The Aeneid

Friday, January 31, 2014


The Aeneil
by Virgil
★★★★

After reading The Odyssey and The Iliad I was hungry for the next piece of the puzzle. The Aeneid is the continuation of the story of the Trojan War. Unlike the first two books this one wasn’t written by the Greek poet Homer. It was written centuries later by Virgil, a Roman, who modeled his writing style after the Greeks.

The story follows Aeneas, a Trojan who travels to Italy after the war and becomes one of Rome’s founders. Early sections in the book cover the storming of Troy and the betrayal with the infamous Trojan horse. I loved those sections and they worked much better for me than the later chapters on the war in Latium.

One interesting aspect of this book is the Roman names of the Gods vs the Greek names. After reading half a dozen books on Greek mythology last year it was strange to hear of Juno and Neptune instead of Zeus and Poseidon. I also read The Mark of Athena around the same time and that book focuses heavily on the different names of the gods. I would highly recommend reading it alongside this one if you like the Percy Jackson series.

BOTTOM LINE: I’m so glad I was finally able to read the thrilling account of the Trajan horse. I was so disappointed to discover that wasn’t in The Iliad. Other sections of the book dragged a bit for me, but it’s a crucial part of the story. If you love learning about Greek and Roman mythology then this one is a must and it helps bridge the gap between the two nations’ cultures.

Gilead

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Gilead
by Marilynne Robinson
★★★★

The main word that comes to mind with this book is "Quiet." It is peaceful and calm, but somehow as I was rounding the corner into the final third of the novel, I realized how deeply invested I was in the characters. They are sincere and feel so real and the writing is so beautiful that it creeps in and settles around you, making you forget that you don't live in the small Iowa town of Gilead.

“It is an amazing thing to watch people laugh, the way it sort of takes them over. Sometimes they really do struggle with it . . . so I wonder what it is and where it comes from, and I wonder what it expends out of your system, so that you have to do it till you're done, like crying in a way, I suppose, except that laughter is much more easily spent.”


The book is written as a long letter from an elderly minister to his young son. He knows that his death will come before the boy has a chance to grow up and he wants to leave something for him. He wants to explain his life and decisions to him so that he can understand who his father was, even if he doesn't remember him well.

He lived his whole life in the tiny Midwestern town. He remained while others left and yet he is happy in his life. He has a strong faith, but that doesn't mean he never has questions or things he struggles with in his life. There's one man in the town who has always left him feeling disconcerted. He's felt antagonized by him for years, but truly the man is just trying to find his own peace.

“Christianity is a life, not a doctrine . . . I'm not saying never doubt or question. The Lord gave you a mind so that you would make honest use of it. I'm saying you must be sure that the doubts and questions are your own."

BOTTOM LINE:
I have a feeling this is one of those books that will keep popping up in my mind over the years. Already I find myself thinking about it and mulling over different parts. I would highly recommend reading it when you are in the mood for a lovely quiet novel. There's no major action, it's about people that feel very real and deal with the same issues we all deal with: acceptance, regret, etc.

“These people who can see right through you never quite do you justice, because they never give you credit for the effort you're making to be better than you actually are, which is difficult and well meant and deserving of some little notice.”

“There are two occasions when the sacred beauty of Creation becomes dazzlingly apparent, and they occur together. One is when we feel our mortal insufficiency to the world, and the other is when we feel the world's mortal insufficiency to us.”

Wordless Wednesday: Truman Capote Childhood Home

Wednesday, January 29, 2014



Truman Capote's childhood summer home in Monroeville, Alabama

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Tuesday, January 28, 2014



Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
by Robin Sloan
★★★★
When Clay unexpectedly loses his job he finds himself taking a position as a night clerk at a 24-hour bookstore. He soon realizes the shop is more unique than he could have guessed. Peculiar individuals come in at all hours of the night and use the store as a library, checking out obscure titles. Clay’s curiosity gets the better of him and he begins to research the history of the store and its quirky owner, Mr. Penumbra.
Sloan does a great job blending an ancient love of books with the world’s progression towards technological dependence. In addition to the San Francisco bookstore, the story is set in a library in New York City and even takes Clay to Google’s headquarters. The supporting cast of characters, made up of Clay’s friends, roommates and employers is a mishmash of oddballs. Clay bonded with his childhood best friend over their shared love of the fictional fantasy series The Dragon-Song Chronicles. He meets and falls for a cute Google employee and he admires his mysterious elderly employer as he gets to know him.

The adventurous book has a lot in common with Ready Player One, which I loved. Both share a playful tone, center around a quest and have the same general nerd outlook on life. The ending of the book is a bit silly, but I can’t imagine how else it would have ended, so it works if you just suspend your cynicism and have fun.
BOTTOM LINE: It’s a really amusing read. The plot is definitely secondary; the focus is on the geeky characters and their love of books and technology. Just let go and enjoy the ride.

Mini Reviews: The Moonstone, Doctor Who and N is for Noose

Monday, January 27, 2014


The Moonstone
by Wilkie Collins
★★


I do not understand how this happened, but I was not a fan of this book. I loved Collins' mystery "The Woman in White." It's thrilling, complicated and well-plotted. I tend to love Dickens' books and he has a similar style.  I started this during R.I.P. this fall and just couldn't get into it. I tried reading it on my kindle and then I tried a hardcopy. I dreaded picking it up and it took me months to finish.

Called one of the first detective novels in existence, this unique plot rotates between narrators to tell the story of a stolen diamond. As the plot thickens we see each of the characters share their side of the story. Each participant has a different agenda and we aren't sure if we can trust their version. I appreciate the fact that the style in the book did something original, but I still had a hard time connecting with any of them.

BOTTOM LINE: I have no idea why this one was such an awful slog for me. It took me three months to get through it. I'm hoping that I am up for trying it again in a decade or so, but until then I'd recommend The Woman in White over this one.

Doctor Who: Nothing O’Clockby Neil Gaiman
★★★☆


As an avid Whovian it's hard to believe this is the first Doctor Who story I've ever read, but when I heard it was written by Gaiman I couldn't resist. For those familiar with the world of Doctor Who, this story features Amy Pond and the eleventh Doctor. They are visiting earth and realize it has been occupied by an alien. The plot revolves around a stranger in a mask who is buying up local real estate. It's a short story, so there's not too much room to get invested, but it's an entertaining read.

BOTTOM LINE:
A fun addition to the world of Doctor Who. It definitely feels like a Gaiman story, which is a good thing. There's a touch of creepiness mixed with a dose of clever irony (think getting what you want only to realize it's not what you want.) If you're tempted to try a Doctor Who novel this would be a good one.

N is for Nooseby Sue Grafton
★★☆


Kinsey is hired by a vain and difficult widow. Her cop husband died of a heart attack and she is convinced that he was investigating something big before his death. He had a reputation of refusing to let things go; pursuing cases long after they'd been solved if he smelled something fishy.

After investigating in the tiny town for awhile Kinsey realizes that people are are avoiding or shunning her. She can't even get gas for her car because someone has been spreading rumors about her past. The plot moves slowly and isn't too thrilling. The end is good and wraps things up nicely, but the book feels thin, much of it acting as filler.

BOTTOM LINE: Not one of Grafton's best mysteries. Each one seems to be very hit or miss, but my expectations are always low.

Speaking From Among the Bones

Friday, January 24, 2014


Speaking from Among the Bones
by Alan Bradley
★★★★


This is the fifth book in the Flavia de Luce mystery novels. Each one features Flavia, an 11-year-old detective, as she investigates a murder in a small English town. Honestly each of the mysteries blends together in my mind, but the characters' relationships stand out. As long as Flavia and Dogger are main characters in these books I will never grow tired of them.

Flavia's awkward fumbling to figure out who she is as a young woman and who her missing mother was is enthralling. She is such a brilliant girl, but she's also been neglected by her depressed father. He is caught in the midst of money troubles and has to put their home, Buckshaw, up for sale. Left to her own devises she tries hard to act older than she is, but she's still vulnerable.


"As was your mother, you have been given the fatal gift of genius. Because of it, your life will not be an easy one."

This mystery revolves around a young man, Crispin Collicut, who is found dead in the church. At the same time the bones of a saint are being exhumed and a missing diamond might be at the heart of the story. The writing in the series is always good and this addition is no exception. I particularly loved learning more about the Vicar Denwyn Richardson and his wife Cynthia and their deceased daughter Hannah.

BOTTOM LINE:
I love Flavia and I'm so glad Bradley keeps adding to the series. If he keeps writing them I will keep reading them.

"I was learning that the best conversations consisted of keeping quiet and listening and speaking, when one spoke at all, and a single syllable."

"Was sorrow, in the end, a private thing? A closed container? Something that could be borne only on a single pair of shoulders?"

"'I'm sorry,' I said, aware even as I spoke, what useless things, really, words of sympathy are, even though they're sometimes all we have."


Wonderstruck

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Wonderstruck
by Brian Selznik
★★★★★

When I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret I was swept away by the illustrations, the magic of Paris in the 1930s, and the sweet story of an orphaned boy living in a train station. So it would be an understatement to say I was eagerly anticipating the author's next book Wonderstruck.

Using his finely-hatched illustrations interwoven with chapters of text, Selznik introduces us to Ben, a boy living in Minnesota in 1977 and Rose a deaf girl living in New Jersey in 1927. Their separate stories revolve around the Natural History Museum in New York City and hearing loss. What at first seems completely unrelated slowly connects in wonderful ways.


Selznik allows the reader to see the world through the eyes of a deaf person and he does it in a way that takes your breath away. I wasn't completely hooked until more than halfway through the book, but when things clicked for me I remembered feeling the same way about Hugo. Once the reader realizes what he's doing it's a joy to watch the story unfold.

BOTTOM LINE: This creative author has both the skills to craft a lovely story and to paint the world in which that story takes place. I will be reading whatever he writes!

"The world was full of wonders."

Wordless Wednesday: Whitefish Sunset

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Sunset behind in the mountains in Whitefish, Montana

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Pairing Books with Movies: Tooth and Claw

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Tooth and Claw
by Jo Walton
★★★★☆

A Victorian novel with dragons, when it comes to gimmick novels this one certainly fits the bill, yet somehow it rises above that. Instead of the dragons being the focus and letting the rest of the story fall flat, they are just characters. It feels like any other novel that explores the world of social hierarchies and manners. Walton’s skills as a writer allow her to use dragons as characters while still creating a lovely plot.

Bon Agornin is the patriarch of a large family that has grown in status over the years. At the beginning of the novel his five children gather at his death bed; the stuffy married sister Berend, the religious parson Penn, twin sisters Selendra and Haner and the ambitious Avan. As the story progresses resentment about the inheritance rises between Avan and Berend’s husband. At the same time the two young sisters are beginning to be approached by suitors.

Just like the novels of Austen, Tooth and Claw explores the world of courtships and betrothals. So many of the characters were reminiscent of those in Pride and Prejudice (I mean that in a good way). Walton has a wonderful sense of humor in her book, playful poking fun and embracing the stiff social customs at the same time.

BOTTOM LINE:
What fun! It’s a quick read and one that left me smiling. The final chapters are particularly satisfying.

“His mother had always warned him that one day he would want to settle down, yet he was amazed, as all dragons who are fortunate enough to live so long are amazed, that the impulse had come upon him at last.”

Pair with a viewing of the BBC’s Merlin and Game of Thrones.
Both feature dragons in prominent roles, though Merlin’s dragon has a bit more personality.

There are a few of the excellent reviews that got me to look past the dragons and pick up the book. You can check them out here, here and here.

Mini Reviews: Odd and the Frost Giants, The Subterraneans and The Deportees

Monday, January 20, 2014


Odd and the Frost Giants
by Neil Gaiman
★★★★

 

Odd is a quiet boy living in a village in Norway. He's been through so much but he hasn't quite found his place in the world. When his path crosses with Odin, Loki and Thor he finds his strength.
 

The story delves into issues about growing up, solving problems without using violence and figuring out who you are. Gaiman's adult novel, American Gods, has similar themes on a much more adult level. One line from Odd about the Gods reminded me so much of American Gods...
 

"No. He doesn't learn. None of them do. And they don't change, either. They can't. It's all part of being a God."
 

It's a sweet book and one that I will definitely be sharing with my nephews and nieces. Also, I should mention the beautiful illustrations by Brett Helquist. They add so much to the book!
 

The Subterraneans
by Jack Kerouac
★★★


As I've said in the past, I think there's an ideal time period in which people should read Kerouac to best appreciate him. When you're young and have little to no responsibilities, the author's beautiful words and carefree life are much more appealing. When you are grown up and have a mortgage, etc. it's harder to embrace his drunken nights, callous treatment of women,  and complete disregard of responsibility.


At the same time, even when I'm frustrated by what Kerouac is saying I still admire the way he says it. His writing is like jazz. There's often no discernible pattern and I'm never sure what will happen next, but it's beautiful. He can always see the poetry in the world around him, but he also seemed incapable of overcoming his own failings.

 

"Just to start at he beginning and let the truth seep out, that's what I'll do."

The Deportees and other stories
by Roddy Doyle
★★★

There are eight short stories in this collection from the famed Irish author Roddy Doyle. Each one deals with Irish natives interacting with individuals from other countries that have immigrated to the Emerald Isle. 


There's the slightly creepy tale The Pram, about a nanny who is worried about a haunting. Black Hoodie about racial profiling and young crushes. Another story, Guess Who's Coming for the Dinner, takes us back to the premise of the Spencer Tracy movie of the same name. The Commitments introduces us to Jimmy Rabbitte, a musician hoping to get a band together.

The connecting line throughout the book is the changing face of a country. As Ireland becomes a more diverse  place its citizens must adjust to the new world around them.

BOTTOM LINE: I'm intrigued enough by Doyle's writing that I would like to read one of his better-known novels, but I wasn't overly impressed with this collection.


The Talented Mr. Ripley

Friday, January 17, 2014


The Talented Mr. Ripley
by Patricia Highsmith
★★★★☆

Tom Ripley is a quiet unassuming young man. When the opportunity to go to Europe to track down a former classmate comes along he jumps at the chance. Once he's there we begin to see the real Tom. He finds the old acquantance, Dickie Greenleaf, and Dickie's friend Marge. He insinuates himself into their lives in a small Italian village. There's a line at the beginning of the book where Ripley tells Dickie's father something and then in his own mind he says, "which was true." It immediately cues the reader into the fact that they can't trust the narrator and most of what he tells people is probably a lie. 


The beauty of this book is watching Ripley slowly reveal himself to the reader. It's not a single snap, it's peeling layers off an onion, exposing his inability to connect with the world around him. He sees  murder, deceipt and theft as a game. 


"Risks were what made the whole thing fun." 

He thrives on the cat and mouse interactions he has with the police and Dickie's family and friends. It's a twisted view of the world, but it's fascinating. For a book that deals with so much dark action it feels very calm. Highsmith manages to convey Ripley's distance from everything to the reader. Even as people edge closer to the truth, he is hardly ruffled. He has no remorse, no compassion. He justifys his actions in his own mind and smoothly moves forward to the next challenge.

BOTTOM LINE: Ripley is one of the most fascinating characters I've ever encountered and this story is an enthralling look at his slow creep towards his true nature.

"Tom didn't think too much of him, but, on the other hand, it was not wise to underestimate one's opponent."


Plagiarism: It's not just for high school students

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Over the last couple years I've grown to love being a blogger. It's fun to chronicle your reading in a forum that allows others to suggest new books or share their opinions on the ones you've already read. There are a few drawbacks though. Recently I've seen a lot of people talking about plagiarism on their blogs. Shady bloggers will repost entire reviews on their sites! Seriously, who does that? 

I'm no expert, but I've found a couple ways to check for plagiarism. There's one site called Grammarly that does the work for you. You can also search specific phrases or set up Google Alerts for your blog name. Really in the end you just have to hope that people create their own content instead of stealing your's. 


What issues have you run into as a blogger?


Photo of my comma dog by moi.

Wordless Wednesday: Treasure Island

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


First Edition of Treasure Island in the Pirate Museum in St. Augustine

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Game of Thrones: Books 1, 2 and 3

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

 
This is not going to be a typical review and there will be SPOILERS, so I would recommend skipping it if you haven't read the books. The bottom line is that I loved them and if you're a fan of massive epic stories with huge casts of characters and complicated plots, you should definitely read them!
 

I put off reading these books for such a long time. Then I marathoned the first two seasons of the TV show and watched the third season as each episode came out. I was hooked!  So in December after completing all of my reading challenges I decided to try the first book. I couldn't put it down! I found myself plowing through the first three books without pausing. I was surprised by how close the books stayed to the show. There are some differences, but I thought they did an incredible job recreating this complicated world.
 

Game of Thrones follows a huge cast of characters as alliances are made and broken in the fictional world of Westeros. Families fight for the crown and watch as those around them rise and fall with the favor of those in power.
 

Martin's characters are wonderfully complex. He makes someone as clever and sarcastic as Tyrion become defensive and vulnerable around his father. Someone as strong as Daenerys can struggle with loneliness. Catelyn Stark is strong and cunning, but she's also flawed and cruel when it comes to her husband's bastard son, John Snow. I can't imagine how hard it would be to see evidence of your husband's infidelity in front of you every day. 

I have a special love for the Stark family. From the first pages we meet the tight knit siblings who are so very different and yet so alike. Tomboy Arya and the prim Sansa; Robb and John, so similar and treated so differently. Then there's wild Bran, who must struggle to come to terms with his new life as a cripple while desperately missing his parents.
 

The Lannister family is a twisted mess, but like a train wreck, you can't look away. Led by their cold patriarch, Tywin Lannister, the siblings (Tyrion, Jaime and Cersei) each have issues. They are fierce and often cruel, but there's a lot of irony among their ranks. Tywin hates Tyrion because he is a dwarf and his birth caused his mother's death, yet he is the most like his father. Cersei is the most ruthless leader of the three, yet she can't even rule her own fate because she's a woman. Jaime is known for both his skill as a knight and his betrayal of the old king, yet he has the most compassion and loyalty of the bunch. Tywin himself is spoken of throughout the first book, but isn't introduced until near the end. He's the puppetmaster behind so much of the book's action, pulling the strings of so many characters.
 

A Few Random Thoughts: 
One thing that surprised me was the age of the main characters. Many of them are much younger than they are on the show. Daenerys is only 13 in the first book and Robb Stark is only 14. By the time Robb turns 15 he is commanding 18,000 men while grieving for his father. Daenerys becomes a widow and the leader of a maurading people as a young teen. It is similar to real history, where people married young and often died in battle.
 

There such an epic rich cast of characters I started taking notes on each family their sigils, lands and complicated lines. Having seen the show was actually a little easier than it might've been to follow the different plot lines cause I had a face to put with so many names.
 

Thoughts on my favorite characters:  

- I love Tyrion! He is by far my favorite character in the whole series. He has the best lines, but he's also a troubled soul with a lot of hurt in his past.
 

- My tough girls: Arya and Daenerys are both incredible. Dany's transformation is one of my favorite in the book. She so we can afraid at the beginning but she finds her strength. She becomes a leader despite dozens of obstacles.
 

- Jaqen H’ghar, who helps Arya and repays her favor with three deaths, is fascinating. I'm hoping that he returns in future books. I also loved her "dance master." 

- Orlenna, the Queen of Thorns and Margaery’s grandmother, is such a spitfire. She rivals Tyrion for the best lines. For example: "No, don't blush, with your hair make you look like a pomegranate." and this gem about her husband: "A kind man, and not unskilled in the bedchamber, but an appalling oaf all the same." 


- The direwovlves: Grey Wind, Ghost, Lady, Nymeria, Summer and Shaggydog, they are part of the Stark family. They protect them and become so essential to the story. I haven't wished to own an animal so badly since the first time I saw Aladdin and decided I wanted a tiger.
 

There are, of course, things to dislike. Martin is famous for killing off his beloved characters. I think seeing the show first actually helped me deal with some of the hardest blows when it comes to loss of characters. I knew the fate of certain characters when I started the books and so I wasn't shocked by any until the second half of the third book. Some people complain about the convoluted cast of characters, but I loved that. It felt a lot like Lord of the Rings or an actual history of the Middle Ages. Each chapter is told from one characters' point-of-view, so some stories are more interesting than others, but you know you'll eventually get back to your favorites.
 

Honestly, I haven't even scratched the surface of the first three books. I've taken a break before starting the fourth, but I truly hope it's as good as the ones I've already read. 

Mini Reviews: The Black Count, Goodbye Mr. Chips and The North Star

Monday, January 13, 2014



The Black Count
Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
by Tom Reiss
★★★☆

This is a nonfiction account of the life of Alexandre Dumas’ father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. His wild, adventurous life gave his famous author son plenty of fodder for his novels. Reiss was the Pulitzer Prize for Biography for this book and the attention to detail is clear from the first page.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is Thomas’ race. He was a black man in the midst of a country struggling with race relations and yet he managed to rise to a position of power and respect in the military. “…he remains the highest-ranking person of color of all time in a continental European army” according to his Wikipedia page.

His life is fascinating, but the book itself got caught up in some of the minutia of French history. The best parts are the ones dealing directly with Dumas’ life and impact on those around him. His son idolized him and modeled many of the scenes in his books on events in his father’s life.

I would highly recommend waiting to read this one until you’ve read both The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. Going into it with knowledge of those novels increases your appreciation for the man who inspired some of those stories!

BOTTOM LINE: Detail-heavy, but still interesting. The book moves slowly, but certainly added to my appreciation of the books written by the subject’s son.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips
by James Hilton
★★★☆

This sweet story follows the life of a devoted school master from the beginning of his career until the end. It’s a very short book, so there’s not too much room for character development. I wish I’d gotten to know a couple of the characters better. I actually saw the 1939 film before reading the book and this is one of the rare cases where I actually liked the movie better. Still I enjoyed this one and I particularly loved Mrs. Chips' role in the story.

BOTTOM LINE: A good little book about the impact one man can have on his students. A quick read and definitely worth the time.

The North Star
by Peter Reynolds
★★★

A sweet children’s book about finding your way in the world. It reminded me a bit of Alice in Wonderland, following a rabbit and a cat that appears to help you along your way. It’s nothing earth shattering, but the illustrations are well done and the message is good. Everyone is on a journey, though those journeys are all different.

January Classics Club Meme Question

Friday, January 10, 2014


Which character from classic literature is most important or influential to you and why? Or which character do you most despise and why? 
There are dozens of characters I love that have influenced me, but I'm going to answer the second half of the question. One character that I've always despised is Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. She's not an evil character by any means. She is just a silly creature, a product of her environment. But at the same time her actions and priorities have a huge influence on her daughters and their choices.
 

Every time I read P&P I want to smack her. Mr. Bennet is at fault for some of his daughters' freedoms, but never to the same extent as his wife. She is over indulgent with Lydia and in turn Lydia makes horrible life decisions. Then she pretends like Lydia has done nothing wrong after she gets married, justifying Lydia's actions in the eyes of her other younger daughters.
 

She makes a fool of herself and her family whenever she's at a community event or party. Mr. Darcy judges her for it and it influences his view of the whole Bennet family. She antagonizes her husband and older daughters.
 

She also teaches her daughters that the most important thing in a relationship is finding someone who is wealthy. She threatens to never speak to Elizabeth again after she turns down Mr. Collins' marriage proposal. She doesn't care what would actually be best for her daughters as long as they have money.
 

She's a beautifully drawn character, one that represented a huge part of the society Jane Austen lived in, but she's hard to stomach!

Start 2014 Write

Thursday, January 9, 2014


I'm such a fan of writing REAL letters. There's nothing quite like getting a personal letter in the mail. That's been one thing I've loved about being a book blogger. The world is full of fellow letter lovers and over the past 4 years I've received some wonderful mail from other bloggers. 

So this venture, headed up by The Estella Society and Kailana from The Written World 
is right up my alley.

-You may send letters, postcards, or greeting cards, but you should write a significant, thoughtful message meant to brighten someone’s day. This may require you to poke around on their blog and get to know them better.
- Sign-ups end January 20
- Receive your assigned recipients by January 27
-You have the entire month of February to send your letters, postcards, cards, etc. All correspondence should be in the mail no later than February 28, 2014. 

You can find the complete details and sign up at The Estella Society or The Written World.

Wordless Wednesday: Old Town Chicago

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Old Town Chicago

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Goals/Resolutions For 2014

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks Top Ten Goals/Resolutions For 2014. They can be bookish or not, mine are a mix.

1) Pay off my student loans by the end of the year.
2) Visit New Zealand and Australia, the trip is set for September and I can't wait!
3) Host a fancy dinner party.
4) Have a Meatless Monday every week (doesn't have to actually fall on a Monday).
5) Get in better shape to hike in New Zealand.
6) Embrace my new job; learn as much as I can and challenge myself to be creative and fearless in this new role.*
7) Celebrate my 30th birthday party in a fun way.
8) Read at least 100 books and see and review at least 30 plays.
9) Get rid of at least 30 items of clothing.
10) Do one Pay It Forward act each month (buy someone's coffee in the drive thru, pay extra on someone's meter, etc.)



*P.S. I got a new job! I accepted a new job offer to become the editor of a monthly publication. I'm excited and looking forward to starting on January 15th! It was a quick turn around and I'm so grateful for all the encouragement that was sent my way when I wasn't sure what was next. 

Do you guys have any goals/resolutions this year?

Mini Reviews: Gossamer, I Sing the Body Electric and The Watsons Go to Birmingham

Monday, January 6, 2014


Gossamer
by Lois Lowry
★★★☆

Lowry is famous for her Giver series, but some of her lesser known works are just as imaginative. Gossamer is sweet story exploring the idea of where your dreams come from. The descriptions of the dream givers are just lovely.

There’s a darker edge to the book that deals with child abuse. I’m not sure it would be appropriate for young kids because of that, but it might be a good way to introduce the subject to preteens and encourage discussion.

BOTTOM LINE: A slim novel with a very good story. I would have loved this even more if I’d read it when I was younger.


I Sing the Body Electric!
by Ray Bradbury
★★★

This collection is a mixed bag of short stories. Some are wonderful, particularly the title story which deals with grief and robots with personalities, others fall flat or are forgettable. 

In one story a family is shocked when their first child is born into the fourth dimension instead of the third. Another is a haunting tale about a man who is left behind after his rocket leaves him on Mars alone. After decades alone he begins to get calls from himself on the phone. He finally remembers that he recorded those calls to keep himself company when he’s older. Still another is about a world in which perfect marionette recreations are made of people so that other can enact their vicious desires upon them. For example, if your wife cheats on you, you could murder a lifelike marionette of her and then face no consequences. 

BOTTOM LINE: I’m continually amazed to see how Bradbury’s brilliant mind worked. Even in his weaker stories they usually start with an interesting idea. The man had no limit to where his brain would take him and he had the ability to craft gorgeous prose to go hand-in-hand with his wild imagination. It's not my favorite collection, but there are still a few gems. 


The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963
by Christopher Paul Curtis
★★★

It’s the 1960s the Watsons live in Michigan. This nonfiction collection of childhood memories reminded me a bit of The Christmas Story; a small town family, funny stories of their interactions at home and at school, etc.

The book deals heavily with sibling rivalry and bullying. The climax is a family trip to Birmingham to visit their Grandmother. Their fun trip ends in heartbreak when it coincides with racial tensions in the town.

BOTTOM LINE: What a wonderful book to spark a discussion of the battle for civil rights in the 1960s with a new generation. Seen from the eyes of a young boy, there’s so much room for confusion and misunderstanding. It opens the door for kids to ask questions about what happened during that important period in our history.

2nd Annual Classics Club Readathon

Saturday, January 4, 2014


Today is the 2nd Annual Classics Club Readathon. I will be reading on and off as much as I can and updating my progress here. Below are my answers to the kick-off prompt and my reading stats which I will update throughout the day.  

You can get the details of the readathon here. Happy reading everyone! 

**UPDATED AT 12AM EST*** I'm back and curled up with the super creepy Talented Mr. Ripley. I'll keep going until I fall asleep!

5PM - I'll be gone for a few hours to go to dinner and a Shakespeare play with a friend. I'll update my post when I'm back!

Currently Reading: Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion and Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut
Pages Read: 1,037
Books Read: 3, The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac, Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
  
Name and Blog: Melissa, Avid Reader's Musings
Snacks and Beverages of Choice: Coffee, almond joys, grapes, chips and guacamole. 
Where are you reading from today? Indianapolis, IN
What are your goals for the Readathon? I want to get through at least one or two books and put a dent in a few short story collections that have been on my shelf.
What book(s) are you planning on reading?  I'm going to be picking books from the stack in the picture above. I know I won't get to them all, but I've got a good variety to choose from.
Are you excited? Of course! I love having some specific time carved out for reading.
 Photos by moi.

Back to the Classics 2014

Friday, January 3, 2014


The Back to the Classics Challenge is always a favorite of mine and this year it has a new host! Karen of Books and Chocolate has taken over hosting duties and picked some great categories for us. Below are all of the categories along with my selections. You can see the complete list of details in Karen's post here.

1) 19th Century Classic:
The Warden by Anthony Trollope (Finished
March 2014)
2) 20th Century Classic: In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck (Finished Aug. 2014)
3) Classic in Translation: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (Finished Nov. 2014)
4) Classic By Woman Author: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (Finished Jan. 2014)

5) Classic by an Author Who's New To Me: An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser (Finished Non. 2014)

6) Wartime Novel: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (Finished Dec. 2014)


Optional Categories:
1) Classic American Novel:
The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington (Finished March 2014)

2) Historical Novel: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Finished April 2014)
3) Classic Mystery Novel: Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers (Finished Jan. 2014)
4) Classic Book That's Been Adapted as a Movie: The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham (Finished May 2014)
5) Extra Fun Category: Write a Review of the Movie adapted from Optional Category #4 (The Painted Veil)


The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales

Thursday, January 2, 2014



The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales
Translations from the Grimms' Kinder und Hausmarchen by Edgar Taylor and Marian Edwardes
★★★★☆

Most people know many of the Grimm Fairy Tales without ever reading the book. We are all raised on Disney recreations of the stories, but I wanted to read the originals and I’m so glad I did. This collection includes all the classic tales along with dozens more I’d never heard of before. I was surprised by how short some of the stories are and how much darker the tone of the whole book is. Some of the stories are pretty weird.

There are a few major themes throughout the book. Stepmothers and stepdaughter are big, they always hate each other. It’s not surprising to see that the animosity associated with those titles is still around today. Each story with step family includes a lot of resentment and dislike. There’s also a lot of changing people into things, flowers, ducks, frogs, etc. to disguise themselves or as a punishment.

Some of the tales are familiar and it’s not a surprise that they made great children’s movies. Others are incredible odd and will probably never make it to the big screen.

For example:
“Once upon a time, a mouse, a bird, and a sausage, entered into partnership and set up house together.”

I’m sorry do you mean a pig or a sausage? Oh, you mean a sausage, okay. So how does this sausage contribute to the household chores you might ask, well he rolls himself around in some vegetables to flavor the soup. Anyone else think that sounds weird? Spoiler alert, the sausage gets eaten.

There are also some interesting differences between the original versions of the stories and the versions that are well-know. It’s actually Ashputtel not Cinderella and it’s Little Red-Cap, not Little Red Riding Hood and it’s not Snow White, it’s Snowdrop. Those are small changes, but interesting ones.

“And so the little girl really did grow up; her skin was as white as snow, her cheeks as rosy as the blood, and her hair as black as ebony; and she was called Snowdrop.”

I liked reading The Robber Bridegroom, a particularly dark tale of a betrothed young girl realizing her fiancĂ© is a cannibal and a murderer. It’s the tale that inspired Margaret Atwood’s novel The Robber Bride and I’ve been curious about it since reading that Atwood novel. Another odd one is called “The Juniper-Tree.” In it a mother cooks her son into a pudding and serves him to her husband. It reminded me a bit of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.

One of the creepiest tales is “Cat-Skin.” In it a king’s wife dies and when his daughter comes of age he decides she looks just like her mother and so he will marry her. Everyone in the kingdom, daughter included, said a collective “Ewww.” So the daughter tries to come up with ways to postpone the disturbing nuptials.

I loved the story of Snow-White and Rose-Red. I grew up reading about their lives with a local bear and angry dwarf and I’m actually surprised it was never made into a movie.

BOTTOM LINE: So interesting to read and see how these stories have evolved over the years. They are dark and really not great for little kids, but I loved reading them. They reminded me of some of Neil Gaiman’s books (especially Coraline and The Ocean at the End of the Lane). You can see how current authors could be inspired by these earl y creepy stories. Aesop’s Fables were all about morality and teaching lessons, while the Grimm brothers told scary tales disguised them as bedtime stories.

Did any of you watch Faerie Tale Theatre when you were growing up? I loved that show and I couldn’t believe how closely the TV show matched the original Grimm versions.

About the Authors (from the book): The Brothers Grimm, Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859), were born in Hanau, near Frankfurt, in the German state of Hesse. Throughout their lives they remained close friends, and both studied law at Marburg University. Jacob was a pioneer in the study of German philology, and although Wilhelm's work was hampered by poor health the brothers collaborated in the creation of a German dictionary, not completed until a century after their deaths.

Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum and Roughing It

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


During a recent trip to Iowa I couldn’t resist stopping in Hannibal, MO on the way home. Mark Twain’s hometown includes a slew of monuments and museums dedicated to his work. In the Mark Twain museum there is a gallery of Norman Rockwell illustrations of his books, sculptures of Twain, some of his books and clothing, etc.


The street where Twain grew up is preserved for visitors. It includes his childhood home, his father’s law office and even a statue of Tom and Huck. It was a literary treat to see it all, though I couldn’t help but wonder what witty comment Mark Twain would have about it.


Roughing It by Mark Twain
★★☆

I had high hopes for this one, but I found that most of it lacked Twain’s incomparable wit. Much of it is a straight forward description of Twain’s travels out west in his youth during the mid-1800s. He traveled all over the west, even out to Hawaii. He describes gold and silver mining and the wild west in detail and has some incredibly strong feelings of dislike for Mormons.

There were bits in the second half that I enjoyed more that the first half. Apparently the first half is based on this brother’s journals of the trip (I didn’t find that out until I’d finished the book) and that would explain why it comes across and a bit dull. If you can make it through those bits it picks up and fans will recognize Twain’s clever style. I loved his description of attempting to work as an editor. He has the job for only seven days before quitting. He decided it was much too hard to come up with something new to write about each day.

Twain’s anecdotes about his travels are wonderful. I particularly loved a story about planning his first public lecture. He was so nervous he took every possible precaution to ensure he would receive some laughs.

BOTTOM LINE: I would recommend only if you are a huge Mark Twain fan or if you love reading about the development of the west. Otherwise I would highly recommend most of Twain’s other work, including Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Prince and the Pauper, etc.

Photos by moi.