The Distant Hours

Monday, April 30, 2012


The Distant Hours
by Kate Morton
★★★★☆

I will officially read whatever Morton writes. After my experience with The Forgotten Garden last year I knew I liked her style, but this book cemented it for me. Her books can certainly run a bit longer than they need to be, but when it comes to a gothic mystery with old ruined castles and buried secrets, I like a bit of meandering. I don’t read it sitting on the edge of my seat for the big reveal in the end. I guessed some plot twists and was surprised by others, but the twist isn't really the point with her books. You're so fascinated by the characters that you want to know what happens, but you’re also comfortable slowly peeling back the layers.

Three elderly sisters, Juniper, Saffy and Percy, live alone in Milderhurst Castle. The story’s central character, Edie, stumbles upon their home after her mother reveals that she lived with them for a short time during the London bombings in WWII.

The story bounces back and forth between WWII and 1992. There are about five minor and major plots that weave together; Edie’s personal life, her mother’s story, the back story of each of the three sisters, their father’s history and the story behind his famous book (The True History of the Mud Man). It sounds like a lot, but it never becomes confusing. There’s a bit of love, broken hearts, abandoned dreams and, of course, family secrets.

The sisters are wonderful characters. Juniper, the baby of the family, is a recreation of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. Saffy is a sweet-natured woman who can’t seem to stand up to her twin sister. Percy is the headstrong eldest sister and she takes care of everyone in her family, whether they like it or not. The trio has a great dynamic, both as elderly women in 1992 and young women during the war. There’s an intense protective nature in everything they do they speaks to the unbreakable bonds of a family.

The Forgotten Garden is my favorite of Morton’s books so far, but I really enjoyed this one. I’m looking forward to reading The House at Riverton and whatever she writes next. If you loved The Thirteenth Tale or Rebecca, I would highly recommend this one.

“It’s a funny thing, character, the way it brands people as they age, rising from within to leave its scar.”

“Lack of potatoes left a person’s stomach growling, but absence of beauty hardened the soul.”

“I can’t imagine facing the end of the day without a story to drop into on my way towards sleep.”

“Insecurities and hurts, anxieties and fears grow teeth at night.”

Reading the States: Kansas

Friday, April 27, 2012


State: KANSAS

Fiction:

- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz* by L. Frank Baum
- Still Life with Crows by Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child
- The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty
- Secrets of the Tsil Café by Thomas Fox Averill
- Little House on the Prairie* by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- West of Dodge by Louis L'Amour
- Doc* by Mary Doria Russell
- The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton by Jane Smiley

Nonfiction:
- In Cold Blood* by Truman Capote
- What's the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank
- John Brown, Abolitionist by David S. Reynolds
- PrairyErth by William Least Heat-Moon

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:
- Judith McCoy Miller

Authors Who Lived Here:
- William Stafford
- William Inge
- Amelia Earhart
- William S. Burroughs

Great Bookstores:
Rainy Day Books
Rivendell Books
Watermark Books

*Books I've Read

Photo by moi.

Mini Reviews: Pairing Books with Movies (or TV) 5

Thursday, April 26, 2012


The Monster of Florence
by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi
★★★★☆

Yay for excellent nonfiction! When an American author moves to Italy with his family, he has no idea what he’s in for. He quickly discovers the story of the Monster of Florence, a serial killer who murdered 14 people over the course of two decades and was never caught. He and the Italian journalist Mario Spezi research the case and find themselves caught up in the midst of it.

The first half of the book gives the history of the murders and brings the reader up-to-date with the ongoing police case. The second half gives Preston and Spezi’s personal experience with the police and the complicated Italian judicial system. It’s real life, so some people might not be satisfied with the ending. Unfortunate, things are always resolved like we would like them to be.

I’ve heard it compared to The Devil in the White City and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I don’t know what it is about that style of book that I enjoy so much, but I love them. I’m not a fan of true crime books, but these fall in a different category, they are creative nonfiction, written like a novel almost, but using only the facts. I would say this one is closer to Devil than Midnight, but all three are wonderfully written and read like fiction.

Pair with a viewing of Hannibal. The movie is partially filmed in Florence and the author of Hannibal is said to have partially based the character on the Monster of Florence. While writing that novel Thomas Harris attended some of the Monster trials. Fair warning, it's really creepy.


Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
And Other Concerns
by Mindy Kaling
★★★★

Mindy Kaling is pretty hilarious. Though my love of The Office has waned in recent years, I still love that style of humor and this book provides more of the same. Kaling talks about everything from her childhood friends to her favorite moments in comedy. She mentions a brief stink as a writer on SNL, her fluctuating weight, her parents, etc. She manages to make all of these things both funny and relatable.

I love that she starts out by referencing Tiny Fey’s book. Since everyone else will obviously be comparing them, she preemptively notes that Fey’s book is awesome and you should read it.

I’m not a big fan of Kaling’s character, Kelly, on The Office, but I also realize that isn’t really her, as Kaling herself points out many times. There are a few similarities, but Kaling is much smarter and funnier than her television counterpart. So if you think you might like this one, read it for a quick laugh and because you’ve already read Bossypants.

Pair with a viewing of a few Office episodes written or co-written by Kaling: The Dundies (Season 2), Niagara (Season 6), and The Sting (Season 7)

Image of Mindy from here.

Wordless Wednesday: Salisbury Cathedral

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Salisbury Cathedral in England

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Nicole Krauss and Jhumpa Lahiri

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


(Signed Lahiri book and Nicole Krauss speaking)

My hometown (Indianapolis) does not get a lot of book tours. So when writers come to visit it feels like quite a treat. One local college, Butler University, offers an amazing free program, open to the public. It’s called the Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series and it brings some wonderful authors into Indy to speak.

In the last month I had a chance to attend one featuring Nicole Krauss and another with Jhumpa Lahiri. I’m a fan of both authors’ work. I loved Interpreter of Maladies and The History of Love, but subsequent books from both have cemented the authors’ writing styles as favorites for me.

Nicole Krauss:

Krauss read from her novel Great House before answering questions. She discussed how writing from a different perspective often gives authors the freedom to say things that you couldn’t say if you were writing about someone similar to yourself. For example, in The History of Love Krauss’ main character is an elderly old man. She said she considered him the closet to her own personality, but because he was physically so different from her she was able to write more freely about things like loneliness, love and parenthood from his perspective.

She also talked a bit about her own ancestors who inspired bits of her books. Her Grandma was from Nuremburg, Germany, but she made it out before the war. In Nuremburg she fell in love with a doctor but she thought he had died and she left the country. She later fell in love with someone else and they got married. In America she discovered the doctor had lived when he tried to contact her, but she never wrote back to him because she decided that wasn’t part of her life anymore. Krauss said she didn’t model the characters on her grandparents, but she drew inspiration from them.

One other funny side note; when she first started having some success in New York as a writer, she would get messages on her answering machine for the author Nicola Kraus, who co-wrote The Nanny Diaries.

Jhumpa Lahiri:

Lahiri was just lovely. She read from Unaccustomed Earth and also a bit from her new novel, which is set to be published in Fall 2013. She answered questions about her writing habits and themes in her books.

One thing that was interesting was her comments about the importance of food in cultural identity. She remembered growing up in America and having parents that returned to India and brought back groceries on every trip. They wanted to make specific foods but were unable to find the foods and groceries they needed in the shops in America.

In each of Lahiri’s short stories and her novel one of the main themes is the characters’ struggle with having two different cultures inside of you. Some are born to Indian parents in America, others are born in India and moved to America later. She does such an excellent job of portraying that delicate dichotomy.

Here are two things she said which stood out to me…

“Writers are readers who picked up a pen.”

“Writing a story is like having a dream, but you’re in charge of it.

 *Photos by moi.

Bleak House

Monday, April 23, 2012


Bleak House
by Charles Dickens
★★★★

If Dickens was on facebook, my relationship with him would be “It’s Complicated.” After a decade of reading his books I feel like I’ve developed an appreciation and love for his work. I read and enjoyed Christmas Carol and Tale of Two Cities, but I really didn't like Oliver Twist. Great Expectations and David Copperfield were the turning point for me. I adored both of those books and I think because of that, my hopes for Bleak House were incredibly high.

I was extremely excited about Bleak House, it’s often called Dicken’s masterpiece. Even the name is gothic and mysterious and it has Dicken’s only female narrator. But I should have remembered that Dicken’s work was originally printed in monthly installments in the paper and he was paid by the word. This beast clocks in at more than 1,000 pages.

I made a major mistake when I read Bleak House. I was reading Moby Dick and Cloud Atlas at the same time. Both of those books are a lot to process on their own without adding in the wordy Mr. Dickens and his 702 characters and their crazy names! If I’d focused only on Bleak House and I think I would have enjoyed it more. The plot is so convoluted and I felt like I was trying to keep everyone straight for the whole first half of the book. The plot grew on me once I had a chance to get to know a few of the characters.

Like all good Dickens novels there is a huge cast with intertwining story lines. There are orphans and rich people, lawyers and lords. It’s hard to jump right into these books because you really have to get to know everyone first. It takes such a long time to figure out who everyone is and really get into the story.

The whole book revolves around a complicated court case called Jarndyce v Jarndyce that has stretched on for decades. There has been no resolution; people have gone broke and committed suicide over the case after hanging their hopes on its outcome and hoping they would inherit the massive fortune.

Half of the book focuses on the wealthy Lady Deadlock and her elderly husband. She lives an unhappy life, filled with secrets, in the old mansion called Chesney Wold. We bounce back and forth between an omniscient narrator who tells her story and the character of Esther, who narrates in the first person.

The book’s second plot line involves Ada and Richard, cousins who are both wards of the case. Their fates and fortunes are unknown until the case is resolved. Esther is a young woman who has been raised by her aunt. A man named John Jarndyce decides to take Ada and Richard into his home and he hires Esther as a companion for Ada.

All of that and I haven’t even touched on half the characters! There’s the mysterious Nemo, manipulative Tulkinghorn, the Jellyby family with their distracted mother and sweet daughter Caddy, Lady Deadlock’s crazy maid Hortense, Mr. Snagsby, combustible Krook, loyal George, wonderful Allan Woodcourt, Esther’s maid Charley, Inspector Bucket and more! Obviously I wasn't kidding when I said this novel had an overload of characters and subplots.

SPOILERS

At first I had some serious issues with the main characters. Esther was just a bit too nice and accommodating. She sounds a bit like Jane Eyre whenever we read chapters that she’s narrating, but she doesn’t have the same spunk or view of self-worth. I wanted her to stand up for herself or decide to pursue something that she loved. The moments I liked her best were the ones where she held someone else (like Mr. Skimpole) accountable for their actions.

Richard was just hopeless, why wouldn’t he give up the case! It was so distressing to watch him waste away as he threw his money towards the case. I wanted so badly for him to understand that his life was with Ada and she was worth so much more than the case.

Mr. Skimpole was captain creepy pants with his “I’m just a child” nonsense and I wanted to smack him in the face. People like that are just the worst. I love how Dickens can create such wonderful villains, sometimes they are evil because they are weak and devious, instead of being outright bad people. Mr. Guppy was another odd one. He believed he fell in love at first sight, but it was really just a shallow infatuation that brought out his stalker qualities.

The entire Jarndyce v Jarndyce fortune was eaten up by court costs just as they finally figured out who the money was going to go to. I couldn’t believe it when that happened! I was shocked when Esther got smallpox too. There were all these major plot points that caught me off guard and I really liked that.

I thought Esther was going to end up with her guardian until the very last moment and I was pissed! I am so glad it didn’t turn out that way or I might have hated it.

Oh yeah, someone dies of spontaneous combustion… seriously. I was a bit surprised by that.

SPOILERS OVER

BOTTOM LINE: I think this is one that will undoubtedly benefit on a reread. After I got through the first third I really enjoyed it, but it was much tougher than most of the Dicken’s I’ve read up to this point. If you’re thinking about dipping into his work, don’t start here. I would recommend reading Great Expectations or David Copperfield and seeing if they work for you.

Dickens builds wonderful stories and gives readers some of the best characters (both good and bad) that they’ll ever encounter. I know that I’ll continue to work through his catalogue and I’ll reread this one in a few years.

SIDE NOTE: I would highly recommend the 2005 BBC miniseries of Bleak House. I watched it after finishing the novel and it was excellent.

Dewey 24 hour Read-a-Thon!

Saturday, April 21, 2012


***New update during hour 19**
This might be my last update for at least a few hours. Both the Huz and my pup are asleep and so I might not last much long. I completed 6 books and passed the 1,000 page mark though, so I'm calling the read-a-thon a success!

Pages Read: 1,044
Currently Reading: Soulless
Books Finished: 6 (The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, A Streetcar Named Desire, Sounder, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Chicken With Plums, The Loved One) 
Breaks Taken: Lots, for blogging updates
, laundry, lunch, a nap, cheering other read-a-thoners
Coffee Consumed: 2 cups + 1 Starbucks Doubleshot
Snacks Eaten: Strawberry and cream cheese sandwich, apple slices, salad, celery sticks and almond butter, homemade cookies from my sister, carrot sticks
Music Listened To: Joshua Radin, Ben Harper, Billie Holiday, Bon Iver, Bach, Miles Davis
Current Location: My library, the couch, bed
Biggest Distraction: Crazy pup
, dryer buzzing, phone call from my sister... the overwhelming desire to take a nap (I took a "quick" nap and set my alarm... but it didn't go off. So I slept for two hours. This is exactly what happened last year. Fail.), dinner, yoga
Mini-Challenges Completed:12

***Mini-Challenge Hour 17 from One Literature Nut 

For this mini-challenge we're suppose to take and post a picture with the book we're currently reading. So here's me and my very sleepy face and The Loved One.

***Mini-Challenge Hour 16 from The Blue Stocking Society

(Spanish Cover/English Cover)

What are your favorite Re-reads?

This year I’ve decided to make rereading a priority and so this mini challenge was perfect. I've learned a lot with rereading; sometimes you return to a beloved book and realize the story now seems childish or more problematic than you remember. Other times it makes you fall in love with the story all over again. No matter what happens, it deepens your relationship with the book.

Here are a few of my favorite books to reread:
-The Time Traveler's Wife
-Everything by Jane Austen
-Harry Potter books
-The Shadow of the Wind
Here's a mini challenge questions called Reading in Translation at Reading Through Life.

1. If you could read any book that’s been translated into English in its ORIGINAL language, what would it be?

The Shadow of the Wind, it was originally written in Spanish. The English translation is beautiful, but I would guess the original is even better!

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Indiana

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
A Streetcar Named Desire

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
Fresh strawberries and Almond Joys

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
I'm planning a trip to Glacier National Park in Montana this year. If you have good tips, let me know!

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?
Last time I took a "brief" nap in the afternoon and ended up sleeping for a couple hours. If I nap this time I'm going to set an alarm!

Dewey is finally here. Yay for the 24-hour read-a-thon! I love to read, but there are very few times in my life when I can set aside a huge block of time to just dive into a stack of books. I have been looking forward to this more than I can say. I have snacks ready to go, the above stack of books already picked out and a puppy that's sure to try and distract me. I'm not planning on reading every book pictured, but I figured have my stack picked out will help me from wandering around my book shelves looking for my next book when I'm 13 hours in and I'm tired.

I'm going to update this post through out the read-a-thon so people's google readers won't be bombarded. I'll let you all know what I'm reading as I go.

Here's to a great read-a-thon!

*Photo by moi

Reading the States: Iowa

Friday, April 20, 2012

State: IOWA

Fiction:
- The Bridges of Madison County* by Robert James Walker
- A Thousand Acres* by Jane Smiley
- Gilead* by Marilynne Robinson
- The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson
- Shoeless Joe* by W. P. Kinsella
- The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni
- What's Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges
- The Princesses of Iowa by M. Molly Backes
- Back in the Game by Charles Holdefer

Nonfiction:
- The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid* by Bill Bryson
- Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World* by Vicki Myron
- Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish
- Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding
- The Girls from Ames* by Jeffrey Zaslow
- Class A by Lucas Mann
- American Gothic: A Life of America's Most Famous Painting by Steven Howard Biel

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:
- Peter Hedges

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Bill Bryson
- Norman Maclean

Great Bookstores:

Literary Places to Visit:
Bridges in Madison County
*Books I've Read
Photo by moi.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
A Mostly True Memoir
by Jenny Lawson
★★★★☆

I’m not really a “laugh out loud” kind of girl. This is why I don’t go to comedy clubs. The only time I went to one it was disastrous. The comedian was pissed because I wasn’t laughing at any of his jokes so he yelled at me! Anyway, the point is, it takes a LOT to make me actually laugh out loud and this book just killed me. I started laughing so loud while I was reading it in bed that my husband finally made me read the section I was in
aloud to him.

Jenny Lawson, better known online as The Bloggess, has been crossing lines and embarrassing her husband online for years. I first discovered her through the infamous metal rooster post and she’s been cracking me up ever since. Her memoir maintains her hilarious rambling style and it works well with the crazy (but true) stories she tells.

Lawson covers a lot of ground in her first memoir. We start with her childhood in a small town in Texas and her taxidermist father who can’t help but bring home some interesting “pets.” We follow her all the way through uncomfortable moments in high school, adventures in her HR job, a nervous weekend with other bloggers, meeting her boyfriend’s wealthy parents and some odd run-ins with Texas wildlife.

Her relationship with her long-suffering husband Victor is one of the funniest aspects of the book. The two are incredibly different, but they understand each other and that makes their relationship work.

I couldn’t stop laughing out loud at some of the mental pictures she paints, like her finance’s mother visiting her parents for the first time and driving up to see Lawson’s father boiling animal skulls in their yard.

But the book isn’t all laughs. There are some incredibly serious issues discussed as well. Lawson has struggled with anorexia, anxiety disorders, depression and more. She talks about each of those things with a bracing honesty and humor, but the edge of her literary voice is tinged with the pain of those struggles.

I think Jenny’s writing is both riotously funny and jarringly honest. Her irreverent style and adult language may not appeal to everyone, but I think fans of David Sedaris would love her.

I’ll leave you with a great example of Lawson’s writing style. If the following paragraph cracks you up, you’ll probably love the book. If it doesn’t, then don’t read the book, and also, what’s wrong with you?!? (Just kidding… kind of).

“Spell-check refuses to recognize the word “Chupacabras.” Probably because it’s racist. Spell-check, I mean, not chupacabras. Chupacabras are monsters from Mexico that suck blood out of goats. They don’t care what race you are. Bizarrely, spell-check is perfectly fine with the word “CHUPACABRA!” in all caps, which makes no sense at all. Unless it’s because it recognizes that you’d use that word only while screaming. Touché, spell-check. P.S. Actual words used in this book that spell-check insists are not real words: Velociraptors. Shiv. Chupacabra. Yay. It’s like spell-check doesn’t even want me to write my memoir.”

Here are a few other thoughts on the book…
Devourer of Books
Beth Fish Reads

Wordless Wednesday: Taliesin Studio

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin studio in Wisconsin.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Tips For New Book Bloggers

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for Top Ten Tips For New Book Bloggers. I’m no expert at blogging but these are a few things I’ve learned since I started this blog in Jan. 2010. I’m still learning and trying to find what works best.

1) Comment, comment, comment – if you never visit other blogs and leave comments on posts that interest you, then how will people ever find your blog?

2) Don’t accept every Advanced Reader Copy that is offered to you. It’s easy to get caught up in the “free book” mentality, but soon you’ll have a stack of ARCs and your reading will feel like a chore. I only accept books that I think I would actually buy or borrow on my own.

3) Write honest reviews – I would rather read that you hated my favorite book, than read a wishy-washy summary that gives a vague opinion but has no real meat to it.

4) Talk about the things that are important to you. The point of blogging (in my opinion) is to encourage connection and discussion. If you’ve been thinking about libraries or a specific series or about something completely unrelated to books, talk about it. You never know what great advice, wisdom or encouragement might come out of the post.

5) Respond to the people who comment on your blog and go comment on their blogs. Again, blogging is about community and it’s a two-way street. If people visit you, try to visit them as well.

6) Participate in readalongs. A great way to get to know other bloggers is to read a book with them and discuss it as you go. I’ve read Cranford, Moby Dick, Madame Bovary, The Handmaid's Tale and War & Peace as part of a readalong and I just co-hosted my first one last month! I think it’s a great way to get involved and it always deepens my appreciation for a book when I can see what other people take away from it.

7) Develop a thick skin. You probably won’t have 500 followers over night. You might write a review someone disagrees with. Someone might insult or offend you. That’s ok! Just don’t get bent out of shape about it. There are lots of people out there, which means there are lots of differing opinions. Learning what other people think and feel widens our view of the world and that’s a good thing. Besides, you’ll probably find a lot more people who are kind and encouraging.

8) Read what you love, not what everyone else is reading. It's great to discover new authors and books because of other bloggers, but it's also easy to loose track of what you actually like reading beause you're so caught up in checking out every new hyped book. Read YA or Classics or Sci-Fi or all of the above if that's what you like, then sprinkle in some new books along the way.

9) Participate in challenges, but don’t get carried away. I’d recommend picking no more than 5 challenges (you know what you can handle) and keeping up with them. It’s fun to join the R.I.P. Challenge or a year long one, like the Back to the Classics Challenge, but you won’t make any friends if you join 30 challenges and promptly forget about them or fail to complete any of them after signing up.

10) Have fun and find your own voice. If you try to be a perfect blogger or blog like everyone else, your blog will have no distinct personality. Just be yourself and you’ll find it’s a lot more enjoyable.

Image from here.

Book Ratings

Monday, April 16, 2012


I know ratings books is a topic that has been discussed many times, but it's been on my mind lately.

After two years of blogging about books I haven't gotten tired of reviewing or discussing what I'm reading. On the contrary, I've found so many great recommendations and such great support from all of you. However, I have gotten tired of rating books. I have a hard time giving a book a 1-5 star scale rating sometimes for so many reasons.

1) Books are so different. I might love a new release and hate a classic one week and then have the opposite experience the next week. But how do you compare For Whom the Bell Tolls and Bridget Jones Diary (I liked Bridget better) or David Copperfield and The Corrections (that time it was David all the way). Just because a book didn't work for me doesn't mean it has no literary merit.

2) Books, even from the same genre, can be good for such different reasons. I can read Moby Dick and struggle through huge chunks of it and get bored or frustrated, but then love a line and come away from the whole experience feeling like I was challenged and grew as a reader. So the book gets a high rating. But I can also read a hilarious book, that's short and easy, but it makes me happy and laugh and it gets the same rating. Are these books the same, hell no! Yet some how they both end up with 4.5 stars.

3) There are so many other factors that I can't control about my reading situation at that moment. What mood am I in? Am I particularly busy that week? Did I listen to it on audio and if so was the narrator amazing/awful? Did I just finish a giant book or a great book? All of these things could potentially affect how I view the book.

I guess it boils down to this. I rate books because when I read other peoples' review, I want the bottom line. There's good and bad in every book, but did they like it in the end, that's what I want to know.

I rate books based on how they affected me, not on their merit in the universe as a whole. Take my ratings with a big grain of salt and rely heavily on your taste and what you know you'll like. Usually if a book gets a 1 or 2 from me, it's probably not going to be good no matter who you are. But if it varies between a 3 and a 5, so much of that is just personal.

Photo from here.

Reading the States: Indiana

Friday, April 13, 2012


** This is my state, so it was fun to discover a few new authors and books that originated here.

State: INDIANA

Fiction:
- The Fault in Our Stars* by John Green
- God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut
- A Girl of the Limberlost* by Gene Stratton-Porter
- Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck
- The Circus in Winter* by Cathy Day
- The Inner Circle by T. C. Boyle
- Where the Birds go When it Rains* by Jamie Paul Wesseler
- Magic by the Lake by Edward Eager
- The Stone Diaries* by Carol Shields
- Raintree County by Ross Lockridge
- Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill
- The Magnificent Ambersons* by Booth Tarkington
- We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler 

Nonfiction:
- A Girl Named Zippy* by Haven Kimmel
- A Lynching in the Heartland Race and Memory in America by James H. Madison
- A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd
- She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel 

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:
- John Green
- Haven Kimmel
- Booth Tarkington

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Ernie Pyle
- Kurt Vonnegut
- Booth Tarkington
- Lew Wallace
- Meg Cabot
- James Whitcomb Riley
- Karen Joy Fowler
- Theodore Dreiser

Great Bookstores:
Half Priced Books (These are in most states, but this is my state and my HPB)
Black Dog Books
Bookmamas
The Two Sisters Bookstore 

*Books I've Read

Photo by moi.

Clara and Mr. Tiffany

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Clara and Mr. Tiffany
by Susan Vreeland
★★★

I’ve always thought Tiffany lamps and his other glass pieces were gorgeous. I love the idea of blending art with functional pieces in your home. That’s the main reason I was interested in reading this.

We see the world of Louis Comfort Tiffany through the eyes of one of his top designers, Clara Driscoll. She struggles to find equal footing in a man’s world. Even though she’s a talented designer, she is never given the same credit or respect for her work. The unfair rules and regulations that women had to face in the work place back then were absurd. If a woman got married, she could no longer work at Tiffany Glass Studios. Tiffany didn’t want any married women working for him, because he thought they would no longer make their work a priority. The same standard was obviously not applied to his male workers.

I enjoyed learning more about Tiffany, his company, the strikes and battles women faced in the work force. I also loved the descriptions of New York City at the turn of the century. Unfortunately, Clara’s personal life fell a bit flat for me. It just seemed like she was always longing for something she couldn’t have and that seemed like such a waste.

She wanted to marry her best friend, but he was gay. She had an odd love/hate relationship with Tiffany and always seemed to desire his approval in a way that wasn’t quite related to only her work. Her obsession with Tiffany and talk of her lover’s jealousy of his attention was a little creepy. Her relationship with her fiancé added another odd aspect in the book. They seemed happy, then things took a really strange turn and everything changed.

The book was at its best when they were talking about the actual designs, incorporating their love of nature into their work and women’s rights in the work force. If those aspects interest you, then it’s definitely worth reading, but some of the other bits lost my interest.

“How easily a parent’s motive could be misconstrued by an injured child.”

p.s. One interesting tidbit, did you all know that Louis Comfort Tiffany, the creator of Tiffany Glass Studio, was the son of the man who created the famous jewelry company Tiffany & Co? I had no idea!

Photo from here.

Wordless Wednesday: Budapest Holocaust Memorial

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Holocaust Memorial in Jewish synagogue in Budapest.
I just finished The Submission and something
in it reminded me so much of this memorial.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Books That Were Totally Deceiving

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for Top Ten Books That Were Totally Deceiving.

1) What Is the What by Dave Eggers: No really… what is the what? Great book, but the title is a bit confusing.

2) The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: I felt like people thought I was reading a marriage self-help book whenever they glanced at the cover.

3) Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud: It’s the memoir of the author’s childhood in Morocco with her sister and hippy mother, but it sounds like some weird S&M book.

4) A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick: I thought this was going to be a lot more history and a lot less romance novel.

5) The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst: The summary, the title, I couldn’t really get a good grasp of what the plot was about until I read it.

6) A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess: At this point, most people have a good idea what this book is about, but what a weird title! I can’t imagine trying to figure it out when it was first released.

7) Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian: To be honest, I still don’t know why this book has this title. I remember the whole story, but not how the title connected in.

8) Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood: Go ahead, read the title and then find the summary (Snowman and a post-apocalyptic world), then you explain it to me. It was not what I was expecting at all.

9) Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli: The title of this story, about an orphan living in Poland during World War II, has nothing to do with the book at first glance.

10) The Ha-Ha by Dave King: It makes sense what you read it, but I didn’t know what a Ha-ha was before this. I thought maybe the author was referring to a joke or something.

The Submission

Monday, April 9, 2012


The Submission
by Amy Waldman
★★★★☆

The premise is intriguing. A contest is held to select a design for a 9/11 memorial where the two towers stood. The winner, a design for a garden, is chosen anonymously, but once it has been selected, they realize the designer is Muslim and there is an immediate outcry from the public.

The cast of characters is diverse. There’s Paul, a Jewish lawyer who is in charge of the jury that selects the design for the memorial. Then we have Mohammad Khan, the architect whose design is chosen. He was born in Virginia and is an American. Asma is the widow of a man who was killed in the two towers on 9/11. She is living in America illegally, but her son was born in the USA.

Claire is also a 9/11 widow and is a member of the jury that selects the memorial design and is the garden’s earliest advocate. Alyssa is a reporter who continually weasels her way into each breaking story, throwing gas on the fire. Sean lost his brother on 9/11, but the tragedy has finally given him some focus in life. He now lends his time and energy to 9/11 causes.

The book’s greatest strength is that it shows the issue from such wonderfully different perspectives. Allowing the readers to see it from so many angles fleshing out the controversy and gives it real weight. We meet a wide variety of people from diverse walks of life. Seeing it through their eyes opens our own. Writing it this way is essential to make the story work. It becomes a stepping stone to open discussions instead of preaching one view point at us. There is no hero or villain, just people struggling with an impossible situation where emotions are raw with grief and everyone is tense.

The controversy isn't really about his design, it's about his religion. As one reporter thinks,

“No one cared about the design, didn’t her get that?”

I was really glad that Mo wasn’t turned into a saint that’s simply caught in the cross hairs. I thinks it’s important he feels like a real person, flawed, like anyone else, with selfish thoughts and a flaring temper. He’s a normal guy with ambitions. The only subplot I wasn't a fan of was Sean's. I felt like his whole story was weak and uninteresting.


SPOILERS

For me, it was crucial that the book end the way it did. If it had ended in the midst of the pressure and stress of the situation, I don’t think it would have meant so much to me. I needed to know what the characters felt about the situation once they had some distance from it and they weren’t caught up in the fury of the events. I wanted to know what happened to Asma’s son and what he thought about what happened. Ending it 20 years later gave me closure and felt just right.

SPOILERS OVER

The book makes you wonder what you would do in this situation. It’s not black and white and there’s no clear right and wrong because there are so many feelings involved. One New Yorker (in the book) talks about his mind thinking one thing and his heart feeling another, he’s ashamed to feel suspicious, but he can’t help it. What is America if not a melting pot that defies labels? When you mix such incredibly different cultures together, you’re bound to have underlying prejudices based on centuries of feuds. The plot also makes you look at what your own assumptions about people are and it makes you question how easily you are swayed by sensational news coverage.

I think this is a wonderful book, one of my favorites so far this year. I don’t think this is a book that everyone will enjoy. It’s tense and political. I think you could also say it manipulates your emotions, but for me, it was excellent.

“‘It’s falling down, it’s falling down,’the nursery-rhyme words, then the mobile network went dead. ‘Hello? Hello? Honey?’ all around, then a silence of Pompeian density.”

“Jealousy clings to love’s underside like bats to a bridge.”

“… which had seemed so monumental at the time, had turned out to be only a small fragment of the mosaic of his life.”

“Perhaps this was the secret to being at peace: want nothing but what is given to you.”

Check out Brenna's great review at Literary Musings here.

p.s. This book was considered for the United We Read committee I'm on. They ruled it out, ironically, because there was concern that it would be too upsetting and people might be offended by its contents. While I understand the concern, it was still disturbing to realize the book was being ruled out for the very issue it was discussing.

p.p.s. The memorial Mohammad designs reminded me so much of a Holocaust memorial I saw at a Jewish synagogue in Budapest (seen in the photo above). It was a huge weeping willow tree made of metal and each leaf held the name of someone who had died. It was incredibly moving and I kept thinking of it while I was reading the book.


Holocaust photo from here.

Reading the States: Illinois

Friday, April 6, 2012



State: ILLINOIS
Fiction:
- The Time Traveler's Wife* by Audrey Niffenegger
- The Jungle* by Upton Sinclair
- The House on Mango Street* by Sandra Cisneros
- The Actual by Saul Bellow
- Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
- Twenty Years at Hull House by Jane Addams
- Native Son* by Richard Wright
- If You Eat, You Never Die: Chicago Tales by Tony Romano
- Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
- The Coast of Chicago by Stuart Dybek
- Crossing California by Adam Langer
- Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters
- The Book of Ruth* by Jane Hamilton
- Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt
- Dandelion Wine* by Ray Bradbury
- Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins,
- So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
- Catch by Will Leitch
- Divergent* (series) by Veronica Roth
- Something Wicked This Way Comes* by Ray Bradbury
- The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
- Letting Go by Philip Roth
- Endless Love by Scott Spencer
- The Death of the Detective by Mark Smith
- Maud Martha by Gwendolyne Brooks 
- Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen

Nonfiction:
- The Devil in the White City* by Erik Larson
- Chicago Tavern: A Goat, A Curse, and the American Dream, by Rick Kogan
- Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago by Mike Royko
- Never a City So Real: A Walk in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz
- Cahokia by Timothy R. Pauketat
- The Girls of Murder City* by Douglas Perry
- Moanin' at Midnight by James Segrest and Mark Hoffman 
- Chicago: City on the Make by Nelson Algren
Authors Known for Writing about the State:
- Carl Sandburg
- Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files)
- Michael Harvey

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Ray Bradbury
- Saul Bellow
- Diane Ackerman
- Stephen E. Ambrose
- Dave Eggers
- William Goldman
- Ronald Reagan
- Elizabeth Berg
- Sara Paretsky
- Barack Obama

Great Bookstores:

Literary Places to Visit:
Carl Sandburg Historic Site
*Books I've Read
Photo by moi.

Rereadings

Thursday, April 5, 2012



Rereadings
Seventeen writers revisit books they love
by Anne Fadiman
★★★☆

This year I’ve decided to make rereading a priority and so this essay collection was a perfect read to pick up. Just like any essay or short story collection, there are both strong and weak pieces. The book itself isn’t amazing, but the sentiment it shares is an important one. It’s another great reminder that I need to make time to reread books I love.

I wish there had been a few more essays that referenced books I know. I could identify with the piece on Pride and Prejudice and Brideshead Revisited, but not as much with a field guide one woman had grown to love. The sentiment is the same regardless of the book though. Sometimes you return to a beloved book and realize the story now seems childish or more problematic than you remember. Other times it makes you fall in love with the story all over again. No matter what happens, it deepens your relationship with the book.

“One of the strongest motivations for rereading is purely selfish: it helps you remember what you used to be like. Open an old paperback, spangled with marginalia in a handwriting you outgrew long ago, and memories will jump out with as much vigor as if you’d opened your old diary.”

“And there lay the essential differences between reading and rereading. The former had more velocity; the latter had more depth. The former shut out the world in order to focus on the story; the latter dragged in the world in order to assess the story. The former was more fun; the latter was more cynical. But what was remarkable about the latter was that it contained the former.

I’m planning on rereading at least one book each month this year. I wish I’d decided to do this early so I could have reread one in January, but oh well. Here are a few I’m hoping to get to this year.

The Hobbit – February
The Hunger Games – March
The Shadow of the Wind April
Sense and Sensibility May
Fahrenheit 451 – July
Catching Fire – August
The Graveyard Book – October 
Mockingjay – November
The Angel's Game and A Christmas Carol – December

Wordless Wednesday: Dauphin Island

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Tall, skinny houses on Dauphin Island

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Books to Read in a Day

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for our top ten books to read in a day. This list idea is well-timed as the Dewey Read-a-Thon is coming up on April 21! For anyone participating (and you should!) it’s fun to pick shorter books so you don’t get burnt out on a single massive tome.

1) Graphic Novels: I think this format is particularly good when read all at once. They are easy to read, especially once you adjust to that format. A few good ones to start with: The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Maus and Watchmen.

2) Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Pick up any of the books featuring Sherlock and you’re in for a treat. Even if you only have an hour or two, you can enjoy some of his cases and see his brilliant mind at work.

3) Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn – An epistolary novel that plays with language, too fun!

4) Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty – Jessica and Marcus’ banter is addictive and this is one book that’s even better when consumed in one sitting.

5) The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby – This unbelievable piece of nonfiction was written by Bauby after he had a stroke and become a paraplegic. Using a system of eye blinks, his work was transcribed by aides. It’s short and very moving.

6) Plays: This is another great format to read in one sitting. A few good possibilities: Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire, Death of a Salesmen by Arthur Miller, A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen or and anything by Shakespeare!

7) Hunger Games – Just try to put this one down. Once you get caught up in the intense competition, it’s hard to peel yourself away.

8) The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – Every time I read this one, I mean to read just a little bit and I end up lost in the story until it’s done and I’m crying.

9) 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff – Short and sweet, this collection of letters is perfect for any book lover.

10) Half Magic by Edward Eager – I somehow missed this great book when I was a kid. I only read it recently, but it’s a treat.

Image from here.