Illustrated Man

Monday, January 30, 2012


The Illustrated Man
by Ray Bradbury
★★★★☆

Oh Bradbury, how I love your twisted imagination! After reading Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles Bradbury had already won a permanent place in my heart, but this one certainly secured that spot. I’m so glad I finally read it.

The book begins when our narrator meets a man covered in tattoos; each one moves and tells a story of things to come. Each of the tales is a brilliant short stories in its own right and I actually realized I’d read a couple of them in other collections in the past.

Every plot delves into the inner-workings of society; examining everything from religion, sanity, and discrimination to individual motivations and choices. The whole book is so wonderfully put together that each piece adds to the overall themes, exploring a new aspect.

A few that particularly stood out to me:

The Rocket Man – A young boy’s father returns from his most recent trip into space and thrills his family with anecdotes from his latest adventure. Yet all the while they know he won’t stay long and this dread hangs heavy in the air. So many science-fiction stories are about astronauts and the new planets they travel to. This one feels unique because we never hear about the family that’s left behind.

The Veldt – This was one I had read before, but it’s just as deliciously creepy the second time around. Two spoiled children are acting up and their parents decide to take away their most prized possession, a nursery room that brings your wildest dreams to life.

Marionettes, Inc. – A man buys a robot to take his place in his boring home situation. He wants to travel without his wife and decides this is the perfect solution, but nothing is ever that simple.

Zero Hour – Kids all over earth are playing a game called Invasion, in which aliens are trying to take over the earth. Their parents think it’s funny, but as the zero hour approaches they begin to think it might not be a game.

"There were differences between memories and dreams. He had only dreams of things he had wanted to do, while Lespere had memories of things done and accomplished. And this knowledge began to pull Hollis apart, with a slow, quivering precision.” -Kaleidoscope

Check out Let’s Eat Grandpa’s review for more thoughts.

Reading the States: Arkansas

Friday, January 27, 2012


State: ARKANSAS

Fiction:
- A Painted House* by John Grisham
- True Grit* by Charles Portis
- Fallen Angels by Patricia Hickman
- The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks by Donald Harington
- Arkansas Traveler by Earlene Fowler

Nonfiction:
- The Grail Bird by Tim Gallagher
- My Life by Bill Clinton
- Cash by Johnny Cash 

Authors Known for Writing about the State:
- Charlaine Harris (author of the Sookie Stackhouse series, her Lily Bard Shakespeare series is set in Arkansas)
Authors Who Lived Here:
- John Grisham
- Maya Angelou
- Trenton Lee Stewart
- Jenny Wingfield
- Ellen Gilchrist

Great Bookstores:
Paper Chase Book Store
WordsWorth Books & Co.

*Books I've Read


Photo by moi.

The Worst Hard Time

Thursday, January 26, 2012


The Worst Hard Time:
The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
by Timothy Egan
★★★★

Before reading this I thought I had a good idea of what the dust bowl was like. I’d read The Grapes of Wrath and knew about the Great Depression, but I had no idea just how bad it was. This nonfiction book tells the story of the farmers in the Great Plains and the tragedies they suffered during this time.

Egan has a wonderful talent for blending anecdotes with information. One that particularly stands out is the story of a woman who worked in a clothing factory. She was sewing a huge pair of overalls for a man who special ordered them and she couldn’t help but wonder about the man who would eventually wear them. She sewed a note inside the overalls for him to find, saying she said she wanted a “real man.” After reading it, the shy farmer decided to write back and eventually the two got married.

Another section talked about the prejudice towards German-Americans during World War I. It’s horrible to see one more example of Americans persecuting a specific race. We seem to have done that consistently throughout our history, with the Japanese-Americans during WWII with Middle Eastern people today, etc. Fear is what drives those actions, but it doesn’t excuse them.

In addition to those stories, there were many more that break your heart. During this time people were traveling from the east coast to the west coast to get “fresh air” to help their health. Instead, they found a dust filled sky that you sometimes couldn’t see through. There were babies who died because their lungs filled with dirt. Cows and other animals starved to death because their stomachs filled with dirt and they couldn’t fit any food in.

The reason I enjoy books like this one is because I feel like I’m learning about a piece of history. There was so much about this period that I didn’t know and it was truly inspiring to see what people can survive.

“The problem with history was that is was written by the survivors, and they usually wrote in the sunshine, on harvest day, from victory stands.”

Image from here.

Wordless Wednesday: Greenwich Village Fountain

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


A beautiful fountain in Greenwich Village

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Books I'd Want on a Desert Island

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish is a freebie category. So I decided to give you my Top Ten Books I'd Want on a Desert Island. I’m going to preface this list by saying I’m counting series or “complete works of” as one book. That’s not cheating, right?

1) The Complete Works of William Shakespeare – Comedy, drama, tragedy, bawdy jokes, desperate love, Shakespeare has it all.

2) The Harry Potter series – I never get tired of reading these books.

3) The Shadow of the Wind – Gothic mystery, the cemetery of forgotten books, a Barcelona bookshop, yes please.

4) Dombey and Son – Or whatever Dickens novel I have yet to read when I’m about to be stranded.

5) The Complete Works of Jane Austen – I love these books more with each reread.

6) The Lord of the Rings – A tale of adventure, friendship and good overcoming evil; plus there are wizards and hobbits and epic battles.

7) Proust – because really, when else am I going to read all of In Search of Lost Time?

8) The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe – For when I’m feeling spooky.

9) The Time Traveler’s Wife – For when I need a beautiful love story.

10) The Anne of Green Gables series – When I’m feeling down about being stranded, I think Anne would brighten up my day.

Photo from here.

Shakespeare Reading Month: Othello and As You Like It

Monday, January 23, 2012


 
Allie at A Literary Odyssey decided that January would be the perfect month to celebrate Shakespeare. I can never resist an opportunity to read more of his work and discuss him, so obviously I joined in. I read one tragedy and one comedy, a perfect balance of his work. I have now read 19 of his plays and never miss an opportunity to see them performed live.
 
My favorite comedies are Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest. Favorite tragedies include Hamlet, King Lear and histories are Richard III and Henry V. I’d say the comedies are a great place to start if you’re new to Shakespeare, because his humor and clever streams of dialogue tend to be in full force in those.
 
As You Like It
by William Shakespeare
★★★★★

As You Like It follows Rosalind, the daughter of a Duke, as she escapes persecution in her Uncle’s court with her cousin Celia. They take refuge in the forest, waiting for a time when Rosalind’s father gains power. Before leaving however, she has just enough time to fall in love with Orlando, who fortunately ends up in the same forest.
I loved this one; it reminded me so much of The Tempest. There are two brothers who, just like in The Tempest, are both Dukes. Their daughters are central to the plot, falling in love for the first time, just as Miranda does in The Tempest.
 
The play includes so many of Shakespeare’s finest elements. There are women pretending to be men, women falling in love with those “men” and men confiding their love to those “men” without knowing who they really are. Confused? Don’t be, it’s all good fun.
 
In one section a young man goes on and on about how he’s in love. He tells the older man who is his companion that there’s no way he could possibly understand, because he’s so old. I love how Shakespeare often pokes fun at the naïveté of the young. They believe no one has ever gone through what I’m going through right now.
 
The play also includes the famous “All the world’s a stage” passage. I love reading one of his plays for the first time and stumbling upon one of those wonderful lines. It’s always a treat. I read this just after finishing Othello and it complemented the tragedy so well. It provided the comedic balance, cross dressing, falling in love, and mistaken identities that I craved after reading such a downer.
 
***One other bonus from this play, there is a character named Oliver! We named our puppy Oliver last year because of all the great literary references (and he just looked like an Ollie), but I didn’t even realize that it was the name of one of Shakespeare’s characters as well.
 
“Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak.”

Othello
by William Shakespeare
★★★★☆
 
Othello, a moor from Africa, is a well-loved and respected Venetian nobleman. After the beautiful Desdemona falls in love with him, the two wed in secret. Their blissful existence is thrown into chaos as Iago, Othello's personal attendant, begins to plant doubts of Desdemona’s faithfulness in Othello’s mind.
 
Iago is one of the most conniving and depraved characters I’ve ever read. His cold calculating nature is sociopathic. He feels that Othello has slighted him and sets his mind to destroying his life. He moves each pawn to further his plan, all the while maintaining his alleged devotion to Othello and poisoning his thoughts with rumors of jealousy. He does it in such a calm, unbothered way that it’s all the more disturbing.
 
The worst part of the whole things is that Othello is in the thralls of newly-wedded happiness. He and his wife Desdemona are so incredibly in love and then he acts as the tool for his own destruction. He is manipulated by someone else, but no one truly forces his hand. He allows himself to be persuaded to believe that worst about his wife and causes his own downfall by his lack of faith and trust.
 
I loved the character of Emilia. She’s Iago’s wife, but she’s also Desdemona’s hand maid. She asks as a conscience for the players, holding them accountable when they have committed a wrong. She stands up for her lady’s honor when others doubt it.
 
Othello pulls no punches when it comes to the issues it touches on. It deals with marital abuse, racism, trust, jealousy and more. It gives readers a lot to chew on and would be a great book to discuss. I’ve never seen this one performed live, but I’m sure it would be incredibly powerful. 
 
As I mentioned in another Shakespeare post I’d highly recommend The Riverside Shakespeare if you are looking for a definitive edition with lots of extra info.
 
Also, I recently found a great book to introduce kids to the world of Shakespeare. It’s called William Shakespeare & the Globe by Aliki. It’s so much fun!
 

Reading the States: Arizona

Friday, January 20, 2012


State: ARIZONA

Fiction:
- The Bean Trees* by Barbara Kingsolver
- Stargirl* by Jerry Spinelli
- Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan
- Mojave Crossing by Louis L’Amour
- The Lament of Charlie Longsong by Roch Carrier
- The Wailing Wind by Tony Hillerman
- No Man's Land by G.M. Ford
- The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey
- These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner
- The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint: A Novel by Brady Udall
- The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman
- The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
- Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Nonfiction:
- Half Broke Horses* by Jeannette Walls
- My Confession: Recollections of a Rogue by Samuel Chamberlain
- Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon by Michael P. Ghiglieri

Authors Known for Writing about the State:
- Terry McMillan
- Barbara Kingsolver
- J.A. Jance

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Erma Bombeck
- Stephenie Meyer
- Diana Gabaldon
Great Bookstores:

*Books I've Read

Photo by moi.

A Monster Calls

Thursday, January 19, 2012


A Monster Calls
by Patrick Ness
★★★★★

A 13-year-old boy, Conor, lives alone with his mother and is trying to come to terms with her battle with cancer. One night a monster comes to his window. What follows is an eye-opening experience, for both the boy and the reader as the monster tells three tales and tries to explain their meanings.

Everyone was right about this one, it’s just beautiful. It feels so intimate and honest. For me the story of losing your mom to cancer as a tender teen is one that still opens a deep wound in my heart. It is a sensitive spot for me and invokes a visceral pain that never quite heals over. As I read this I was 13 all over again, seeing my mom's bald head for the first time, freshly bare from another round of chemo.


The book reminded me quite a bit of “The Book of Lost Things.” It’s a grown-up fairy tale in some ways. I loved the character of the Monster. He’s sort of a condescending, grumpy old man, saying things like, “You thought I walked across time to teach you about niceness?” Yet at the same time he manages to show Conor an understanding that he deeply needs.

I can't even describe how beautiful the illustrations are. They are just captivating; filled with dark shadows and twisting vines, a combination of both beauty and fear. They reminded me a little bit of the illustrated section in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.

If you haven’t read this one yet, I hope you’ll pick it up soon. It’s a powerful reminder that life is often not fair and the world holds much worse things than monsters. It looks at those dark truths and yet somehow provides some comfort in the midst of the sorrow.

"Villages grew into towns, towns into cities. And people began to live on the earth rather than within it."

“Stories were wild, wild animals and went off in directions you couldn't expect.”

All images from the book

Wordless Wednesday: Prague Old Town Clock

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Old Town Clock in Prague

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Books I'd Recommend To Someone Who Doesn't Read Classics/Nonfiction/Graphic Novels

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for the Top Ten Books I'd Recommend To Someone Who Doesn't Read _______. I decided to split mine and give 5 books for people who don’t normally read classics, 5 for people who don’t read nonfiction and a bonus 5 for people who’d like to check out graphic novels…

CLASSICS
They are considered classics for a reason people. No, you aren’t going to love every single one you read, but you’ll probably learn something from all of them.

1) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – Our culture is so saturated with this story; it’s hard to find someone who has never heard of Mr. Darcy. Because of that, this can be a wonderfully accessible novel. People tend to know the basic story and reading the book introduces them to a whole new depth of humor and social comedy that the movies can’t quite capture.

2) Cannery Row by John Steinbeck – When people think of classics, they often (erroneously) think drama and tragedy. Steinbeck has a reputation for writing some particularly grim books (Lennie and his rabbits!), but this one is just delightful. It’s a great reminder that classics can be funny and light, they don’t have to end in death and destruction.

3) And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie – Classics can be scary! Who better to teach people this than the master of murder mysteries, Christie herself?

4) I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – This enchanting story of a young woman who grows up in a run down castle is hard to resist. It’s a story of first love, growing up, family dynamics and more, all with humor and beautifully written characters thrown in for good measure.

5) Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger – The master of teen angst spawned generations of Holden Caulfields dissatisfied with the world. But before picking up Catcher in the Rye, I would check out his short story collection. It is provides wonderful examples of his writing and wicked sense of humor without some of the whining associated with Catcher.

NONFICTION
This genre includes such a wide variety of subjects. There are books on travel, self-help, history, personal memoirs, etc. Just like fiction, there are good and bad books in each of these categories. Here’s a few I would suggest if you’d like to dip your toes in the nonfiction water…

1) Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell – I love history and I love humor. Sometimes I think Sarah Vowell was created specifically for me. In this book she’s hilarious and writes about her trips to visit U.S. Presidents homes and graves in this wonderful book. Plus, you learn so much!

2) Zeitoun by Dave Eggers – I was a fan of Eggers before this, but I think this might be his best work. Here he tells the story of a man stranded in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina with such attention to detail that you both feel like you’re there and are so glad that you weren’t.

3) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt – I know, I’m a broken record, but it’s such a great character study!

4) 84, Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff – This collection of letters reads like a novel. A woman in New York writes back and forth with a books seller in London. It might sound boring when described like that, but it’s wonderful. It’s funny and sweet and perfect for book lovers.

5) Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain – Something about the way he writes is so raw. He is like that friend you have who says the most inappropriate things, but everyone is thinking that anyway so you can’t help but laugh.

GRAPHIC NOVELS (bonus category)
This can be an intimidating genre, so let me give you the conversation I had with my husband.
HIM: So, they’re graphic as in violent content?
ME: No, they’re called graphic because there are illustrations.
HIM: So it’s a comic book.
ME: Yes, but it’s a whole book.
HIM: So it’s about superheroes?
ME: No, well it can be, but it doesn’t have to be. Just like any kind of book, it can be about anything.
HIM: … *goes back to watching Alaska State Troopers*

1) Maus – It won the Pulitzer Prize folks. In this presentation of a Holocaust survivor, Jews are mice and Nazis are cats. It’s just amazing.

2) French Milk - For anyone who loves to travel, especially to France, loves good food or is stressed about growing up and joining the “real world.”

3) Watchmen – This was my first graphic novel. It’s perfect for the inner nerd in all of us, who is a fan of superheroes, but still wants a solid story and character development.

4) Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood - A woman writes about growing up in war-torn Iran, but manages to infuse the whole book with her clever wit and defiance as well as her struggle to adjust to the difficult life.

5) The Invention of Hugo Cabaret – This book was just made into a movie (Hugo) and I can’t believe I still haven’t seen it. Illustrated in shades of gray, the story follows a young orphaned boy through the streets of Paris and his home in a train station.

Photo from here.

The Fault in Our Stars

Monday, January 16, 2012


The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green
★★★★★

Hazel is a 16-year-old girl with terminal cancer. Her life is limping along until she meets Augustus Waters, an unexpected lightning bolt that refuses to be ignored. There are hospitals and poems, reclusive authors and picnics; and together the try to navigate some of life's most difficult questions.

I've been a John Green fan since reading Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns a few years ago, so my expectations for The Fault in Our Stars were high and yet he managed to exceed them. Soon the internet will be filled reviews of TFIOS. Many will discuss the fascinating elements in this novel (check out Ana's brilliant thoughts here) and I can't wait to see what everyone has to say about it. But this time I'm going to leave that to others and just stick to just talking about why this novel rang true for me. My reasons are threefold.

First, one of my close friends just lost her sister-in-law to cancer. She was incredibly young and left behind a husband and a four-year-old son. Only a few hours before I started the book, my friend and I were talking about how people tend to turn the deceased into saints. We forget about out silly arguments with them and the fact that sometimes they were rude or cranky. Instead, we think only of their best moments and in doing so we do them a disservice. We stop thinking f them as real people and so we're no longer remembering them, we are remembering a perfect idea of them.

So just after this conversation I started reading TFIOS and it talks about this issue in detail. It was just one of those moments when it feels like the universe is conspiring to teach you something. The timing was so perfect.

"The dead are visible only in the terrible lidless eye of memory. The living, thank heaven, retain the ability to surprise and to disappoint."

"The thing about dead people,... the thing is you sound like a bastard if you don't romanticize them, but the truth is... complicated, I guess."


My second reason is a geographic one. The majority of the book is set in Indianapolis, which happens to be my home town. No one ever writes fiction set in my city, seriously, no one. There are scores of novels set in London, New York and Paris and when I read them I sometimes recognize places the authors mention and feel a little thrill thinking I've see whatever the characters are looking at. But it's different when you actually live in the city.

Green mentions the farmer's market in Broad Ripple, which is held across the street from where I used to live. I would go there on Saturday mornings and buy apples and honey. He talks about the Castleton mall, where I hung out in high school and Holliday Park, whose ruins I have marveled at, just like Hazel does. When Hazel and Augustus have their picnic in a park by a museum, I knew exactly where it was and headed there to see Funky Bones for myself. After sweeping the snow off the top of the whole thing I took a few pictures, (see above), and then reread that section of the book. I can't explain how much I loved reading about my own city through the eyes of these wonderful characters.

Finally, I loved this book because of Green's writing. He writes in a way that is infinitely relatable. He does not shy away from difficult issues. Instead, he turns a story about cancer, death and the desire to be remembered into one about living and first love and favorite novels. He can take a subject as big as cancer and make us feel like we are talking to a friend about it.

He has the unique ability to say profound things in a simple way. For example, "It all felt very Romantic, but not romantic." I think anyone who has received red roses or a sappy box of chocolate can relate to that. The things that are suppose to feel romantic never convey that feeling half as well as those moments when you and your partner can't stop laughing at something silly or struggle through a difficult time together. Green takes moments like that and strings them together to create novels that feel so real. By the end of the book you care so deeply about Hazel, Augustus, Isaac and their parents, that you just want to stay in their world a little longer. And that is truly the highest praise I can give any book.

"Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you."

"You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful."

"The marks humans leave are too often scars."

Photos of Funky Bones by moi.

New Year's Resolutions for 2012

Saturday, January 14, 2012


I love lists and I love attempting to improve my life, so I'm all about New Year's resolutions. I'm going to try to do the following things for at least 100 days. We'll see how it goes (especially the exercising part).

1) Make re-reading a major priority this year.

2) 10 Frugality tips to stick to:
• Go to the grocery store with cash and a calculator instead of using your debit card.
• Take inventory before going to the grocery store to avoid buying repeat items.
• Consolidate errands into one trip to save on gas.
• Look for used 1st - If you need something try to find it used before buying it new.
• Eat out less
• Use a 30-day list - When you want to buy something, (not a necessity), put it on a list with the date you added it, reevaluate the list after 30 days to see if you still want/need to buy it.
• Find free entertainment
• Alcohol in moderation.
• Eat less meat
• Don’t go shopping unless you NEED something

3) Don’t buy anything that you don’t absolutely need for 100 days. Attempt to not buy clothes at all this year (I'm in a wedding in May and anything for that will be an exception).

4) Choose one food that constantly sabotages your efforts to eat healthier and go cold turkey for the next 100 days. – (Lays Potato Chips and Pretzel M&Ms)

5) Eat from a smaller plate to help control portion size.

6) Get at least 20 min. of exercise at least 3 times a week.

7) Actively look for something positive in your partner every day, and write it down.

8) Practice active listening

9) Keep reminding yourself that everyone is doing the best that they can.

10) Drink more water/tea every day

Obviously on top of this list I'm planning on completing all of my reading challenges and participating in as many read-alongs as possible. I'm also hoping to host my very first read-along this year, Cloud Atlas in March, even though I'm nervous no one else will join in.

Here's to a fantastic 2012!

Photo by moi.

Reading the States: Alaska

Friday, January 13, 2012


State: ALASKA


Fiction:

- The Call of the Wild* by Jack London
- The Yiddish Policemen's* Union by Michael Chabon

- Aleutian Sparrow by Karen Hesse
- Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
- Drop City by T.C. Boyle


Nonfiction:

- Into the Wild* by Jon Krakauer
- Coming into the Country, by John McPhee
- Among Grizzlies: Living with Wild Bears in Alaska by Timothy Treadwell
- Big Alaska: Journey Across America's Most Amazing State by Debbie S. Miller
- Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush by Pierre Berton
- Coming Back Alive by Spike Walker
- On the Edge of Survival: A Shipwreck, a Raging Storm, and the Harrowing…
by Spike Walker
- If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name by Heather Lende
- A Land Gone Lonesome by Dan O'Neill
- Backcast by Lou Ureneck

Authors Known for Writing about the State:
- Jack London
- Spike Walker

Great Bookstores:
The Homer Bookstore

*Books I've Read


Photo by moi.

Moby Dick Readalong: Part One

Thursday, January 12, 2012


I made it through the first section of Moby Dick for the readalong hosted by The Blue Bookcase! I have been meaning to read this one for years and this provided the perfect motivation to kick me into gear.

Here's the reading schedule...

Jan 12: Chapters 1-28
Jan 19: Chapters 29-55
Jan 26: Chapters 56-93
Feb 2: Chapter 94-epilogue

I'm going to keep my thoughts to a minimum because I feel like I'm still getting acquainted with the book and the characters. So far I've really enjoyed it. Each chapter is incredibly different, but interesting. Allie at A Literary Odyssey gave me some great advice when she said to think of each chapter as a short story. That allowed me to stop trying to force the plot to progress and just enjoy Melville's wander tangents more.

A couple things I enjoyed in this first section:

- Our narrator Ishmael's terrified night anticipating his "pagan" roommate at a boarding house. Then he and said pagan, Queequeg, ended up becoming fast friends.

- People keep screwing up Queequeg's name. They called him Hedgehog and Quohog.

- Everyone is giving some fascinating accounts of Captain Ahab, but we don't actually know him yet.

- I had no idea Ahab had a wife and kid. I always pictured him as a crazy loner with a whale obsession. The family aspect makes him much more relatable.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the first quarter of the book.

"With other men, perhaps, such things would not have been inducements; but as for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts."

Wordless Wednesday: Northern California

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Wine country in California.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Authors I Wish Would Write Another Book

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for the Top Ten Authors I Wish Would Write Another Book. They can be debut authors, authors who seem to have taken a hiatus, OR for those who read classics authors you wish would have written another book before they passed. Here’s my list…

1) Jane Austen – Of course she tops my list! She was only 41 when she died and had completed only six novels and a few shorter pieces. She showed such wisdom and depth in her writing at such a young age, one can only imagine what she would have written if she’d had more time.

2) John Berendt – He has written two nonfiction books (including Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) and both have been wonderful in their own way. He captures the cities he writes about (Savannah and Venice) in such rich detail that I know I’ll read whatever he decides to write next.

3) Edgar Allan Poe – He was 40 when he died! He created the world’s first detective novel, wrote the infamous poem “The Raven” and has chilled souls for decades with stories like The Tell-Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado. I wish he’d had another decade and a few more bottles of cognac to fuel his writing.

4) Douglas Adams – The author of the hilarious Hitchhiker series died when he was only 49. I can picture him growing even funny with old age.

5) Harper Lee – Only one book and it’s one of my all-time favorites. Who knows what brilliance could have been found in a second book?

6) David James Duncan – The Brothers K was such an epic novel and I wonder if Duncan’s next book will have a similar scope or would be something more focused. Either way, I bet it will be great.

7) E.M. Forster – He didn’t die at a young age, in fact, he made it to 91, but I still would have loved another book from him. Howards End, A Room with a View, A Passage to India, each of his novels is written so beautifully. I could read 10 more books from him if I had the chance.

8) J. D. Salinger – The reclusive writer published only four books. I’ve read three and have been dreading reading the final one because I know it’s the last new book I’ll ever have from him.

9) David Benioff – I was surprised by how much I enjoyed City of Thieves. Benioff hasn’t written much else, but that’s because he’s busy writing HBO’s Game of Thrones and a few little movies, like Troy and X-Men: Wolverine.

10) Kathryn Stockett – The Help was just wonderful, as just about everyone and their mother (and grandmother) know by now. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next from the debut author.

101 Dalmatians

Monday, January 9, 2012


101 Dalmatians
by Dodie Smith
★★★★☆

The main reason I wanted to read this one is because it’s written by the author of I Capture the Castle, which I love. Pongo and Missis, a married pair of Dalmatians have a litter of 15 puppies that are kidnapped. Using the Twilight Bark system to contact dogs all over England, they search for their missing pups.

It was interesting to see the differences between this original story and the Disney adaptation (which I watched about a million times when I was little). The main two dogs are Pongo and Missis, Perdita is a completely different dog. When Missis has a huge litter, the owners decide to find a foster mother (Perdita) to help nurse the puppies. Also, Pongo’s master works in the financial industry, as opposed to being a musician. Obviously, finance isn’t as conducive to an animated musical as being a song writer is. I was surprised that Cruella De Vil is described almost exactly as she appears in the film, all the way down to her hair, half black and half white.

I’m so glad I read this after getting a dog. It was a lot more fun to hear how the dogs think while picturing my own pup. I love Pongo thinking about how he “owns” his human, instead of vice versa. He comments on how sometimes the humans were so clever they were almost canine.

Read this if you loved the movie and are in the mood for a sweet story. It’s not complicated or trying, it’s just a good little story. I also think it’d be a perfect book to read aloud to your kids or nieces and nephews.

1001 Books to Read Before You Die Challenge

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Here are the books I completed for the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die Challenge hosted here. I do this every year just on my own and I love it. I don't make a list in advance. Instead, at the end of December I get out my giant 1001 Book and a highlighter. I go through the whole thing and check off all the books I read that year. It's fun because I'm usually surprised by a lot of the books that are in there. Turns out I completed the top level, PHd: 16+ books. I've discovered so many great books from this list.

I've now read 141 books from the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list.

Here's my completed list from 2011:
Robinson Crusoe
David Copperfield
War & Peace
Middlemarch
The Portrait of a Lady
King Solomon’s Mines
The Yellow Wallpaper
Jude the Obscure
The Invisible Man
Kim
The Hound of the Baskerville
The House of Mirth
Babbitt
The Garden Party
Tender is the Night
Absalom, Absalom!
A Home at the End of the World
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
The God of the Small Things
The Blind Assassin

Reading the States: Alabama

Friday, January 6, 2012


Welcome to the first post of my Read the States series! Every Friday I will be posting books and authors that are great representations of a different state. If you have any additional suggestions for this week’s state or any other states, leave them in the comments!

Alabama is known for the Talladega Speedway and the Civil Rights movement, but there are some wonderful literary connections as well. F. Scott Fitzgerald lived there while writing Tender is the Night. Harper Lee and Truman Capote grew up side-by-side in the tiny town of Monroeville. A state so rich with famous authors provides some fascinating reading possibilities.

State: ALABAMA 

Fiction:
- To Kill a Mockingbird* by Harper Lee
- Other Rooms, Other Voices by Truman Capote
- Forrest Gump* by Winston Groom
- Crazy in Alabama by Mark Childress
- Boy's Life by Robert McCammon 
- Gods in Alabama* by Joshilyn Jackson 
- Go Set a Watchman* by Harper Lee 

Nonfiction:
- All Over but the Shoutin’* by Rick Bragg
- The Story of My Life* by Helen Keller
- Scout, Atticus, and Boo* by Mary McDonough Murphy
- The Watsons Go To Birmingham* by Christopher Paul Curtis 
- The Mockingbird Next Door* by Marja Mills
- Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans 
- Ava's Man* by Rick Bragg

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Harper Lee
- Truman Capote
- Zelda Fitzgerald
- F. Scott Fitzgerald

Great Bookstores:
Alabama Booksmith - Known for its first edition club.
Beehive Coffee and Books



In the Garden of the Beasts

Thursday, January 5, 2012


In the Garden of the Beasts
Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin
by Erik Larson
★★★☆

I’ve really enjoyed Larson’s other nonfiction works. The Devil in the White City was interesting (and is being made into a movie) and I loved Isaac’s Storm. His newest, In the Garden of the Beasts, details Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s. There are some remarkable details about this era and those carried bits of the book, but as a whole it felt slow.

I think my main problem with this book was the lack of sympathetic characters. This is nonfiction, so that’s not the author’s fault. Obviously you won’t be feeling sorry for any Nazis or for Hitler himself, but there were few others who were worthy of those feelings. The American family, the Dodds, is made up of a strange group. The father is painted as a miserly, self-important man. No one, even his co-workers, seemed to like him very much. The daughter, Harriet, was apparently fascinated by the Nazis and was passed around like a call girl. Despite being married, she had relationships with multiple Germans in the party and someone even tried to fix her up with Hitler.

My favorite part of the book was learning about the Jewish resistance in America. When we look back on World War II it’s so easy to ask why no one did anything to stop it, but in reality, there were many people who tried to stand up against Htiler’s regime. Even if they weren’t able to bring an end to the horrors before they got out of control, at least they recognized what was happening and stood up in opposition to it.

It’s not Larson’s best work, but I did learn more about Hitler’s rise to power and I’ll look forward to his next book. If you’ve never checked out his account of the Galveston hurricane in 1900, Isaac’s Storm, I would highly recommend it as a good place to start with his books if you like nonfiction.

Image from here.

Wordless Wednesday: Edinburgh

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Edinburgh, Scotland

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Outlander

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Outlander
by Diana Gabaldon
★★

A nurse, Claire Randall, is vacationing in Scotland with her husband Frank in 1945. While hiking around some ancient stones, she touches one and is transported to 1743. Trapped 200 years in the past, Claire must learn how to survive in the midst of the feuding English and Scottish. After meeting a Scottish warrior, Jamie Fraser, her life becomes even more complicated.

I really struggled with this one and it’s suppose to be a “fun” book. It’s a bit of time-travel and a bit of historical fiction, two things I really enjoy. It also has a big dose of romance thrown in and that’s not really my thing, but so many people love this series that I thought I’d give it a shot. I read the first 200 pages and just couldn’t get into it. Finally I made it to the middle and took Sandy’s suggestion to listen to the audio instead. Honestly, that’s the reason I finished the book. The audio version helped and I enjoyed it a bit more.

**Spoilers ahead, don’t read if you plan on checking this book out**

Here’s the thing, I just felt myself rolling my eyes over and over again. Claire is wrestling a wolf, really? Everyone is trying to rape Jamie and no one seems to think that’s a problem? Every few minutes someone seems to get kidnapped or thrown in prison or attacked in some way or another. Wait, what’s that? Oh, it’s the Loch Ness Monster… seriously, I’m not kidding.

The only part of the book I really connected with was the section where we meet Jamie’s sister. Everything calms down a bit and we get some time to stop worrying about who is about to be beaten next.

**SPOILERS OVER**

So, all-in-all, I’m glad I finished it, because now I know what all the fuss is about.I won’t be reading the rest of the series anytime soon though, it’s just not for me. Maybe if I’d started it a few years ago, maybe if I hadn’t become so spoiled by excellent writing recently, who knows. It’s certainly not the worse thing I’ve ever read and I do understand the appeal. If you love romance, have a stomach for some brutal descriptions of violence, this one might be for you, but it was a miss for me.

Case Histories

Monday, January 2, 2012


Case Histories
by Kate Atkinson
★★★★☆

There’s something about chilly winter nights that just calls out for reading mysteries. This book is a particularly good choice if you’re looking for one this season. Instead of the typical private investigator fare, the book could more accurately be described as literary crime fiction.

Case Histories feels like an anomaly in the mystery genre. There aren’t the usual detective clichés or cheesy lines. Instead it is distinctly literary, focuses on excellent writing instead of just the case at hand. But it also has a can’t-put-it-down plot that made me read the whole thing in 24 hours.

The plot follows three separate cases, all from different years. They are unrelated, but Jackson Brodie, a private detective, is the common-thread. Because there are three separate mysteries, plus a few side-plots with the detective, there are continuous reveals through out the book. It never becomes a tedious wait for the big finish and by the end the author wraps everything up beautifully.

Mysteries are usually so plot-driven, but the characters in this book are amazingly well-drawn. The first three chapters explain the different cases and each one feels like a short story that could stand on its own. Within a few pages I was completely sucked into each characters’ story. I loved how the they were told from multiple view points. It gives each case an added depth to see the situations from so many different angles. Atkinson also includes parenthesis throughout the book, which I loved. Each one gives extra insight into the characters’ thoughts.

The three cases include a wide variety of characters. There’s a man, Theo, and his sweet daughter Laura; Victor and Rosemary, two people who are incredibly ill-suited for parenting, and their daughters Sylvia, Amelia, Julia and Olivia. Then there’s Michelle, her husband Keith and their baby Tanya. Each family experiences a tragedy that rocks the very foundation of their world.

Jackson’s own issues work their way into the story as well. He and his ex-wife Josie are trying to find a balance, in their newly separate lives, in raising their 8-year-old daughter Marlee. You would think that such a diverse cast of character would be confusing, but each one is so unique that they hold their own spot in your mind as you read each chapter.

If you love a good mystery, but appreciate great characters and writing, don’t miss this one! I’ve already ordered the sequel, One Good Turn, from PaperbackSwap.

"Theo wondered if those people who were destined to die young had some kind of premonition of the shortness of the hours and that gave their life an intensity, a seriousness like a shadow."