Friday, September 28, 2012

Book Thoughts - When Fox is a Thousand by Larissa Lai

When Fox is a Thousand by Larissa Lai
published 1995
272 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

When Fox is a Thousand is a lyrical, magical novel, rich with poetry and folklore and elements of the fairytale. Larissa Lai interweaves three narrative voices and their attendant cultures: an elusive fox growing toward wisdom and her 1000 birthday, the ninth-century Taoist poet/nun Yu Hsuan-Chi (a real person executed in China for murder), and the oddly named Artemis, a young Asian-American woman living in contemporary Vancouver.

With beautiful and enchanting prose, and a sure narrative hand, Lai combines Chinese mythology, the sexual politics of medieval China, and modern-day Vancouver to masterfully revise the myth of the Fox (a figure who can inhibit women’s bodies in order to cause mischief). Her potent imagination and considerable verbal skill result in a tale that continues to haunt long after the story is told.

My thoughts:

First Impression - 9/20/12

I'm feeling a little bit lost in this novel at this point - not lost as in, I don't know what is going on. It's more like I can't yet see how all these parts fit together into the descriptions I've read. Each character's story is interesting, with the story of the fox being the most compelling for me so far. I can sense that they will all, at some point, collide, but right now I can't quite see how that is going to happen. There are some elements of magical realism going on, and regular readers of my blog will know that's a tough genre for me to crack, so that could be part of my struggle. I'm certainly interested enough to continue, but it's been a bit of a slow go for me to really become immersed in the story.

Second Thoughts - 9/22/12

This novel continues to be just a bit of a struggle for me. I continue to find Fox's story the more compelling of the three narratives. I think it is perhaps because I like Lai's writing style better in those sections. The chapters with Artemis are much more straight-forward storytelling; the chapters with Lu seem so full of mysticism that I don't quite know for sure what is going on. Fox's chapters seem to combine the two styles in a way that feels very comfortable. I am trying to stop worrying so much about "understanding" every single part of the narrative, and just let myself go along for the ride and see where this story takes me.

"There are stories for beginnings and there are stories for endings. There are stories meant for healing and there are stories meant to cause harm. There are stories for explaining, meant to talk away the things that cannot be healed over. There are stories meant for company, when a pebbled soul calls out into the empty, owl-less night. There are stories meant to quench the thirst of the heart." (p. 168)

Last Word - 9/25/12

I think much of the issue I had with this novel was due to the character of Artemis - she was so incredibly passive that it was  nearly impossible to feel any real sympathy for her. I don't dispute that she had many challenges, but so many of them seemed to be a direct result of her refusal to take any real action or responsibility for her life. I could never tell if Lai was trying to make a statement about women in today's society, or specifically Canadian-Asian women, or if she just wrote this character to contrast with Fox's more aggressive personality, but I really did not enjoy the majority of the chapters that featured Artemis.

I think this novel would have worked better, for me, in a more academic setting - I know that much of the mythology and cultural references were lost, and having a group to discuss the novel with probably would help me feel like I could grasp those references more. I did enjoy Lai's writing style for the most part, and found much of the novel to by interesting, but I was never able to really lose myself in it the way I want to when I'm reading.

I read this novel as part of the A More Diverse Universe blog tour - I have been having a great time reading the reviews and recommendations from the other bloggers on this tour. If you are interested in more speculative fiction by authors of color, here is a list of all the books reviewed on the blog tour - so many great ones!

Also, here are some suggestions from Aarti of authors to check out - I have added a bunch to my TBR list!

While this particular novel wasn't my favorite of the year, it was certainly an interesting read, and I will definitely be checking out (a lot!) more books I've been introduced to by this blog tour.

Finished: 9/23/12
Source: my shelves
MPAA Rating: R - for sexuality and violence
My rating: 8/10 for technique, 5/10 for overall story, so - 6/10?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Book Thoughts - Ten Girls to Watch by Charity Shumway

Ten Girls to Watch by Charity Shumway
published July, 2012
353 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Dawn West is trying to make her way in New York City. She’s got an ex-boyfriend she can’t quite stop seeing, a writing career that’s gotten about as far as penning an online lawn care advice column, and a small hometown in Oregon that’s her last recourse if she can’t make next month’s rent.

So when Dawn lands a job tracking down the past winners of Charm magazine’s “Ten Girls to Watch” contest, she’s thrilled. Not only is she being paid to interview hundreds of fascinating women, but she’s also sharing office space with “Secret Agent Romance,” Charm’s resident dating columnist, and he just happens to be giving her butterflies.

As Dawn gets to know the life stories of these former winners, she’ll discover that success, love, and friendship can be found in the most unexpected of places. And even more importantly, she’ll find that though those who have gone before us can be role models, ultimately, we each have to carve our own way.

My thoughts:

I found this book to be quite delightful. Honestly, that was the word that kept popping into my head as I read - "This book is just delightful." Novels in this chick-lit-y vein can be very hit or miss for me - sometimes they are fun, and sometimes they just annoy me. Ten Girls to Watch seemed like a cut above the rest. Shumway's writing certainly helped - she clearly knows her craft, and she had me alternately giggling and getting emotional several times throughout the novel.

I think what really sold me, though, was how REAL this novel felt. Perhaps because much of it was based on the author's own personal experience (read an interesting interview with Shumway on HuffPost here), perhaps because the author is just a really good storyteller, but Ten Girls to Watch rang true for me in nearly every aspect.

Dawn is a delightful heroine (I know, that word again!), mixing a bit of Bridget Jones with a healthy dose of reality. She makes mistakes, but they don't feel contrived to further the plot - they actually seem like the things a girl her age would do, and then feel bad about. To me, she never presented as whiny or tiresome - she had problems, acknowledged them, and moved on. I enjoyed her sense of humor very much, as well as her ability to laugh at herself.

I particularly enjoyed Shumway's emphasis on the importance of releationships between women. Dawn's relationship with her sister, her mother, her mentor, and her friend were the threads that held her life together, and were a reminder of just how important it is for women to truly participate in each other's lives.

This novel was a breath of fresh air, making me smile on nearly every page. I'm so happy I read it, and highly recommend it!

Finished: 9/13/12
Source: review copy from publisher - thank you!
MPAA Rating - PG-13 (I know! It's a chick-lit that doesn't make you blush - and it works!)
My rating: 9/10

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Little Stranger Read-along - wrapup post

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

published 2010

audiobook - read by Simon Vance

Synopsis from publisher:

In a dusty post-war summer in rural Warwickshire, a doctor is called to see a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the once grand house is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its garden choked with weeds. All around, the world is changing, and the family is struggling to adjust to a society with new values and rules.

Roddie Ayres, who returned from World War II physically and emotionally wounded, is desperate to keep the house and what remains of the estate together for the sake of his mother and his sister, Caroline. Mrs. Ayres is doing her best to hold on to the gracious habits of a gentler era and Caroline seems cheerfully prepared to continue doing the work a team of servants once handled, even if it means having little chance for a life of her own beyond Hundreds.

But as Dr. Faraday becomes increasingly entwined in the Ayreses' lives, signs of a more disturbing nature start to emerge, both within the family and in Hundreds Hall itself. And Faraday begins to wonder if they are all threatened by something more sinister than a dying way of life, something that could subsume them completely.

    My thoughts:   Spoilers Ahead!!!

Alright, reality check time - by the end of this book, Dr. Faraday was just a creeper. I started out thinking he was basically a good guy, but he just got stranger and stranger, more and more controlling, and by the end all I wanted was for Caroline to break free from his obsessive manipulations and get the heck out! 

 I think the Little Stranger was Faraday. And honestly, I didn't think that until the very end, but taking the book as a whole, I think it makes sense. He was always obsessed with the house, wishing he could have it for his own. None of the Ayres' troubles started until he started going to the house. He and Dr. Sealy have that whole conversation about how some sort of psychic projection that desires the house could be taking over, trying to oust its inhabitants. He is the epitome of an unreliable narrator - for heaven's sake, we never even know his name! And at the end of the novel, he says that when he looks for the Stranger at Hundreds, all he sees is himself. 

 I think in the end, Caroline saw him and could only think to get away from him - probably throwing herself off the staircase because she couldn't see any other way of getting rid of him.  I think the only reason she agreed to marry him in the first place was because she was so desparate to get out of a house that she thought was trying to kill her - once she realized he had no plans to leave, she knew she had to break off their ties. Then, when she saw him - or an apparition of him, or something - that last night, she thought the only way she could ever be free - both of the house and of him - was to kill herself.

 I'm still deciding whether or not I liked the book - either way, it's a masterful novel, well written and chilling. This was a great read-along, Andi - thanks for hosting! 

 Finished: 9/16/12
 Source: audiobook from publich library
MPAA Rating: PG-13
My rating: ??? I'm still considering this one...  

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Book Thoughts - The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
published 1900
159 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

One of the true classics of American literature, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has stirred the imagination of young and old alike for over four generations. Originally published in 1900, it was the first truly American fairy tale, as Baum crafted a wonderful fantasy out of such familiar items as a cornfield scarecrow, a mechanical woodman, and a humbug wizard who used old-fashioned hokum to express that universal theme, "There′s no place like home."

Follow the adventures of young Dorothy Gale and her dog, Toto, as their Kansas house is swept away by a cyclone and they find themselves in a strange land called Oz. Here she meets the Munchkins and joins the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion on an unforgettable journey to the Emerald City, where lives the all-powerful Wizard of Oz.

My thoughts:

I’ve owned a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on my shelf for a long time, but only knew the story from the Judy Garland version with the ruby slippers and the musical numbers. Apparently, the novel doesn’t contain either.

There are quite a number of differences between the book and the movie – things were omitted, some scenes were combined and others moved from their original location in the story. It serves to make the novel seem somehow both longer and shorter than the movie – longer because there are more things happening, but shorter because scenes I expect don’t ever arrive.

I found Baum’s style to be charming, and quite comfortable to read. I can easily imagine myself reading this aloud to my kids when they get a little bigger. Baum’s characters are endearing, and I would imagine quite appealing to children. It is easy to understand why this novel has become such a classic.

I definitely enjoyed the reading of this book. It is one I am looking forward to sharing with my kids.

Finished: 9/8/12

Source: my shelves

MPAA rating – G – even the “scary” parts are not really scary

My rating: 8/10

Friday, September 14, 2012

Book Blogger Appreciation Week - Day 5 - Saying Goodbye

Share a highlight of this year’s BBAW. Whether it’s a blog you discovered or a book you’re going to read or a way you felt refreshed, this is the day to celebrate the week!

  Oh, this week felt good. This is the most I've blogged in one week in over two years. This is by far the most I've visited other blogs in that same time. It was just so good to immerse myself in this community once again. It felt like coming home to friends I haven't seen in too long. I have so many good reasons for not spending time in the blogging world, but this week helped me realize that it's okay to take a little time for myself, to spend time doing something I really love.   Initially, I was unsure how I felt about not including the awards aspect this year - they had been such a huge focus of my past BBAW experiences. But midway through the week, I realized I hadn't even missed them. I'd been having so much fun jumping from blog to blog, reading interviews and book recommendations, that I hadn't even noticed that I didn't know who had the "Best Eclectic Book Reviews" this year. I think it was nice to just celebrate ALL of the bloggers in the community, and not single out a few for special regard.   Once again, this week has been a highlight. Thanks so much to Amy, and everyone else who was responsible for a wonderful week. I do love being a book blogger, and this week has helped me to remember why.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Book Blogger Appreciation Week - Day 4 - Pimp that Book!

One of the best parts about book blogging is the exposure to books and authors you might never have heard of before. Pimp the book you think needs more recognition on this day

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
published 1949
303 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle's walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has "captured the castle"-- and the heart of the reader-- in one of literature's most enchanting entertainments.

My thoughts:

This is one of my very favorite books. If I had read this as a young girl, I would have imagined myself as Cassandra in the same way I imagined myself as Anne-with-an-E.
She is one of the great heroines - funny and smart, with insights beyond her years. This novel is considered a classic, but so few people have actually read it that it's usually forgotten. Rather than try to convince you to read it, I will let Cassandra speak for herself.

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."

"Was I the only woman in the world who, at my age - and after a lifetime of quite rampant independence - still did not quite feel grown up?"

"Why is summer mist romantic and autumn mist just sad?"

"I am a restlessness inside a stillness inside a restlessness."

"I have noticed that rooms which are extra clean feel extra cold."

"How I wish I lived in a Jane Austen novel!"

I can't encourage you enough to find a copy of this truly wonderful novel. I think you will be glad you did!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book Blogger Appreciation Week - Day 3 - breaking the rules

I think today I'm supposed to be writing a post about what book blogging means to me. That's a great idea, and book blogging really has been an amazing outlet in my life, both to meet new people and spend time in a fantastic community. But I just don't want to write that post today.

So instead, I'm going to answer a few questions about MYSELF -

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?

I LOVE peanut butter M & M's. They are the nectar of the gods. And you can tell that by looking at my hips. (But they are SO yummy!)

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?

I tend to underline a lot - phrases and paragraphs that strike me get marked every time. In fact, the reason I don't borrow a lot of books from other readers is I worry I will accidentally forget and write in THEIR book, too!

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?

I have a bunch of really beautiful bookmarks - some I have been given, some I've collected myself. I always have the best intentions of using them, but honestly, I can't ever seem to find one when I actually need it. Currently my bookmark is a grocery story receipt and a snapshot of my kids.

Laying the book flat open?


Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?

Both - I generally have one of each going at all times.

Hard copy or audiobooks?

Both! I have recently discovered a love for the audiobook, which has helped me feel like I have a lot more time to read. I don't think I will ever give up my love for holding a book in my hands, though.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?

I prefer to get to the end of a chapter when life allows - sometimes when I'm reading on a lunch break I don't always get that opportunity. But I enjoy the sense of completion I feel when I stop at the end of a chapter.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?

I'm sad to admit, I hardly ever look them up. I try to figure it out from the context of the story, but I rarely ever take the time to get out the dictionary. I'm pretty sure that's why I stink at Words With Friends.

What are you currently reading?

I am currently listening to The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, and reading Ten Girls to Watch by Charity Shumway.

What is the last book you bought?

A few days ago the Kindle Daily Deal was Winston Churchill's WWII series, so I splurged and bought them.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?

I rarely READ more than one fiction work at a time, but since I've started listening to audiobooks regularly I can often have an audio and a hard copy going at once. I also frequently have a nonfiction in the mix.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?

It's not necessarily my favorite, but I get most of my reading in now at night, after the kids have gone to bed.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?

I REALLY love series, but I have a hard time committing to them. I think it's because once I start, I want to read them all, in order, right NOW. So as much as I enjoy a good series, I tend to read more stand alones because they seem less stressful.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?

I love turning readers who think they don't like fantasy on to Guy Gavriel Kay - his writing is so good, and so steeped in historical authenticity, that he grabs even the most skeptical of readers.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)

They are currently (mostly) organized by author's last name - I say mostly, because my husband did all the organizing, and when I purchase something new I tend to just shove it wherever it will fit.

So there you go - more than you ever wanted to know about me! Please stop by the Book Blogger Appreciation Week website to read posts about the topic that SHOULD have been for today! *grin*

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Little Stranger Read-a-long - Part 1 checkin

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
published 2010
audiobook - read by Simon Vance

Synopsis from publisher:

In a dusty post-war summer in rural Warwickshire, a doctor is called to see a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the once grand house is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its garden choked with weeds. All around, the world is changing, and the family is struggling to adjust to a society with new values and rules.

Roddie Ayres, who returned from World War II physically and emotionally wounded, is desperate to keep the house and what remains of the estate together for the sake of his mother and his sister, Caroline. Mrs. Ayres is doing her best to hold on to the gracious habits of a gentler era and Caroline seems cheerfully prepared to continue doing the work a team of servants once handled, even if it means having little chance for a life of her own beyond Hundreds.

But as Dr. Faraday becomes increasingly entwined in the Ayreses' lives, signs of a more disturbing nature start to emerge, both within the family and in Hundreds Hall itself. And Faraday begins to wonder if they are all threatened by something more sinister than a dying way of life, something that could subsume them completely.

My thoughts -

Since this is a read-along, Andi at The Estella Society has some discussion questions, and I'm mostly going to follow along with those. I have to say I am really enjoying the read-along aspect of this, as well as the audiobook version. Simon Vance is the perfect narrator for this story, and he has given me chills on more than one occasion.

How are you liking the book? Can you read it at night?

I have to admit I started to get a little.....frustrated? at first. The story just seemed to be moving S o o o 
s l o w l y. I couldn't figure out when the "scary" part was going to finally show up. And then I remembered that I had the same feeling with the other Sarah Waters novels I'd read, and I wound up really enjoying them, so I pressed on. And THEN! Holy cow. Things started to get creepy. I mostly listen on my commutes to and from work, and when I'm cleaning something - I don't think I would try to climb into bed with this one!

What do you think about what’s going on? It starts mundanely enough, doesn’t it? A simple country doctor, taken with a home and family. Can’t you feel the want radiating off him? He wants this life so badly.

Mundane is exactly the word. Even Waters' descriptions of her characters are so average - these people are not the rich, beautiful people by any means. Faraday is just such a good guy, and his yearning to be part of this house and its family is almost painful at times. And no matter what he does, he can't quite break completely into their lives. I have felt a few times that Caroline would let him in - that she wants him almost as much as he wants them. But he is quite clearly not of their "class", and those rules are still too ingrained for them to break free.

What do you think of the Ayres family? Do you pity them in their fall from the top?

I feel sorry for Caroline and Rod - I don't think they really ever had a chance at a normal life. I don't think their parents did them any favors in their upbringing, and the efforts they've made to break free have been thwarted. They can certainly be arrogant and classist, but I think in general they are doing the best they can.

It's an interesting novel as a horror text, but the farther I get into it the intertwined relationships are clearly the glue that holds it together. I am, of course, curious about who is "The Little Stranger" - I have a couple of ideas, but will be interested to see who it turns out to be. This is a good one - thanks for hosting the read-along, Andi!

Book Blogger Appreciation Week - Day 2 - Interview Swap!

It's everyone's favorite part of Book Blogger Appreciation Week - the interview swap!

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Cecelia, who blogs at The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia. Cecelia lives in Washington, DC, where she works for a nonprofit by day, and writes superstar blog posts by night. She regularly reviews YA, middle grade, fantasy and sci-fi, with an occasional adventure into food books. I have already added 6 books to my TBR list in the 30 minutes I've spent browsing her blog before I wrote this post. SIX. She is going to be trouble for me, I can tell.

What do you enjoy most about blogging?

I love that moment when someone comments on your blog post and says they felt/thought/saw the same exact thing that you did. I don't have many bookworms to talk to in my real life, so a virtual community of readers with the same taste in reading is a dream come true. Also, books! I know more about them than ever before, and that's pretty freaking sweet.

What are some of your biggest challenges in blogging?

The biggest challenge for me is finding the time - balancing my full-time job, friends, family, other interests, reading life, and still putting in the hours to create blog posts. Other challenges seem to pale in comparison to that one.

If you could put any two fictional characters in a room together, who would they be and why?

Oh, good question. I tend to fall in love with characters who have an adventurous spirit and make me laugh aloud (I should clarify that I have a very bizarre sense of humor at times). I think I'd have to put Suzy Turquoise Blue from Garth Nix's Keys to the Kingdom series and Nick from Sarah Rees Brennan's The Demon's Lexicon in that room. Why? Because something hilarious, dangerous and combustible would probably occur (I couldn't speculate on what that would be... but... awesome!).

What one book can you remember reading as a child that helped you fall in love with reading?

I can't remember any one book, but that's because I've loved reading since before my earliest memories. My mother tells me that I adored being read to as a toddler. Probably it was a picture book? And if we're voting for favorite picture books, I adored (and still love) A Christmas Card for Mr. McFizz by Obren Bokich.

What book or books have you read that everyone else just LOVED, but you couldn’t stand?

*rueful laugh* Oh, this list is long - I'll just name a couple. I couldn't like Lauren Oliver's Delirium, and that book was a BIG DEAL in the YA world two years ago. I also thought Melissa Marr's Ink Exchange was fairly terrible. To round that out, I should tell you that I've liked books by both authors before/since, so it's not that I can't stand the authors. Sometimes books just push the wrong buttons, you know?

(This last question I stole directly from Cecelia's interview with me - I liked it so much I made her answer it, too!)

Give me your best: one book I must read, one book blog I must visit, and one thing I should never say to strangers.

You MUST read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, if you haven't already. It's beautiful and bittersweet and should widen your world.

One blog I am consistently impressed by is Tia's Book Musings. Tia writes one thoughtful review after another, and across a very wide range of genres. And she's got spot-on taste.

One thing you shouldn't say to strangers: "I didn't take my meds today!"

Cecelia, thanks so much for chatting with us today! It's been a pleasure to get to know you. Make sure you stop by The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia to read my interview as well! And don't forget to check out LOTS more interview swaps at the Book Blogger Appreciation Week website.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Book Blogger Appreciation Week - Day 1 - Appreciation!

Appreciation! There are no awards this year, but it can still be hard to navigate the huge universe of book blogging. Share with your readers some of the blogs you enjoy reading daily and why.

I'll admit it - I just don't have time to read all the blogs I used to. Most days its a choice between reading blogs and reading books, and usually books win. However, there are a few that I keep up with on a fairly regular basis - sadly, my days of commenting are over, but I do find the time to check in with a small number of the blogs on my reader most weeks.

Books I Done Read - because seriously, Raych is hilarious. And sometimes, I just need to laugh for a bit. And because she reads all the books that I think about reading, but convince myself not to because I think they will be horrible - she reads them and confirms that they are, in fact, horrible, and then I don't have to.

BookLust - I am pretty sure I've gotten more fantastic book suggestions from Aarti than anyone else on the internet. She's always reading something that I probably never would have heard of otherwise.

We Be Reading - Kristen is my go-to for filling up the twins' bookshelves. She reads the coolest books to Z, and then I find them and stash them away to read in a couple of years to my kids.

There are lots more I stop by when I have a spare chunk of time and nothing calling to me, but these three are some of the few I manage to catch up with nearly every week. Someday, I hope to be back to regular blog reading - it's so much fun!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

I'm a joiner!

One of the best things about the blogging community is the multitude of opportunities it affords to participate with other avid readers in fun, bookish goodness. I haven't been able to participate in many of these over the past couple of years, but recently a few have caught my attention, and I'm going to try to join in with some of my fellow readers again.

The Estella Society is hosting a readalong of Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger, to coincide with the annual RIP Challenge. This book has been on my radar for a while, and this seemed like a great chance to try it out. I will be listening to it on audio, and checking in at The Estella Society website to participate in the group discussion.

Kristen, from We Be Reading, in conjunction with the Estella Society, is hosting the Top 100 Chapter Books Read-Along. She will be choosing 2 books per month from the list of Top 100 Chapter Books, and posting her thoughts about them as she reads. I'm not sure I will be able to get TWO books per month - that might be a stretch considering my current reading time - but I would love to be able to read at least one per month along with her. I participated in Poe Fridays, which Kristen hosted a couple of years ago, and it was a lot of fun. I'm excited to take another literary journey with her! Our first read is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and I'll be posting my thoughts around the 15th of the month.

Aarti from Booklust is hosting the A More Diverse Universe blog tour - the short version is, bloggers are encouraged to read and blog about one book in the speculative fiction genre written by a person of color. I highly encourage you to read her intelligent and persuasive post here, which explains why this is such an important call to readers.

I plan to read Fledgling by Octavia Butler.

If you enjoy reading in the speculative fiction genre, I encourage you to join us in reading works by authors of color this month!

And, of course, next week is Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I'm hoping to be able to participate in the interview swap, and as many of the daily blogging posts as possible. This is always a great week of celebrating the blogging community that has been so kind and welcoming to me, and I enjoy being a part of it each year.

So, that should keep my busy, at least for a month or so!

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Re-Education of a Book Lover - Part Two: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I have loved to read for as long as I can remember. Recently, however, it has come to my attention that there are some G A P I N G holes in my literary education. For example: I have read every Austen and Bronte you can get your hands on, but somehow had never managed to read a Charles Dickens novel in its entirety. So, with a little help from my mom, the English Teacher, and a couple of good friend, the English Majors, I am setting a course to re-educate myself by filling in some of those gaps.

For my next selection, I've chosen The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  (I actually might have read this before - I don't know if I'm familiar with the story because I've seen a movie, or because I actually read it in high school....either way, the details are fuzzy enough that reading it seems a good idea.)

originally published in 1850

(I'm listening to an audiobook version read by Kristen Underwood)

Synopsis from publisher:

Having been found guilty of adultery, Hester Prynne is forced to wear an embroidered scarlet letter “A” as a punishment for her sin. While her vengeful husband embarks on a quest to discover the identity of her lover, she is left to face the consequences of her infidelity and find a place for herself and her illegitimate child in the hostile environment of 17th-century puritan Boston. Nathaniel Hawthorne's tense narrative astonished readers with its unparalleled psychological depth when it first appeared in 1850, and the novel now stands as one of America's literary landmarks.

My thoughts:

First Impression - 8/22/12

 I definitely do not remember the "prologue" to this novel, and I have to admit to checking a couple of times to make sure I was listening to the right book! The author's ramblings about life as a customs-house officer seemed like an odd way to begin a novel, and I was quite honestly about to give up until the actual story began. While there were certainly parts of the customs-house narrative that I could relate to - the inexplicable love a person finds for the place of their birth; the frustration at the corruption of politicians - most of that first section was honestly just not that interesting to me.

However, once I got into the actual story, things changed. I think I am actually enjoying this novel! I had forgotten how authors from this time often addressed the reader directly - that has taken some getting used to. But I think the writing has a nice flow, and I am definitely engaged in the story of Hester Prynne - how did she get here? What is she going to do next?

Second Thoughts - 8/28/12

AND now I remember I'm reading Hawthorne and I'm not going to get "how she got here" or "what happens next", am I?

It's easy to see why today's youth would dislike this novel - I'm sure the typical 11th-grader who is assigned The Scarlet Letter in English class thinks they are being given some type of punishment. It's themes of guilt, remorse, and revenge may be universal, but in today's culture we do not think of them in the same way Hawthorne did in the 1850's.

I was thankful to see Hester finally getting angry, and showing some spirit when she confronted Chillingworth. She had been soooo good up to this point, that I was having a hard time connecting to her character. My favorite in the novel is Pearl - that little girl reminds me of my own kids so much that I just love her. I can't figure out why Hawthorne seems to insist that she is some sort of demon-child - she sounds just exactly like my daughter most days. =)

I definitely think I am having a better experience with this novel in audio form. I think I would have a hard time reading some of Hawthorne's paragraphs upon paragraphs of descriptions and inner thoughts - listening to them seems to engage my imagination in just the right way.

Last Word - 9/2/12

I read that Hawthorne patterned the character of Hester in part after his own wife, Sophia. Toward the end of the novel, I realized that I was really starting to like Hester, and appreciate how much strength and spirit Hawthorne gave her. In many ways, she was almost a feminist heroine - her free thinking and resourcefulness made her a woman quite a bit before her time.

I think I enjoyed this novel more than I expected I would. There were definitely parts that dragged, and times when I felt like rolling my eyes (Dimmsdale is just ridiculously annoying), but as a whole it was a good reading experience. I'm glad I chose to listen to this on audio - I think it might be the route I take for a lot of these 'classics' that I'm planning to experience.

Finished: 8/31/12
Source: Des Moines public library
MPAA rating: PG? probably for subject matter, although it's really pretty tame
My rating: 7/10

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Faith Words - Love Story by Nichole Nordeman

My faith is a constant in my life - I have tested it, doubted it, argued with it, fought against it, and it still remains. I don't fit easily into a cookie-cutter definition of a Christian. I read a lot about faith - things I agree with, things I reject, things that frustrate me, things that encourage me. Faith Words is a journal of my readings in the area of faith.

Love Story: Falling Apart in Perfect Condition, Restored by God, Perfectly Loved by Nichole Nordeman
published 8/31/12

Synopsis from publisher:

Love Story is an exquisite narrative that exposes the emotional and human underside of major biblical events, including Adam and Eve’s dramatic fall in the Garden of Eden, Sarah and Abraham’s struggle to have a child, Mary’s surprise at being pregnant with Jesus, Paul’s trauma on the road to Damascus, and concludes with a triumphant picture of the second coming of Christ. This book is a dramatic connecting point for all readers, inspiring them to grasp the poignant nature of God’s immense, all-consuming love

My thoughts:

 First Impression - 8/16/12   I first discovered Nichole Nordeman in 1998 when her first album, Wide Eyed, was released - her words immediately resonated with me. I felt like she wrote the things that were in my heart, like she was writing the songs in my own head that I couldn't quite put down on paper. Her honestly about her own doubts and struggles has always been so refreshing, and something I could completely relate to.     So I was incredibly excited to see that she had written her first book. It has honestly been a while since I've read much "contemporary christian" nonfiction - sometimes it just seems like a bunch of platitudes with no real substance behind it. I had a feeling Nordeman's book would be different, and so far I'm right. The honesty that she has shown in her music is all right there, open on the page, without pretense or pretension. I think I could read the whole book in one day, but I'm trying to slow down - savor the experience - and really find something that speaks to my soul.

Second Thoughts - 8/29/12

It's a sneaky little book - so much of it feels like sitting down and having a conversation with your girlfriend, sharing highs and lows, being a little bit honest, a little bit vulnerable. Those conversations that leave you feeling heard and understood, and then two days later you realize that you've changed the way you think about something because of it. I've enjoyed each section of the book, but the chapters about Esther, and a woman's struggle with the beauty culture; and Job, and the impossibility of understanding how a good God can allow such deep suffering, have been true standouts. Nordeman's style is quite informal, which adds to the impression that you are speaking face to face. And, as with her music, I find that she writes the thoughts in my head that I can't put down on paper.

"Heroes of the Bible. Heroes of the faith. Really? I just don't see it. I know they did heroic things when God empowered them to and when they chose God's path and not their own, but to slap the hero label on some of those foreheads feels awkward to me, if not a little far-fetched. I see profoundly flawed men and women who got caught in the net of God's mercy and were wise enough to confess the blackness of their hearts, realigning their messed-up lives with God's plan about a jillion times every month. They have moments of little-g greatness only when they are subject to big-G Greatness. Otherwise they are mostly capital-T Trainwrecks. Like us."

Last Word - 9/2/12

This was a winner in just about every way for me. I loved Nordeman's choice of characters - biblical greats whose stories we've heard a hundred times, but in her eyes suddenly vulnerable and new. Something about her words has always resonated with me, and this book was no different. Nordeman never tries to do "deep" theology - this isn't biblical exegesis. It's just one woman, sharing what she has learned over the course of a life that seemed, in many unexpected ways, so much like mine. I highlighted many times, in nearly every chapter, something that spoke especially to my heart. Highly recommended from this couch - it's a good one.

Finished: 8/31/12
Source: review copy from publisher via Netgalley - thank you!
MPAA Rating: G
My rating: 9/10

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sunday Shorts

The Alchemist's Daughter by Katharine McMahon
published 2006
audiobook - read by Justine Eyre

Synopsis from publisher:

There are long-held secrets at the manor house in Buckinghamshire, England, where Emilie Selden has been raised in near isolation by her father. A student of Isaac Newton, John Selden believes he can turn his daughter into a brilliant natural philosopher and alchemist. Secluded in their ancient house, with only two servants for company, he fills Emilie with knowledge and records her progress obsessively.

In the spring of 1725, father and daughter begin their most daring alchemical experiment to date--they will attempt to breathe life into dead matter. But their work is interrupted by the arrival of two strangers: one a researcher, the other a dazzling young merchant. During the course of a sultry August, while her father is away, Emilie experiences the passion of first love. Listening to her heart rather than her head, she makes a choice.

Banished to London and plunged headlong into a society that is both glamorous and ruthless, Emilie discovers that for all her extraordinary education she has no insight into the workings of the human heart. When she tries to return to the world of books and study, she instead unravels a shocking secret that sets her on her true journey to enlightenment.

My thoughts:

Okay, I am definitely more tolerant in audiobooks. I don't think I would have finished this had I not been listening to it. I found Emilie to be an extremely frustrating character, and the story itself rather predictable. Several times I found myself thinking, "how much more is there?" I picked this title because I thought I remembered bloggers enjoying another of her novels, but now I'm not sure I will pick up anything else by this author.

Finished: 8/5/11
Source: South Side public library
MPAA rating: PG-13 for adult situations and allusions to violence
My rating: 5/10

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
published 6/26/12
audiobook - read by Emily Janice Card (9 hours, 3 minutes)

Synopsis from publisher:

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life - the fissures in her parents marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

My thoughts:

Well, even for a dystopia, this was bleak. I just felt like the author threw every bad thing she could think of at this poor 11-year-old. I didn't particularly care for any of the characters, and kept waiting for something to make the story worthwhile, but unfortunately didn't find it. I don't know that I would recommend this one - it just wasn't great for me at all.

Finished: 8/19/12
Source - South Side library
MPAA rating; PG for creepy, end of the world stuff and some adult situations
My rating: 4/10

Minerva: The First Volume of the Six Sisters by M.C. Beaton (Marion Chesney)
first published 1983
ebook - Kindle edition

Synopsis from author's website:

 When the Reverend Charles Armitage, an impecunious country vicar in Regency England, announces that raven-haired Minerva, the eldest of his six daughters, is to have her coming-out in London, the news is not well received by the rest of the family. Mrs. Armitage has one of her Spasms and has to be brought round by burning a quantity of feathers under her nose. Annabelle, the nearest in age to Minerva, is clearly jealous, the boys are all surly, and the other girls just start off crying.

Minerva is despatched to Town under the wing of the disreputable old Lady Godolphin. Her task - to find a rich husband and thereby restore the ailing family fortunes.

But the other five daughters will all get their chance, because Minerva is but the first volume in The Six Sisters series by Marion Chesney.

My thoughts:

When I was growing up, my mom didn't censor anything I read. If I was able to read it, I could - that's how I would up reading The Handmaid's Tale for the first time in 6th grade. Anything, that is, except these darn Regency Romances that I was inexplicably obsessed with. I don't know if it was the gorgeous covers - my public library had copies with elegant ladies on each one. I don't know if it was just the simple fact that she told me I couldn't bring them home - they have been in the back of my mind ever since. Imagine my delight in finding them available on the Kindle lending library!

Really, I understand why she didn't let me read them as a kid - they are so much fluff, I'm sure she just didn't want me to waste my time. As an adult, this novel was hilarious. Everything you could possibly want - the imperious but ultimately clueless heroine, the dashing hero who doesn't want to fall in love, the slightly crazy cast of minor characters. Exactly like cotton candy for my brain, and it was a delight.

Finished: 8/30/12
Source: Kindle lending library
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for adult situations
My rating: 7/10