Monday, February 28, 2011

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:
  Books Abandoned:
          I have read and enjoyed other Vreeland novels but this one couldn't hold my interest through the first 30 pages.  I will try it again one day.

What are you reading this week?

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Emperor of All Maladies

Published:  2010 by Scribner
Source:  Borrowed from the library

  Why would anyone want to read a book about cancer?  It's a terrible disease that has affected most of us in some way  (disclosure:  my dad is a colon cancer survivor) -- how can a writer create a readable narrative that is accessible to those of us without any science background?

  Though still a bit heavy on the science, Siddhartha Mukherjee has for the most part succeeded in this task.  A cancer specialist who works in both clinical and experimental arenas, he traces not only the scientific evolution of diagnosing and treating various forms of cancer but also the politics involved.  Cancer has been around since essentially the beginning of time and was viewed as an age-related disease.  As life spans extended in the nineteenth century, cancer appeared to become more prevalent; but where some doctors said that civilization caused cancer, Mukherjee argues that because people were living longer civilization merely unveiled it.

   What was fascinating to me as a decidedly non-science person was the fact that though the term cancer is used broadly, the disease presents itself in a wide range of forms depending on where on the body it is affecting; and as a result, the types of treatments vary widely as well.  What works to treat leukemia will not necessarily work to treat lung cancer, and vice versa; however, many examples are given where treatments for a particular cancer (especially leukemia) lead to research and discoveries of treatments for others.

   In addition, Dr. Mukherjee provides some anecdotes about his patients and, with one of them specifically, he writes the story (spread throughout the book) almost like a novel where you really want to know how their story turns out. 

  No book about cancer can be without sadness and this one is no exception, but there are happy endings too and it is hopeful for future treatment and prevention.

  Highly recommended.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Literary Blog Hop Giveaway Winner!

First of all let me once again thank Judith at leeswammes who hosted this fantastic blog hop.  I expected a few extra commenters and some new followers, but I was bowled over by the actual numbers -- over 100 commenters to the giveaway post and about 30 new followers. 

I hope I can live up to everyone's expectations :-)

Anyways -- to the reason why you are probably reading this -- the winner of my literary blog hop giveaway, chosen randomly using is


She has requested a copy of A Novel Bookstore.  I have contacted her by e-mail and as soon as the snail-mail address is in my hands the book is on its way.

Thank you all once again for visiting my blog!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Five Quarters of the Orange

Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris
Published:  2007 by Harper Perennial
Source:  Purchased

  Framboise Simon returns to the village of her childhood to live in her family's farm and with the recipes of her mother is able to create a successful restaurant.  What the residents don't know is Framboise's link to the town and she would like to keep it that way.

  The story is told at two different periods -- in the present, where Framboise works to keep to herself while her nephew and his wife attempt to coerce her into giving them the recipes Framboise's mother passed on to her for use in their own restaurant; and during the war, where Framboise continually battles with her mother and makes friends with a German soldier in the area.  The narrative seems rather seamless and to me shows once again how much the past has an effect on the present.

  And although I didn't really get a true feeling for most of the characters, I both loved and hated Framboise.  As a child, she really was rather cruel to her mother -- triggering her migraines so that she could take off to the town with her older siblings, for example -- but at the same time as an adult she was strong and feisty and stood up to her nephew's efforts to ruin her business.

  For someone like me who is interested in both World War II and in French history/culture I enjoyed this book very much. 

  I have read this book for the "book with a number in the title" selection of the What's in a Name 4 Reading Challenge.

Monday, February 21, 2011

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.

  I haven't participated in this meme for a while but I'm climbing out of my funk and am ready to rejoin the blogosphere.

  This week I am reading the following books:
   On Friday I attended the taping of Oprah's Book Club discussion of Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities which was interesting (I've only read parts of each of them but I will read them both - eventually).  The show is not one that will be aired on television but will be available as a webisode on her website starting Tuesday 2/22 if you are interested.  I'm not a huge Oprah fan, but my sister-in-law came in from Toronto to join me and she loved the whole experience; I loved it because she brought my 14 month-old nieces with her (oh, and my brother too) so I got some much needed cuddling and playtime with the little ones.

   What are you reading this week?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Literary Giveaway Blog Hop!

..... pssst .....

Wanna win a book? 

   This week may just be your opportunity to do so!  The Judith at leeswammes  is hosting a Literary Giveaway Blog Hop and over 20 bloggers are participating to offer books to fellow bibliophiles.

    My humble blog is no exception.   For one lucky commenter to this post, I will send a copy of any of the books about which I have posted a review or thoughts.  Just have a look around the blog, see what strikes your fancy, and comment on this post (with your e-mail address, please) naming the book you are most interested in reading.  My giveaway is open internationally.

     Some links to reviews to get you started:

     And don't forget to check out what the other bloggers are offering!  You never know what you might win.

     Good luck and thanks for visiting.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Please bear with me

I'm in some sort of funk that I can't really explain. 

I think because my work is so soul-sucking lately that when I get home I just can't be bothered to spend any additional time at the computer.  I have a pile of books that I've read and would like to write about, but I can't seem to get myself to do it.  (thankfully I still find extreme enjoyment in reading)

So I hope you can all bear with me while I get through whatever "this" is.  I am involved with a great blog hop giveaway later this week that I hope you will all enjoy.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Woman in Berlin

A Woman in Berlin:  Eight Weeks in the Conquered City, A Diary  by Anonymous (translated by Philip Boehm)
Published:  2005 by Picador
Source:  Purchased

   The woman who wrote of her experience in Berlin in the eight weeks following the city's fall to Soviet troops at the end of World War II is nothing short of amazing.  We hear so many stories about victims from the war, but rarely if ever have I seen a story of an innocent German citizen and what they were forced to endure. 

   The beginning of this diary, April 20, 1945, is the day that Berlin started seeing and hearing the war up close.  The Soviets were advancing on the city and everyone is anxious; stories from areas already "liberated" by the troops describe terrible acts against women. 

    When the Soviets do arrive, the horror becomes reality.  Young girls are hidden away to prevent their "violation" but very few other women were spared repeated rapes.  The author of this diary is no exception, but she lays claim to a few officers (at separate times) who at least provide her and those with whom she is living food and other essentials.   Some might question her actions, but who is to say how we would react under the same circumstances?

    This diary is difficult to read at times but to me really proved that there were innocent victims on both sides of the war.

    This book meets the "Book in a Wartime Setting" requirement for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2011.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Literary Blog Hop -- Where in the World?

  The Literary Blog Hop is hosted by The Blue Bookcase.  This week's prompt:

What setting (time or place) from a book or story would you most like to visit?

  Call me crazy, but I would love to visit World War II-era Europe.  I have read so many books set in this place and time - both fiction and non-fiction - and while the destruction in terms of both property and human lives was devastataing there are still so many other stories of resilience and of resistance.  Some of my favorites set in this time:
  Also, when I read A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry I was captivated by the sights and smells of India.  I'm not sure if I'm strong enough to handle the reality of India, but that is another place that books have attracted me to.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The TBR Pile -- A Cautionary Tale

  One of the challenges I'm participating in this year is the TBR Pile Challenge, which aims to clean some of the oldest books off of my to-read shelves.  So today as I was getting ready to head out to my French class in Chicago, I picked up one of the books I've chosen for this challenge - The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant - to read on the train.  I started reading and was enjoying the story, but at page 22 - when a key character was about to be introduced - the page number then jumped to page 263!  The last 30 pages of the book are here (as well as at the end) but pages 23-54 are missing.   I found a store coupon inserted in the book with an expiry date of 2/13/2009 so I figure I purchased this book in January of that year; had I picked this book off of my shelf a little bit (ok, a lot) sooner I could have exchanged it at the store.

  As it is, I'll see if I can get a copy of the book at the library, but fellow book hoarders take note -- learn from my experience and at least page through the book once you've purchased it (or preferably before you do).

  (I won't even go into the trauma of being only 25 minutes into an hour and a half train journey without anything to read .....)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

February Reading List

  February started in Chicagoland with a blizzard -- my neighborhood got about 15 inches of snow; on the bright side, my office was closed for the day and after my husband and I dug out our driveway and sidewalk to the front door, I had some extra reading time!
  It's a short one, but here is what's on my reading agenda for the month:

          For book groups:
          For Reading Challenges:
          Just Because:
      (plus a few more if I can squeeze them in)

  What are you reading this month?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Fates Will Find Their Way

The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard
Published:  2011 by ecco, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers
Source:  Galley received from publisher

  One Halloween, sixteen year-old Nora Lindell goes missing and is never heard from again.  But she is still talked about in the community where she grew up, especially it seems among the boys in her neighborhood not only when she disappeared but into their adulthood as well.

   It is one of these boys - unnamed - who acts as the narrator of The Fates Will Find Their Way.  He speaks on behalf of his group -- boys who appear to have grown up together and now raise their families in the same community.  Many of them saw Nora the evening she disappeared, and while I thought their cohesiveness would lead to something to explain Nora's absence, I found the narration superficial and unemotional; and perhaps that was the author's intent - to represent how young men react to such an event close to their own lives.

 Mixed into the narrative is Nora's story -- what may or may not have happened to her.  Several alternatives arise -- from violent to sad to heartwarming -- but it is never clear if any of these are the true version of events.  In none of the alternatives are any reason given for her disappearance, and in the novel there is no emphasis at all given to any investigation.  Again, is this because the author wants to show only the boys' perspective?

  As I started reading this novel, I was reminded a little bit of The Lovely Bones for its description of the story's main plot point right at the beginning.  But that is where the similarities ended -- the tragedy of the disappearance became less important as the novel went on and to me became more like a local legend than a possible crime; the novel then became about the young men as a group and their progression through life with this event linking them forever.

  For me, the writing seemed distant and unemotional and where I think I should have felt something for what happened to Nora and to some of the other characters, I could not.  If there was an underlying message to this novel, I did not pick up on it.