Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation

Published:  2010 by Thomas Dunne Books
Source:  Borrowed from the library

  I love reading travel narratives, because I until I win the lottery (ha!) this is the only way I can experience most of the places I want to visit (also, I'm a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to certain places, but I digress). 
  Martin Fletcher decided to take two weeks to walk down Israel's Mediterranean coastline (110 miles), from the border with Lebanon to the Gaza Strip. Fletcher is a foreign correspondent for NBC News based in Israel, so he is not a traditional tourist in this country; but he wanted to take the time to see this part of the country at a leisurely pace.  Throughout his journey, he manages to uncover some interesting stories about Israel and Israelis - Arab and Jew.
  The politics of the region cannot be avoided in what he writes - Fletcher says "Here, history is not merely something you read about; it's ever present." - but it is not the main focus.  Even though these stories aren't likely ones that could be from anywhere else in the world, for me they were fascinating even without the backdrop against which they are told, and they provided perspectives on life in Israel that we never see on the news.  For example:
  • An Arab Israeli whose family's home was taken in the 1948 War of Independence converts to Judaism and enlists in the Israeli army, rising to the rank of colonel and who bears no grudge toward the man who currently occupies his family's land.
  • The Holocaust was considered a taboo subject in Israel until testimony in Adolf Eichmann's trial in 1961. ("The trial was the therapy that survivors had been denied.")
  • The daughter of a Holocaust survivor who lost her family to a terrorist attack in their home and yet does not hate ("... from the beginning I decided that what happened to me won't make me anti-Arab or racist.  I wasn't one before.  We must relate to people through what and who they are, not through race.")
  Perhaps it takes a journalist to write this kind of balanced story about a region that is so divided.  But as a traveller, Martin Fletcher provides us with portraits of people - people who go about their everyday lives just like you and me, but under very different circumstances.  Israel is on my list of scaredy-cat places, but after reading this book, it is a country I'd really love to visit one day.

Highly recommended!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ten Favorite Books of 2010

 Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's question is to list your top 10 favorite books of 2010.

  I read a lot of good books this year, so I had to really think about my favorites.  But here they are, in no particular order:
  1. Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay
  2. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
  3. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
  4. Room by Emma Donoghue
  5. A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse
  Have you read any of these books?  What were your thoughts on them?  What were your favorites of 2010?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

It's Monday -- What are you Reading?

  It's Monday - What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.

  This week I finished the following books:
  Books in progress:
  I hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas.  Mine was very quiet; although I love celebrating the holiday with my nieces and nephew every few years it's nice to be able to stay home and just relax.  This week at work I'll be busy co-ordinating our annual physical inventory, so things are going to be a bit crazy in my world.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Secret Santa Meets the Grinch


 I wasn't sure if I was going to write a post about this, but I thought it might turn my lemon into someone else's lemonade so here goes.  (and I know I'm going to sound petty and selfish -- I do apologize)

  I signed up for a Secret Santa gift exchange on The Neverending Shelf's blog.  I received the name of another blogger with a list of books they had on their wish list and - though the books weren't familiar to me at all - I searched around to find a few on the list and had them sent.  Not a huge amount of time spent in the process, but enough (I felt) to make sure that I was choosing something this person would like.

  So a few days ago, my Secret Santa package arrived in the mail, and I was very excited to open it and see what treasures awaited (don't we all turn back into children at Christmas?).  Alas, my husband had a good laugh at my face when I had my first look, because the books weren't what I was expecting at all:

I certainly appreciate the effort that my Secret Santa made to package and send these books to me, and I don't remember exactly what I put on my wish list; but these don't even come close to anything that I would have chosen.  I did page through each of them to get a feel for the stories and I know that I am not going to ever read any of them.

I know -- Bah Humbug indeed.  And I feel rotten because of it.  But I do want to see these books go to someone who are genuinely interested in reading them, so if you would like any of these books please comment below and I will gladly send them to you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Crossing the Heart of Africa by Julian Smith

  Men (and women too, I suppose) will sometimes do strange things for love - serenade under the beloved's window, rent a highway billboard to publicly declare one's affection - but none I think have been so extreme as Ewart Grogan and Julian Smith.  Smith's travel narrative/memoir Crossing the Heart of Africa details the lengths he and Grogan went to prove themselves to the ones they loved.
   Ewart Grogan met Gertrude Watt, the sister of a school friend, and they instantly fell in love and wanted to be married.  Her stepfather, however disapproved of Grogan as a suitable (i.e. not wealthy) match for Gertrude and was reluctant to give his blessing until Grogan made an interesting proposal:  If he were to make the first crossing of Africa from south to north, then would he be deemed worthy of Gertrude's hand?  The stepfather accepted the proposal, and Grogan set off.
   Julian Smith was intrigued by Grogan's adventure and, three months before his wedding day, embarks on re-tracing Grogan's route.  His book follows his odyssey through Africa, while also describing Grogan's.  And while Grogan was trying to prove his love for Gertrude, I think Smith was also trying to prove something -- that he was ready to be married and partner with someone for life.
   Each man's journey was of course different, given that they were 100 years apart.  Grogan had an entourage of men carrying his gear, preparing his meals, Smith travelled alone.  Grogan's journey was almost entirely on foot, while Smith used planes, buses, automobiles, and motorcycles to get around.  There was a purpose to Grogan's expedition (outside of winning Gertrude's hand) - to map his route for the British government; whereas Smith was able to travel more like a tourist and visit places along the way (granted, there were probably not may attractions to see in Grogan's day anyway).  And Grogan purposely kept out of contact with the outside world, especially Gertrude, until his journey was a success; while Smith was able to periodically check in with his fiancee by e-mail and the occasional phone call.
   There were similarities too, mostly of the inconvenient kind.  Instability in regions along the route caused problems for both men.  In Smith's case, he wanted to trace Grogan's route into Congo, despite the tremendous risk, but after seeing one too many warnings:

That's it.  No to the Congo - it's just not worth it.  Years ago I probably would have tried.  The longer I follow Grogan's trail, though, the more I can see how different our motivations are.  He came to prove himself to Gertrude's stepfather and to make his mark in the world, and was willing to risk his life to do it.
  I'm here to prove something, too, but not to Laura's father.  To myself.  Maybe to Laura, too.  What it is, I'm not exactly sure.  I do know that nothing else matters if I don't get home safe.

Spoken like someone who has his priorities straight.

  The accounts of both men's adventures are truly interesting, if at times a bit disturbing (what Grogan's team was reduced to eating .....) and provide a picture of Africa that is not always pretty (though descriptions of some of the scenery were beautiful).  But I think that this book is ultimately two love stories, and how even Africa was not big enough to destroy them. 

(book received from the publisher, Harper Perennial)

Other reviews:  Leeswammes     Sophisticated Dorkiness

Monday, December 13, 2010

It's Monday -- What are you Reading?

  It's Monday - What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.

  This week I finished one book:  Crossing the Heart of Africa by Julian Smith, which I will be reviewing later this week.

  Books in Progress:
  • The Best European Fiction 2010 edited by Aleksandar Hemon (I'm dipping in and out of it as I have time, some of the stories so far are really good, others just aren't my cup of tea)
  • War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  I am quite impressed with my progress so far with War & Peace.  I am on page 595 and so far am ahead of my 160 page/week pace.  Unlike other long classics I've attempted recently (Ulysses and Proust's In Search of Lost Time), this novel is easier to follow and one that I can read pretty much anywhere.  And it is very enjoyable.

  This week I also prepared my reading lists for three challenges in 2011:  What's in a Name Challenge 4, Back to the Classics Challenge, and the TBR Pile Challenge.  With only one exception, which I can pick up at the library, these books will be from my to-read shelves.  There are a few more challenges that I might join, but I need to give it some more thought.

  What are you reading this week?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The 2011 TBR Pile Challenge

  I think the book blogging challenge gods are really trying to help me deal with my overwhelming TBR shelves (and save my husband from the heart palpitations he gets everytime he sees how many books are on them).

  Adam at Roof Beam Reader has created a challenge for 2011 that seems catered exclusively to me:  a TBR Pile Challenge.  The goal of this challenge is to read at least 12 books from your to-read pile(s) that have been there for at least a year and that have a publication date prior to January 1, 2010. 
  So here's my list:
  My two alternate books are:
  This should free up some space on the shelves for some new books (but don't tell my husband!)

  What do you think of my list?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Back to the Classics Challenge 2011

  The second challenge I am committing to in 2011 is the Back to the Classics Challenge, hosted by Sarah Reads Too Much (don't we all?).  This is a more challenging challenge, as it has eight categories, but again I am going to wade through the overflowing to-read shelves to find the right books:

1,  A Banned Book:  The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle Completed!

2.  A Book with a Wartime Setting (can be any war): A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous  Completed!

3.  A Pulitzer Prize (Fiction) Winner or Runner Up: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

4.  A Children's/Young Adult Classic:  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (I am ashamed to admit I have never read this)

5.  19th Century Classic:  Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

6.  20th Century Classic: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (this will be a re-read but I haven't read it in years and I have always meant to go back to it)

7.  A Book you think should be considered a 21st Century Classic:  The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (another re-read)

8.  Re-Read a book from your High School/College Classes:  The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

What do you think of my choices?

What's in a Name Challenge 4

 When I started blogging last year I noticed a lot of reading challenges in which I wanted to participate.  I started out with the best of intentions, but sadly my ambition petered out and I didn't complete any of them.  One of my problems, I think, was that I did not have a plan of action; that is, I should have selected the books ahead of time so that I had a focus. 

  The What's in a Name Challenge, hosted by Beth Fish Reads, is one of the challenges I failed at in 2010, but in 2011 I am going to attempt it again.  And because I have an absurd amount of books on my to-read shelf, I am making (almost) all of my selections for this challenge from them.

  The challenge is fairly straightforward:  between January 1 and December 31, 2011, read one book in each of the following categories:

1.A book with a number in the title: Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris  Completed!

2.A book with jewelry or a gem in the title   Suggestions please?  I have nothing (NOTHING) on my shelf that meets this requirement  Summer at Tiffany -- Completed!

3.A book with a size in the title:  The Whole Five Feet by Christopher R. Beha  Completed!

4.A book with evil in the title:  The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston

5.A book with a life stage in the title:  Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden  Completed!

6.A book with travel or movement in the title: Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

So aside from the jewelry/gem title, I'm set to go! 

Have you read any of these books?  Do you have other recommendations for any of these categories?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mr.Peanut by Adam Ross

  Can someone please explain this book to me?

  This novel starts out as a simple murder mystery -- a woman is dead and her husband is the prime suspect.  But it doesn't stay that way.  In the investigation of the murder, Mr.Peanut  becomes - to me anyway - an extremely negative portrayal of marriage; not only of Alice and David Pepin (the dead woman and her husband) but also of the police investigators, including Dr. Sam Sheppard, who was accused of the brutal murder of his own wife (the genesis of the TV show and movie The Fugitive).

  I've heard many positive things about this novel and so stuck with it but it is a very negative story with no likeable characters and to me the murder mystery was not solved by the end of the book.  

  So if anyone has insights that I may have missed -- please share!

Monday, December 6, 2010

It's Monday -- What are you Reading?

  It's Monday - What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.

  This week I finished the following books:
 Books in progress:
 My life will sort of return back to normal this week.  We got back from Toronto yesterday and had a fabulous time at my nieces' first birthday party (and I got lots of cuddles).  My parents are heading home tomorrow and I'm (sadly) returning to work tomorrow but it will be nice to get back into the regular routine.

  What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December's Reading List

  Oh sure, I'm probably going to read something else in the month as well, but I am giving this one the bulk of my attention in December. 

  I'm also going to spend some time planning my 2011 reading year.  There are a few challenges I plan on participating in and I am going to review my stupidly huge to-read shelves for books to meet them.  As soon as I have those figured out I will post my commitments to the challenges.

  Due to work and family commitments I won't be able to attend my book groups this month but their selections for December are  Half Broke Horses and The Man Who Loved Books Too Much.  I have them both on my shelf so I hope to read them sometime.

  I have a nice quiet Christmas planned -- no travelling this year -- so I hope to curl up on the couch and read the holiday away.

  I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and that 2011 brings us a lot more great books to read!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday

  Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's question is to list the top 10 characters with whom you would want to be BFF's.

    1. Lisbeth Salander (from Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy):  She's not a very friendly person, but I'd totally want her to be on my side rather than be the enemy.  And I wouldn't mind learning a few things from her ...
    2. Rebecca Brandon (nee Bloomwood) (from Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series):  Yeah, she's flaky, and downright annoying at times, but I do think she'd be a lot of fun to hang around with; and it goes without saying that she would be a wonderful shopping companion.
    3. Renee and Paloma (from Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog):  We could sit and talk for hours about anything and everything.
    4. Nancy Drew:  I wanted to be Nancy Drew when I was a kid, and I think I still do.
    5. The gang in the 100 Acre Wood:  because I don't think you could ever be sad with that group (yep, even Eeyore makes me smile)

Monday, November 29, 2010

And the Blogiversary gift goes to ....

Bev (My Reader's Block)

She will be receiving  a copy of The Haunted Tea-Cosy by Edward Gorey.

Congratulations and thank you again to all of you who take the time to read and comment!

It's Monday -- What are You Reading?

  It's Monday - What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.

  This week I only finished one book:  Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King.  I'm hoping to make it to my non-fiction book group to discuss it.

   Books in progress:
   I did some War & Peace math and determined that to finish it in time for our discussion of it in January, I will need to read about 160 pages a week.  Not entirely unreasonable, but for me it is not the type of novel I can just dip in and out of -- I need a block of time to properly concentrate on it.  Plus even in paperback it is heavy and not one that can be carried around easily.

   My parents are still visiting after a quiet Thanksgiving with them and my in-laws.  On Thursday we are all heading up to Toronto to celebrate the first birthday of my twin nieces which will be a lot of fun. 

   What are you reading this week?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons

  Jack and Sadie Rosenblum were lucky.  They were able to flee Germany to England at the beginning of World War II with little else but their travel documents, their young daughter Elizabeth, and their Jewish traditions.   Upon arrival in England, they were given a brochure on how to "act" English, a document that Jack takes to heart.  As he settles into life in London he adds his own thoughts on what makes a true Englishman; and as he becomes a successful businessman he aims to accomplish the last item on his list, what he believes will make him accepted as an Englishman:  become a member of a golf club.
  Alas, Jack is not accepted for membership at any golf club, despite being nominated by other members and/or offering free product from his carpet manufacturing firm.  Disappointed but not deterred, Jack takes a drive into the English countryside, sees a piece of land, and decides to purchase it and build his own golf course. 
  While Jack spends virtually all of his time on this project, the pinnacle of his English dream, his wife Sadie struggles with the memories of life in Germany and the fate of  family members left behind.  Though never overtly stated, we all know what happened and Sadie seems wracked with guilt for leaving and living. 
  I have to admit that I almost gave up on this novel once the Rosenblums moved to the country because I didn't think that the construction of golf course would be all that interesting.  But really, that was only the genesis of Jack's quest to become an Englishman, and his and Sadie's experiences  - with a quirky group of town residents - were funny, sad, and quite entertaining.  For a storyline that I was not expecting, I enjoyed this novel very much.

Check out these other reviews:

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's Monday -- What are You Reading?

  It's Monday - What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.

  Books finished this week:

  Books in Progress:
  Because of Thanksgiving, this is a short work week (though I do have to go to work on Friday -- boo), but with the holiday and my parents arriving on Tuesday for a visit, it's going to be a busy one nonetheless.  I hope to find some quiet reading time.  Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it.... don't eat too much!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It's my Blogiversary and you could get the gift!

    When I started my blog one year ago, I wasn't really sure what I was doing -- I knew I wanted to write about the books I'm reading, but other than that I didn't have much of a plan.  I still don't have a plan, and I don't have nearly enough time to spend on my blog as I'd like, but it has been a great deal of fun.

     That said, even if I was having fun with it I probably would have stopped long ago if I didn't receive any comments on my posts.  I know that there are readers who don't comment (and that's ok too), but it's a great stroke to the ego when you receive positive feedback.  So for all of you that have taken the time to comment on a post, and to follow my ramblings, I thank you.

     So to celebrate, I would like to provide someone with an early Christmas/Hannukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter Soltice gift.  Comment on this post with the name of a book you have on your holiday wish list, include an e-mail address, and on Sunday, November 28, I will randomly select a commenter and will purchase and send that book to you.  And because I'm a worldly kind of gal and know of several followers outside the US, I will send internationally (though if it's a local book you're looking for, guidance to a reliable source for it is appreciated!)

    (ahem, I do reserve the right, though, to purchase a copy of said book for myself as well if it sounds good ...)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

An observation

I sort of reorganized my bookshelves last night.  I thought it would be interesting to count how many books were on the to-read pile. 

(not including library books or the 15 or so books waiting on my nook)

I say this partly in jest, but would the publishers please pretty please not publish any interesting books until I can catch up on what I already have?  Thanks so much.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Do you know about Friday Reads?

   Every Friday, a phenomenon starts on Twitter -- #fridayreads -- where readers tweet what they are reading.  The craze has expanded through cyberspace; Friday Reads now has its own Facebook page and an official blog partner -- The Book Lady's Blog -- where anyone anywhere can announce what they are reading.

  What's in it for me, you say?  Well, there's prizes!  As the number of Friday Reads participants grows, so do the prize packages.  This week the prize is a Kobo e-reader, and if the number of participants reaches 5000, Friday Reads' creator, The Book Maven will donate $250 to First Book.  So get on your social media of choice and let everyone know your Friday Reads!

Book Beginnings on Friday

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme created by Becky at Page Turners, and is now hosted by Katy at A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading. If you like, share with everyone why you do, or do not, like the sentence.

My beginning this week comes from Purge, by Sofi Oksanen:

Aliide Truu stared at the fly, and the fly stared back.

  To me, this sentence does not have a lot of bearing on the storyline of the novel, but it does foreshadow the large presence of flies and other insects in the narrative (really -- was Estonia that overrun by bugs?). 

  I'm about halfway through the novel and it's a good story, but for anyone interested in reading it I don't recommend it while eating .... the bugs seem to be most prevalent in the kitchen.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Forgotten Garden

   Cassandra's grandmother, Nell, has passed away and left everything to her; not only her home and antique stall in Brisbane, but also a cottage on the English coast.  Why would Nell have a home in England?, thinks Cassandra; and thus the plot for Kate Morton's novel, The Forgotten Garden, is formed.

    The story is told primarily from the perspective of three women in three time periods -- Cassandra in 2005, Nell in 1975-76, and Eliza Makepeace in 1900-1913.  It is apparent that Eliza's narrative is linked to Cassandra's and Nell's in some way, but how?  Ms Morton does a fantastic job of linking the narratives so the reader is able to put the pieces of the puzzle together themselves - not all at once, just gradually enough that you feel you must keep reading to find out more information. 

   The Forgotten Garden is not a short book - my paperback edition is 549 pages - but I found it quick and easy to read and extremely enjoyable.  It's a mystery, a love story, a tragedy, and in many ways a fairy tale; it's a great novel to escape the present day, even if only for a little while.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Celebrity Chekhov by Ben Greenman


  In the last year or so, several classic works of literature have been the subject of mashups with a science-fiction-like element -- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and Android Karenina, for example.  Celebrity Chekhov:  Stories by Anton Chekhov, by Ben Greenman, is also a mashup, but of a different sort.  Greenman takes eighteen of  Chekhov's short stories and inserts celebrities (ranging from Paris Hilton to David Letterman to Eminem) into them.
  I have to admit that I had not read any of Chekhov's short stories (yes I am ashamed), so I read these adaptations with an open mind.  Some of the stories were quite entertaining:
  • "A Transgression" - David Letterman finds an abandoned infant on his doorstep and must admit his infidelity to his wife
  • "Joy" - Kim Kardashian is overjoyed at being named online and as a result being now known throughout the world
Other stories, such as The Darling (featuring Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, Keith Urban, and - Brad Pitt?), did not make a lot of sense to me.

  Afterwards, I read a few of the Chekhov stories upon which these selections were based and was quite impressed with how Greenman was able to successfully weave the celebrities into the narrative (especially in "A Trangression", mentioned above).  As a result, I am determined to read more of Chekhov's work; which I assume was the overall intent of this collection to begin with. 

(received for review from the publisher, Harper Collins, via NetGalley)

Monday, November 15, 2010

It's Monday - What are You Reading?

  It's Monday - What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.

  This week I finished the following books:
  Books in Progress:

  Also -- ta da -- I will be starting War & Peace sometime this week.  I've started on the introduction but haven't gotten to page one of the novel yet.  I'm actually looking forward to it -- there was a great blog post last week on The Blue Bookcase with tips on reading this novel and that gave me a boost.

  This week is reading group week -- I have meetings on Monday & Wednesday -- and I have to start thinking about cleaning my house in preparation for Thanksgiving next week (we are having dinner at our house and my parents will be visiting from Winnipeg) so I will likely be a busy beaver with hopefully a few minutes to spare for reading.  Oh, and my Blogiversary is next Sunday, so I'm also planning something for that. 

  What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I Think I've Created a Reader! (yay!)

 I don't have children of my own, but I have 4 nieces and a nephew whom I adore and frankly spoil rotten (being the auntie is so much more fun in my opinion).  Since they've been born, I've always made a point to give them books, and since I don't live near them, when I visit I always make a point (or they ask me) to read them stories.  One of my favorite memories with my oldest niece, Madyson, was when she was three and I was reading her a Dora the Explorer story for the umpteenth time and she said "You're a very good reader auntie". *sniff*

  Well, Mady is now nine years old and she can read on her own, and she does it avidly.  She's a chip off ol' Auntie's block - reading in bed long into the night, looking forward to trips to the library and to bookstores (when they were coming to visit me a few summers ago she asked her mom if she thought Auntie Sue might want to go to the bookstore with her - *sniff*).  And now that she has an e-mail account through school (yeah, she's NINE) we can talk about what she's reading and what I read when I was her age;  she's reading a Judy Blume book right now - Double Fudge - that I don't remember ever seeing (I had Superfudge?)

   Mady is a lovely, smart young girl (I'm biased, I know) and she has a wide range of interests and activities other than reading; but it warms my heart to be able to share this with her and feel that I may have had a little part of generating her love of reading.

Monday, November 8, 2010

It's Monday -- What are you Reading?

  It's Monday - What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.

  This week I finished the following books:
 (I was having a rough week, and reading seemed to be my only solace; of course the subject matter of most of these titles were a little on the bleak side, so I don't know how much help it was....)

   Books in Progress:
  Hopefully this week will be better than the last -- on Saturday I will be volunteering at my library book sale (yeah, I know, fox in charge of the hen-house) so if I need to feel better I can just spend a little money for a lot of new (to me) books.

  What are you reading this week?

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Blogger Recommended - Tulip Fever

   Welcome to A Blogger Recommended, a series where I will periodically write about a book I've read based on the review/post of another blogger.

    Today's recommendation  is Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach and I learned about this book on leeswammes' blog.

    The novel is set in 17th Century Amsterdam and is about Sophia, the young wife of an older, prosperous merchant.  The marriage is rather happy, although Sophia has not yet borne any children, and Cornelis - her husband - has decided to immortalize their union by having their portrait painted.  The painter - Jan van Loos - arrives; he and Sophia are initially hostile to each other, but of course that only masked their mutual passion.

     Sophia realizes what she is missing in her life (or what she thinks she is missing) and wants to be with Jan, but she also does not want to hurt her husband.  The lovers - with the cooperation of Sophia's maid, Maria - concoct a plot that not only touches on the tulip fever of the title (immense speculation on tulip bulbs that caused prices to rise dramatically) but which also reminded me a little bit of the first season of Glee.

    As leeswammes mentioned in her review, I too would have liked to read more detail about the Tulip Fever that gripped Amsterdam and the rest of Holland.  I would have expected it to have a larger presence in the novel given the title and I was left unsatisfied with how this part of history was described (*sigh* I guess I'll have to find some more books about the subject to read).  Having said that, though, I've always enjoyed novels that represent "average" life in a past era and this was no exception; the descriptions of the markets and taverns of Amsterdam were very enticing and make me want to visit the city even more to see if I would be able to experience at least a sense of what it was like at that time. 

   Thank you, leeswammes, for introducing me to this novel!

Book Beginnings on Friday


  Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme created by Becky at Page Turners, and is now hosted by Katy at A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading. If you like, share with everyone why you do, or do not, like the sentence.

  This week's beginning comes from The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson, winner of this year's Man Booker Prize:

He should have seen it coming.

  This sentence makes me want to read further -- what happened?  I'm not that far into the novel yet, so I still have no idea what it is that he should have seen coming.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November's Reading List

  It's hard to believe it is already November -- the weather is cooling off, the days are getting shorter, and the holidays are fast approaching, but there is always plenty of reading to be done!

  My book club reads for this month are:
 Blogger Recommendations this month are:
  I am also going to get started on War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, which is my Classics group's January book for discussion.  When I do begin I will post my progress.

  Aside from these books I will certainly work through my TBR piles (that thing I mentioned last month about not buying books?  yeah, didn't happen).  I have to spend some time organizing them so I can be reminded of what is there, but I'd really much rather spend the time reading .....

  Oh, and later this month will be my one year blogiversary!  I'm thinking of offering some sort of giveaway, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday -- Books that made me cry

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's question is to list your top 10 books that made you cry:

   1.  Terry Fox's autobiography.  Terry Fox was an amazing Canadian who attempted to run across Canada on one good leg and one prosthetic one to raise money for cancer research. I can't remember the title because I read it when I was about 12 (many many years ago) but I distinctly remember crying my eyes out when his cancer returned and he wrote about giving up the run and accepting that he was going to die.  His mother, Betty, was one of the final torchbearers at the Winter Olympics' opening ceremony in Vancouver this year and I cried at that too (yep, I'm a marshmallow)

   2.  The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.  That ending.  I closed the book at the end and just thought for a moment, then the tears started.

   3.  Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.  OK, I did see the musical first and bawled through most of the second act, so when I cried while reading the book it could have been a Pavlovian response (I still can't hear some of the songs without weeping) but the scene where Eponine dies in Marius' arms gets me every time.

   4.  The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.  My response to this one was proof that I could never own a pet.  Too emotionally draining.

   There have been other books that have made me horribly sad:  The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, Room by Emma Donoghue, The Tower the Zoo and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart, but I can't say that I cried upon reading them. 

   What books make you cry?

Monday, November 1, 2010

It's Monday -- What are You Reading?

It's Monday - What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.

This week I finished the following books:
 Books in Progress:
  On Saturday I will be attending a reading of the Best European Fiction as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, so I'm going to try and get through as much of it as I can before then.  It should be an interesting event.

  What are you reading this week?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Book Beginnings on Friday

  Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme created by Becky at Page Turners, and is now hosted by Katy at A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading. If you like, share with everyone why you do, or do not, like the sentence.

  My beginning is from Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones:

I was with her at the first hotel on the Arabian Sea.

  A simple sentence, yet one that creates some questions for the reader:  the identity of "her", why we need to know where the narrator encountered her.  Since it's also told in the first person, it's an indication that the story might be all about perception. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

  One of the things that I love about reading is the ability to go back into history and view events from a different perspective, both in fiction and non-fiction.  An epic novel, both in its length - 985 pages - and its scope - covering about 10 years in the early 20th Century - Fall of Giants is a great story and a fascinating look at the events of the time, especially The First World War.

  The novel is the story of several families from different parts of the world.  The stories do intersect throughout, but they also break off from time to time and we are able to see how historical events - The Great War, but also the Russian Revolution and the movement in Britain for women's suffrage - impact individual people. 

  It seems strange to describe a 985 page book as an easy read, but I really thought it was.  The characters - including some real-life ones such as Lenin, Winston Churchill, and Woodrow Wilson - were all interesting (obviously some more likeable than others) and the history seems to be incredibly accurate.  I did notice a bias toward a particular political view, but to me it did not affect the overall content of the novel.   

  This is the first novel in a proposed "Century" trilogy, and the ground has been laid with specific mention of the names of the children of the main characters in this novel.  I suspect that the second volume will focus on the time around World War II, but that is just a guess; at any rate, I am eagerly awaiting its release. 

  In the meantime, since this was my first Ken Follett novel, I will have to move World Without End and Pillars of the Earth higher up on the to-read list. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's Monday -- What are You Reading?

It's Monday - What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.

This week I only finished one book:  Emma, by Jane Austen.  I didn't really like it, but it was a good book for our classics group discussion; I'm also told that it improves upon re-reading, so maybe one day I will go back to it.

Books in progress:
  • Fall of Giants by Ken Follett.  I'm about 2/3 of the way through and enjoy it very much.  This is the first book of an anticipated trilogy and I already am eagerly awaiting the next one.  Oh, and I really need to read The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End too.
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker.  I'm surprised at how much I'm enjoying this, as I don't normally go for the creepy, gothic stuff. 
  • At Home:  A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson.  I borrowed this from the library, but it is so full of interesting facts and trivia that I might just need to purchase this at some point. 
  • Best European Fiction 2010 edited by Aleksandar Hemon.  I wish I could read more literature in their original languages, but this anthology provides a broad sample of translated works of which we aren't too familiar in the US
Once I've one or two of these of of my plate I am very eager to start Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones.  I was very lucky to have received a signed copy from a Twitter giveaway (thank you Claire Armitstead and The Guardian!) and there will be a discussion of the book on Twitter with the hashtag #HMDWchat.  The book has a very interesting premise so I am looking forward to reading and discussing it.

What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Blogger Recommended -- Hitler's Canary

  Welcome to the first post in A Blogger Recommended, a series where I will periodically write about a book I've read based on the review/post of another blogger.

  It gives me great pleasure to start with the YA novel Hitler's Canary by Sandi Toksvig, which I discovered through Helen's Book Blog.

  This novel is about Nazi-occupied Denmark in World War II and centers around a young boy named Bamse and his family and friends.  At the beginning of the occupation, the Danes are seen as rather complacent, almost accepting of their fate, but being viewed by the British and other Allies as "Hitler's Canary" - "he has us in a cage and we just sit and sing any tune he wants" - spurs some into resistance action, including Bamse's older brother Orlando.
  Then it becomes evident that Denmark's Jewish population, although small, is going to be targeted just as Hitler and the Nazis have done in the other places they have conquered.  This hits more close to home for Bamse, as his best friend is Jewish and several of his mother's colleagues in the theater are also Jewish.  Although Bamse knew of their difference in faith, it ultimately did not matter to him or to many other Danish people, because they were all Danish.  In a statement to his uncle Johann - a Nazi sympathizer - Bamse asks:

Uncle Johann, if you can't spot them without the yellow star on, then they must just be the same as us.  I mean, otherwise you would know them without the star, wouldn't you?

What immediately struck me about this question was how a child could capture such a simple concept so logically -- without overt symbols, how can we identify anyone as being truly different from anyone else?

 The story then describes the massive effort of many Danish citizens to get the country's Jews to safety by smuggling them to Sweden.  Although a fictional account, the novel is based on stories told to the author by her father, and it is just amazing about the bravery of everyone involved -- young and old, the persecuted and the protected.

  As with any story set in wartime, this novel does not have a completely happy ending -- several instances had me reaching for a tissue.  Nor does it paint all Germans as bad and all Danes as good.  One of the greatest lessons that I think can be taken from this story is that injustice to anyone must not be tolerated:

You must stand up for everyone's right to be who they are - otherwise you may find one day that it is you who is singled out, who is seen as different, and then there will be no one to defend you.

  I was drawn to this book not only because of my interest in World War II/Holocaust literature, but also because I am of Danish heritage and I honestly did not know much about Denmark's role in the war.

  On a personal note, I did also learn something interesting:  Bamse's father spoke about The Order of the Elephant, the highest order of the nobility in Denmark, even though elephants aren't native to Denmark. My grandmother, born in Denmark and recently passed away, collected elephants for most of her life and I never thought to ask her why.  I wonder if this was one tie to keep to her native country.

 Thank you, Helen, for bringing this book to my attention.

Monday, October 18, 2010

It's Monday -- What Are You Reading?

It's Monday - What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.

Books finished:
Books in Progress:

I will be starting a new "series" of posts this week, called A Blogger Recommended, where I will write a post/review about a book that I read based on the post/review of another blogger.  I hope that you check it out ....

What are you reading this week?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Russian Winter - Daphne Kalotay

  Nina Revskaya was once a prima ballerina for the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow.  Her life was relatively comfortable, given that she lived in Stalinist Russia; but after a series of events that cause her to question her own life, she defects to the West.  Now old, frail, and living in Boston, she decides to put her substantial jewelry collection up for auction. 
  Grigori Solodin is a professor of Russian literature, noted for the translation of the poems of a celebrated Russian poet.  Adopted at birth, he has always wondered about his birth parents, and with the recent death of his beloved wife he has unconsciously been searching for some sort of intimate connection.
   Based on these two character summaries, one might automatically jump to conclusions about how their stories unfold, but it is not quite so simple.  Russian Winter is about loneliness, yes, but it is also about passion - for people, for a vocation - and how at times the two must co-exist.  The author does a fine job of mingling these emotions so that one is not always sure what the characters are feeling.  The settings of the novel -- Moscow of the late 1940s/early 1950s and present-day Boston -- also add a cold, lonely atmosphere.
   It's hard to talk about the plot without giving a lot away, but I enjoyed the pace of this novel and even though I thought I knew how it was going to turn out, a few twists came up to surprise me.  I would have liked to read more about how she came to own her jewelry (we only know the story behind a few key pieces) but other than that it was an entertaining book.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On Abandoning Books

  So in a recent post, I mentioned that I had recently abandoned two books in a week and several commenters expressed interest as to why.  Other commenters mentioned how they did not like abandoning books for fear of missing out on a good ending.  I thought it was an interesting idea for a post, so ... here it is.

  I've actually abandoned three books in the last two weeks:  Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, Parrot & Olivier in America by Peter Carey, and The Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst.  I should say that all three of these were borrowed from the local library -- I might have stuck with them longer if I owned them.  
  In the case of Freedom, I gave up after about 20-25 pages because I wasn't feeling anything for any of the characters introduced to that point and there was nothing in the storyline that grabbed me enough to motivate me to read further.  I couldn't get through The Corrections either, so I'm not sure if it's him or me.
  For Parrot & Olivier in America, I made it to about 70 pages but I was getting confused - it seemed as if the narrative was changing from first to third person and I couldn't keep track of where the story was going.

  I only made it through about 50 pages of The Spies of the Balkans, again because the characters to that point and the storyline did not inspire me to read on.
  I don't normally like to give up on a book, especially if I have heard good things about it.  However, I have so many books on my to-read pile that I feel I'm wasting precious reading time on a book I'm not completely interested in.  Sometimes I can go back to these books and read them in their entirety and enjoy them (Atonement by Ian McEwan is one example) -- I guess I just need to have the right time for those types of books.

  Have you read any of my abandoned books?  Do you think I should try them again?  What makes you abandon a book?


Monday, October 11, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday -- Books I'll Never Read

  Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's question is to list your top 10 books that you will never read.

  Warning:  I understand that some of the books I have listed here are very popular and loved by many people.  They just aren't my cup of tea. 

  That said, in no particular order, the books I will never read:
  • The Twilight Series
  • The Hunger Games trilogy
  • Snooki's novel
  • The Secret
  • I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell
  • The Shack
  • The Left Behind Series
  Of course, never is a REALLY long time and sometime down the road I might pick up one of these books (in Snooki's case, though, the temperature in Hell would have to be 33 degrees and falling and pigs would be getting ready for takeoff)

It's Monday - What are you Reading?


  It's Monday - What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.

  This week I finished:
  I abandoned:
  Books in Progress:
  Yesterday I finally got around to booking tickets for a few events at The Chicago Humanities Festival in early November.  The event I'm most looking forward to is a reading of selections from the 2010 Best European Fiction anthology (I've had this on my shelf for several months, so this will give me the motivation to finally read it!).  I also got a ticket for an event called Jane Austen and the Body - a panel discussing bodily references in her novels.  Is anyone in the Chicagoland area going to these or any other Festival events?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Secret Kept - Tatiana de Rosnay


  I cannot tell you how much I loved Sarah's Key.  The story of a young Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied Paris and of the woman who learns her story 60 years later was heart-wrenching and so well-written, it has easily become one of my favorite books. 

  That said, I was very excited to see that the author, Tatiana de Rosnay, released a new novel in the U.S., entitled A Secret Kept, and I picked it up (yeah, I bought it) almost immediately.  This story, too, is told in the past and in the present -- about a man, Antoine, trying to piece together his mother's life and the ramifications of her early death.

  For her fortieth birthday, Antoine takes his sister, Melanie, on a long-weekend getaway to Noirmoutier Island, site of summer vacations with their family during their childhood.  The last time the siblings visited the Island was the summer before their mother unexpectedly died, and the visit brings back many memories for them.  On the way back to Paris, Melanie tells Antoine that during the weekend she remembered something about their mother that she must tell him, but then she loses control of the car and they run off the road.  Antoine manages to escape unscathed, but Melanie is seriously injured. 

  So one would think the rest of the story would be about this secret, right?  Not so much.  Melanie is taken to a hospital in a small French town and cannot remember anything about what she wanted to tell Antoine.  The story then seems to become Antoine's quest to find happiness in his own life -- to get over his divorce, to have a decent relationship with his children, to find love again.  Though interesting in its own way, this is not the story I wanted to read.

  Eventually Melanie remembers what she wanted to tell Antoine and it's -- really no big deal.  It does lead Antoine to question the circumstances surrounding their mother's death, but even that became anti-climactic.

  If I wasn't expecting a different story, this book might have been more enjoyable.  Alas, I had hoped for suspense/tension similar to that in Sarah's Key and I was disappointed.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I won an award!

  What a pleasant surprise this morning to see that I received this One Lovely Blog Award from Judith at leeswammes.  The rules for accepting this award are: 

     1. Accept the award. Post it on your blog with the name of the person who has granted the award and his or her blog link.
     2. Pay it forward to 15 other bloggers that you have newly discovered.
     3. Contact those blog owners and let them know that they’ve been chosen.

  Wow, I'm not sure I can come up with 15 bloggers but here is my list to whom I am paying it forward: 
  Please check out these interesting blogs if you haven't already done so!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse

  The premise of A Novel Bookstore is a book-lover's dream -- two bibliophiles decide to establish a bookstore in Paris that sells only "good" novels as selected by a secret committee of eight literary figures.  It is a great success -- book lovers flock to The Good Novel to find quality literature that is seemingly lacking in other bookstores.  However, someone has it in for the venture; writing op-ed pieces denouncing the store's elitist attitude, exposing the owners' secret and not-so-secret pasts.  Three of the committee members are then attacked, and the fate of the bookstore is called into question.

  Unfortunately, the mystery of the attacks (and a weak romance) doesn't do much for the story, which otherwise is a great celebration of books and reading and their positive effects:

You have just confirmed to me that one of the most fortunate purposes of literature is to bring like-minded people together and get them talking.

  The city of Paris also shines in this novel, and if I didn't already have an intense desire to make a return visit, I would definitely have it after reading this. 

  I have to say that I am a big fan of the book's publisher, Europa Editions.  This is the third book I have read from their catalog (The Elegance of the Hedgehog and Gourmet Rhapsody, both by Muriel Barbery, are the others) and I have several others on my to-read pile.  I love that they are providing American readers with European literature in translation.  It would be great to be able to read these books in their original languages, but Europa Editions provides us with an acceptable alternative.

(ps I've purchased their books on my own)

Top Ten Tuesday -- Favorite Authors

  Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created  at The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's question is to list your top 10 favorite authors.
  My top 10, in no particular order, along with my favorite work of each, are:
  • Margaret Atwood  (The Handmaid's Tale)
  • Jennifer Weiner    (Good in Bed)
  • Andrea Levy         (Small Island)
  • Rohinton Mistry    (A Fine Balance)
  • Bill Bryson           (Neither Here nor There:  Travels in Europe)
  • Sophie Kinsella    (Twenties Girl)
  • A.J. Jacobs       (The Guinea Pig Diaries)
  • Khaled Hosseini  (The Kite Runner)
  • Nick Hornby    (How to be Good)
  • Kate Atkinson  (Case Histories)
  The list seems to change periodically, though, as I discover new and new-to-me writers.