Friday, January 30, 2009

Poe Fridays

Annabel Lee

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
She was a child and I was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.
And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud by night,
Chilling my Annabel Lee;
So that her high-born kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.
The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud, chilling
And killing my Annabel Lee.
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.
For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I see the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the side of the sea.

Once again, no one can create a mood like Poe. His rhymes are so hypnotic, and have an almost dance-like quality to them - I can feel the meter in my head. I remember in college talking about poets choosing words for their SOUND, as well as their meaning, and I think Poe certainly does that.

I think part of the reason I enjoy Poe so much is that I feel like I GET what he writes about - often, I feel like poetry has some deep, hidden meaning that is obscured from me, but I always leave Poe with the sense that I know what he is talking about, even if it's not what he actually meant. In this case, his use of light and dark as metaphors - the kingdom is bright, the kinsman come with darkness - tell me that his love is a beautiful place, and despite the fact that others in the world try to snuff out his happiness, they can't touch the love he bears.

Next week, we get to read our first story - The Tell Tale Heart. I don't think I've read this since I was a little girl, and my dad read it to me out of my Illustrated Classics for Kids book. Wonder what will be different?

Poe Friday is hosted by Kristen at We Be Reading. Stop by and read more!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Review - The Last Nightingale by Anthony Flacco

Blurb from B&N:

San Francisco, 1906. The great West Coast city is a center of industry and excitement–and also, to many, of sin. When the Great Earthquake hits, some believe it is the day of reckoning for the immoral masses.

Meanwhile, twelve-year-old Shane Nightingale is witness to the violent deaths of his adoptive mother and sisters–not from the earthquake, but at the hands of a serial killer. As Shane wanders the city appearing to be just another anonymous orphan, he keeps what he has seen a secret. But when his path crosses that of Sergeant Randall Blackburn, who is in pursuit of the killer, the two become an investigative team that will use both a youth’s intuitive gifts and a policeman’s new deductive techniques and crime-fighting tools to unmask a vicious murderer whose fury can be as intense as that of Mother Nature herself.

My thoughts:

This is the second of Flacco's novels I have read featuring Blackburn, Shane, and his sister, Vignette, (read my review of The Hidden Man), but it was actually written first, and introduces us to his trio of characters. My review of The Hidden Man was for an official review site, so I had to be quite proper and reserved in my praise - since this is my own blog, I can gush if I want to, and gush I shall.

I LOVE this series!! Anthony Flacco is a master at writing interesting, believable characters AND exciting, nailbiting mysteries. Since I read the books in backwards order, I had an idea of the relationships that would be built between the three main characters, but it was fun to read about how those relationships started, and Flacco does such a good job of making the relationships seem authentic. His ability to paint pictures with words really makes his scenes come to life, because I felt like I could literally see everything that was happening as I was reading.

Flacco is the type of novelist that makes me remember why I love mysteries - nothing seems rote or by-the-book, even though a sexually confused guy murdering women has, quite honestly, been written before. But again, his ability to make each character interesting and believable lifts his novels from the normal, run-of-the-mill crime novel. And his core trio of Blackburn, Shane, and Vignette are amazing - each is so completely alive. I still can't decide which I like the most, because they are all so full and complex in their own right.

I am not sure I can express enough how much I love reading his books. I have not been able to determine whether or not he plans to continue this series, so I'm offering up a personal plea:
Mr. Flacco, please, don't stop now!

I think this novel will appeal to historical fiction fans, to mystery fans - really, I think everyone should just read it! =)

Finished: 1/27/09

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Teaser Tuesday

TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

Here's my teaser for today:

"A house full of females, in a time of general civic emergency, when everybody's full attention is focused on the earthquake and fires. What a perfect place. What an ideal set of victims for Tommie's new beginning at the true savoring of his work. It was all the better, since none of the Nightingales had any idea of who he was or why he was there."

(from The Last Nightingale by Anthony Flacco, pages 46-47)

Head over to ShouldBeReading for more great teasers!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Call me crazy...

....but I'm joining another challenge. This is one I wanted to join last year, as soon as I started blogging, so I'm excited to get on the list!

Orbis Terrarum 2009

Main Challenge Rules:
*The Orbis Terrarum Challenge begins March 1 2009(you are welcome to join later) Through the end of 2009.
*For the challenge each reader is to choose 10 books (for the 10 months).
*Each book must from a different country, I have decided to go by the country of origin of the author, or the country he/she lives in is fine as well.
*You don't have to have a list, that means you can change your mind at any time. As long as there are 10 from 10 different countries, written by 10 different authors: Anything goes.

The bottom line: choose 10 different books, written by 10 different authors, from 10 different countries.

I'm also going to join the Orbis Terrarum Film Mini-Challenge, since I have so many things in my Netflix queue that will apply. =)

Orbis Terrarum Film Mini-Challenge:
I know some of you enjoy subtitled films, or foreign films. I love spanish ones because I can understand them. Maybe you are bilingual and would love to sit and watch foreign films sometimes.
The OT film mini-challenge is that you watch 10 films, 10 different countries, by 10 different directors in the 10 months. (choose the movies, just like the nation of origin or residence of the director, not where it was filmed or what it was about)

I'm starting a list of books for the challenge, which I will most likely add to or edit before the challenge is over:

1 - Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset (Norway)
2 - Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (Britain) finished 4/23/09, rated 6/10
3 - The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desei (India)
4 - This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun (Morocco) 12/15/09, rated 9/10
5 - Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards (Canada)
6 - The Matter of Desire by Edmundo Paz Soldan (Bolivia)
7 - Angel of Grozny by Asne Seierstad (Chechnya) - finished 3/1/09, rated 8/10
8 - Infinity in the Palm of her Hand by Gioconda Belli (Nicaragua) finished 3/19/09, rated 7/10
9 - Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee (India) finished 5/8/09, rated 7/10
10 - Cutting Loose by Nadine Dajani (Lebanon) finished 6/13/09, rated 8/10
11 - Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie (Pakistan) finished 6/24/09, rated 8/10
12 - A Good House by Bonnie Burnard (Canada) finished 7/4/09, rated 7/10
13 - After the Fire, a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld (Australia) finished 10/2/09, rated 8/10
14 - The Book of Murder by Guilermo Martinez (Argentina) finished 8/09, rated 6/10

Also, a list for the movies:

1 - Au Revoir Les Enfants (France)
2 - Journey from the Fall (Vietnam)
3 - The Namesake (India)
4 - Moolaade' (Senegal)
5 - The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun (Denmark)
6 - The Band's Visit (Israel)
7 - Vitus (Switzerland)
8 - 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Romania)
9 - Good Morning, Night (Italy)
10 - Mad Love (Spain)
11 - Let the Right One In (Sweden)
12 - Rudo y Cursi (Mexico)

***edited to correct country for author Sigrid Undset - thanks bookoholic13!!***

Mailbox Monday

Welcome once again to Mailbox Monday, hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page. Time to take a look at what arrived in my mailbox this week -

Canvey Island by James Runcie
- this is my NOVEMBER LibraryThing Early Reviewers book which has finally shown up. I'm pretty sure it's available for purchase now, which will make mine not exactly an EARLY review, but oh well.

The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson
- this is a review book for

The King's Daughter by Sandra Worth
- from my good friend, Marcia, who just happens to host Mailbox Monday - thanks, Marcia!

If you are interested in seeing what mailbox love others received this week, stop by The Printed Page and check out their posts!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

TSS - Review - By the Shore

By the Shore by Galazy Craze

B&N Synopsis:

Published to great international acclaim, Galaxy Craze's best-selling debut, By the Shore, launched a young actress into literary fame. In clear and sparkling prose, her novel evokes a fragile, bittersweet world of youth on the cusp of adulthood and "captures perfectly the hopes and hurts of childhood" (The New York Times Book Review). Twelve-year-old May lives in a less than thriving oceanfront bed-and-breakfast run by her single mother. Her life is filled with the frustrations and promise of youth, complicated by a loving if distracted young mother who strives to care for her two children without forfeiting fun and passion. May puts her faith in the things that elude her - her absent father, the London city life left behind, the acceptance of the popular girls who have boyfriends -- and wonders if her life will ever change. When a kindly writer and his glamorous editor come to lodge in the weeks before Christmas, opportunities are in the air. But then May's playboy father, estranged from the family for years, drops in and threatens to freeze the delicate new possibilities stirring in all their lives.

My thoughts:

I initially picked up this novel because I am slated to review its successor, Tiger Tiger, for, and I really, really hate to read the second book before the first. (I know, I'm a little anal about that.) I'd read some pretty wildly disparate reviews of the two books, so I didn't quite know what to expect - I was very pleasantly surprised.

By the Shore captures perfectly the voice of its 12-year-old narrator, May. The prose itself is quiet, almost tentative, much like a young girl taking her first steps into adulthood. May is sweet, lovable, funny, wise, bratty - very much what you would expect of a young girl. She is smart beyond her years, due to her mother's somewhat haphazard care, and yet still clings naively to the hope that her father will return and create one big, happy family. Eden, her brother, and Lucy, her mother, are both compelling, and the three characters form the strong backbone of the novel.

I was captivated from the first paragraph:

"It can be dangerous to live by the shore. In the winter, after a storm, things wash up on it: rusty pieces of sharp metal, glass, jellyfish. You must be careful where you tread. Sometimes I see a lone fish that has suffocated on the shore and think for days that there are fish in the water waiting for it to return. Then I think, There is nowhere to be safe."

Something about this earnest, sweet young girl just grabbed me, and I read her story with fascination. Oh, how I wanted her to be happy, and not to learn the hard lessons I could sense would be coming her way.

"When they had gone into the house I pushed myself up off the ground and walked over to the tree where Eden had been playing. There were some acorns, leaves in piles, small stones and twigs: a whole world of something I couldn't see anymore. When you are six years old you can sit at the bottom of a tree and everything becomes alive around you. The moss is a soft green carpet, the stone a sofa, the hollows of a tree a house. The wind was a low voice around me. It was getting darker out. The kitchen light was on and I could see the yellow walls and the long shadows made when someone walked past the light. I stared down at the base of the tree, but all I could see was a pile of twigs and leaves, and a few stones. This is how I know I'm getting older: a stick is just a stick."

It certainly has is weaknesses - the romance between Lucy and the visiting writer is predictable, May's father is, of course, a huge jerk - but the bond between the three main characters, and the voice of May, made me overlook the problems and fall in love with this novel. I'm so happy I decided to read it, and now can't wait to start the next one!

Finished: 1/23/09
Rating: 8/10

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The following is a public service announcement...
is currently holding their fabulous Dollar for Dollar sale!!!!

Of course, because I scored so many fabulous books at Christmas, I won't be purchasing anything (ahem), but YOU SHOULD CHECK IT OUT!! It's a very good thing.

That is all.

You are welcome.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Poe Fridays

Kristen at We Be Reading is hosting a new weekly event - Poe Fridays! Here's what she says:

I'm sure that everyone has heard of "Poetry Fridays" but have you heard of "Poe Fridays"? No? Well, welcome to Poe Fridays! In honor of Edgar Allan Poe's 200th birthday on January 19, I decided to set up a goal to read Poe weekly for at least the next year. Poe has 73 tales and a couple dozen poems so there is plenty of material to choose from. This isn't a challenge but more of an opportunity. Each Friday I will discuss a Poe short story or poem and post the title for the following week. You can either stop by to learn more about Poe's genius or you can read along and post your comments and/or links on each week's post. I think this year is a great time to turn more readers into Poe fans.

Since this is our first week, she has given us an easy assignment - the poem "A Dream Within A Dream." It's not very long, so I'll reprint it below:

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow --
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream:
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand --
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep -- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

What a beautiful, tragic, heartbreaking poem. This is the kind of poetry I love - beautiful in the initial reading, and then beautiful again as we delve into the meaning behind the words. And the meanings - well, there can be many. This could be about a man mourning for his lost love, with the kiss upon the brow, and the sorrowful parting. This could be the raging of someone watching his dreams shatter, and realizing the futility of his life. It's a poem that can be related to, even if your life hasn't been especially horrible, because who hasn't that that moment of wondering if their own little existence really does matter, or if it will just fade away, a dream within a dream?

It was a great choice to start this project! Next week's selection will be the poem "Annabel Lee". If you'd like to journey through Poe with us, stop by We Be Reading and add your link.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesday, hosted by MizB of ShouldBeReading, asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

Apparently people DO read this blog, because I had a couple of comments last week about missing my Teaser Tuesday post, and I HATE to disappoint my fans. (Mom.) So here you go:

"I always thought that something was only evil or only good. Never both. I lay awake at nights wondering which the book was. But there is never only evil or only good - that is what you said. There are particles of good and particles of evil, and they are mixed. And sometimes they stick together in clumps, and sometimes they diffuse out of an area, or an age, or a life."

-The Eyes of a King by Catherine Banner, page 116

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mailbox Monday

Welcome again to Mailbox Monday, hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.

This week three new books found their way into my mailbox - I'm sure my delivery guy was happy for the break!

Fatal Light by Richard Currey - from Andrew of the Santa Fe Writer's Project, this is a re-release of a 1977 Vietnam War novel. Thanks so much, Andrew!

Eve: A Novel of the First Woman by Elissa Elliott
- I snagged this from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers progam in December - yippee! I love a good biblical novel.

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah - from Reading Group Gold. I'll be honest, I really don't understand how this program works - every so often, they just seem to randomly send me a book. I guess I'm not complaining!

Who else got new goodies? Stop by The Printed Page and let us all know!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

TSS - Review - Big Big Sky

Big Big Sky by Kristyn Dunnion

Rustle is a scout, part of a group of five young women trained to be soldiers. They live on Earth, but their landscape is vastly different from what we know. After a race of aliens called ScanMans invaded the planet, killing all human adults, the children were left behind. Taken and reprogrammed with new memories implanted, they believe that they were Found, rescued by the ScanMans from their horrible previous lives. Some of the children were killed, some used for experiments. Some, like Rustle, were trained to be warriors and assigned to a Pod.

Each Pod does everything together - trains, eats, sleeps, even occasionally plays. There are no children anymore; the ScanMans exterminated all males, so only females are members of Pods. Pod members are one another's family, so close that they can sense each other's thoughts. Within Pods, some members form couples and are "fused" to each other. Rustle and Loo are fused - each loves the other with an undying love. But when strange changes begin to happen to Rustle both physically and emotionally, Loo is afraid to question her about it. Pod members who start to Deform are taken to the Living Lab, and they are never seen again.

Rustle is not the only one who is changing, however. Her Pod mate Roku has been acting strangely also, and one night confronts Rustle about the changes she is experiencing. Rustle, too afraid to talk to anyone about her condition, shuts Roku out. The next day, Roku is gone. Rustle wonders if, perhaps, that was her last chance to confide in a sympathetic soul.

When Roku's disappearance is noted by the ScanMans, their Pod is called to the Living Lab for questioning. Knowing that her changing condition will be discovered, Rustle panics and allows Loo to see, for the first time, her altered state. When they accidentally stumble upon their own fakies - genetically programmed reproductions of themselves - they know they are destined to be Deplugged. Rustle and her Pod mates stage a daring escape, away from the Living Lab and into the wildness of Earth.

Once outside the confines of the ScanMans holdings, their Pod leader, Shona, is revealed as the person who betrayed them. On their own and struggling to survive, Rustle and Loo are separated and must learn to survive on their own. Knowing the ancient stories of settlements of people living apart from the ScanMans influence, both decide to try to make their way to civilization.

Rustle is recaptured by the ScanMans and taken back to the Living Lab, where unspeakable things happen. Loo is rescued by Roku, who has undergone changes of her own, and the two struggle to find the settlement. Fighting for their very survival, the three Pod mates must try to learn the rules of their new world and, perhaps, make their way back to each other.

Kristyn Dunnion's Earth is a very scary place. Completely taken over by the alien race, nothing seems familiar, and the reader is required to immediately acclimate to a host of different scenarios. Even the language is different: wary scary, blaaty whafa, obeyence, mindcore - these are just a sampling of the new terminology liberally distributed throughout the story. Dunnion does not allow for a learning curve but immerses the reader in her strange, new Earth completely on page one. This sets the tone for her bleak, dystopian landscape and the horrors the three young women discover.

Dunnion shifts the narrative between each of her main characters, allowing the reader to see the story through different sets of eyes. Her unique writing style fits the characters, and the transitions between narrators is seamless.

Big Big Sky is an incredibly difficult book to put down. Dunnion's narrative is fast-paced, and each page brings a new challenge. Rustle, Loo, and Roku are all smart, funny, and sympathetic. Once introduced, the reader can't help but want to know what happens next. As each young woman discovers something new - about her past, about the truth of their lives with the ScanMans, or about her own true personality - she becomes more and more real, and by the end of the novel they all feel like friends. This excellent novel is highly recommended for fans of science fiction and dystopian narratives.

Elizabeth Schulenberg/2009 for curled up with a good kid's book

Monday, January 12, 2009

Mailbox Monday

I know I promised you a BIG haul of books - I think this week's mailbox will not disappoint. Here is the official list of all the books I got with my Christmas gift cards:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - a journalist tries to unravel the mystery of the disappearance of a young girl.

Landing by Emma Donoghue
- a transatlantic love story.

Twenty Questions by Alison Clement
- a small town woman enmeshes herself in a local murder.

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman
- first in the Welsh princes series

The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner
- an heiress and an orphan in revolutionary France

Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall - a young girl rebels in a dystopian future

Nothing Remains the Same by Wendy Lesser
- nonfiction about the joys of re-reading old

Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar - complete guilty pleasure reading

The Hearth and Eagle by Anya Seton - novel based on research the author did on her own family

It Sleeps in Me by Kathleen O'Neal Gear - Native American prehistorical novel

Shadow Children boxed set by Margaret Peterson Haddix - first four novels in the young adult dystopian series

The Kindness of Strangers by Katrina Kittle - Midwestern families and suburban secrets

Deep in the Shade of Paradise by John Dufresne
- Southern families and marriages

The Used World by Haven Kimmel
- the unusual occupants of an antique shop

Spellbinder by Melanie Rawn
- a love story with magical interruptions

Zig Zag by Jose' Carlos Somoza - physics, time travel, and murder

Q by Luther Blissett
- Anabaptist heretic vs. papal spy

Sewer, Gas, and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy by Matt Ruff
- weird, futuristic, experimental stuff

There's No Place Like Here by Cecelia Ahern
- where do missing people go?

Nowhere in Africa by Stefanie Zweig
- autobiographical novel about a Jewis family who fled to Kenya to escape the Nazis

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult - I'm pretty sure I bought this BECAUSE of the recent "Picoult is racist" ridiculousness

Blind Submission by Debra Ginsberg
- terror and mystery in the literary agent world

The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein by Dorothy Thomas Hoobler
- nonfiction about the strange, strange life of Mary Shelley

Stormy Weather by Paulette Jiles
- oil wells in Depression-era Texas

The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson - yet another Tudor novel - for some reason I can't resist them

Roma by Steven Saylor
- Rome's first 1,000 years

Whew. I'm a little exhausted from typing up that list. Want to drool some more? Visit Marcia at The Printed Page and read some more mailboxes!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

TSS - Review - That Summer in Sicily

In the summer of 1995, journalist Marlena de Blasi was offered an assignment: write a story about the interior regions of Sicily. Learning that several colleagues had already turned down the assignment, Marlena accepted anyway, and along with her Venetian husband, Fernando, began to plan an itinerary. Lining up interviews with professors, writers, chefs, and others, Marlena sets out on her journey with confidence. Soon, however, she discovers what her colleagues already knew - the people of Sicily will not deign to be interviewed. After two weeks of broken appointments, Marlena and her husband are ready to admit defeat. Looking for a nice hotel or other establishment to rest for a couple of days before returning home, Marlena is reluctantly directed to the Villa Donnafugata - literally, the house of fleeing women - and its owner, a woman named Tosca.

After several hours of traveling the Sicilian countryside, they arrive and find themselves at what appears to be a castle. For the first time on their trip, they are spoken to, made to feel welcome. The villa is home to a vast number of women - widows, all wearing black, busily going about their work. The beautiful, forbidding Tosca invites them for a meal, with the conditions of their visit to be discussed later. Marlena and Fernando don't know what to think about this strange, beautiful place but feel compelled to stay. After several days of observing the widows, roaming the grounds and watching the villa function, Marlena can't help but wonder about the circumstances of the establishment. Eventually, little by little, she coaxes the story from Tosca.

The villa is Tosca's inheritance, left to her by the prince her father sold her to at the age of nine. Raised alongside his daughters, Tosca proves herself to be smart and hardworking, and Prince Leo soon creates an intensive course of study especially for her. When, as a teenager, she finds herself falling in love with Leo, Tosca asks him to allow her to return to her village. Instead, knowing she will never be truly accepted by her people again, Leo enlists her help in the project that will become his obsession: bettering the lives of the villagers entrusted to his care. While they build a school, better homes, roads, and churches for the people, Leo and Tosca grow closer and eventually become lovers. When Leo's work on behalf of the peasants draws the ire of the local mafia, their lives are both in danger. Trying to protect Tosca, Leo confronts the mafia leaders himself, and his death forces Tosca to finally make a life of her own.

That Summer in Sicily: A Love Story is an amazing book, made more remarkable because it is a true story. Like a modern-day fairy tale, Tosca's rise from peasant child to pampered young girl to strong, forceful woman reads like fiction, but it all really happened. The author admits that she has taken some poetic license and changed the setting of parts of the story to protect the people involved, but this book proves the adage that truth is stranger than fiction. Tosca is, initially, a difficult woman to sympathize with, but as her story unfolds, she reveals herself to be worthy of admiration. Her life has all the ingredients of a blockbuster movie - adventure, romance, intrigue, and sorrow - and the slow revelation of her secrets keeps the reader glued to the edge of their seat.

Marlena de Blasi is a beautiful writer, able to immerse the reader in the sights and sounds of the world she experiences. Her descriptions of the villa, the food and drink, the flowers and people surrounding her, make the reader feel as though they are traveling through Sicily with her. Though travel writing is her expertise, she recounts the love story of Tosca and Leo beautifully, never letting the pace of the narrative falter. That Summer in Sicily: A Love Story is a mesmerizing interlude, perfect to read on a cold, winter night. It is highly recommended and will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Elizabeth Schulenberg, 2009

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

***Edited to add:

Thanks, everyone, for the birthday wishes. You all made me feel very special. Thanks especially to the three brave souls who finished my birthday song - your lyrics were all great! As promised, here are a couple pictures of my birthday cake:

It was Chocolate Mousse Cake - four layers, top layer chocolate cake, next layer which chocolate mousse, next layer milk chocolate mousse, bottom layer chocolate cake. YUM. Sorry the second picture is blurry - I was a little excited to get to the eating. =)

Happy Birthday to ME!
I am now 33...

That's all I've got so far - if you can think up some more lyrics, that would be awesome! I'll take a picture of the birthday cake I bought myself later. For now, I'm off to brave the blizzard to go to a bridal shower for a friend. It should be interesting....we'll see if the family can play nice.

Friday, January 9, 2009

And THIS is why I love to blog...

Two of my favorite people in the blogging world have recently given me awards - what a fun birthday present!

Marcia from The Printed Page gave me the Butterfly Award -

1. Put the logo on my blog
2. Add a link to the person who awarded you
3. Award up to ten other blogs
4. Add links to those blogs on your blog
5. Leave a message for your awardees on their blogs

Tara from Uphill Idealist gave me the Lemonaid blog award -

1. Thank the person who was so thoughtful for giving you this award by linking their blog to this post.
2. Put the logo on your blog or post.
3. Nominate 10 blogs which show great attitude/gratitude.
4. Link your nominee to your post
5. Comment them to tell them about the award they've won.

I know it's probably not following the rules exactly, but I'm sending the awards right back to these ladies - their blogs are great, and they are beautiful people, as well.

Other blogs I'd like to recognize are:

Cathy at Kittling:Books
Shana at Literarily
Megan at Leafing Through Life
Alea at Pop Culture Junkie
Violet at VioletCrush
Amy at My Friend Amy
Andi at Tripping Toward Lucidity
Leah of As Seen by Me and Mommo5

These blogs, in my opinion, are what make the community great. Smart women, strong opinions, the ability to laugh at themselves, care and concern for others - these are women I'd love to know in real life. (Actually, I DO know Leah in real life - she's my aunt, and she's pretty cool!) So thanks to all these blogs for giving me something to look forward to every day, and something to aspire to as I write my own blog.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mark your calendars!

***edited to add:

I've had a couple of questions about how the Noontime Book Chats (NBC) work. Here's the basic idea - anywhere from 2 to 5 people are the hosts for each week's book. Hosts read the book that week, and each posts about the book at noon on their selected day - they can talk about where they are, their favorite part so far, comparisons with other books they've read - pretty much anything. The hosts chat among themselves, and anyone who stops by their blog is encouraged to comment - if you'd like to read the book at the same time, that would be great! The more people who read and comment, the more it becomes like a big, online book club.

Noontime Book Chat will be stopping by the week of February 23! As many of you know, Noontime Book Chats were started by J. Kaye, and this year when she decided she had enough on her plate, they were rescued by Marcia at The Printed Page. Marcia will be hosting her first Noontime Book Chat the week of February 9, and then I will be joining her the week of February 23. We will be reading and discussing People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. We'd love to have you join us! If you are interested in being a host, for that week or another, send Marcia a note - she'd love to have you!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Teaser Tuesday

Time for the weekly Teaser Tuesday, hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.

TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

  • Here is my teaser:

    "This is the axiom I carry with me to the Judges' Table: you might be a great contender, but one really bad showing could get you eliminated, just as an off night or a careless effort might remove my restaurant permanently from a diner's list. There's no rest. No excuses. No slacking off. And I wouldn't have it any other way."

    (Tom Colicchio, from Top Chef: The Cookbook, page 7)

    For those of you keeping score, yes, I am STILL reading Alaska by James Michener - hey, it's huge. But the Top Chef cookbook came in the mail yesterday, and I had to start browsing. It's one of my favorite TV shows, and the cookbook promises to be just as much fun.

    So, what are you reading today? Care to share a couple of lines with us?

    Monday, January 5, 2009

    Mailbox Monday

    Just two books trickled in this week - I think the holiday on Thursday messed up my shipping schedules, as I have a WHOLE BUNCH of books on their way to me. But that's okay, because the ones that did make it are great.

    The Labrador Pact by Matt Haig
    - In a world where humans must never know that dogs are in control, a Labrador, Prince, tries to save his family from themselves. I've heard a lot of buzz about this novel, and honestly I'm a sucker for books with dogs.

    The Innamorati by Midori Snyder
    - Six damaged souls travel to the city of Labirinto, where the Maze at the center of the city can lift curses and give each person their heart's desire. This is considered a ground-breaking work of fantasy, and I've been drooling over it for a while now.

    What did you get this week? Stop by and visit Marcia at The Printed Page, and see what other people found in their mailboxes.

    Sunday, January 4, 2009

    TSS- NaJuReMoNoMo

    What?? Bonus points for everyone who knows already what NaJuReMoNoMo means. I'm choosing to believe that this is just a month-long celebration of my birthday! =)

    For those who are still in the dark, January is National Just Read More Novels Month. Isn't that great? There's a challenge set up for it here,
    which of course I am joining. It's pretty simple - read a novel, you're a winner. What could be better? Here are the OFFICIAL rules:

    1. Only Novels Count. This means no non-fiction books, memoirs, short stories, essay collections, or books based on internet memes like LOLcats. The judge is out on graphic novels. It's your call.
    2. Memoirs Don’t Count. Even if they are fictional. And especially if they are fake memoirs about the Holocaust.
    3. It Can’t Be A Novel You Have Already Read. Expand your horizons. Try some new authors.
    4. You Must Start At The Beginning. If the book is on your nightstand, you have to start over. We are looking at January 1 to January 31. That is 31 days. We are on a deadline.
    5. Have Fun. This a lark. You wouldn't be reading if you didn't enjoy it.

    One book wins you a blue Winner badge, three wins a green, five wins a silver, and ten wins a gold. My goal is a Silver Winner badge - wouldn't that look nice on my sidebar?

    Even if you are not a book blogger, I'd love to encourage you to join us this month. If you read a novel, let me know - I'll have a celebration post at the end of the month for anyone who participates with me and comments about it. Besides, don't we all need another good excuse to relax and read a good book?

    Friday, January 2, 2009

    Review - Jenny and the Jaws of Life

    Jenny and the Jaws of Life is a collection of short stories by author Jincy Willett, first published in 1987 and recently re-released due, in part, to the championing of the collection by humorist David Sedaris. In his foreward to the book, Sedaris writes, "I am prepared to wear a sandwich board for this book. I can't help myself. It's just too good." But don't be fooled into thinking this is a traditionally funny set of stories - Willett's humor is of a decidedly darker bent, ironic and sometimes uncomfortable. Tackling topics that range from death and child abuse to marital intimacy and rape, Willett's collection could seem overly tragic, but her brilliant writing and unforgettable characters keep the reader from despair. While each story is excellent in its own way, there are a few that stand out from the rest.

    "Julie in the Funhouse," the opening story in the collection, introduces the reader to John, who is returning home for his sister's funeral. John was supposed to be a great surgeon but ended up only a druggist. His sister Julie, beautiful and adventurous, was supposed to be a famous artist but ended up never leaving home, raising her family and becoming a real estate agent. John learns of his sister's death on a radio report of the tragic slaying of a husband and wife by their two children. As John returns home, he reflects on the early days of him and his sister and considers what it was that turned his sister into one of "the women whom their young must turn on and devour." In the chilling final scene, as John's niece asks him if he wants to know which of the children pulled the trigger, he wonders if Julie's death was inevitable.

    "Melinda Falling" is the tale of a smart, successful lawyer who inexplicable becomes fascinated with Melinda, a short, rather dumpy secretary. He first sees her at a party, where she falls down the stairs. He is enchanted with the way she falls - to him, her clumsiness exhibits a grace he has never witnessed before. To her, her fall down the stairs is just one more in a string of humiliating events. But her clumsiness makes him love her - "For Melinda out of control, obedient to only the natural laws, was incomparably graceful. She fell the way we do in dreams, lazily and in profound silence...Melinda was the only woman I ever loved. I loved her dumpy and earthbound. I loved her floating free." They marry, but Melinda never returns his passion, and breaks his heart when she falls in love with another.

    "The Best of Betty," probably the most conventionally funny of the collection, is presented in letters from readers to an increasingly hostile advice columnist. Betty - straight-talking and no-nonsense - doesn't hesitate to tell readers exactly what she thinks. In a series of letters from regular readers, Betty has an apparent nervous breakdown and ends up telling her readers what she truly believes.

    "Father of Invention" is the story of a young girl's increasingly wild imagination. "Under the Bed" shows a woman's attempt to hold on to normal life after being brutally beaten and raped; "Resumé" is an arrogant man's attempt to bargain with God. With unforgettable characters and an astute grasp of human emotion, Willett crafts stories that the reader will not soon forget. Because each narrator is so fully realized, it is at times difficult to read the stories back to back - after being so immersed in a specific setting, the reader almost needs to stop and take a breath before plunging into the next scene.

    Jenny and the Jaws of Life deserves a place at the table next to the great short story collections of our time. With dark humor and keen insight, Willett has assembled a collection of stories that penetrate the highs and lows of the human condition. This is a book to be read and savored again and again.

    Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Elizabeth Schulenberg, 2008