Saturday, October 31, 2009

Women Unbound Meme

WOMEN UNBOUND Start of Challenge Meme:

1. What does feminism mean to you? Does it have to do with the work sphere? The social sphere? How you dress? How you act?

To me, feminism is about the right of every woman to be treated like a full human being. In too much of the world, women are still viewed as property, to be bartered and used at the pleasure of men. Certainly the pay gap and the glass ceiling are very real issues that need to be addressed, but I don't think we can make headway in any arena until women are finally viewed as equal. (please note - I do not believe that, in this case, equal means the same. I do not believe that men and women are the same. I do believe that they are equal by the dictionary definition "like or alike in quantity, degree, value, etc.; of the same rank, ability, merit, etc.")

2. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?


"Does feminist mean large unpleasant person who'll shout at you or someone who believes women are human beings. To me it's the latter, so I sign up."
~ Margaret Atwood

"A feminist is a woman who does not allow anyone to think in her place."
~Michelle le Doeuff

3. What do you consider the biggest obstacle women face in the world today? Has that obstacle changed over time, or does it basically remain the same?

Have you read this story about a 15-year-old girl who was gang-raped outside her high school homecoming dance? The one where at least a dozen people watched it happen, and didn't report it? If you haven't, you need to. And then get angry.

This is America, folks. The America where 15-year-old girls can get gang-raped and people think it's a spectator sport. The America where, it seems, women are still viewed as objects to be used and abused at the pleasure of whomever is bigger and stronger and in the general area. If we can't even find a dozen people ethical enough to stop watching the rape and call the police in America, how are we ever going to effect change in the world?

Women Unbound Reading Challenge

Seriously? This is AMAZING!

From the challenge blog:

The challenge runs from November 1, 2009-November 30, 2010, but you may join in the fun whenever you wish! Participants are encouraged to read nonfiction and fiction books related to the rather broad idea of ‘women’s studies.’ The definition according to Merriam-Webster:

the multidisciplinary study of the social status and societal contributions of women and the relationship between power and gender.

For nonfiction, this would include books on feminism, history books focused on women, biographies of women, memoirs (or travelogues) by women, essays by women and cultural books focused on women (body image, motherhood, etc.). The topics I’ve listed aren’t mean to be exhaustive; if you come across a nonfiction book whose subject is female-related, it counts! Of course, if you’re not sure you can always ask about it in a comment. And if you need some ideas for specific books, check out the ‘Reading Lists’ page.

It’s trickier to say what is applicable as fiction. Obviously, any classic fiction written by a feminist is applicable. But where do we go from there? To speak generally, if the book takes a thoughtful look at the place of women in society, it will probably count. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to explain in your review why you chose this for the challenge and its connection to women’s studies. Once again, if you need some specific ideas, check out the ‘Reading Lists’ page.

One quick note about author gender. There isn’t a rule if a book’s written by a woman it counts and if by a man it doesn’t count. I firmly believe that men can be feminists and that not all women are feminists. As long as the book adheres to the definition of women’s studies I’ve shared above, it counts.

Interested in participating? Great! There are three levels you can choose as a reader (you can count books for other challenges as well):

  • Philogynist: read at least two books, including at least one nonfiction one.
  • Bluestocking: read at least five books, including at least two nonfiction ones.
  • Suffragette: read at least eight books, including at least three nonfiction ones.

Of course, I'll be signing up for Suffragette - here is my list of possible choices:

Fiction -

Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin
The Judas Rose by Suzette Haden Elgin
Earthsong by Suzette Haden Elgin
Frost in May by Antonia White
Wild Seed by Octavia Butler
Mind of My Mind by Octavia Butler
Clay's Ark by Octavia Butler
Patternmaster by Octavia Butler
The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

Nonfiction -

Where the Girls Are by Susan J. Douglas (sociology, mass media)
The Woman who Ran for President by Lois Beachy Underhill (biography)
Mothers of the Disappeared by Jo Fisher (history, biography)
China to Me by Emily Hahn (travel)
Not Counting Women and Children by Megan McKenna (religion)
Six Myths of Our Time by Marina Warner (mythology, cultural criticism)
Nothing To Do But Stay by Carrie Young (biography)
Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman (travel)
Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts (history, biography)

Nothing like giving myself a few choices. I found all these by spending about 10 minutes browsing my shelves - as usual, I have lots of choices.

I'm very excited about this one!! If you want to join, visit the challenge blog and sign up!

4 Month Challenge

I have to admit, this one makes me feel JUST a little bit crazy....

From the challenge page:

November 1st will be the beginning of twenty all new challenges and I hope that everyone will join me again. I’m posting this now so everyone can start going through their libraries to find books for each category. Rules/guidelines will be posted November 1st when the challenge starts.

Here's my list:

5 Point Challenges

Read a book with a proper name in the title - Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson

Read a book about a queen or king - The King's Rose by Alissa Libby

Read a book by a Bronte - Villette by Charlote Bronte

Read a book about Vampires - Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Read a book by V.C. Andrews - Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

10 Point Challenges

Read a book by Canadian author - Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards

Read a book by Charles Dickens - Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Read a book set in France - City of Darkness, City of Light by Marge Piercy

Read a book by Georgette Heyer - A Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer

Read an ‘art’ themed book. - Van Gogh's Women by Derek Fell

15 Point Challenges

Read a book with a Civil War theme (any country) - In the Presence of Mine Enemies by Edward Ayers

Read a book with characters inspired by King Arthur or about King Arthur/Camelot - Gwenhwyfar by Mercedes Lackey

Read a biography/autobiography - The Woman Who Ran for President by Lois Beachy Underhill

Read a book related to or something by Shakespeare - Shakespeare by Bill Bryson

Read a book by an author born in November, December, January or February - The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

20 Point Challenges

Read a book with a wintery theme (Christmas, snow, ice, freezing etc.) - The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden (11/14/09, 10/10)

Read a book that was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction - Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Read a book that begins with A and one that begins with Z - Antonio's Wife by Jacqueline Dejohn

Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

Read a book from The Modern Library Top 100 - The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Read a book and then write a review - ???

I'm aware the odds are against me, but I love the variety in the challenge, and it will be good for me to stretch myself a little.

Unlock Worlds Banned Books Challenge

From the challenge post:

The top 100 challenged books in the 90s are listed here. I thought it would be fun if we could compile reviews for these books. So if you've reviewed one of the books from the list, leave your link in the comments section of the post that includes the book you reviewed. If you haven't, go out, read a book, review it, and come back.

If possible, try to review books others haven't already. It would be great if we could have at least one review for everyone on the list! If you want to read a challenged or banned book that isn't on the list, feel free. Just leave your link in the comments section of the Other Banned Books post.

Here's my list:

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
The Giver by Lois Lowry
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
Tiger Eye by Judy Blume
Jumper by Steven Gould
Earth's Children (series) by Jean M. Auel

I'll start with those and see what happens. Interesting how many of the books on this list overlap with the books on the Shelf Discovery list - wonder what that says??

Shelf Discovery Challenge

From the challenge sign-up:

SHELF DISCOVERY is a "reading memoir" which features over 70 MG and YA classics with Ms. Skurnick's unique impressions. There are also essays about these classics written by current women writers including Meg Cabot, Laura Lippman, Cecily von Ziegesar, and Jennifer Weiner.


The Shelf Discovery Challenge will run for six months (November 1, 2009 - April 30, 2010). To join me in this challenge, all you need to do is grab a copy of SHELF DISCOVERY and pick out what six books you want to read (of course, you can read more than six!) Then, after you read a book, just write a "book report" to share your thoughts with others!

Here's my list:

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan
In Summer Light by Zibby ONeal
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (2/4/10, 8/10)
Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

I tried to pick at least one book from each section, and mostly books I didn't read as a kid - I think this sounds like a lot of fun!

Challenges Complete!!

I have finished TWO challenges!! Woo Hoo!!

Wanna know which ones?

The Pub '09

Read a minimum of 9 books first published in 2009

Here's my list:

While My Sister Sleeps by Barbara Delinsky (finished 5/1/09, rated 6/10)
Still Alice by Lisa Genova (finished 7/11/09, rated 9/10)
The Believers by Zoe Heller (finished 4/16/09, rated 5/10)
Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand by Gioconda Belli (finished 3/19/09, rated 7/10)
The Musician's Daughter by Susanne Dunlap (finished 2/10/09, rated 7/10)
A World I Never Made by James LePore (finished 3/26/09, rated 7/10)
Steal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress (finished 5/1/09, rated 8/10)
My Abandonment by Peter Rock (finished 5/4/09, rated 9/10)
Sonata for Miriam by Linda Olsson (finished 5/15/09, rated 8/10)
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (finished 5/28/09, rated 10/10)
Saints in Limbo by River Jordan (finished 5/29/09, rated 7/10)
Palace Circle by Rebecca Dean (finished 6/1/09, rated 7/10)
20 Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler (finished 5/29/09, rated 7/10)
All Other Nights by Dara Horn (finished 6/7/09, rated 8/10)
Best Intentions by Emily Listfield (finished 6/11/09, rated 8/10)
Life's That Way by Jim Beaver (finished 6/14/09, rated 10/10)
Sunnyside Blues by Mary Carter (finished 6/19/09, rated 7/10)

I've actually read more than this, I just stopped keeping track!

New Authors 2009

Read books by 50 authors that are new to me

Here's my list:

1 - Big Big Sky by Kristyn Dunnion
2 - By the Shore by Galaxy Craze
3 - The Eyes of a King by Catherine Banner
4 - Alaska by James Michener
5 - The Musician's Daughter by Susanne Dunlap
6 - Fatal Light by Richard Currey
7 - Convergence by Christopher Turner
8 - Canvey Island by James Runcie
9 - The Marchessa by Simonetta Agnello Hornby
10 - Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand by Gioconda Belli
11 - The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
12 - Deep Night by Caroline Petit
13 - 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
14 - Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
15 - The Silent Note by Patrick Davis
16 - Family Plots by Mark Patrick Kavanaugh
17 - Steal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress
18 - Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips
19 - Somebody Else's Daughter by Elizabeth Brundage
20 - My Abandonment by Peter Rock
21 - Losing my Religion by William Lobdell
22 - Sonata for Miriam by Linda Olsson
23 - The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan
24 - Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee
25 - Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
26 - Saints in Limbo by River Jordan
27 - 20 Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
28 - The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
29 - Palace Circle by Rebecca Dean
30 - The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
31 - Best Intentions by Emily Listfield
32 - Cutting Loose by Nadine Dajani
33 - A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy by Charlotte Grey
34 - All Other Nights by Dara Horn
35 - Wings by Aprilynne Pike
36 - Skellig by David Almond
37 - Life's That Way by Jim Beaver
38 - Crossed Wires by Rosy Thornton
39 - Sunnyside Blues by Mary Carter
40 - The Fifth Vial by Michael Palmer
41 - Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
42 - A Good House by Bonnie Burnard
43 - The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon
44 - Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson
45 - Still Alice by Lisa Genova
46 - Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs
47 - Written in Blood by Sheila Lowe
48 - Gentle Infidel and Queen's Cross by Lawrence Schoonover
49 - Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente
50 - The Widow's Season by Laura Brodie

Again, I know I've read more than this, but when I reached 50 I stopped keeping track.

I feel very proud - this was my first year to join challenges, and I've actually finished two of them. Of course, you know what that means - time to join some more!! Stay tuned....

Poe Fridays (on Saturday)

Today's selection is, of course, The Raven.

It's hard to know what to say about this, one of the most popular poems of all time. It has the perfect combination of imagery and cadence, and is perfectly creepy, as well.

It's a brilliant choice for Halloween, and since my new favorite thing is finding related videos on Youtube, here is my scary present for you!

Poe Fridays is hosted by Kristen at WeBeReading. (If you can't get enough, Kristen has a great video of The Raven performed by Vincent Price - check it out!)

Friday, October 30, 2009

451 Fridays

451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive. Instead of actually saving the books, the Book People each "become" a book - memorizing it, word for word, and passing it down to the next generation.

451 Fridays asks what books you feel passionate about. What book do you think is so important that you would be willing to take on the challenge of "becoming"?

Today's edition of 451 Fridays is one that I've really been looking forward to. I think sometimes we get too caught up in the word "important" - what makes a book important? Is it because it has a certain level of vocabulary, or because it contains some nebulous literary merit? I've had several friends tell me that they would love to participate in this event, but they don't think they read "the right kinds" of books. I don't want 451 Fridays to be about "the right kinds" of books - I want it to be a celebration of ALL books, Shakespeare to Sweet Valley High, that have touched someone enough that they want them to be remembered.

Saying that, I'm so happy to welcome Tammy! Tammy is a friend from my real life - I met her when she worked in the floral shop next to my pharmacy, and we've been good friends ever since. I was SO lucky that she was willing to make my gorgeous wedding flowers for me! She has recently retired from the business, but in her spare time she can still be talked into making beautiful cakes and flowers for lucky brides. Also, she knows nothing about the blogging world - in fact, I had to explain to her what a blog was. (She looked at me like I was crazy. *grin*) Tammy, I'm so happy to have you here today!

(Tammy and I didn't get things together well enough for me to have a picture of her to post, so here is a shot of some of the amazing flowers she made for my wedding.)

What 5 books do you believe are important enough to be saved, and why?

Well, I don't know if any of these books are really "important", but they are the ones I read over and over, and I think if the world ever gets bad enough that books aren't allowed, these are the kind of stories we will want to have around, to remind us of when things were better, and to give us somewhere to escape to when things seem really rough.

Ashes in the Wind by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
To me, romance novels are the best way to unwind after a hard day, and Woodiwiss is the best in the business. I read Alaina's story every couple of years, and it still makes me cry.

Summer of my German Soldier by Bette Green
I first discovered this book when my daughter read it in school. I was touched by Patty's plight, and her love for the person who couldn't be more wrong for her.

The Stand by Stephen King
What could be better for the darkest times than a novel about the end of the world? I love a good "good vs. evil" tale, and this is one of the best. It's also really long, which would probably be good when we don't have anything else to do.

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
I've noticed a rise in the popularity of vampire tales lately, but I think people have forgotten about the story that started it all. Louis and Lestat are the original two sides of the vampire coin, and I can't help but read their story over and over again.

River's End by Nora Roberts
I love this authors books because she combines romance and suspense, but always leaves you with a happy ending.

Of those 5, which book would you choose to "become"?

Interview with a Vampire.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

"People who cease to believe in God or goodness altogether still believe in the devil. I don't know why. No, I do indeed know why. Evil is always possible. And goodness is eternally difficult."

Tammy, thanks so much for taking the time to share with us YOUR list of books which must be saved!

I'm always looking for more book lovers to share their lists with us. If you'd like to participate - no matter WHAT kinds of books you love to read - please let me know!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

My current read is Moon River and Me by Andy Williams

Synopsis from publisher:

When in the mid-1950s Andy Williams reached a low point in his career, singing in dives to ever-smaller audiences, the young man from Wall Lake, Iowa, had no inkling of the success he would one day achieve. Before being declared a national treasure by President Ronald Reagan, Williams would chart eighteen gold and three platinum albums, headline at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas for more than twenty years, and host an enormously popular weekly television variety show whose Christmas specials still occupy a tender spot in every baby boomer's heart.

Williams knew everybody who was anybody during his seven remarkable decades in show business (including Judy Garland, John Huston, Jack Lemmon, John Lennon, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and Barbra Streisand, among others) and was a close friend of Bobby Kennedy for many years, and he shares memories of them all in Moon River and Me. His millions of fans guarantee a huge audience for the autobiography of the plush baritone who- at the age of eighty-one-still draws thousands of fans to his Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri.

My thoughts:

I had intended to talk about this book for 2 or 3 weeks, as I usually do in the Nonfiction Files, but shortly after I started reading it realized it probably wouldn't work for those purposes. It's an entertaining memoir, but I don't think I'll have multiple posts worth of things to talk about.

Andy Williams is a bit of a celebrity where I live, as he started his career here singing on the local radio station. It was fun to read about his early years in Iowa, and try to figure out the locations he mentioned - I'm not familiar with the street he said he lived on, but I have a feeling I know where in town it would be located. His depiction of small-town Iowa life was full of affection, and I think we can be proud to call him a home town boy.

His early years in show business had plenty of ups and downs, and he doesn't sugar coat the feelings of helplessness and failure he felt. He illustrates that making a name for himself in his business requires a lot of work, and a lot of luck, and he is careful to thank those who paved the way for him. He drops plenty of names, and his anecdotes about the famous people he brushed shoulders with, and occasionally befriended, are amusing and never mean-spirited.

I don't know that this book will win any prizes for writing, but it has a certain folksy charm - I can easily imagine sitting across a table in a smoky restaurant with Williams, listening to him tell these stories. At times I felt somewhat bogged down in what seemed to be too much detail, but that could be my unfamiliarity with the politics and events of the time hindering my enjoyment. I would anticipate that readers who lived this period of history with Williams will be delighted to gain a more intimate knowledge of the figures who were have probably seemed larger than life on television.

I found this to be a pleasant, entertaining story of the journey of one very famous man. I'm not sure it gave me any deeper insight into his life, but it certainly chronicled his rise to stardom, and the people who helped him along the way. If you are an Andy Williams fan, this would probably be a real winner!

Source: the publisher - thank you!
Rating: 7/10

Make sure to stop by and visit Jehara, who is also participating in The Nonfiction Files.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Congratulations John and Jessica!

Spent the weekend in Indianapolis, at the wedding of my cousing, John, to the lovely Jessica.

After the ceremony, ALL the people related to John - both his mom's and dad's sides of the family - got together for a big group picture. He has lots of relatives!

Me with my Uncle Mark - he doesn't get to come to stuff like this very often, so it was especially nice to have him and his wife, Susie, there.

Grandma and Grandpa won the prize for the longest married couple - 62 years!!

Me, my sister Carolynn, cousin Shannon (sister of the groom), aunt Rhoda (mother of the groom), and my mom Mary Lynn

Most of my family was able to come - grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. As always, it was great to spend time with all of them!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

TSS - Sunday Shorts

Here are a few shorter reviews. =)

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
published 9/09
391 pages


(short, no spoilers!)

The Hunger Games are over. The winners return home. The people in charge are NOT HAPPY!! Things go from bad to worse. Cliffhanger!!

My thoughts:

Okay, I know that's a horrible plot summary, but I really don't want to spoil this book for anyone who hasn't yet read it. I managed to remain spoiler-free, and am SO GLAD I did! Wow. So much good stuff in this trilogy, and Katniss is one of my favorite heroines. I didn't have any problems with pacing or plot twists like I've read about is some reviews - mostly, I just loved it. And also, I HATE cliffhangers, so now I'm really mad I didn't wait until book 3 was out to read this one! But seriously, if you haven't read this series yet, why not?? And maybe you should wait for book 3, because the cliffhangers will kill you!

Finished: 10/12/09
Source: my shelves
Rating: 9/10

Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente
published 2/09
384 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Between life and death, dreaming and waking, at the train stop beyond the end of the world is the city of Palimpsest. To get there is a miracle, a mystery, a gift, and a curse -- a voyage permitted only to those who’ve always believed there’s another world than the one that meets the eye. Those fated to make the passage are marked forever by a map of that wondrous city tattooed on their flesh after a single orgasmic night. To this kingdom of ghost trains, lion-priests, living kanji, and cream-filled canals come four travelers: Oleg, a New York locksmith; the beekeeper November; Ludovico, a binder of rare books; and a young Japanese woman named Sei. They’ve each lost something important -- a wife, a lover, a sister, a direction in life—and what they will find in Palimpsest is more than they could ever imagine.

My thoughts:

I will be honest - I'm including this book in my Sunday Shorts post because I have no idea how to review it. I really, really enjoyed it, but have been struggling with the words to explain why. I loved the premise, and the writing was beautiful, but at times it was like peering through a fog - I felt like I really didn't know what exactly was going on. I think I would like to read it again, because I feel like it's the type of novel that will get better with familiarity. I expect some readers to be frustrated by it, but I was captivated. If you are a speculative fiction fan, and are up for a bit of a challenge, I'd definitely recommend this novel!

Finished: 10/14/09
Source: Forest Avenue Library
Rating: 8/10

Pasta Imperfect by Maddy Hunter (A Passport to Peril Mystery)
published 08/04
285 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

The discount travel package to Italy seemed like a great deal: Emily Andrew could lead her globe-trotting Iowans on the trip of a lifetime and bring her family to boot. Maybe she should have read the fine print....Sharing their itinerary with a group of hyper-competitive aspiring romance writers is just a prelude to more Machiavellian drama than an Italian opera.

First, their hotel burns to the ground. Then, when Emily's lost luggage turns up found, the disgruntled literary ladies raid her clothing supply like she's a one-woman Gucci outlet. But the real killer is a contest sponsored by a publishing house — and the depths to which the dime-novel divas will plunge to win a book contract. Amid backstabbing and catcalling, bodies start turning up — in Emily's favorite outfits! Now, Emily will need more than a phrasebook to say ciao to someone with a hot and spicy passion for murder.

My thoughts:

This is such a fun series - Emily is smart and sarcastic as usual, and in this installment the author adds tension with her boyfriend, Etienne, and another possible love interest to confuse matters a bit more. I still enjoy Nana, and the addition of Emily's mom to the cast was a lot of fun. Of course, being from Iowa, I can relate to a lot of the characters, and that might add to the appeal. This continues to be a great series, and I am looking forward to the next installment.

Finished: 10/21/09
Source: Forest Avenue Library
Rating: 7/10

Sugar Time by Jane Adams
published 2009
208 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Charlotte “Sugar” Kane hasn’t produced a hit TV series in so long her last one‘s now on Nick at Nite, so when her kids grew up and the last guy in her life moved out she left L.A. for New York, where a woman over 40 doesn’t have to file an environmental impact statement to go out in public.

But since the network green lighted her new show, Sugar’s back in Hollywood, older, wiser, and ready to prove she can still deliver a hit - unless her young, clever and manipulative assistant doesn’t manage to steal it away. Then Sugar is struck by a crisis that threatens everything she holds dear – her career, her health, and the unconditional love she’s finally, unexpectedly found, long after she stopped hoping she ever would.

My thoughts:

I don't think I was the right reader for this book. Part of the appeal of chick-lit, for me, is the ability to relate to the main character as she searches for something - even if I don't really like her, I can usually understand her motivations. I didn't feel that sense of connection with Sugar, and I personally need that when reading this style of novel.

That said, I thought it was well-written, although my copy did contain several grammar and punctuation errors. (I don't know if this was a review copy, though, so those might be fixed in the final printing.) I can see that it would definitely appeal to readers - unfortunately, I just don't think I was the right demographic for this one.

Finished: 10/22/09
Source: the author - thank you!
Rating: 6/10

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Poe Fridays (on Saturday)

This week we read the supremely freaky short story, The Pit and the Pendulum. You can read the full text here.

So basically, this is the story of a guy who has been captured by the Spanish Inquisition and thrown into a pitch black room. As he begins to inspect the room, he realizes there is a huge pit in the middle of the room, and blacks out. When he wakes up, he is strapped down, and a giant, scythe-like pendulum is swinging over him, getting closer and closer to his chest. He manages to escape, but the walls start to burn and close in, making him move closer and closer to the pit.

Yeeks! This story seriously pushes the limits of how much scary I can tolerate. Poe does a masterful job of creating fear without any supernatural intervention - all of the terror comes from the narrator's completely real situation. The tension increases throughout the story, so by the end I was holding my breath, waiting for the inevitable demise. Here's a sample of what I mean:

"Down -- certainly, relentlessly down! It vibrated within three inches of my bosom! I struggled violently -- furiously -- to free my left arm. This was free only from the elbow to the hand. I could reach the latter, from the platter beside me to my mouth with great effort, but no farther. Could I have broken the fastenings above the elbow, I would have seized and attempted to arrest the pendulum. I might as well have attempted to arrest an avalanche!"

And, just to creep myself out a little more, I found the following short film of the story - seriously, don't watch this in the dark!

The Pit and the Pendulum by Bravo!FACT

Creepy, Creepy. Kristen, if I have nightmares, I am totally holding you responsible!

Poe Fridays is hosted by Kristen at WeBeReading.

Friday, October 23, 2009

451 Fridays

451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive. Instead of actually saving the books, the Book People each "become" a book - memorizing it, word for word, and passing it down to the next generation.

451 Fridays asks what books you feel passionate about. What book do you think is so important that you would be willing to take on the challenge of "becoming"?

Today I am thrilled to welcome Heather, better known to the blogging world as Zibilee, to 451 Fridays. Heather blogs at Raging Bibliomania, and is one of the blogs I've been following since the very beginnings of my own blogging journey. She reads a fantastic variety of books, and is also one of the best commenters in the blogosphere. I'm so glad she's here today - welcome, Heather!

Elizabeth, thanks so much for welcoming me here today. I love this feature and hope to be able to do it justice with my choices. There are many books I think worthy of saving, so I had a little trouble picking the top five that I thought would be most important not to lose. My list reflects the books that have changed my life in some way, and have impacted and shaped my tastes in my further reading.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Not only was the writing hypnotic, the complex and intricate story in this book tells the tragic tale of what can happen when someone's preconceived notions and mistaken perceptions cloud an otherwise innocent exchange, and the horrible consequences of that mistake. Certain sections dealt with the atrocities and unexplainable evil of war and the madness that the circumstances of combat can inspire. This book was an emotional powerhouse and it's conclusion was heartbreaking. Even thinking about it now makes me a little teary. I think it was amazing what McEwan was able to do with this short book: essentially, he took one incident and tracked how it ruined so may lives, in so many differing ways, and he was able to invoke tremendously powerful emotions. I think this book should definitely be saved because of the heart-rending quality of the writing and the inexpressible sadness and beauty of it's story. It also has one of the most unforeseen and devastating conclusions that I have ever read, and for the ending alone, it deserves a place on this list.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Fingersmith is the story of two girls. The first, Sue is convinced by her band of outcasts to help cheat a young woman out of her fortune, and when that is done,to throw her into a madhouse. Maud, the bookish young woman whose fortune is at stake, finds herself drawn to Sue, which makes Sue have second thoughts about her plan. This book had one of the most fantastic twists I have ever read in literature, and there was not an inkling to give it way. It was moving and filled with drama, and had a most unconventional love story within it's pages. The writing was bold and the circumstances of the plot were not only unusual, but highly convincing. Waters managed to capture both tremendous darkness and chaos in this unpredictable tale, and her characters in this novel were schemers of the first order.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I think Dickens is a master at storytelling and character creation, and I consider this one of Dickens' best. Great Expectations tells the story of Pip, the poor boy who wants to be a gentleman, and the mysterious benefactor that makes this dream come true for him. But although Pip becomes a gentleman on the outside, he has trouble becoming one on the inside. I think this book had the most amazing cast of characters I have ever seen in one place, from the violent Magwitch to the seriously disturbed Miss Havisham. In terms of character portrayal, this book excelled. There were some amazing twists and turns in this story, and I was left puzzling it all out until I turned the final page. I should also mention that the book was raucously funny at times, and it's ironies, satires, and symbolism make it not only a great read, but one that can be dissected and discussed at great length... if you're into that sort of thing. :)

A Confederacy of Dunces by John O'Toole

A Confederacy of Dunces seems to be a very polarizing book. Most either love it or hate it. I fall into the former category. This is the story of man who may possibly be the most annoying character in all of literature, Ignatius Reilly. Ignatius is a grown man who lives at home with his mother and spends most of his days, well, being annoying and filling up his personal notebooks with endless tirades against almost everything. All his mother really wants is for Ignatius to get a job and be a normal man, something that he can never seem to do. This book had spectacular moments of humor and some rather startling insights, and I thought Ignatius was a magnificent character. It was an interesting experience to both loathe and love him throughout his unlikely set of adventures. It's a stunningly original work of fiction that dealt craftily with a most unsavory man. This book was found and published posthumously, after the author took his own life, which I find incredibly sad, and which makes this book all the more precious. An astonishingly clever book.

Geek Love by Katerine Dunne

A book that continually startled and amazed, Geek Love tells the story of a family of circus freaks that will do anything to ensure their strangeness, including imposing genetic modifications on their unborn offspring. At times dark and incredibly twisted, this story was a melting pot of the fantastically bizarre, and had some really unparalleled characters. It also had a hell of a villain, in the form of a devilish boy born with flippers instead of feet. It was a malevolent story, rich with with weirdness, and I have never read anything quite like it. It is an incredibly well crafted book, both suspenseful and frightening. Geek Love is a book that I don't think many people have been exposed to, and it's been one of my favorite books for years now.

If I could choose to be one book, it would be A Confederacy of Dunces, because a world without Ignatius Reilly would be a little smaller, and a little colder.

Some quotes from A Confederacy of Dunces: "It's not your fate to be well treated," Ignatius cried. "You're an overt masochist. Nice treatment will confuse and destroy you."

"My respiratory system, unfortunately, is below par. I suspect that I am the result of particularly weak conception on the part of my father. His sperm was probably emitted in a rather offhand manner."

"How old is he?" the policeman asked Mrs. Reilly. "I am thirty," Ignatius said condescendingly. "You got a job?" "Ignatius hasta help me at home," Mrs. Reilly said. Her initial courage was failing a little, and she began to twist the lute string with the cord on the cake boxes. "I got terrible arthuritis." "I dust a bit," Ignatius told the policeman. "In addition, I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip."

Heather, thank you so much for taking the time to share with us YOUR list of books which must be saved.

I'm always looking for more participants - if you are reading this and would like to share your 451 list, please let me know!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

My current read is The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum by Rebecca Loncraine. You can catch up by reading my first post and my second post about this book.

Synopsis from publisher:

In the first major literary biography of L. Frank Baum, Rebecca Loncraine tells the story of Oz as you've never heard it, with a look behind the curtain at the vivid life and eccentric imagination of its creator.

The Real Wizard of Oz is an imaginatively written work that stretches the genre of biography and enriches our understanding of modern fairytales. L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its thirteen sequels, lived during eventful times in American history-- from 1856 to 1919-- that influenced nearly every aspect of his writing, from the Civil War to Hollywood, which was emerging as a modern Emerald City full of broken dreams and humbug wizards, to the gulf between America's prairie heartland, with its wild tornadoes, and its cities teeming with "Tin Man" factory workers. This is a colorful portrait of one man's vivid and eccentric imagination and the world that shaped it. Baum's famous fairytale is filled with the pain of the economic uncertainties of the Gilded Age and with a yearning for real change, ideas which many contemporary Americans will recognize. The Wizard of Oz continues to fascinate and influence us because it explores universal themes of longing for a better world, homesickness and finding inner strength amid the storms.

My final thoughts:

Well, I really hate to say this, but I felt like the book lost a little bit of steam at the end. I had been SO SO enjoying it, and the last sections didn't quite live up to my expectations. Perhaps because they dealt with Baum's life after he had written The Wizard of Oz, when he was feeling increasingly trapped and frustrated, but I feel like I lost a little bit of the fun and imagination that had been present in the first part - ironic, as this was the part that told the story of Baum's period of greatest literary output.

It was interesting to read about Baum's growing frustration with being trapped in the land of Oz, so to speak - the books were SO popular that he couldn't find any real sucess writing anything else. The idea of the creator being controlled by his creation is a popular theme in fiction, and seeing it play out in real life was fascinating, and must have been terrifying for Baum. In what seems to be a common phenomenon, fame did not bring Baum a greater degree of happiness, or even a great deal of wealth. Mostly, it just seemed to bring stress and a feeling of futility.

While I didn't love this book all the way to the end, I did think it was consistently well written and researched. The author does a fantastic job of analyzing Baum's work, and I feel like I have a much better understanding of his stories - in fact, I now really want to read them, which I hadn't really considered before. I highly recommend this book for Oz fans, as well as readers who enjoy a good biography. It's a great read!

Finished: 10/08/09
Source: the publisher - thanks Anne!
Rating: 8/10

Make sure you visit Jehara and see what she's reading in The Nonfiction Files this week. And if you'd like to join us, let me know - we'd love to have some more nonfiction lovers posting along with us!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Relative Reads Review - The Big House

I was given the great fortune of growing up in a family of readers. Both of my parents read, and so do the majority of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. In fact, my Great-Grandma had cataract surgery in her 90's, because she couldn't bear to not be able to read. I thought it would be interesting to read some of the books THEY have discovered and enjoyed over the years, so I asked them to send me some recommendations, and the fun began! I have a list of the titles various family members have suggested on the side of the blog, so if you want to see what will be coming up you can take a peek.

The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Howe Colt (recommended by Aunt Rhoda)
published 2003
327 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Faced with the sale of the century-old family summer house on Cape Cod where he had spent forty-two summers, George Howe Colt returned for one last stay with his wife and children. This poignant tribute to the eleven-bedroom jumble of gables, bays, and dormers that watched over weddings, divorces, deaths, anniversaries, birthdays, breakdowns, and love affairs for five generations interweaves Colt's final visit with memories of a lifetime of summers. Run-down yet romantic, the Big House stands not only as a cherished reminder of summer's ephemeral pleasures but also as a powerful symbol of a vanishing way of life.

My thoughts:

This is quite a book. On the surface the story of one family's history with a house on the Cape, it is really an exploration of a way of life; a chronicle of the loves and losses of a remarkable and yet ordinary family; a history lesson on a time a place unfamiliar to many living today.

Colt's family circumstances are quite different than mine, and yet his book reminded me of the summers I spent with my family, in a little resort on a lake in Minnesota. We've been going to the same place for over 20 years now, and it feels just as much home as Colt's house on the ocean. It also made me think of my grandparents homes, in Iowa and Minnesota, and how I loved to play and hide in their nooks and crannies. The Big House, as his summer home was called, was exactly the kind of place I would have loved as a kid - honestly, the kind of place I would love now - full of rooms and corners to explore and secrets to learn.

"There were rooms with four doors, each leading to a different room. There were doors one opened only to find other doors behind them. There were closets deep as mine shafts, and strange, wasted spaces that served no apparent purpose. And as well as I knew the house, there always seemed to be new hiding places I'd never thought of before."

I enjoyed Colt's writing - he was able to make me see the sights and smell the smells, and feel like I was experiencing life in The Big House right along with him. I found myself becoming quite attached to the House, to the point of getting anxious when the family began negotiations to sell it. In a very real way, the House felt like a living, breathing entity, and I was an invested in its story as I was in the story of the family.

"Inside, we are enveloped by an unmistakable smell, one that might be difficult for even the most expert chemist to break down, but that seems to be composed, in various measures, of salt, wind, dust, sunlight, moonlight, sand, pine, mildew, mothballs, leather, old books, disintegrating bricks, and dead bluebottle flies. It is a smell so evocative and precious, so irresistibly redolent of both life and decay, that I wonder why it has never been bottled and sold as perfume."

Of course, one of my favorite chapters was Rain, which was an homage to the books of The Big House. I love browsing through people's personal libraries, and wondering what their books say about them. I love houses that are filled with books, and so Colt's descriptions of the various bookshelves were a joy to read.

"Summer reading is different. There's no agenda, nothing assigned, nothing mandatory. One reads at one's own pace - a few pages now and then, or a sudden all-day binge. Summer house libraries are a hodgepodge. Their contents tend to arrive as haphazardly as flotsam washing ashore. Some are refugees from winter homes; others are house presents; others are brought by visitors and abandoned. One doesn't weed out summer house libraries as easily as one does a winter collection; the books belong to a larger number of people, no one of whom can be entrusted with the responsibility. The result is an eclectic collection, highbrow mixing with lowbrow, accumulated over many years. 'Summer house libraries are like trifle,' Aunt Ellen once observed. 'They're in layers.' "

I completely enjoyed this book, both for the story it told and the memories it kindled. It is a book to be savored, and I can envision myself reading it again because, like The Big House itself, I'm sure there are still more doors to be found. Highly recommended.

Finished: 10/17/09
Source: on loan from Aunt Rhoda
Rating: 9/10

Sunday, October 18, 2009

TSS - Review - The Widow's Season by Laura Brodie

The Widow's Season by Laura Brodie
published 6/09
308 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Sarah McConnell’s husband had been dead for three months when she saw him in the grocery store.

What does a woman do when she’s thirty-nine, childless, and completely alone for the first time in her life? Does it mean she’s crazy to think she sees her late husband beside a display of pumpkins? Or is it just what people do, a natural response to grief that will fade in time? That’s what Sarah McConnell’s friends told her, that it was natural, would last a season, and then fade away.

But what if there was another answer? What if he was really there? They never found the body, after all. What if he is still here somehow, and about to walk back into her life?

My thoughts:

I've been watching jealously all the posts for the RIP Challenge - it sounds like so much fun, and it has such a pretty banner. Why haven't I joined yet? Oh, that's right - I don't do scary. Scary gives me bad dreams for weeks. (Honestly, I don't know how I manage to get through each week of Supernatural.)

So what exactly was I thinking reading a book about a woman being haunted by her dead husband?

Well, here's why this particular ghost story worked for me - it was gentle. This wasn't an edge-of-my-seat, jump at any little noise type read. It was more moody and atmospheric, with a rather benevolent ghost. The author does a skillful job of creating tension without necessarily using fear - Sarah seems almost to welcome her ghostly visitor, and that makes the relationship between the two unique and interesting.

Once again, I enjoyed the depiction of the marriage in this novel. It wasn't a perfect relationship, but neither husband or wife was portrayed as the "bad guy" - rather, each was shown to have contributed little things that led to the distance between the couple.

"Love was complicated, that was all. Or was love simple, and marriage was complicated? In seventeen years of marriage David had often left her feeling frustrated, and furious, and disgusted, yes - but he had also made her feel beautiful, and protected, and loved. And oh, what she would give to feel loved right now."

I think this is a great novel. It had just the right mood, for me, for this time of year - I found the writing to be haunting and beautiful, and it was the perfect season for me to dive in. I would definitely recommend it!

Finished: 10/14/09
Source: the author - thank you!
Rating: 8/10

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Poe Fridays (on Saturday)

Today's selection is the poem, Ulalume. You can read the full text here.

Another ode to a lost love, today's poem has our narrator walking through the crisp October wood, having a rather unique conversation with Psyche (probably representing his inner mind, or soul). He comes upon a tomb, and realizes it is the tomb of his love, Ulalume, whom he buried on that very day one year ago.

This is a great read-aloud poem. It's rhyme scheme is somewhat unusual - I feel like I should know the name, but can't place it. There is a very rhythmic, almost hypnotizing quality about the verse, which lends itself well to being heard. In fact, as a special treat, I found a recording of musician Jeff Buckley reading Ulalume - enjoy!

This is a great read for this time of year!

Poe Fridays is hosted by Kristen at WeBeReading.

Friday, October 16, 2009

451 Fridays

451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive. Instead of actually saving the books, the Book People each "become" a book - memorizing it, word for word, and passing it down to the next generation.

451 Fridays asks what books you feel passionate about. What book do you think is so important that you would be willing to take on the challenge of "becoming"?

Today, I am so happy to welcome Serena to 451 Fridays! Serena blogs at Savvy Verse and Wit, where there is always something fun going on. One of my favorite features on her blog is the weekly Poetry Circle, where she offers up a poem for participants to read and comment on. She's introduced me to some poets I was completely unaware of - it's a great way to dip your feet into the world of poetry. Also, I LOVE this picture of Serena, her book, and her dog. It just reminds me of how things usually go at my house! Welcome, Serena!

What 5 books do you believe are important enough to be saved, and why?

1. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen: Austen's work is a classic assessment of society through the eyes of her strong female protagonists. While highlighting the faults of convention, Austen shows how those conventions can be circumvented through dedications and triumph of individual spirit.

2. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaton Leroux: Leroux's journalistic writing style breathed life into this "ghost" story. It is horror in its purest form, uncovering the dark side of humanity in more ways than one.

3. Long Days Journey into Night by Eugene O'Neill: O'Neill's play examines familial secrets, which during the 1940s and 1950s when the play was written was considered the best time in history in which fathers worked and mothers stayed home. Semi-autobiographical in nature, this play touches about familial dysfunction and addiction.

4. Paco's Story by Larry Heinemann: Heinemann, a Vietnam veteran himself, uses fiction as a catalyst for all of the ways in which war is dangerous, both mentally and physically. Paco is the only survivor of his unit that makes it back from Vietnam, but does he really make it back?

5. Blake's Poetry & Designs (Norton Critical Edition): While Blake's poetry defies what we consider "romantic" poetry, his greatest poems, his sketches, and his letters are highly creative and defied convention.

Which of these books would I become?

Tortured souls are my specialty; I just love these kinds of stories, which is why it is a toss up between Paco's Story and The Phantom of the Opera.

Quotes from these books:

From Paco's Story:

"Paco is in constant motion, trying to get settled and comfortable with that nagging, warm tingling in his legs and hips." (Page 35)

"'For a day and a half I thought that the very next breath I drew was going to be my last; and I was going to fucking die. And shit, what's funny is that goddamn Fire Base Harriette was supposed to be a fucking piece of cake, the same as going home and spending the night in the house where you fucking grew up.'" (Page 73)

"She sees herself drawing on his scars as if they were Braille, as if each scar has its own story." (Page 101)

From The Phantom of the Opera:

"The Opera ghost really existed. He was not, as was long believed, a creature of the imagination of the artists, the superstition of the managers, or a product of the absurd and impressionable brains of the young ladies of the ballet, their mothers, the box keepers, the cloak-room attendants or the concierge." (Page 1)

"With one accord, they raised their eyes to the ceiling and uttered a terrible cry. The chandelier, the immense mass of the chandelier was slipping down, coming toward them, at the call of that fiendish voice. Released from its hook, it plunged from the ceiling and came smashing into the middle of the stalls, amid a thousand shouts of terror." (Page 80)

"'When my own father never saw me and when my mother, so as not to see me, made me a present of my first mask!' He had let go of me at last and was dragging himself about on the floor, uttering terrible sobs. And then he crawled away like a snake, went into his room, closed the door and left me alone to my reflections." (Page 129)

Serena, thanks so much for taking the time to share with us YOUR list of books which must be saved.

If you are reading this, I'd love to have you participate! Leave me a comment to let me know you are interested, and I'll get you the details.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thursday Tunes

Thursday Tunes is a weekly event hosted by S. Krishna, devoted to sharing the music we love.

S. Krishna usually features a new artist each week - just to be different, I'm going to focus on a specific song, because it's the song that hooks me. There are very few artists whose entire body of work is in my MP3 player, but I have thousands of songs I love.

I have a secret - I LOVE cover songs. Many times I like the cover better than the original. What I especially love is when an artist can cover a song, and make it completely new. This is one of my favorite covers, performed by two great musicians, Joy Williams and John Paul White, in their group, The Civil Wars. (If you want to hear more, also check out Poison and Wine)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

I am currently reading The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum by Rebecca Loncraine. If you need to catch up, you can read my first post on this book here.

Synopsis from publisher:

In the first major literary biography of L. Frank Baum, Rebecca Loncraine tells the story of Oz as you've never heard it, with a look behind the curtain at the vivid life and eccentric imagination of its creator.

The Real Wizard of Oz is an imaginatively written work that stretches the genre of biography and enriches our understanding of modern fairytales. L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its thirteen sequels, lived during eventful times in American history-- from 1856 to 1919-- that influenced nearly every aspect of his writing, from the Civil War to Hollywood, which was emerging as a modern Emerald City full of broken dreams and humbug wizards, to the gulf between America's prairie heartland, with its wild tornadoes, and its cities teeming with "Tin Man" factory workers. This is a colorful portrait of one man's vivid and eccentric imagination and the world that shaped it. Baum's famous fairytale is filled with the pain of the economic uncertainties of the Gilded Age and with a yearning for real change, ideas which many contemporary Americans will recognize. The Wizard of Oz continues to fascinate and influence us because it explores universal themes of longing for a better world, homesickness and finding inner strength amid the storms.

My thoughts so far:

Boy, I am just loving this book. The number of places I have marked is incredible - I could probably take up several posts just on this section of the book, but since I don't want to ruin YOUR enjoyment, I'll try to keep my thoughts brief. =)

This section talks about Baum's life as he lives for a time on the plains of South Dakota, and then later in Chicago. Once again, it is fascinating to see how the small details of his life have been transformed into unforgettable characters and moments in his Oz stories. Baum had a genius for taking ordinary events that readers could completely relate to, and making them seem magical. This is modern fairy-tale making at its pinnacle. "The best thing about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is its interpretive opennness, its clarity of vision and psychological depth. Readers could see so many things in the story. It was (and still is) impossible to exhaust its hypnotic simplicity and the many-layered interpretations it offers." (page 173)

I'm also finding myself actually liking Baum as a man. He was determined to support his family, refusing help from others, and though his ideas were often far-fetched and somewhat ill-conceived, he always did what needed to be done to pay the bills. He admitted failure and moved on, rather than continually pursuing nebulous dreams that weren't going to come true. He wasn't afraid to hold opinions that were outside the norm, and was an early champion of the women's suffrage movement in the 1800s. He was an interesting combination of practical and imaginative, and I think I would have enjoyed getting to know him and his wife as people. The book doesn't gloss over his faults - and he certainly had them - but in general, he just seems like he was a good guy.

I could go on and on, with citations and examples - but I really don't want to spoil the book for you. I'm not completely finished yet, but I have a feeling this is a book that I will definitely be recommending. I'm surprised I haven't seen more about it around the internet - maybe the yearly tv viewing of the Judy Garland movie will spark some more interest. In any case, it's a great biography, and I can't wait to finish it.

Also, make sure you stop by and visit Jehara, my Nonfiction Files buddy, as she makes her way through a biography of Anne Sexton. If you'd like to join us, let me know - we're a pretty easygoing group, no rules or requirements, just a love of reading and talking about the nonfiction we've been reading. =)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Review - Between Me and the River by Carrie Host

Between Me and the River by Carrie Host
published 8/09
298 pages

Synopsis from the author's website:

Carrie Host knows that the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness takes a split second to change your life, as well as the lives of your partner, parents, children and all who love you. Packed with inspiration, advice, comfort and hope, Between Me and the River is Host's candid and uplifting memoir of how she found the strength and fortitude to triumph over a rare form of cancer, and craft a new and meaningful life.

When told at forty, with her youngest child just ten months old, that she had carcinoid tumor, Host felt as if she'd been hurled into a raging river, stripped of all forms of potential rescue. The voyage of this strong-minded, openhearted woman out of that river and onto safe shores is told with uncompromising honesty and respect for the miracles that medicine and love can work.

While dealing with practical issues such as how to find the best medical team and what to tell the children, Host also recounts the many spiritual and eye-opening lessons that made her journey so bearable: how to see what is available rather than what is absent, how to free up energy to heal by letting go of anger and fear, and how to believe in the future.

My thoughts:

This is the second book I've read in the past few months about dealing with a terminal illness - the first being Life's That Way by Jim Beaver. The two books made an interesting contrast, and I think work well together. Between Me and the River didn't make the emotional impact on me as the first book, but I think that was the nature of the book - it is much more about the PERSONAL experience of living with cancer, which I've never done, while Life's That Way is about watching someone live with the disease, which I have done. I think the two books compliment each other well, and would be excellent resources for a family who has just received such a life-changing diagnosis.

Carrie Host writes with amazing openness and honesty, showing the ugliness and pain of living through cancer, but also the hope and beauty that can be found in the midst of that pain. She pays moving tribute to the family and friends who were her "angels" through her struggle, and in particular the love and care of her husband was beautiful to read. I just complained last week about being tired of books about women with horrible husbands - this was a book about a woman with a wonderful husband, and it was wonderfully refreshing.

"I let the tears come. I just sit there and cry. I'm crying in a way that I don't recognize. At forty, these are tears that are coming from somewhere I don't feel ready to know about. My husband cries right beside me. I've never heard such sadness emerge from him before. We hold on to each other as only two people who might be separated forever do."

Host's writing is beautiful - she uses a river as metaphor for her disease, and it works very well to express the internal experiences a cancer patient goes through. Better than anything else I've read, this book helps me understand the myriad of emotions the author is forced to confront.

"Angels don't swim. They hover. The angel who has come to the river to guard me in the midst of the water's fury is hovering right above the spray and the deafening sound of rushing water that cannot be stopped. Unable to take to the water, the angel's holding fast to me with his presence from above. I'm clutching on to life in gasps, getting glimpses of hope hovering above me, as the river below takes me where it pleases."

Between Me and the River is a powerful memoir about a woman battling a terrible disease. It's not always easy to read, but it doesn't leave readers with a sense of sadness. It's ultimate message is hopeful, and I do recommend it, as a great resource and an excellent story.

Finished: 10/9/09
Source: Lisa Roe, Online Publicist
Rating: 8/10

Don't just take my word for it! Here's what some other fabulous bloggers had to say:

Beth Fish Reads
Violet Crush
Peeking Between the Pages
Joyfully Retired
My Friend Amy