Top Ten Characters I’d Like to Switch Places with for 24 Hours

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for the Top Ten Characters I’d Like To Switch Places With For 24 Hours.
 
1) Daniel Sempere, “The Shadow of the Wind” – I want to explore the Cemetery of Forgotten Books so bad I can taste it!
 
2) Claudia, “From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler”
– Who wouldn’t want to spend the night in the MET.
 
3) Cassandra, “I Capture the Castle”
– I’d love to spend one day in that drafty old castle, drinking tea and day dreaming.
 
4) Lizzy Darcy, “Pride and Prejudice”
– I want to switch after they’re married! I could spend the day wandering around Permberley and enjoying the company of the lovely Mr. Darcy.
 
5) Watson, Sherlock Holmes Books
– I don’t think I would want to be Sherlock, because I have a feeling it would make my brain explode, but I would love to see him at work.
 
6) Trillian, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
– What girl wouldn’t want to be whisked off on adventures around the galaxy?
 
7) Hemingway, “A Moveable Feast”
– Yes, I know this book is nonfiction and Hemingway is a real person, but lets forget that just for a second. I would love to spend a day in Paris during the 1920s, hanging out with Gertrude Stein and Fitzgerald and Pound, drinking and talking about life and what we’re all writing.
 
8) Jeeves, Jeeves and Wooster Books
– P.G. Wodehouse’s infamous valet knows just about everything. It would be so much fun to be in his shoes for a day.
 
9) Arwen, “Lord of the Rings”
– She lived in Rivendell and married Aragorn, yes please.
 
10) Hermione Granger, “Harry Potter”
– What can I say, she’s awesome and I’d love to explore Hogwarts!

Image from here. 

That Hideous Strength

Monday, July 30, 2012


That Hideous Strength
by C.S. Lewis
★★☆

This is the final book in Lewis’ Space Trilogy; it follows Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, but deviates from the first two because it is set on Earth.

A young married couple, Jane and Mark are at the heart of the novel. Mark is offered a job at a strange organization called N.I.C.E. (National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments), whose goals are vague and never quite explained to him. At the same time Jane begins to have troubling dreams. Without intending to, the pair ends up on opposite sides in a battle for power in England and eventually the entire world.

Jane decides to see a counselor, Miss Ironwood, about her nightmares and finds out they aren’t dreams, but premonitions. Meanwhile Mark is being asked to do small things that challenge his belief system and each tiny step in the wrong direction takes him farther from his wife.

In a strange way it reminded me (a tiny bit) of The Dark is Rising series. Both use aspects of the Arthurian legend and set their stories in the 20th century. Both have forces of good and evil fighting against each other in a vague but continuous battle. But where The Dark is Rising pulls you in with great characters, Hideous Strength holds you at arms length with ideas and a cast of dislikeable individuals.
 
BOTTOM LINE:
I wanted to finish Lewis’ space trilogy, so I’m glad I read this one, but I don’t think that it’s up to the same standard of the previous books. The pacing is off, the characters fall flat and the final showdown was weak.


Austen in August

Saturday, July 28, 2012


I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone who is a regular reader here that I love Jane Austen. I’ve read all six of her completed novels and in the past few years I’ve begun re-reading them. I’ve also read Jane Austen fan fiction and biographies of her. I’m just a fan.

So when Adam at Roof Beam Reader announced he was hosting an Austen Event in August I couldn’t help myself, I signed up. I just finished re-reading S&S, but I was already planning on reading one of her unfinished books later this year. I’m planning on definitely reading Lady Susan for the event and possibly Sandition as well.

Here are a few reviews of some of her other work that I’ve read:
Pride and Prejudice
Sense and Sensibility
Persuasion
The Watsons

Austen-inspired Books:
The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen
The Jane Austen Handbook 
Check out the details and join the fun here.


Reading the States: New Hampshire

Friday, July 27, 2012


State: NEW HAMPSHIRE



 

Fiction: 

- Sea Glass* by Anita Shreve
- A Prayer for Own Meany* by John Irving
- The Vision of Emma Blau by Ursula Hegi
- A Separate Peace* by John Knowles
- A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal by Joan W. Blos
- Our Town* by Thornton Wilder
- The Night Strangers by Christopher A. Bohjalian
- Labor Day by Joyce Maynard
- The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott* by Kelly O'Connor McNees
- The Hotel New Hampshire* by John Irving
- The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
- Peyton Place by Grace Metalious

Nonfiction:
- Amoskeag by Tamara K. Hareven
- Following Atticus by Tom Ryan
- Inside Peyton Place by Emily Toth
- I'm a Stranger Here Myself* by Bill Bryson 

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State: 

- John Irving
- Jodi Picoult
- Elizabeth Yates
- Tom Eslick
- Grace Metalious
- Donald Hall
- Maxine Kumin
- Charles Simic



Authors Who Lived Here:
- J. D. Salinger
- Robert Frost
- Dan Brown

Great Bookstores:

White Birch Books 
*Books I've Read 





Photo by moi.

The Stand and a Standalong wrap up

Thursday, July 26, 2012


As you may recall, I decided to join Trish’s Standalong this summer and tackle King’s epic novel. After a bit of paranoid sneezing, funny twitter conversations and hundreds of pages I’m now done and here’s what I thought.

The Stand
by Stephen King
★★★★☆

A man-made disease, dubbed “Captain Trips” by the survivors, sweeps through the country killing the majority of people in its path. It leaves in its wake broken and scattered groups of people with no leaders and a few strange shared dreams.

SPOILERS

King’s massive book introduces us to a ragtag group that doesn’t come together until almost halfway through the novel. There’s Stu, a quiet widower from Texas and Fran, a young pregnant woman from Maine. Then we have Larry a singer from California who finds himself in New York when the plague breaks out. Then just when you think King is done adding characters another half dozen are thrown into the mix: Ralph Bretner, Susan, Dayna, Patty, Laurie, Shirley, etc. The list goes on and on.

Nick, a deaf mute from Arkansas, was one of my favorites. He is so unsure of himself and in this new post-apocalyptic world he’s given the chance to be a leader. He’s deputized at a small sheriff station just as the world goes to hell. Left in that impossible situation with multiple prisoners in his care he does the best that he can. He’s alone, but he’s grown accustomed to that.

Nick meets Tom Cullen, a mentally handicapped man that he decides to travel with. Tom is a simple man, so sweet and earnest and he quickly became another favorite. One interesting element in the book is the way groups came together. The most unexpected people ended up becoming friends or lovers because they ran into each other on the road.

Glen Bateman grew on me throughout the book. He was a professor that Stu befriends early on and I loved hearing his thoughts on what makes up a society. Shortly after Stu meets Glen and his dog Kojak in New Hampshire, they have a picnic and a philosophical discussion of what will happen in the world now that order has been removed.
 
“No, I can’t accept the idea that we’re all pawns in some post-Apocalypse game of good and evil, dreams or not. Goddammit, it’s irrational!”


Another important character is Mother Abigail Freeman, the 108-year-old woman they all dream. She lives in Nebraska and the marauding groups of survivors all try and make their way towards her home for guidance. The woman had spirit and though I wasn’t in love with her storyline of wandering the desert, I still liked her strong will and devotion to her beliefs. She also had some wonderful lines…
 
“The Lord provides strength, not taxi cabs.”
 

Let’s not forget the bad guys: we have Trashcan Man, the arsonist, and Randall Flagg, the Dark Man himself. His right-hand-man is Lloyd, a robber who is trapped in a jail cell during the outbreak. After a particularly harrowing time in the cell Lloyd is rescued by Randall, after which Lloyd views Flagg as his savior.  Finally we have the sad, strange Harold, an “is he or isn’t he bad” character. He fell in love with Frannie and felt like he lost everything if he couldn’t have her. I was glad that one-sided character, a slutty girl named Julie Lawry, came back into play at the end of the book because otherwise her storyline seemed way too random and unnecessary.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the characters’ struggles with the choices they made and with guilt from their past actions. For example, Larry was pretty lost before the plague. Then he meets Rita, a rich woman wandering through Central Park. She was so calm, but he quickly realized that was because she was pumping her system full of pills. Still the strange juxtaposition of her civility in the midst of chaos was striking, even though that relaxed demeanor seemed to be tinged with madness. When Rita overdoses and dies Larry feels like he’s responsible and he can’t forgive himself. After that he felt like he had to “save” the others he comes across, especially Nadine and the strange young boy Joe (née Leo).

I also thought it was interesting that the plague some how emphasized certain qualities in people. Anyone who had a special ability quickly realized that gift became heightened after the epidemic. If someone was an electrician, they were now in charge of that in the whole community, or if someone had the ability to see others for who they really are, that became much clearer. It was as if all the regular distractions of life were stripped away and so those elements could shine.

I really loved some of the quiet moments when the characters reflected on the small and big things that they lost and when they ponder what will come next. It felt so realistic. Instead of a world made up of warriors and villains, they are just ordinary people with problems we can all relate to. A former judge on the verge of retirement, a vet thrust into the role of doctor, etc. these are people that you might know in your everyday life.

A Few Heart Wrenching Scenes/Elements:
- Fran burying her father. I couldn’t imagine going through that.
- Nick’s death, I felt so attached to him and I hated the way he went.
- Stu being left on the road with a broken leg and Kojak returning to him.
- Dayna, Tom, and the Judge being sent out to go west as spies completely alone. I was terrified for them and I hated that plan.
- Nadine’s story was perhaps the strangest and most disconcerting. She seemed like she couldn’t control the choices she made. It was awful to watch her fate unfold.
- Realizing what Kojak had to go through to get back to his master, traveling from New Hampshire to Colorado alone.
- Dayna’s death, the Dark Man became so calm and rational and that’s much harder to resist than a screaming lunatic. But even though he tried to hide it, his evil intentions leaked into the things he said in small ways and it was horrifying.
- When society breaks down, the small things matter. An infected cut might kill you, while a good meal or discovering a way to hear music might keep you sane for another day. It made me think about the things that matter to me in my own life.

Towards the end of the book we watch Harold and Nadine’s dark descent as they bend their action’s to Flagg’s will. Then Larry and Fran both have to come to terms with their own guilt for the twisted pair’s actions. They think that if they hadn’t turned them down maybe the worst might not have happened.

We watch Stu, Ralph, Glen and Larry break away from the group with no supplies or plan to find and confront the Dark Man. Their faith is inspiring, but also shocking. Since the beginning of their time in Colorado and even before that as they traveled towards Mother Abigail, there was a plan of some sort. Watching them willingly abandon that was hard.

The book ends with quite a few open possibilities for the characters. Lucy Swann is pregnant with Larry’s child and it’s one of the first babies conceived from two immune parents. We don’t know whether that baby will be born immune to Captain Trips or if it will struggle like Fran’s baby. Fran and Stu decide to return to Maine and who knows what they will find there. The community in Bolder has grown astronomically and the typically leaders are beginning to emerge and grapple for power. We also don’t know whether or not the Dark Man will return in another incarnation.
 
“If Glen has been here, Stu thought he would have said that the endless American struggle between the law and freedom of individual had begun again.”


I was glad that the book ended this way, again it felt realistic. Just because the bad guy is blown up doesn’t mean everyone will live happily ever after. It’s going to be a tough road and I felt like the book concluded with that in mind.

SPOILERS OVER

BOTTOM LINE:
I really kind of loved it. No, it’s not perfect; King can be long-winded and self-indulgent in his descriptions, but the gripping plot and relatable characters more than made up for that. I was expecting more violence and graphic descriptions and I was thrilled when instead I found the story of the break down and rebuilding of society and the moral dilemmas that create the bonds that hold it together. Don’t judge the book by the cover (or by King’s reputation as the master of horror). Instead, treat yourself to an enthralling look at a post-apocalyptic society.  
 
“There were nice enough people and all, but there wasn’t much love in them. Because they were all too busy being afraid.”

“Things had changed. The whole range of human perception seemed to have stepped up a notch. It was scary as hell.”

A huge thank you for Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity for hosting this. I don't know if I ever would have gotten to this one if she hadn't!

And if you haven't seen it, I love Jill at Fizzy Thoughts' song rendition of The Stand

p.s. If you're wondering how The Stand connects with other King books, check out this Stephen King Universe Flow Chart.

Wordless Wednesday: Camping

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Camping at the Indiana Sand Dunes

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Most Vivid Worlds/Settings In Books

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for my top ten most vivid worlds/settings in books. I’m going to list the top 5 I love and top 5 I hate.

Best Fictional Worlds
1) Harry Potter’s world: I know this will be on everyone’s lists, but I can’t help it. I can’t wait to visit Hogwarts and Hogsmeade at the new amusement park in Florida because Rowling created such an unforgettable place!

2) Avonlea: L.M. Montgomery’s quiet community has always held a special pull for me. I know Prince Edward Island is real and I feel like if I visit I’ll see Anne playing with Diana in a field.

3) Narnia: I’ve read the whole series multiple times and it’s such a fascinating world. We witness its creation in the Magician’s Nephew and return many times as decades pass throughout the seven books.

4) Middle-Earth: From Rivendell to Mordor, Tolkien went into insane detail describing the fellowship of the ring’s surroundings as they journeyed through the fictional world.

5) Pern: McCaffrey’s world is one filled with dragons and … wait for it… they’re your friends! That would be just awesome.

Worst Fictional Worlds:
1) Fahrenheit 451: They burn books! It is illegal to read! Need I say more?

2) The Handmaid’s Tale: Just about the worst fate for women that I can imagine.

3) Ready Player One: The world is horrible and everyone sits in front of a computer playing video games. The book itself is fun, but the world created within it would be awful.

4) V for Vendetta: Big Brother on steroids, this would not be fun.

5) It’s a tie for the final spot – The Stand and The Road: Both provide equally abhorrent living situations in a post-apocalyptic world. 

Image from here

The Return of the Native

Monday, July 23, 2012


The Return of the Native
by Thomas Hardy
★★★★★

Damn this man can write tragedy! In this novel Hardy creates a love triangle (quadrangle?) that is both beautiful and disastrous. Using his incredible gift for lyrical prose he takes us into the wild land of Egdon Health.

Diggory Venn, a local reddleman, is in love with Thomasin Yeobright. She in turn is in love with Wildeve, a restless self-centered man. He is torn between his feelings for her and his love for Eustacia Vye. Add Thomasin’s cousin Clym Yeobright, the man who catches Eustacia’s eye, to the mix and you’ve got quite the quandary.

Each of the characters is wonderfully developed. We feel Eustacia’s restlessness and Thomasin’s earnest devotion. We long for Venn to find love and Clym to find happiness. We watch their lives unfold with a mix of apprehension and excitement, wondering all the while if the characters are falling in love purely for the escape they offer each other or if their feelings are true. Do they want something because someone else wants it or because it’s truly their heart’s desire?

“The sentiment which lurks more or less in all animate nature – that of not desiring the undesired of other – was lively as a passion in the supsersublte epicurean heart of Eustacia.”


I loved how the health is one of the main characters in the book and all of the characters are shaped by their reaction to it. Eustacia desperately wants to leave it and will do anything to get away. Clym returns from Paris aching for the wild health he loved so much in his childhood. Thomasin feels that she is a country girl and is comfortable living in the health. Only Hardy could make the background setting of a drama such a definitive character in the action. He even describes the effect the health has on the women who live there…
 
“An environment which would have made a contented woman a poet, a suffering woman a devotee, a pious woman a psalmist, even a giddy woman thoughtful, made a rebellious woman saturnine.”

 
SPOILERS


All of the characters desperately want what they can’t have. Another person, money, success, peace, travel, etc. Even Clym’s mother Mrs. Yeobright longs for different partners for her son and niece. She wants their happiness, but when they’ve chosen their lot in life she has such a hard time accepting it that she perpetuates unhappiness in their lives. Each character is destroyed by their own longing except for Venn. Early in the book he comes to terms with the fact that he’ll never have the woman he truly wants. He accepts that and decides that he’ll do everything he can to make her happy from a distance. Then, in the end he’s the only one who ends up getting what he wanted. It’s a beautiful picture of selfless love.

SPOILERS OVER

BOTTOM LINE:
This book is so beautiful and poignant I just can’t get over it. It’s definitely a new favorite of mine. I’d recommend it if you enjoy Victorian literature, tragic love stories or just gorgeous prose.
 
 “Love was to her the one cordial which could drive away the eating loneliness of her days.”

“Humanity appears upon the scene, hand-in-hand with trouble.”

“What a strange sort of love to be entirely free from that quality of selfishness which is frequently the chief constituent of the passion and sometimes its only one.”

I read this as part of the Victorian Celebration hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey.

p.s. Amanda's recommendation is one of the main reasons I made this books a priority. She was so right!
 

Where in the World Are You Reading: Bookstores - Indy Reads Books

Saturday, July 21, 2012


 On July 13, 2012 Indy Reads Books opened in Indianapolis. I could not be happier! We have almost no independent bookstores in our city and all of the proceeds for this one go to the adult literacy not-for-profit organization that runs it. It sells both new and used books at great prices and the selection was wonderful! The store is decorated with books, using pages glued to the walls and books stacked to create a checkout table.


I visited for the first time on July 14th and left with two beautiful classic editions; a 1925 copy of one of my favorites Twelfth Night and a 1901 copy of Tennyson's The Princess. I was thrilled! Also, local author and literary rock star John Green was there on Friday, July 13th to kick off the festivities and do a reading and signing. Two thumbs up for him supporting local businesses!


This post is for the Where in the World are you Reading event hosted by Trish this month. Join in if you want. Next month's category is libraries.
 
Photos by moi.

Reading the States: Nevada

Friday, July 20, 2012



State: NEVADA



 

Fiction:
- Desperation by Stephen King
- Bittersweet by Nevada Barr
- Man Walks Into a Room by Nicole Krauss
- The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter van Tilburg Clark
- The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
- Prey by Michael Crichton
- The Tall Stranger by Louis L'Amour


- Trunk Music by Michael Connelly
- The Goldfinch* by Donna Tartt 

Nonfiction:
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas* by Hunter S. Thompson
- Positively Fifth Street by James McManus
- Area 51 by Annie Jacobsen
- Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women by Alexa Albert
- The Silver State by James W. Hulse
- The Lifespan of a Fact by John D'Agata and Jim Fingal
- About a Mountain by John D'Agata 

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State: 

- Geoff Schumacher
- Samuel Post Davis
- Robert Laxalt  

Great Bookstores:

Sundance Books
Le Book Nook


*Books I've Read 





Photo by moi.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai Undercity
by Katherine Boo
★★★★

This nonfiction book gives us a glimpse into the slum Annawadi in Mumbai. Located near a local airport, the slum is filled with “homes” made out of everything from plastic sheeting to crumbling brick. The society created there is always on the brink of destruction because they have no legal claim to the land and the government is constantly threatening to throw them off of it.

The people the book focuses on are a strange mishmash of ambitious individuals and others that were just trying to survive another day. Asha, one of the former, hopes to one day become the slumlord. She acts as a fixer, stepping in to handle situations for people for a small sum. Her daughter Manju wants nothing to do with her mother’s sleazy dealings and spends her days teaching young kids.

Another family survives on what they can collect and sell from the garbage. That family, especially Abdul and his mother Zehrunisa find themselves in trouble when their neighbor, Fatima, tries to cause problems. Fatima is often referred to as “One Leg” and was clearly a troubled and deeply unhappy woman. Her actions are some of the most disturbing of the book.

There were so many examples of the horrifying state of cleanliness in the slums. For example, one man raised goats and he couldn’t figure out while all of his animals were always sick. Then we find out he lets them drink from the sewage water where he has dumped the bodies of 12 of his other goats that died!

The other disturbing thing was the structure of the government. Everything from the police to the hospitals was corrupt. You can only get things done by buying off officials. The nurses in the hospitals wouldn’t touch the patients and they often reused syringes. They tell all the patients they are out of medicine and the only option is to buy your hospitalized family members the medicine they need on the streets.

So here’s my only problem with the book: how can it be nonfiction? I loved the writing, I thought the whole thing was so interesting, but my journalist brain just couldn’t stop asking how the author could possibly know some of the information that she provides as fact. She had to rely on witness statements and second- and third-hand accounts of things. On top of that, she didn’t speak the language. Everything had to go through her translator, adding yet another filter. I almost wish it was written as fiction based on fact, I feel like I could have relaxed and enjoyed the book a bit more. As it was, I couldn’t stop questioning the truth in everything.

BOTTOM LINE: Read it, especially if you’re interested in India. It’s really good, but take it with a grain of salt. It shows a very specific sliver of Indian life and while that makes for a powerful book, it was hard for me to trust the narrative. I don’t doubt that things are just as bad as the author suggests in the slums, I just don’t know how she could have confirmed and sourced half of the things she writes.

“To be poor in Annawadi, or in any Mumbai slum, was to be guilty of one thing or another.”

“You didn’t keep track of a child’s years when you were fighting daily to keep him from starving.”

Wordless Wednesday: Charles Bridge

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Charles Bridge in Prague

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

In the Time of the Butterflies

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


In the Time of the Butterflies
by Julia Alvarez
★★★★★

This historical novel tells the story of the Mirabal sisters. They lived in the Dominican Republic during the rule of the dictator Trujillo. At the beginning of the book we know that 3 of the sisters were killed in 1960 for opposing the dictatorship and that the fourth sister, Dedé survived. We hear the story from each of their points-of-view as they grow up and become the famous women whose assassinations resonated throughout the world.

The book hit me at a very visceral level. By the end of the novel I felt close to the sisters and even though I knew from the start how it would end, losing them was still painful. Patria, the eldest sister, had a gentle heart and incredible courage. María Teresa, the youngest, was sweet and devoted. Minerva was incredibly headstrong and brave and it was her story that hit me the hardest. She blazed the path to the revolution for her sisters and I wonder if she ever felt responsible for their safety.

I loved how the book unfolds each sister’s story separately. Each one is interwoven with the others, but they all came to join the revolution in very different ways; for political reasons, for love or because they want to be a protective mother to the revolutionaries. Each one has such a beautiful voice and you grow to feel for each of them separately. You share their frustrations with their sisters, and then when you read the next sister’s section you love that one’s story just as much.

I was surprised that I identified with different sisters at different points in their lives. I had very little in common with some of them, but it was written in such an intimate way that you felt as though you were there, living their passion and frustration and joy right alongside them.

Trujillo regime is not one we hear about very often, but it was horrific. He ruled for 30 years and managed to kill more than 50,000 people during that time. He was an advocate of genetic cleansing and killing black people who make up a huge part of the population in the in Dominican Republic. It reminded me a bit of Hitler’s reign in Germany. People had to say "Viva Trujillo," just like Europeans had to say "Heil Hitler" to show their loyalty and support. It reminded me that if no one stands up against tyrants the world becomes a dark place. It’s easy to say the sisters should have sat back and done nothing, but in the end their deaths brought more worldwide attention to what was happening and who knows how many lives were saved.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s difficult for a book to balance a history lesson and an emotional story arch, especially when it’s being told from multiple points of view. I felt like this book did all of those things so well. It’s an important subject matter to be aware of and I loved it.
 
“How people romanticized other people’s terror.”

Image from here.

Villette

Monday, July 16, 2012


Villette
by Charlotte Bronte
★★★★☆


Lucy Snowe is an orphaned girl who finds herself taking a job as an instructor at a French boarding school in the town of Villette. Throughout the course of the novel we’re introduced to a wide selection of characters: the spoiled young Polly, handsome Dr. John, Lucy’s cruel employer Madame Beck and her nephew the cranky professor M. Paul Emanuel, the insufferable coquette Ginerva Fanshawe and more.

This novel is famous in literary circles because of the illusive heroine. Lucy keeps secret from the reader and never lets us completely into her world. There’s so much we don’t know about her and at times that can be frustrating, but I do love her acerbic nature. She’s often short or condescending; she sometimes calls people out on their bad choices in love or challenges them in other ways. Lucy is beyond interesting. I also love the fact that her job is important to her and that throughout the book the pursuit of education is valued.

Lucy’s character reminds me so much of Esther from Bleak House. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that I read both books in the same year, but it’s not just that. Both women are quiet and reserved, never giving the reader a complete picture of who they are. Both are instrumental in getting to close friends together, both fall for someone, but assume they can’t ever be together for one reason or another. I just kept having flashbacks. I checked the dates and the books were actually published in the same year, though Dickens’ was serialized the year before. I doubt either author was aware of the other’s novel when they were writing their own.

In so many ways I can understand why Villette is considered Charlotte’s masterpiece. The characters and their relationships are much more complicated and the tone is much darker. I also think the writing is exquisite, even better than in her earlier work. Villette really was way ahead of its time. But I will also say it didn’t impact me in the same way that Jane Eyre did and I think a big part of that is my own personality.

Most of the people I know who have loved Villette more than Jane Eyre identify with Lucy in a very personal way. They are usually quieter, more introspective and reserved and that’s just not me. I’m a bit of a chatterbox and I tend to be incredibly social. I do love being at home alone and curling up with a good book, but I like being out and about with my friends just as much. So it was harder for me to connect with Lucy. It’s not that Jane Eyre is Miss Social Butterfly, but she does stand up for herself and she’s a bit of a rebel. I love her open dialogue with the reader. I felt like I knew her in a way that I never did with Lucy.

I missed the humor you find in Jane Eyre. I felt like the chemistry between Jane and Mr. Rochester was palpable and I never felt that way with Lucy and either of her love interests. I also couldn’t connect with the all-encompassing loneliness that plagued Lucy. I think it’s unfair to judge this book entirely in comparison to Jane Eyre, but I can’t help myself. I couldn’t seem to stop.

I think Villette really embodied the pain Charlotte was going through at that time. It was the last novel she completed and at that point all of her sisters had died. She was alone and heartbroken and that darkness seeped into her writing.

SPOILERS

The ending totally took me by surprise. I know some people say it’s ambiguous, but to me it was pretty clear (maybe that makes me pessimistic). I couldn’t help thinking WTF on that last page. It’s not that the writing wasn’t beautiful or fitting, but still I felt like I was punched in the stomach. I wanted Lucy to have a bit of happiness in the second half of her life and I felt like she was so close but never quite got it. Her happiest years were those anticipating the life she was never able to have with M. Paul Emanuel; that broke my heart.

SPOILERS OVER

BOTTOM LINE:
It’s a must for anyone who loves the Bronte sisters or Victorian classics. It didn’t trump Jane Eyre as my personal favorite, but it’s a more challenging book in many ways and one that I know I’ll reread in the future.

“If there are words and wrongs like knives, whose deep-inflicted lacerations never heal-cutting injuries and insults of serrated and poison-dripping edge-so, too, there are consolations of tone too fine for the ear not fondly and for ever to retain their echo; caressing kindnesses-loved, lingered over through a whole life, recalled with unfaded tenderness, and answering the call with undimmed shine, out of that raven cloud foreshadowing Death himself.”
 

I read this as part of the Victorian Celebration hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey.

Check out this great article comparing Jane Eyre and Villette
A few months ago Wallace at Unputdownables hosted a read-along of Villette. If you read it I’d recommend following her posts on each section here.

Also, Chrisbookarama’s review was a great reflection of my own thoughts.
Kristi’s wonderful review gives a wonderful perspective on Villette being better than Jane Eyre.

The City and The City

Saturday, July 14, 2012


The City and The City
By China Mieville
★★

Here’s the basic premise: a murdered woman is found and a detective tries to solve the case. Sounds straight forward right? But in this book nothing is quite that simple. Yes, there is a dead body but it’s in one city and the detectives think it might have come from the second city, which shares the same location, but not the same legal or social space.

People living in the two cities, Ul Qoma and Besźel, are supposed to “unsee” the other city in their daily lives. So as they walk down the street they must not acknowledge the people and shops they see if they aren’t in their city. On top of all of that there is a legend of a city between the two cities, but no one knows if it exists or not. The more the detective looks into the murder the more coincidences he discovers and he begins to wonder if there isn’t a bigger conspiracy.

Got that? No? Yeah, that’s the problem. This book seems to be so proud of its clever concept that it never allows itself to become a good story. I do think the idea is a great one, but Mieville kept hitting me over the head with it. The old-school noir style is fun, but the language and other plot tricks make the rest of the book so convoluted that I felt like I could never just enjoy it. Imagine a Raymond Chandler book set on the moon, but with a second moon inside of it that no one is allowed to talk about, but that might be trying to kill them. That would be a bit like this.

Here’s the thing, I really struggled with this one. After the first 50 pages or so, I never wanted to pick it up, it felt like a chore. I’d read 30 pages and put it down and dread the next time I was going to read it. I felt like the author relied pretty heavily on his gimmick and that was off-putting for me.

BOTTOM LINE: Although I appreciate the clever story line, in the end it was just one of those books that I didn’t want to pick up. If you can get into the story it might work for you

A few other thoughts:

Image from here.

Reading the States: Nebraska

Friday, July 13, 2012


State: NEBRASKA



 

Fiction: 
- O Pioneers!* by Willa Cather
- My Antonia* by Willa Cather
- One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus
- Nebraska Legacy by DiAnn Mills
- The Magician's Assistant* by Ann Patchett
- Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos
- The Echo Maker by Richard Powers
 
- Night of the Twisters by Ivy Ruckman
- Attachments* by Rainbow Rowell
- Worth Dying For by Lee Child
- Eleanor & Park* by Rainbow Rowell

Nonfiction: 
 - My Nebraska: The Good the Bad and the Husker by Roger Welsch
- All the Strange Hours by Loren Eiseley
- Once Upon a Town by Bob Greene
- The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin
- The Selected Letters of Willa Cather edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout 

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:
- James C. Olson
- Wright Morris 


Authors Who Lived Here:
- Willa Cather 


Great Bookstores:
Indigo Bridge Books 
Bookworm
A Novel Idea


*Books I've Read



 

Photo by moi.

The Prisoner of Heaven

Thursday, July 12, 2012


***My review assumes you’ve already read The Shadow of the Wind and there will be some spoilers for that book, but no spoilers for this book***

The Prisoner of Heaven
by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
★★★★☆

This is the third installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, a series which I adore. All three books are set in Barcelona in the 20th Century and this book picks up just shortly after the end of The Shadow of the Wind (TSTW). Bea and Daniel are married and living with their son Julian. Fermín is about to be married when a stranger stops into the Sempere & Sons bookshop where they both work. His presence stirs up old memories and Daniel finds himself in the midst of a strange mystery once again.

I just ate this one up, 24 hours and the book was done. I loved reading it. As a standalone novel it didn’t take my breath away like Shadow or get inside my brain like The Angel’s Game (TAG), but it is an extension of those books and because of that I love it. It returned me to the city and people I’ve grown attached to and learning more about their world was wonderful. Zafón adds layers and fleshes out the back stories of some of the characters and that’s exactly what I was hoping this novel would do.

This book mainly focuses on Fermín’s history, which was unknown throughout The Shadow of the Wind. It deviates from the style of the first two in a few ways. It’s a shorter and in many ways simpler book. The plot isn’t quote as complicated and it assumes you’ve already been introduced to the characters through the other books. I think that some people are going to dismiss this one because the writing doesn’t have the same eloquence, but I was more than happy with it. It connected some important dots and set up the final book beautifully.

Prisoner is the string that ties everything in the first two novels together. TSTW and TAG can both stand on their own as independent novels. The characters and places occasionally make appearances in the other book, but they do not take over the story. In Prisoner we are reintroduced to the main characters from both books and we learn how their lives are connected and intertwined.

We learn more about David Martín, the main character in The Angel’s Game, and what become of him. We meet Daniel’s mother Isabella, who also appears in TAG. There’s also a slew of new characters introduced in this book: Maurcio Valls, the governor of a prison, Professor Alburquerque, who may one day write secret history of Barcelona and the sinister Sebastian Salgado. Prisoner is also an ode to The Count of Monte Cristo, paying homage to that classic with continuous references.

Unlike the other two novels in the series, this one ends with a bit of a cliffhanger. Nothing awful, it’s just obviously setting up the final book in the series. I didn’t feel like it left me hanging, it just made me excited to read the final book when it is released.

BOTTOM LINE: A great addition to the series. I would highly recommend starting with The Shadow of the Wind; follow it with The Angel’s Game and then The Prisoner of Heaven. All three are wonderful gothic mysteries, and while Shadow remains my favorite, Prisoner fills in many of the missing gaps in the story.

"'I think today will be the day. Today our luck will change,' I proclaimed on the wings of the first coffee of the day, pure optimism in a liquid state."

p.s. If you’ve already read the first two books I would recommend re-reading Shadow before diving into this one. I just re-read it and I’m not sure I would have caught all of the references and remembered all the characters if I hadn’t. I’m also now dying to re-read The Angel’s Game now.

I received my copy from the Publisher.

**Zafon also wrote a short story about the origin of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It’s called The Rose of Fire and you can download it free from Amazon. It features a maker of labyrinths named Edmond de Luna and a printer named Raimundo de Sempere. It’s not anything groundbreaking, but it’s a treat for die-hard fans of his work.

Wordless Wednesday: Vulcan Park

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Vulcan Park in Alabama

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour an Introduction

Monday, July 9, 2012


Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters 
and Seymour an Introduction
by J.D. Salinger
★★★★★

I will readily admit that the reason I waited so long to read this one is because I hated the thought of no longer having a Salinger book to look forward to. I’ve read his other work and while I wasn’t a huge fan of The Catcher in the Rye (no more whining!); I adore his other books, Nine Stories and Franny and Zooey.

I’ve always been fascinated by the fictional Glass family and at least part of the family is featured in both of those books and in Raise High. Salinger has a unique ability to make the mundane interesting. He sucks me in so quickly and the pages fly by. He usually writes about one short period of time, like Holden wandering around New York for a few days in Catcher. Throughout that time we see flashbacks and reference to things that have already happened.

Raise High works in the same way. The story is told from Buddy’s point-of-view. He is the second of seven children in the Glass family. The eldest is the poetic but troubled Seymour. Buddy finds out his older brother is about to get married and the rest of his family can’t make it to the last minute wedding. Buddy manages to get leave from his boot camp to head to New York City for the ceremony. Once he arrives he finds out Seymour has stood up his bride-to-be and Buddy ends up in a limo with the furious Matron-of-Honor and a few other guests of the bride. As the heat rises and a parade halts their progress across the city things become tense.

The other Glass siblings from eldest to youngest are, Boo Boo (girl), the twins Walt and Waker, Zooey (boy) and Franny. They are featured in various stories, but Seymour is the most captivating of the lot. His tale reaches its conclusion in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” one of the chapters in Nine Stories. Seymour is brilliant, but at times he becomes trapped inside his own head in a debilitating way.

Salinger adds small touches to his books that never seem to leave me. I remember reading Zooey for the first time and falling in love with the idea of covering your bedroom walls with quotes. In this book there’s a reference to the family’s tradition of leaving messages with soap slivers on the bathroom mirror as they were growing up. The title of the book actually comes from one such message left by Boo Boo for her brother. It’s a poem, “Raise high the roof beam, carpenters. Like Ares comes the bridegroom, taller far than a tall man.” There’s also a sweet deaf mute man (the bride’s father’s uncle) who felt like he could have been my own family member.

There is something so real about the diary entries Buddy shares from Seymour’s journal. It feels as though we are given a glimpse into the struggle of a person we all might know. His shining optimistic exterior provides a glaze to a tumultuous underbelly of self-doubt and critical thinking which gives him no peace. It’s characters like Seymour, who we never completely know, that make Salinger’s books so captivating.

“God knows it is sad. The human voice conspires to desecrate everything on earth.”

“He would despise her for her marriage motives as I’ve put them down here. But are they despicable? In a way, they must be, but yet they seem to me so human-size and beautiful that I can’t think of them even now as I write this without feeling deeply, deeply moved.”

“Marriage partners are to serve each other. Elevate, help, teach, strengthen each other, but above all, serve. Raise their children honorably, lovingly, and with detachment. A child is a guest in the house, to be loved and respected – never possessed, since he belongs to God.”


Seymour: An Introduction

by J.D. Salinger
★★★★★

These two pieces by Salinger are always published together, but their styles are incredibly different. While Raise High tells us the events of a single day, Seymour is a reflection on one man’s entire life. They pair perfectly, complementing each other and slowly peeling back the layers of both Seymour and Buddy’s lives.

Both pieces are written by Buddy Glass, the second is a reflection of who Seymour was and how his siblings and friends saw him. But because it’s written by Buddy everything is seen through the filter of his eyes and he can’t help but idolize his older brother. Buddy describes every aspect of Seymour, his looks and beliefs and talks about his collected poems, but he can’t separate how he saw his brother and who his brother truly was.

The whole book is just beautiful and it a new favorite. I particularly loved Seymour’s notes and literary criticisms to Buddy. After Buddy would read a new piece he’d written to his brother, Seymour would wait awhile and process what he thought about the work, he would then write him a response. His notes would be both challenging and uplifting. He would encourage Buddy never to settle for being a people-pleasing writer, but instead to write what mattered to him. What wonderful advice for all writers!
 
“…but the fact that the great Kierkegaard was never a Kierkegaardian, let alone an existentialist, cheers one bush-league intellectual’s heart no end, never fails to reaffirm his faith in a cosmic poetic justice, if not a cosmic Santa Claus.”
 

BOTTOM LINE: I loved it. Salinger gets inside my head and touches my emotions in a way that few authors can. Don’t judge his work purely by his most famous book. In my opinion his other work far outshines Catcher in the Rye.

 

On Grief

Saturday, July 7, 2012


So this post might be a bit on the personal side. I don’t do that too often, but this is something I can’t really get off my mind, so bear with me and thanks for your patience.

My Mom passed away when I was 14 years old. She fought a brave battle with Leukemia, but in the end she lost. This week was the 14th anniversary of her death and I’ve really been struggling with that. I realized that from this point on I will have lived longer without her in my life than with her. That fact shocked me and it made me think of all the things I’ll never be able to share with her.

She will never meet my husband or any kids I might one day have.
She will never see my home and meet my dog.
She never saw me graduate from high school or college.
I will never sit with her and talk about life and what we’re reading.
She will never see my byline in a newspaper and tell me she’s proud.
I will never be able to call her and complain about a bad day.
I can’t ask her what her pregnancies were like.
We'll never talk about her memories of growing up, college, meeting my Dad, etc.

I don’t think about these things everyday, but sometimes they overwhelm me. I feel her absence so strongly that it takes me breath away. Grief is such a solitary thing. I love my brother and sister more than I can say, but even though we lost the same woman, we all grieve differently. We can share our memories about her, but in the depth of our grief, we are alone with our thoughts.

Losing someone affects the way you see the world. My biggest fear has never been death it has always been losing another person I love. That terrifies me. My Dad was diagnosed with Lymphoma when I was in high school. He beat the disease, but that experience cemented my fear. I believe that I will see my mom again in heaven, but that doesn’t make missing her any easier.

My Mom was an amazing woman. She was incredibly smart and strong. She taught me to value those qualities in myself and in others from the time I was young. She challenged me to always do my best. She was stubborn and driven and loving. She prepared me for life in so many ways and she is such a big part of who I am. I miss her everyday, but I’m also so grateful for the time I had with her.

Thanks for letting me share that.

Photos of my Mom when she was young and on her wedding day.

Reading the States: Montana

Friday, July 6, 2012


State: MONTANA



Fiction:

- Montana 1948* by Larry Watson
- A River Runs through It and Other Stories by Norman Maclean
- The River Why* by David James Duncan
- A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris
- English Creek by Ivan Doig
- The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth   

- How to be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward
- Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
- Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
- The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans
- Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison
- Fools Crow by James Welch

Nonfiction:
 
- Young Men and Fire* by Norman Maclean
- Bad Land by Jonathan Raban
 
- Custer Survivor by John Koster

Authors Known for Writing in or about the State:
- A. B. Guthrie, Jr.
- Norman Maclean
- James Crumley
- Rick Bass
- Neil McMahon
- Ivan Doig


Authors Who Lived Here:
 
- Tim Cahill
- Christopher Paolini



Great Bookstores:
Montana Book & Toy Co.


*Books I've Read



Photo by moi.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
by Lynne Truss
★★★★

My Achilles heel as a writer has always been commas. I hate them! At the newspaper where I used to work at I once had an editor tell me to start putting commas in wherever I didn’t have them and to delete all the ones I’d already put in.

Truss’ funny little book is a great rundown of the importance of punctuation. She includes lots of great anecdotes about funny punctuation mistakes, but also really helpful tips. I’ve always been particularly annoyed when people write “it’s” and mean “its.” I’m sure many other writers have their own grammatical pet peeves and she touches on most of them.

One point Truss makes, which I really agree with, is the importance of maintaining correct grammar in the new mediums we use. If texting, email and blogging have become our main forms of written communication (more than books, newspaper and magazines) then we shouldn’t be lax in the way we write. The fact that our way of communicating is changing so rapidly puts a stronger importance in making sure that communication is the best that it can be.

BOTTOM LINE: An entertaining and informative look at punctuation. Pick it up if you share her disdain for a misplaced apostrophe.

Wordless Wednesday: Fourth of July

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Happy Fourth of July everyone!
There's a fireworks ban in Indianapolis 
right now,  so no lovely explosions for us.
But I hope you all have a great holiday wherever you are!

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Books For People Who Like Neil Gaiman

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for top ten books for people who like a specific author. I’m going to pick Neil Gaiman, but Gaiman’s work is so varied depending on what you read. He writes young adult novels, graphic novels, children’s books, etc.

So instead of listing ten books you might like, I’m going to list ten of his books and then provide a recommendation for each book. This should work in reverse as well. If you’ve never read Gaiman and would like to try him, pick one of the books in the second column that you already know you like and then try the recommended Gaiman book.

1) Stardust – The Princess Bride 

2) Neverwhere – The Book of Lost Things 

3) American Gods – The Stand 

4) Good Omens – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 

5) The Graveyard Book – The Jungle Book 

6) Coraline – The Golden Compass 

7) Anansi Boys – Big Fish

8) Instructions – The Little Prince 

9) Sandman Chronicles – The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 

10) Fragile Things – Edgar Allan Poe or H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories

BONUS: The Doctor’s Wife (BBC episode) – All of Doctor Who!

Attachments

Monday, July 2, 2012


Attachments
by Rainbow Rowell
★★★★☆

Sometimes you just need a quick summer read and this one was perfect! A man named Lincoln takes a night job doing internet security and reviewing flagged emails. After seeing quite a few between two friends, Jennifer and Beth, he begins to feel like he knows them but he isn’t sure how he would ever introduce himself. That’s not a great summary, but trust me it’s better than it sounds. I didn’t want to put it down.

The chapters rotate back and forth between Lincoln’s life and email exchanges between Jennifer and Beth. This style helped the story move forward quickly. I really liked that it’s not a regular romantic comedy/chick lit kind of book. It’s all from the guy’s point of view. We only saw what Jennifer and Beth were thinking through their emails. Lincoln may have been romantically interested in Beth, but I loved that Jennifer’s story mattered too. She wasn’t just a throw away character.

The author did a great job building up the supporting characters. The two leads are obviously important, but their other relationships: Lincoln’s with his mother, friends and Doris were all essential to the story. His back story was really good too. It showed how unhealthy relationship can really skew your world view. It was really more about figuring out who you are as a person, with or without love in your life, than it was just about finding love and that fixing everything else.
 
BOTTOM LINE:
The perfect summer read. Pick up a copy if you’re in the mood for something sweet and light.
 
“‘I pictured a girl who was that alive… A girl who never got tired of her favorite movies,’ he said softly. ‘Who saved dresses like ticket stubs. Who could get high on the weather… I pictured a girl who made every moment, everything she touched, and everyone around her feel lighter and sweeter.’”


I saw this one recommended by Wallace at Unputdownables and reviewed at Giraffe Days