Wednesday, February 28, 2007

NY Times Notable Book Blog and Challenge

For a person that doesn't have a lot of time, I seem to find all the groups and challenges I can handle!! Actually more. Thanks to Pour of Tor and Caribousmom a new challenge is in the air. And with it, a new blog. Every year, in December, The New York Times picks what they consider 100 of the year's most remarkable books. This includes both fiction and non-fiction. And although I would love to read them all, it isn't humanly possible. But this challenge isn't one of quantity, but of quality. You pick any amount you want and read them throughout the year. Easy, right? The nifty part is the new blog, NY Time Notable Books. It's a group blog. Join the challenge, and join the blog! We are going to discuss the books and cross-review them!! Sounds kinda fun, doesn't it??? OK, I guess you would just have to be a book person to understand.....but I figure if you are reading this blog, you are probably a book person!
This is this list that I've "whittled" down to so far:
  • Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart
  • Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali
  • Arthur and George by Julian Barnes
  • Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
  • Digging to America by Anne Tyler
  • The Dissident by Nell Freudenberger
  • Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta
  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Inhabited World by David Long
  • The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
  • The Keep by Jennifer Egan
  • Lisey's Story by Stephen King
  • One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • Suite Francais by Irene Nemirovsky
  • Terrorist by John Updike
  • The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits


  • Falling Through the Earth: A Memoir by Danielle Trussoni
  • Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • Flaubert: A Biography by Frederick Brown
  • Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back Again by Norah Vincent
  • State of Denial by Bob Woodward
  • Sweet and Low: A Family Story by Rich Cohen

This is subject to change of course. I was trying for a good mix!


Monday, February 26, 2007

A MUST Read Book!

The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak (560 pgs) is labeled as a "Young Adult" book for Grade 9 and Up. But this book is oh so much more than just a YA book. This book touched me more than any book I have read in a very long time and I would recommend it just as easily to adults as I would teens.

The story begins as you are introduced to the Narrator -- Death. At first, I found it a little disconcerting that Death was telling this story. There are lots of breaks from the actual story when Death gives you glimpses into the lives of the characters that normally wouldn't be shown. But I guess if you are going to tell a story of war, then Death would be the perfect narrator. The story takes place in Germany during Hitler's regime. We first meet The Book Thief, a young girl named Liesel Meminger, on a train bound for her new home. Her mother is very poor and cannot provide for Liesel and her brother. The children are going to live with a foster family, but before the train arrives in Munich, Liesel's brother dies. Her first theft is of "The Gravedigger's Handbook". She finds it in the snow at the cemetery and keeps it with her always. Her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann are not your typical Germans. Rosa is loud and rude, but has a really big heart. Hans, a painter and accordion player, was denied entrance to the Nazi party for painting over disparaging epitaphs for a Jewish friend. His own heart is certainly in the right place and he sees the Nazis for what they truly are. He also took it upon himself to teach Liesel to read. There are many other characters introduced to us in this story. Rudy, the boy next door, has an obsession with Jesse Owens and becomes Liesel's best friend. There is Max, a Jew. He comes into the story because of a long-ago promise made. There is Ilsa, the Mayor's wife, who grieves for the loss of her son.....but has a library that leaves Liesel in awe.

This is a story of innocence and war; politics and anger; hope and friendship. But most of all it is the story of words. It has been a long time since words on a page brought tears to my eyes. But this book did. It is fantastic and I would recommend it to everyone!! 5/5

Also reviewed by:
Kristi @ Passion for the Page

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Banned Books

Yesterday someone posted a link to the Pelham Public Library in Fonthill, Ontario. Another challenge was the title. "Take the Banned Book Challenge in time for Freedom to Read Week". Well....I'm always up for a good challenge, but this one got me thinking. Maybe it's because I am reading The Book Thief at the moment, and burning books is such a prevalent topic. Or maybe it is just that I'm the Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm. Or maybe it's that during this time in our country, I am seeing some of our civil liberties stripped away from us under the guise of "Patriotism". But this topic is very near and dear to my heart. Who gives someone else the right to tell me what I can or cannot read, watch or hear?? Why is it that some groups of people feel the need to dictate to me their ideas of "morality" and what is "objectionable"? This country was founded on the principle of freedom. The very first Amendment to the US Constitution states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

As a parent, I am given the task of a censor. I don't even like the word, but it is something that should be done for the welfare of my children. But here is the real question when it comes to censorship: Do I think my children are better off not reading the wonderful adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer because the "N" word was used by Mark Twain? Or do I think that teaching them that the word is wrong is a better alternative?? Do I shelter them from "vulgar" language like "damn" or "whore" by taking away such incredibly written Classics like "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Of Mice and Men"? Or do I instill in them a sense of right and wrong so they know the language isn't appropriate? Do I stifle their creativity and imagination by condemning works like Harry Potter because he is a Wizard and against God? Or do I show them Harry Potter is a work of fiction, meant only to entertain....and has nothing to do with religion? Maybe I am a little more lax than some parents. And maybe I expose my children to certain topics earlier than most. But I think they are smart enough to learn what is right and what is wrong....or at least MY definition of right and wrong.

I guess this brings me back to my original topic of banning books. I'm not sure I really HAVE a point with this rant. It just makes me sad to see all the wonderful books that are on the ALA's list of banned/challenged books. It also makes me angry that people take it upon themselves to decide for everyone what is acceptable and what isn't. Even today I read an article that a group of Cuban American parents "kidnapped" a book from the library in Miami until it can be banned. It was called "Discovering Cultures: Cuba" and they felt it was pro-Castro and would like it banned. I'm sorry....but isn't that what Communism is all about....not giving people the freedom of choice? They are as bad as Castro in my opinion. You can read all about it on the 4Freadom blog.

I guess I will sign up for the Canadian Banned Books Challenge. My little way of rebelling!! Here are some of the "offensive" books that I am considering for this challenge:

  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (a re-read for me)

  • I know Why Caged Birds Sing by Maya Angelou

  • Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

  • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Witches by Roald Dahl

  • The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Who does Gothic better than du Maurier??? No one!

I picked this book up as a part of the Winter Classics Challenge (which, by the way, I'm failing at miserably!!) My Cousin Rachel is by Daphne du Maurier (288 pgs) and was written in 1951. There is something about the way du Maurier writes that makes it hard to put one of her books down. And this is no exception. From the opening sentence, I was utterly and completely enthralled!!

The story is told by Philip Ashley, a young orphan who was taken in to raise by his cousin Ambrose, a young man not much more than a boy himself. And it was just the two of them for many years. No women around at all....not even on the staff. There was never a need, when the men could get along so well without them! When Ambrose's health starts to falter a bit, he is pushed to spend the cold, damp winters in a warmer climate. Imagine Philip's surprise when, one winter, Ambrose writes that he has married a woman from Florence! Her name was Rachel, a widow that was struggling to survive the debt her first husband had left. Not only was Philip surprised, he was jealous. Ambrose had always been his and his alone. He never had to share him with anyone.

When Ambrose decides to stay in Florence to help settle some estate problems for Rachel, Philip is upset. And when Ambrose's correspondence starts falling behind, he even starts to get worried. About this time a letter arrives for Philip that is shaky and completely unlike Ambrose. Philip quickly decides to make the trip to Florence. Ambrose complains of being sick and is having doubts about Rachel, his torment. But when Philip arrives at the villa in Italy, Ambrose has already passed away, and Rachel has left the country. With revenge on his mind, Philip goes back to England to find he will inherit the entire Ashley estate on his twenty-fifth birthday, which is only 6 months away. No provisions at all have been made for Rachel, Ambrose's widow. This is just how Philip would have it, until the day that his cousin, Rachel arrives in England. She is not at all the type of woman he expected.

The thing about this book is that once you read it, you will have more questions than when you started!! Is Rachel the sweet, innocent angel she seems to be? Flirty, but naive? Or is she a calculating, evil temptress, who only uses men for her personal gain? And what about Philip? Is he driven mad by jealousy and obsession? Or is there something else at work? The ending is anything but straightforward, and the reader is left to his own to answer these questions. The mystery surrounding Rachel unravels slowly, but in such a way as to keep you on the edge of your seat. I actually liked this book far more than I did Rebecca, du Maurier's more popular work. Excellent, Gothic read for a stormy and dark night!! 4.5/5

Sunday, February 18, 2007

What Kind of Reader are YOU?

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm

You're probably in the final stages of a Ph.D. or otherwise finding a way to make your living out of reading. You are one of the literati. Other people's grammatical mistakes make you insane.

Dedicated Reader
Literate Good Citizen
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Like this was a surprise??? Nope!! I thought this quiz was cute. And since I have about 4 books going right now, and haven't had a chance to review anything, I was feeling the need to post something! Now, if I could just figure out how to make a living out of my reading, I'd be set for life!


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Snow Days!!

Well it looks like another Snow Day!! The kids are out of school....for the second day straight. We were hit with a "Blizzard" starting Monday night. 10 1/2 inches of snow and 40 mph winds made it impossible to do anything. Pretty much shut us down. Today it's only about 5 F, with wind chills that are going to hit -17 by nightfall. So....I called in today. (Yesterday, it wasn't even possible to get out. The highways were closed) I may try to do some of my coding work from home. Otherwise, we are going to make chocolate chip cookies, start a fire, and I'm going to sit by it and read!!

And look at my snow dogs!! Big wimps! They are sitting there WAITING for me to let them back in the house!! Rocco is the St. Bernard, and Ninja is a Chow/lab mix. My Big Babies!!!


Monday, February 12, 2007

A Very Compelling, but Very Depressing Book

The Cigar Roller (192 pgs) by Pablo Medina is the story of a Amadeo Terra, a Cuban-born Cigar Roller that has been paralyzed by a stroke. Amadeo is housed in a nursing home in Florida, isolated from the world. His children pay the bills, but never visit. He is unable to move or talk. And to the outside world, he is no more responsive than a vegetable. One day, as the nurse was feeding Amadeo his lunch of baby food, his memories are sparked by the taste of mango. He is immediately transported back to his childhood in Cuba.

This novel is very well-written, although it does follow the stream of consciousness writing that I'm not particularly fond of reading. Amadeo is a man that has ill-spent almost his entire life and has many deep regrets. He alternates from the present time through many episodes of his past life, some good and some bad. You see snippets of his marriage to Julia, a Cuban woman that immigrated to Florida with him and their three sons. You see bits of life as a Master Cigar Roller. Images of his many mistresses and infidelities are also abound. And the death of his young son that haunts him. But you are also drawn into his life as an invalid, trying desperately to make someone, anyone, realize he CAN understand. You are also drawn into the incredibly inadequate treatment the infirmed receive in this nursing home.

Even though the book was well-written, it probably won't be making my Top lists anytime soon! It was a short book for me, but I found it incredibly difficult to read. It's hard to have a lot of empathy for a man that really, truly was so detestable. And I'm not a fan of stream of consciousness writing. I find it very hard to enjoy. I was hoping for more about Amadeo's life as a Cigar Roller and culture of Cuba, and less of the clinical side of the stroke. 3.5/5

Friday, February 9, 2007

Non-Fiction Five Challenge

I don't normally read a lot of non-fiction, so I when I saw that Joy from "Thoughts of Joy" was hosting the Non-Fiction Five challenge, I thought it would be great for me. A chance to "broaden my horizons" so to speak. But I also thought it would be difficult for me to actually choose five books that I would find interesting! Not so!! I'm now whittled down to 11 choices!! Are you kidding me?? I'll go ahead and list the 11 and closer to May, I guess I will have to actually pick 5 from them! Maybe I'll just put the names in a hat and draw out 5!

  • Dreams From my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritence by Barack Obama

  • The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama

  • The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr

  • The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

  • The City of Fallen Angels by John Berendt

  • Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

  • Marley & Me - Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog by John Grogan

  • 1776 by David McCullough

  • The Tender Bar: A Memoir by J. R. Moehringer

  • Catherine the Great: Love, Sex, & Power by Virginia Rounding

Check back later to see what I decide!!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

ANOTHER Vintage day in Literary History

Apparently, if you are going to be a renowened author, you must be born in February!! On February 8, 1851, Kate O'Flaherty Chopin was born in St. Louis, MO. She wrote many short stories, but is probably best know for her novel The Awakening. Her writing was controversial and well ahead of it's time.

Jules Gabriel Verne was born on Feb. 8, 1828 in Nantez, France. He is often referred to as the "Father of Science Fiction". He wrote about space, air and underwater travel before it was even invented. Some of his most popular works include 20, 000 Leagues under the Sea, A Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Around the World in 80 Days.

On Feb 8, 1955, John Ray Grisham, Jr. was born in Jonesboro, AK. Although he grew up wanting to be a professional baseball player, he decided to major in accounting at Mississippi State University. After graduating, attended law school at Ole Miss, and went on to practice law for nearly a decade in Southaven, specializing in criminal defense and personal injury litigation. In 1983, he was elected to the state House of Representatives and served until 1990. One day at the Dessoto County courthouse, Grisham overheard the harrowing testimony of a twelve-year-old rape victim and was inspired to start a novel exploring what would have happened if the girl's father had murdered her assailants. Getting up at 5 a.m. every day to get in several hours of writing time before heading off to work, Grisham spent three years on A Time to Kill and finished it in 1987. Initially rejected by many publishers, it was eventually bought by Wynwood press, who gave it a modest 5,000 copy printing and published it in June 1988. That might have put an end to Grisham's hobby. However, he had already begun his next book, and it would quickly turn that hobby into a new full-time career—and spark one of publishing's greatest success stories. The day after Grisham completed A Time to Kill, he began work on another novel, the story of a hotshot young attorney lured to an apparently perfect law firm that was not what it appeared. When he sold the film rights to The Firm to Paramount Pictures for $600,000, Grisham suddenly became a hot property among publishers, and book rights were bought by Doubleday. Spending 47 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, The Firm became the bestselling novel of 1991. Since first publishing A Time to Kill in 1988, Grisham has written one novel a year and all of them have become international bestsellers. There are currently over 225 million John Grisham books in print worldwide, which have been translated into 29 languages. Nine of his novels have been turned into films as was an original screenplay, The Gingerbread Man. The Innocent Man (October 2006) marks his first foray into non-fiction.


Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Today in Literary History....... is a rather large day in literary history. On Feb. 7, 1812, Charles John Huffman Dickens was born! Dickens was the second of eight children in a family always in debt, so he knew firsthand the misery of child labor (factory work), hunger, and debtors' prison. His childhood poverty and adversity shaped his later passion for social reform and his compassion for the lower classes, especially for children, which is obvious in the novels, short stories, and articles he wrote. I've only read a couple of Dickens, but Great Expectations is far and away my favorite.

On Feb. 7, 1885, Sinclair Lewis was born in Sauk Center, MN was the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930. After receiving his A.B. from Yale University in 1907, he was for a time a member of Upton Sinclair's Helicon Hall, a socialist, Utopian society in New Jersey. When the Panama Canal was being built, he went to find work there but was unsuccessful and returned to the midwest as a reporter and editor. Lewis went east again in 1910, married in 1914 (divorced 1925, remarried 1928), and began writing novels full time in 1916. Our Mr. Wrenn (1914), The Trail of the Hawk (1915), The Job (1917), The Innocents (1917), Free Air (1919) were all written before Main Street, Lewis's break-through book, was published in 1920. Babbit followed in 1922 (written in Italy and England) and Arrowsmith in 1925; Lewis refused the Pulitzer Prize of $1000 for Arrowsmith in 1926 as a protest against the restrictive terms of the award. When Lewis accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930, he "lived up to his reputation as a non-conformist and firebrand by his vehement speech in which he attacked the professors and men of letters who would subject American literature to conventional standards of taste and morals." Yeah...he was my kind of guy!

And finally on Feb 7, 1867, Laura Ingalls Wilder was born, the second of 5 children to Charles and Caroline Ingalls near Pepin, WI. She was known for her "Little House on the Prairie" children's books, an autobiographical tale.


Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Classic Tale by a lesser known Bronte

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte was first published in 1848. Let me just preface my review by saying, "Thank GOD, I didn't live back then!" The story is told by Gilbert Markham through a series of letters to his friend Halford and by journal entries of the mysterious and devout Mrs. Helen Graham. A recent widow, Mrs. Graham and her young son are the new tenants of Wildfell Hall, a dilapidated estate owned by Frederick Laurence. The air of mystery that surrounds Mrs. Graham is certainly fodder for the townsfolk. She is quiet, reserved and not very inviting to most of her neighbors. Wildfell Hall only has a few rooms that are in livable condition. And she has a strange attachment to her son, Arthur. She is never separated from him.

As the days go by, Gilbert finds that he is undeniably attracted to Mrs. Graham. But he is very disheartened to find that rumors are now being circulated around town about Mrs. Graham and Frederick, a man that Gilbert has always considered a friend. It is also very clear to him that Helen is shutting him down at ever effort to get to know her, especially regarding her past.

Eventually, Helen is unable to deny her feelings for Gilbert and gives him her diary. This action is her one chance for him to understand who she really is and dispel the rumors that the townsfolk have come to believe. The diary is Helen's account of her life before she moved into the rooms at Wildfell Hall, but most specifically, it is about her marriage to Arthur Huntingdon, a very charming man that had few, if any, scruples.

At first I had a hard time getting into this book. I found the characters all rather unlikable and rather annoying. The townsfolk were always in everyone's business. Gilbert was rather insensitive and kind of bully, when you come right down to it. And Helen spent most of the book playing a martyr by saying it was "God's Will". I do realize that it was different times, and a woman's rights were very few. This is the main reason I overlooked my annoyance and continued reading. In the end, I found that I really enjoyed the story. Bronte wrote this book at a time when women were less than citizens and brought forth a whole host of probably very controversial topics for that time: alcoholism, infidelity, and women's rights to name just a few. I think Anne Bronte was very much ahead of her time. 4/5

Can anyone sale Library Sale???

Well.....since last week was SO bad, I decided to treat myself!! On Friday, I took an early lunch, and went to Bloomington for their BPL book sale! I decided I deserved it after my lousy week. Aren't library sales wonderful?? Booksalefinder is a great site to let you know when sales are going on in your area. I actually spent less than $20 and I picked up 31 paperback books and 2 hardback books!! Score! Of course, we won't tell my husband. He already thinks I have more books in the house than I can read before I die!! He actually might be right (but we certainly aren't going to tell him that either!)

So here's the list:

  • 13 Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael Mysteries. I'm not going to list all of them, but I was pretty excited by this!
  • 3 Cedar Cover novels by Debbie Macomber.
  • Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Little Alters Everywhere by Rebecca Wells
  • Brick Lane by Monica Ali
  • The Bone People by Keri Hulme
  • Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
  • Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris
  • 2 Laurell K. Hamilton Anita Blake, Vampire hunter books.
  • Peach Cobbler Murder by Joanne Fluke
  • Playing with Fire and The Heart of the Dragon by Gena Showalter
  • Finally....a bunch of "Chick Lit" Books by Jennifer Weiner, Emma McLaughlin, Carly Phillips, Sheryll Woods, Christina Skye and Katie Fforde
  • Not a bad haul, if I do say so myself!!


    Monday, February 5, 2007

    What Jane Austen Character am I???

    I am Marianne Dashwood!

    Take the Quiz here!

    Well....I've only read 1 Jane Austen novel and Sense and Sensibility wasn't it!! So I guess I'm not really sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing!! But this is what it says about it:

    :: M A R I A N N E ::
    You are Marianne Dashwood of Sense & Sensibility! You are impulsive, romantic, impatient, and perhaps a little to vocal in your honesty. You enjoy romantic poetry and novels, and play the pianoforte beautifully. To boot, your singing voice is captivating. You feel deeply, and love passionately.

    Now, I don't know how true this is.....some, maybe. But as my daddy would say, I can't carry a tune in a bucket!!

    I "borrowed" this quiz from Christina at Book-a-Rama . Thanks!!


    Sunday, February 4, 2007

    Hmmmmm......I've GOT to get to Starbucks TODAY!

    Caramel Frappuccino

    Creative and expressive, you tend to match your Frappuccino flavor to your mood. And a flavored syrup is always a must!
    Oh Yeah!! This is me. When I need a fix, it's time to hit Starbucks!! And yes, I usually prefer anything with Caramel!! YUMMY!!
    Later....I'm cleaning for the big SUPER BOWL party!!! Let's hear it, one and all: GO BEARS!!

    Thursday, February 1, 2007

    Does ANYONE like their job???

    Oh, boy. Has it been a BAD week at work!! I'm up to my eyeballs with assignments. I work in systems. And I'm on a BIG project team. The idea is to create a whole new Service Parts System for the entire organization. Which is a HUGE undertaking. Once it works, then we have to convert the facilities one by one until all 36 facilites worldwide are on the new system. The timelines that have been set up are so aggressive, we are going to be killing ourselves to accomplish it. The first install is supposed to start July 1, and it seems we are months behind! We have a deadline of this Friday to get all our work done so we can start integration testing. So, this week, instead of spending time with my family in the evenings....I'm spending time with co-workers. Instead of reading a good book......I'm reading design documents and test scripts. Instead of enjoying myself.....I'm miserable.

    I'm sure I'm boring all of you with this post. But I just needed to vent a bit. I sometimes wonder how on earth I got to this point. I am grateful I HAVE a job with benefits because so many people in our country don't. I just wish I enjoyed it more. It would be nice to wake up in the mornings and not look at the next 8 (or 10 or even 12) hours with dread. I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner.....but I should have been a librarian. Or a teacher.

    Later! (if there's time!)