Tuesday, February 23, 2010

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'm joined in The Nonfiction Files by Jehara. If you would like to play along with us, let me know!

My current read is Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticatt.

Synopsis from publisher:

From the best-selling author of The Dew Breaker, a major work of nonfiction: a powerfully moving family story that centers around the men closest to her heart — her father, Mira, and his older brother, Joseph.

From the age of four, Edwidge Danticat came to think of her uncle Joseph, a charismatic pastor, as her "second father," when she was placed in his care after her parents left Haiti for a better life in America. Listening to his sermons, sharing coconut-flavored ices on their walks through town, roaming through the house that held together many members of a colorful extended family, Edwidge grew profoundly attached to Joseph. He was the man who "knew all the verses for love."

And so she experiences a jumble of emotions when, at twelve, she joins her parents in New York City. She is at last reunited with her two youngest brothers, and with her mother and father, whom she has struggled to remember. But she must also leave behind Joseph and the only home she's ever known.

Edwidge tells of making a new life in a new country while fearing for the safety of those still in Haiti as the political situation deteriorates. But Brother I'm Dying soon becomes a terrifying tale of good people caught up in events beyond their control. Late in 2004, his life threatened by an angry mob, forced to flee his church, the frail, eighty-one-year-old Joseph makes his way to Miami, where he thinks he will be safe. Instead, he is detained by U.S. Customs, held by the Department of Homeland Security, brutally imprisoned, and dead within days. It was a story that made headlines around the world. His brother, Mira, will soon join him in death, but not before he holds hope in his arms: Edwidge's firstborn, who will bear his name — and the family's stories, both joyous and tragic — into the next generation.

Told with tremendous feeling, this is a true-life epic on an intimate scale: a deeply affecting story of home and family — of two men's lives and deaths, and of a daughter's great love for them both.

My thoughts so far:

A year or two ago, for my mom's birthday, I got her this Surprise Pack from Bas Bleu. (p.s. if you haven't found Bas Bleu yet...well, you probably shouldn't start, because it is just too much fun.) One of the books that came in that pack was Brother, I'm Dying. I was interested right away, because I'd read The Dew Breaker and found it to be riveting. When she loaned it to me a couple of months ago, and then last month mentioned I should think about reading it soon due to the current situation in Haiti, I knew I had to make it a priority.

The memoir opens with an auspicious day - the day the author discovers she is pregnant. It is also, somewhat tragically, the day she learns her father is dying. Her father has suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, a persistent, degenerative scarring and hardening of the lungs, and he is now clearly in the last stages of the disease. Unaware that her father knows the seriousness of his condition, she is surprised when he sits the family down together to talk about what will happen after he is gone. At that family meeting, his son Bob asks a significant question: "Have you enjoyed your life?"

The author's family seems to be at home with death in a way that is unusual by society's standards. That's not to say they are callous, or do not grieve the death of loved ones - they just seem to view death as natural and inevitable in ways that I'm not used to reading about. Perhaps this comes from the attitude of Edwidge's Uncle Joseph, who would say this at funerals:

"Death is a journey we all embark on from the moment we are born. An hourglass is turned and the sand starts to slip in a different direction as soon as we emerge from our mother's womb...But if we weep at death, it is because we do not understand death. If we saw death as another kind of birth, just as the Gospel exhorts us to, we wouldn't weep, but rejoice..."

She describes the day when she and her younger brother, along with a cousin, discover their dead grandmother in her bed. Instead of running and screaming, they very methodically went about analyzing the situation: they put a mirror in front of her mouth, and when it didn't fog with breath, they gently opened her eye. After determining that she was truly dead, they just as carefully lowered the lid they had opened.

The author also begins to tell the story of her life in Haiti as a young girl. Left behind by her parents who had immigrated to America, she was raised primarily by her Uncle Joseph and Aunt Denise. She discusses the hardships her mother, who was initially unable to join her father in America, faced trying to raise two children on her own. It's a fascinating look at the lives of the families left behind when people immigrate - in theory, the immigrants are looking to better the lives of their loved ones, but often their abrupt disappearance leaves confusion and fear in its wake, especially in the lives of young children. And then, when the children have finally adjusted to the reality of their new life, the immigrants return, disrupting their lives again.

I knew this would be an excellent read, and I haven't been disappointed. I'm going to have a hard time not reading this one straight through.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

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'm joined in The Nonfiction Files by Jehara. If you would like to play along with us, let me know!

My current read is Secret Daughter: A Mixed-Race Daughter and the Mother who Gave Her Away by June Cross. You can read my first post about this book here, and my second post here.

Synopsis from publisher:

June Cross was born in 1954 to Norma Booth, a glamorous, aspiring white actress, and James “Stump” Cross, a well-known black comedian. Sent by her mother to be raised by black friends when she was four years old and could no longer pass as white, June was plunged into the pain and confusion of a family divided by race. Secret Daughter tells her story of survival. It traces June’s astonishing discoveries about her mother and about her own fierce determination to thrive. This is an inspiring testimony to the endurance of love between mother and daughter, a child and her adoptive parents, and the power of community.

My final thoughts:

This final section of the book finds June really coming into her own, making decisions to please herself instead of her mother or Aunt Peggy. She pursues her own dreams of becoming a journalist, has relationships on her own terms, and begins to make peace with the lifetime of betrayal she has endured from her mother.

June decides to meet her father - for all of her life, she has thought of him as a drunk, a wife beater, and the man who abandoned her. However, when she meets him, she finds the story is not exactly as she had believed all her life. She is able to form a relationship with her father, and understand him in a way she had not thought possible. I am continually impressed with her ability to meet the people who hurt her in the past without bitterness or anger. I wonder if it is the journalist in her - she is able to put aside her own personal hurt, and just meet that person where they are.

I was most surprised when June asks her mother to take part in a documentary about their life story, and her mother agrees. While it doesn't go perfectly as planned, June is able to discover truths about her mother's life that tragically mirror her own. I'm so glad June's mother shared her story with June, who eventually shared it with us - while I still can't understand how she could leave her daughter, I can sympathize with the reasoning behind what she did.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. June's story is heartbreaking, but she doesn't tell it to portray herself as a victim. This book also gives readers an important look into race and class in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s in America. It's that great combination you sometimes find in nonfiction of historical impact and fascinating storytelling. Books like this are why I read nonfiction - go find a copy!

Finished: 2/13/10
Source: review copy from Author Marketing Experts - thank you!
Rating: 8/10

Friday, February 12, 2010

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'm happy to welcome author Jake Black to 451 Fridays. Jake is the author of The Authorized Ender Companion: The Indispensable Guide to the Universe of Ender's Game. You can read my review of Jake's book here.

Jake's official bio:

JAKE BLACK has written for several popular franchises and characters including Smallville, Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Twilight, Star Trek, and many others. He is also the author of Marvel Comics’ Ender-series comic books “Gold Bug,” “Cheater,” and “Recruiting Valentine.” He lives in a quiet Utah town with his wife and son.

Welcome, Jake!

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

1. Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
2. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
3. The Bible
4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
5. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

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

If I could "become" any of these, it would be Shakespeare. The impact that the writing had on language, as well as its prolific nature, make this book the most significant to me. The others are on the list because of similar reasons--primarily their impact on society and culture. Sarah Vowell's "Wordy Shipmates" is a brilliant work that examines our modern American society from its roots. Consequently, to me, it has had as much of an impact as these classic works of literature.

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

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Review - The Authorized Ender Companion by Jake Black

The Authorized Ender Companion by Jake Black
published 2009
432 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Now, for the first time, in THE AUTHORIZED ENDER COMPANION (A Tor hardcover; November 2009), fans will be able to explore the first complete and in-depth encyclopedia of all the persons, places, things and events in Orson Scott Card’s beloved Ender Universe. This long-awaited volume was written by Jake Black under the editorial supervision of Card himself, who was recently awarded the 2008 Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in Young Adult literature from the American Library Association.

Highlights include the first full timeline of the Ender series, character biographies, colony histories, family trees, and ten black & white illustrations. The encyclopedia answers questions fans have had for decades: Where did Ender go when he left Earth, before he arrived at Lusitania? What did the battle room really look like and how did it work? What people discovered the descolada, and what is their story? What was the history of Gloriously Bright’s world?

But one of the most incredible parts of this compilation is the section devoted to letters from readers. The letters range from young readers who saw themselves in the characters—especially in Ender—to adults on active military duty, who gained courage from the novel to continue specialized training in the army and to serve overseas. The letters express gratitude to Card and love for Ender’s Game, a novel that many say changed their lives . . .

My thoughts:

If you are a fan of the Ender series, this book is a jackpot. I have no problem admitting that I haven't yet read it from cover to cover - I don't know that it's the kind of book meant to be utilized in that way. What I have done, however, is spend several hours over the course of a couple of days jumping from entry to entry in the encyclopedia-like volume, remembering people and ideas I've loved from the series, and discovering new insights I hadn't yet explored.

Jake Black is clearly a fan of the series - you can sense his affection for the characters as you read his descriptions of their lives and loves. The amount of research that went into this book is astounding. Black has basically summarized every person, place, event, location - everything that is introduced in the series can be found in this book, along with where in the series they can be found, and their importance to the overall story.

If you haven't already delved into Ender's world, I wouldn't start here - while it's a great resource, you will miss so much of the magic of the story if you simply read Black's summaries. If you have read a book or two, and want to catch up on the lives of Ender, Valentine, and the like, you will probably have fun dipping in and out of the Companion. If you are a fan, like me, this is definitely a book you want to get your hands on. I'm so happy I have it to add to my Ender collection, and can see myself using it again and again as I continue to explore Ender's world.

Source: review copy from publicist
Rating: 8/10

This book counts toward:

Review - Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
published 1977
324 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn't make the cutyoung Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender's skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychologicalbattles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender's two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.

My thoughts:

Boy, I forgot how much I enjoy this novel. It's been a few years since I read it, but most of the details came back to me quickly. I am always worried when I re-read a novel that it won't have the same magic - that spark that drew me to the story in the first place. I'm happy to report that Ender charmed me all over again.

It was a delight to reacquaint myself with Ender and Val, Bean and Petra, Dink and Alai - all the kids I grew to love when I first discovered the book. It was interesting this time around to find myself feeling more sympathy for Peter - he seemed wholly villianous the first time around, but on this reading I found I could understand some of the anger, and could see past it to the hurting young man underneath.

Also knowing what comes next in the series, I found Ender's constant refrain that he never wanted to hurt anyone especially heartbreaking. He just wants to be a kid, and yet the choices he is forced to make would break any adult. Watching him wrestle with the struggle between what he wants to do and what he HAS to do was wrenching:

" 'In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them - '

'You beat them....'

'No, you don't understand. I destroy them.' "

I have read and enjoyed the entire series, but there is just something about this first book that steals my heart. If you haven't yet met Ender, give him a try. If you aren't sure about Sci-fi, this would be a great place to start. I'm so glad I spent a few more hours in Ender's world.

Finished: 2/8/10
Source: Forest Avenue library
Rating: 8/10

This book counts toward:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Talking The Wire

Welcome to our weekly conversation about The Wire! Amy, Nicole, and I have watched the first two episodes - here are our initial thoughts about what we've seen:

So...now that we've watched the first couple of episodes, what do you think? Does this show live up to the hype? Do you still want to "Talk The Wire"?

My first though was that it definitely didn't live up to the hype. The acting in some places didn't seem all that great to me, and I was wondering what all the excitement was about. Of course, we are watching the very few episodes so the series is very new and still finding it's feet. I was a little overwhelmed by all of the action and all of the players in this story. There are a bunch of people to track...The FBI, the police, the criminals...and everyone has these agendas and particular personal relationships.

Amy: It doesn't live up to the hype yet, but I could definitely see the appeal after one episode. I will keep watching for sure as I feel it's the kind of show where the tension builds slowly, and that feels a lot more realistic than a lot of television. I did feel like I needed to wash my ears without soap, though, LOL.

I definitely agree with you.about both the appeal and the attention because as I was watching I kept seeing the potential, and though I was a bit confused, I definitely wanted to see what was going to happen next.

Elizabeth: I am not feeling it yet. I think I need to feel a connection to a character before I can really fall completely into the story, and right now I'm just overwhelmed with all the new people - trying to remember names, faces, interactions, etc. Like you both said, I do see that it has potential - I am curious to see how the storylines will develop, and I like the idea of getting the viewpoints of all the different players - good guys, bad guys, etc.

There are several different divisions and factions in this series, the police, the FBI, the drug dealers...is there any group that is more interesting for you to watch? Have you established any loyalties this early on?

I am having such a hard time keeping everyone straight! I don't really have any firm loyalties, but I am finding that I am liking a few out of each of the group. I really love the beginnings where the guys are hanging out and talking about life and applying its principles to what is going in the street and just for a general education. The conversation about Jackson being on the 20- dollar bill, and how he had to have been a president because there was no other way that an ugly white man was going to find himself on a piece of currency. If you don't know anything about presidents, then that is one way that you will be able to recognize at least a few of them.

Amy: I am totally confused about this. I'm hoping it all gels in my mind and makes sense. I feel fairly invested in all of the stories at this point and find the way in which they unfold to be interesting. I thought the Lance Reddick character's conversation with his wife (what's his name on the show?) to be absolutely brilliant. "You can't lose if you don't play the game."

Elizabeth: Hmmm. I don't think I've picked a "side" so far, but again, I am certainly interested to see how each segment plays out. I'm specifically interested in the narrative style - it seems very much like Lost, in that it throws a whole bunch of people at you right away, and then takes (I'm assuming) the rest of the season to sort them all out.

Which character do you like the most and why? And then which character has been the most memorable?

Amy: I like the female cop and I admittedly like McNulty. I feel something for the conflict going on in D'Angelo Barksdale as well. I think I'm really going to like this show for the complex and flawed characters.

Nicole: Which one is D'Angelo? Is he the head guy? I am feeling something for the cousin who used to manage the towers but was demoted. The series started with him getting away with murder and playing the tough, but he also seems to be conflicted about the fact that an innocent man may have been killed for testifying against him.

Elizabeth: I like Kima, the female cop. I like the actor who plays Stringer, so I'm interested to see how his character plays out. I have a feeling this might not be a show where I actually LIKE very many people, but still find them fascinating.

Check back next week - and feel free to add your own thoughts! We'd love to have you join us. =)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

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'm joined in The Nonfiction Files by Jehara. If you would like to play along with us, let me know!

My current read is Secret Daughter: A Mixed-Race Daughter and the Mother who Gave Her Away by June Cross. You can read my first post about this book here.

Synopsis from publisher:

June Cross was born in 1954 to Norma Booth, a glamorous, aspiring white actress, and James “Stump” Cross, a well-known black comedian. Sent by her mother to be raised by black friends when she was four years old and could no longer pass as white, June was plunged into the pain and confusion of a family divided by race. Secret Daughter tells her story of survival. It traces June’s astonishing discoveries about her mother and about her own fierce determination to thrive. This is an inspiring testimony to the endurance of love between mother and daughter, a child and her adoptive parents, and the power of community.

My thoughts so far:

Interestingly enough, I am finding myself even more involved in June's life as she gets older - she is beginning to look at life on her own terms, form her own opinions, and realize just what the decisions made by and for her have done to her life, and she becomes more fascinating as she grows.

June's mother continues to hurt her, coming up with stories about how she "adopted" the little girl across the hall, and even allowing a rumor to perpetrate that June was actually her stepfather's biological child from an affair he had with Pearl Bailey. It is an interesting comment on the society of the time that a mixed-race child born to a white man would have been significantly more acceptable than a mixed-race child born to a white woman.

June continues to struggle with issues of identity, trying to conform to both white and black expectations at different times in her life. In both communities she is challenged - for trying to "fit in" too much with white society, and for "pretending" to be truly black. For the first time, she is able to identify her feelings of anger at her mother, and at Aunt Peggy, for the deceptions of her childhood.

Probably the most painful part of the book so far for me was the section involving Uncle Paul's death. Paul was Aunt Peggy's husband, and had been the primary father figure in June's life after she was left with them by her mother. While they had tension in their relationship, they grew to genuinely love each other, and Paul encouraged June's interests in several areas. After his death, June discovered that she wasn't listed as one of is family members in the obituary, because she wasn't a "blood relative" - never mind that he had raised her for most of her life. I could feel June's pain as, once again, she was considered not worthy to be a part of the family. It was heartbreaking.

June tells her story with such courage and grace - still not pointing fingers or attaching blame, she simply lays out the circumstances as they happen. While she was obviously treated unfairly, she still clearly holds so much love for her mother and the other members of her family. I'm very interested to see where the relationships go now that June is done with college and heading off to make her way in the world.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

TSS - Sunday Shorts

A selection of shorter reviews for your enjoyment -

The Warrior-Prophet by R. Scott Bakker - The Prince of Nothing series, book 2
published 2005
607 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

In The Warrior Prophet, the second volume of the Prince of Nothing trilogy, the thrilling story of the powerful logical-monk Anasûrimbor Kellhus and the apocalyptic Holy War is continued, as readers are invited further into the darkly enchanting, horrifyingly threatening battlescape upon which the war will be decided.

As the crusade plunges violently southward, struggling with both the enemy and internecine turmoil, the enigmatic Kellhus finds himself ever closer to the elusive goal of meeting his father, gaining further mastery of the ancient knowledge he will need for the encounter. And amid the brewing apocalypse, his swift-rising career has aroused more than curiosity from his enemies. With each step south, the challenges and perils mount, as the enigmas surrounding Kellhus and his quest blur in and out of focus.

My thoughts:

Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy this book nearly as much as I did the first in the series. I'm not sure this was entirely the author's fault - I knew we would have to get to the battle eventually, and battles are not my thing. I knew that this was dark fantasy - I just feel like the darkness really took over in this second book in the trilogy. It almost seemed like the goal was to see just how much bad stuff each character could do in the space of one book. The things that made me like each character seemed lost in the pages and pages of battles and blood. I am still going to read the third book, because I am still interested in what happens, but I'm hoping things take a different turn.

Finished: 1/3/10
Source: Forest Avenue library
Rating: 6/10

The Thousandfold Thought by R. Scott Bakker - The Prince of Nothing series, book 3

published 2007
589 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Only Shimeh remains.

The Padirajah has been slain, and the heathen Fanim have fled in disarray. One final march will bring the Holy War to the City of the Latter Prophet. But so very much has changed...

Using godlike insight and ruthless deceit, Anasûrimbor Kellhus has conquered the hearts of all, including the harlot Esmenet, who now shares his bed. Only the barbarian, Cnaiür, and the sorcerer, Achamian, continue to hazard doubts. But where Cnaiür topples ever deeper into madness and wanton violence, Achamian is compelled to yield the secrets of the Gnosis. Not only must he protect the man who stole his wife, he must teach the most powerful sorcery known to the greatest intellect ever to walk the earth. Behind false smiles, the agents of the No-God watch with malice and trepidation.

The final reckoning is at hand. Faceless assassins will strike in the dead of night. Kings and emperors will fall. The sorcerous Schools will be unleashed. And Anasûrimbor Kellhus will at last confront his father. If Kellhus could subvert an entire holy war within a year, what has Moënghus accomplished in thirty? What is the meaning of his Thousandfold Thought?

My thoughts:

Well, it was better than the second book, but didn't, for me, live up to the promise of the first. I probably should have anticipated that a series based on a gigantic holy war would be problematic for me - page after page of descriptions of various battles just had my eyes glazing over. I will say that the character development was better for me in this than the previous novel, although I find myself extremely disappointed in the glaring lack of a strong female character. Esmanet could have been SO powerful, and ultimately she just ended up having things happen TO her. I really find that frustrating. Also, the book ends incredibly abruptly. I happen to know that there is another trilogy planned - I have the first book in that trilogy, which is what prompted me to read this one in the first place. But if I hadn't know that, I would have been very irritated with the way this book just....stops. I will continue to read at least the next book - I already own it thanks to LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program, and I am at least a little bit interested in where the author goes next. However, if this next one doesn't improve a lot for me, I'll be done with the series.

Finished: 1/9/10
Source: Forest Avenue library
Rating: 7/10

When the Soul Mends by Cindy Woodsmall (Sisters of the Quilt, book 3)
published 2008
352 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

After receiving a desperate and confusing call from her sister, Hannah Lapp reluctantly returns to the Old Order Amish community of her Pennsylvania childhood.

Having fled in disgrace more than two years earlier, she finally has settled into a satisfying role in the Englischer world. She also has found love and a new family with the wealthy Martin Palmer and the children she is helping him raise. But almost immediately after her arrival in Owl’s Perch, the disapproval of those who ostracized her, including her headstrong father, reopens old wounds.

As Hannah is thrown together with former fiancé Paul Waddell to work for her sister Sarah’s mental health, hidden truths surface about events during Hannah’s absence, and she faces an agonizing decision. Will she choose the Englischer world and the man who restored her hope, or will she heed the call to return to the Plain Life–and perhaps to her first love?

My thoughts:

Well, the ending that I DID NOT want to see was how the book ended, which was disappointing. The author had a chance to do some very interesting and thoughtful things regarding forgiveness and the nature of love, and it felt like she took the easy way out. I don't think this series sold me on the genre - it felt a bit like watching a Lifetime movie, which can be enjoyable for a couple of hours, but doesn't ultimately feel very satisfying to me.

Finished: 2/5/10
Source: loan from Kayla
Rating: 5/10

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Review - The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
published 1962
181 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Wicked wolves and a grim governess threaten Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia when Bonnie's parents leave for a sea voyage. The girls can't believe what's happening when Miss Slighcarp dismisses the servants, sells the furniture, and send the girls to a prison-like orphan school. With the help of Simon the gooseboy, the escape the school and set out to free their home.

My thoughts:

When I signed up for the Shelf Discovery Challenge, I specifically picked a list of books that I had not read as a kid. (Yes, for those of you who knew me as a kid, there were in fact age-appropriate books I didn't read. Probably because I was too busy trying to sneak Regency romances home from the library without my mom's knowledge, but that's another story...) The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is the first such "classic" that I never managed to read as a child, and I'm sorry it took me so long.

Wolves is like a checklist of things I like in novels: two plucky, self-sufficient heroines? Check. Parents absent and/or dead? Check. (Who else has noticed that nothing fun ever happens in novels until the parents leave?) Boarding schools? Double check - we all know my penchant for a good boarding school story. Truly evil villians? Triple check, with the trifecta of Grimshaw, Miss Slighcarp, and Mrs. Brisket to reign terror over our dear Bonnie and Sylvia. (Another aside - don't these characters have simply brilliant names? I mean, who WOULDN'T be evil with a name like Miss Slighcarp.)

While the plot is somewhat predictable, most likely because by now it has been ripped off by a bevy of other YA authors, the tension that Aiken conveys throughout the book is palpable. And behind everything, the fear of the wolves - actual wolves, one of which comes crashing through a train window at Sylvia - just adds to the creepy nature of the book.

I found this book to be simply delightful. Apparently, Aiken has written a whole series of Wolves Chronicles, though I don't think they necessarily follow Bonnie and Sylvia - however, I definitely plan to look for more of them.

Finished: 2/4/10
Source: Forest Avenue libary
Rating: 8/10

This book counts toward:

1/6 completed

Friday, February 5, 2010

451 Fridays

Yikes! I feel like the entire month of January just disappeared - where did it go? It's been hard to find time to spend here, but I'm hoping that will change in the next few weeks. Most especially, I am excited to share some fantastic 451 Fridays posts with you! So, without further ado....

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"?

When I started the 451 Challenge, I invited all the participants to create a 451 Fridays post to share, and I'm thrilled that several of them took me up on the offer! Today, I'm happy to welcome Rachel to 451 Fridays. Rachel blogs at Jacobs Beloved, and shares book reviews, recipes, and lots of other fun things. She also has two adorable little girls - really, aren't they cute! Welcome, Rachel!

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

Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

This book takes a feminist look at the classic story of King Arthur by telling it purely through the eyes of the females in Arthur's life. While I don't consider myself a feminist, I am a huge fan of understanding the stories I grew up with from the female's point of view. This book is also a great representation of all of Bradley's works and an excellent representation of the fantasy genre.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

As a Christian, any novel that retells stories of the Bible has definite appeal to me. This novel not only retells the dramatic story of Jacob and his four wives, but also sheds light on the customs and traditions of the culture, and all through the eyes of Jacob's only daughter Dinah. While another title that could be considered a feminist work, even my husband loved it.

Life of Pi by Pi Patel

I admit I avoided this book like the plague when it first hit the Bestseller's Lists merely as a matter of principle. Years later when my husband read it and would not stop pestering me about it, even going so far as to read passages out loud to me against my will, I finally gave in and read it. After reading it, I couldn't remember why I originally was so against reading it! Written like an autobiography, I still find the story hard to believe as only a work of fiction. As an unparalleled story of survival told through the framework of religion and philosophy, Pi Patel's book is worth remembering.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

I chose this work because the plot takes place in Louisiana, where I am from. The author is also from there, and unfortunately he committed suicide before he ever saw its publication. It has since won a Pulitzer Prize. The main character of the story possesses an originality that can be a bit much for some to stomach, but whether one hates it or loves it, the book is unforgettable.

Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

I had to consult my Goodreads list of books to pick a fifth title, and then from a list of hundreds! While it may not be the best idea to pick a book from a series, I felt I had to put this in since I love, love, LOVE the Kushiel's Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey, even with some of its very "adult" themes. The beginning title of the series marks the beginning of Phedre's life, a girl marked by her god to experience pain and pleasure simultaneously.The thoroughness of character development and world-building in this series I find intensely fascinating and rather addicting.

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

Though it is hard to narrow my choices down to just one, I think I would choose to become The Red Tent. In a world without books, I think it would be important to remember the culture of the Holy Book of the most wide-spread religion in the world, Christianity. The book explores all the female aspects of that culture, from being a daughter, a sister, a mother, a lover, to a wife, as well as how the Hebrew people began as one family. Dinah is neither great heroine nor remarkably memorable, but her story is replete with love and loss that would be both familiar and appreciated by any woman of modern times.

Do you have any favorite quotes from that book, so we know why you love it so much?

"We have been lost to each other for so long.
My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust.
This is not your fault, or mine. The chain connecting mother to daughter was broken and the word passed to the keeping of men, who had no way of knowing. That is why I became a footnote, my story a brief detour between the well-known history of my father, Jacob, and the celebrated chronicle of Joseph, my brother. On those rare occasions when I was remembered, it was as a victim."

"And now you come to me - women with hands and feet as soft as a queen's, with more cooking pots than you need, so safe in childbed and so free with your tongues. You come hungry for the story that was lost. You crave words to fill the great silence that swallowed me, and my mothers, and my grandmothers before them.
I wish I had more to tell of my grandmothers. It is terrible how much has been forgotten, which is why, I suppose, remembering seems a holy thing.
I am so grateful that you have come. I will pour out everything inside me so you may leave this table satisfied and fortified. Blessings on your eyes. Blessings on your children. Blessings on the ground beneath you. My heart is a ladle of sweet water, brimming over.

"Why had no one told me that my body would become a battlefield, a sacrifice, a test? Why did I not know that birth is the pinnacle where women discover the courage to become mothers? But of course, there is no way to tell this or to hear it. Until you are a woman on the bricks, you have no idea how death stands in the corner, ready to play his part."

"Just as there is no warning for childbirth, there is no preparation for the sight of the first child. I studied his face, fingers, the folds in his boneless little legs, the whorls of his ears, the tiny nipples on his chest. I held my breath as he sighed, laughed when he yarned, wondered at his grasp on my thumb. I could not get my fill of looking.
"There should be a song for women to sing at this moment, or a prayer to recite. But perhaps there is none because there are no words strong enough to name that moment. Like every mother since the first mother, I was overcome and bereft, exalted and ravaged. I have crossed over from girlhood. I beheld myself as an infant in my mother's arms, and caught a glimpse of my own death. I wept, without knowing whether I rejoiced or mourned. My mothers and theirs mothers were with me as I held my baby."

Rachel, 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'd like to join to fun, let me know!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Introducing.....Talking The Wire

I'm so excited to introduce a new, weekly feature that I will be participating in with two, fun ladies -
Talking the Wire, with Amy from My Friend Amy, Nicole from Linus's Blanket, and me!

I'm sure many of you remember last year when Amy and I had weekly discussions about Supernatural. We had a lot of fun, but after our break for BBAW we were never quite able to get back into the swing. So when Amy and Nicole asked if I would be interested in joining them for this roundtable discussion, I jumped at the chance.

We will be watching and discussing The Wire, a show that premiered on HBO in 2002. It is a hard show to describe - here's how Wikipedia explains it:

"The Wire is an American television drama series set and produced in Baltimore, Maryland. Created, produced, and primarily written by author and former police reporter David Simon, the series was broadcast by the premium cable network HBO in the United States. The Wire premiered on June 2, 2002 (see 2002 in television) and ended on March 9, 2008. The five seasons comprise 60 episodes.

Each season of The Wire focuses on a different facet of the city of Baltimore. They are, in order: the illegal drug trade, the port system, the city government and bureaucracy, the school system, and the print news media. The large cast consists mainly of character actors who are little known for their other roles. Simon has said that despite its presentation as a crime drama, the show is 'really about the American city, and about how we live together. It's about how institutions have an effect on individuals, and how whether you're a cop, a longshoreman, a drug dealer, a politician, a judge or a lawyer, you are ultimately compromised and must contend with whatever institution you've committed to.'

Despite never seeing large commercial success or winning any major television awards, The Wire has frequently been described by critics as the greatest television series of all time.The show is recognized for its realistic portrayal of urban life, literary ambitions, and uncommonly deep exploration of sociopolitical themes."

We plan to start discussing episodes next week - this week, we've each answered a few introductory questions about why we are interested in this show in particular. Enjoy!

Watching The Wire

An Introduction

How did you first hear about The Wire?

Nicole: I don't really know. The Wire was one of those shows that over time just seeped into my consciousness. Everyone was always talking about how good it was and how realistic, but I am pretty sure that I might have been in the middle of watching Oz on demand and that was all of the gritty realism that I could take at the time. The Wire was also on on that time when it was impossible to hear anything bad about HBO programming. They literally could do no wrong- even though I am still mad that they canceled Carnivale before I could figure out exactly what was going on.

Amy: Well, I think I probably read about it on the TV sites. I used to read TV blogs and TV Guide Online everyday before books marched in and took over my whole life. I don't have HBO so I couldn't watch it. But unlike any other media art form, I almost always trust television critics. They really know their stuff so if they liked the Wire, I figured it was at least worth my time.

Elizabeth: I was watching the fantastic show Six Feet Under on HBO when The Wire premiered, so I knew about it right from the start. (And Nicole - I hear you about Carnivale - my husband and I still have dreams that some other station will pick that series up and at least give it an ending!)

Were you interested in watching it right away? If you were what stopped you? You do realize this show is no longer on the air, don't you?

Nicole: I was watching Oz all of the tine and didn't have any room for The Wire. But I also think that I may have tried to watch a few episode in the middle of the series and couldn't get into, and just thought it was best to not join in watching in the middle.

Amy: I've never had HBO so I couldn't watch it when it was on. I've been interested in watching it for a long time though. If you tell me it's well written, I'll probably be interested.

Elizabeth - I initially dismissed it as just another "cop show" - I knew that if it was made by HBO it would probably be good, but it wasn't until I started hearing raves about it that I actually decided to watch it at some point in the future.

What have you heard about the show?

Amy: Just that it's incredible, very dark and gritty.

Nicole: I have heard the same thing as Amy. It's supposed to be super realistic.

Elizabeth - gritty and realistic, and apparently "the best show ever on television".

What are your expectations on the show? Is there anything in particular you are looking forward to or dreading?

Amy: I'm interested in how I handle the darker side of it, if I'll be appreciate the art through it.

Nicole: I am expecting to watch a good show. I read The Turnaround by George Pelecanos and I really enjoyed reading it so I am very curious to see his work on the small screen. This was one of those shows that was discussed around the "water cooler", so I am hoping that Amy, Elizabeth and I will be able to have those moments as well.

Elizabeth - I've seen SO much praise for The Wire that I have incredibly high expectations. I almost worry going into it that there is no way it can live up to the hype surrounding it. I'll be interested to see if I can get over the "cop show" aspects, because I don't normally find those all that interesting.

Stay tuned next week as we give our first impressions on the show! And if you'd like, watch along with us - we'd love to hear your thoughts as well!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My Month in Movies

“When I was your age, television was called books.” ~ The Princess Bride

Here's what made it off my Netflix queue into my DVD player this month:

District 9 (2009) - I don't know why I watch movies like this. They just give me nightmares. For a movie like this, District 9 was pretty good - especially for a low-budget, indie. It has lots of interesting things to say about race and violence, and clearly sets up for a sequel, which will probably be hugely successful. I just need to stop watching movies that will give me nightmares.

Terminator: Salvation
(2009) - Wow, what a disappointment. This movie had so many things that should have made it good, but it really wasn't. The biggest disappointment, to me, was Christian Bale - he basically just did Batman again, which was not appropriate at all for John Connor. There were parts that could have been very good, but it was just executed poorly. Definitely a disappointment.

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (2009) - Huh. I'm usually entertained by Jeremy Piven as the affably sleezy character he plays so well, but in this particular movie it just didn't work for me.

Funny People (2009) - This movie mostly told me that funny people are really sad people - very, very sad. It's about 30 minutes too long, and the highlight of the movie is a very funny Eric Bana. Don't think this movie is a side-splitter - it's very much a serious, dark look at the life of a comedian.

Jennifer's Body
(2009) - I actually DIDN'T hate this as much as apparently everyone else in the world. I thought it was quite funny in places, and enjoyed watching the boys get slashed for a change. I mean, come on - it's a vampire movie. It's supposed to be over-the-top and campy, and I didn't take it seriously, so it was kinda fun.

Julie and Julia
(2009) - Oh, how I love Meryl Streep. I enjoyed the Julia Child parts more than the Julie Powell parts, but as a whole this was a fun movie. Kinda makes me want to try out some French cooking.....feel very sorry for my husband! =)