Tuesday, April 21, 2009

4 Mini-Reviews in 4 Sentences

Since I finished 5 books in the read-a-thon, I am now really behind on my reviews. I have been having a difficult time keeping up with my reviews in the past several months, so I'm going to be VERY brief--I'm going to try to do each review in only 4 sentences. We'll see how this goes!! (I am going to write a "normal" review for My Antonia since I only read part of it during the read-a-thon, and it is one of my books for the Classics Challenge).

Matrimony by Joshua Henkin

Julian Wainwright is an aspiring writer who falls in love in college. As he matures into a full-fledged adult, his life does not take the path he imagined, but he learns the value of love, trust, friendship and family.

As many people have mentioned in their reviews, this was definitely a character-driven novel, which I really like. The story is fairly slow-paced, but an enjoyable read.
Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky

Silvio is an older man who lives in a small French village, and is most content when he is completely alone in his small house with a bottle of wine. He tries not to remember the love from his youth, and what secrets surround that love--secrets only known to himself and one other.

I was disappointed in this novel, but maybe because I was reading it quickly during the read-a-thon. I felt no connection with any of the characters and though I was surprised to read the unexpected ending, I was a bit glad the novel was over.


The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

A very short tale about how the Queen of England accidentally checks out a book from a travelling library and her life and habits change dramatically. Her advisers don't know what has gotten into her, and they don't think it's a good idea for the Queen to always have her nose in a book.

Though there are many great bookish quotes, I was also a bit disappointed in this book as well. Though I love reading myself, so I can understand what it is like to want to do nothing else but read, I did not really find this book to be amusing or thought-provoking. (Sorry)

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Tristran Thorn is a young man who will do anything to capture the heart of the beautiful Victoria Forester. When he and Victoria see a falling star one evening, Tristran makes a daring promise that he will go through the forbidden gap in the Wall to find the fallen star and bring it back, if Victoria in turn will give him a kiss and her hand.

Stardust has a bit of everything that makes a story fun to read and memorable--adventure, magic, betrayal, a hero and love. This is my first Gaiman book, and it will not be my last!

Whew--I did it! It is hard to be so brief because I have a lot more to say about several of these books. I think most of them have been reviewed about a million times though, so I probably don't have anything new to say!

All four books completed April 18-19, 2009
Number of pages: Matrimony-291; Fire in the Blood-138; The Uncommon Reader-120; Stardust-333

Sunday, April 19, 2009

RAT: Hour 24 and End of the Event Meme

It is now 6:20, and I'm not going to start a new book. I'll do the survey, see if anyone else is still awake, then go to bed myself! This has been a GREAT read-a-thon! Thank you to the hostesses and cheerleaders!! Now I just have to get caught up writing the reviews for all 5 books I finished.

These are my final numbers:
Total number of pages: 1050
Amount that will be donated to FirstBook: $52.50
Total time spent reading: 860 minutes
Total time spent blogging: 375 minutes

1. Which hour was most daunting for you? probably 18 and 19
2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Stardust was a good choice. The Glass Castle would be a good one as well.
3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? having a list of mini-challenge ahead of time would be helpful
4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? The 3 hostess did SUCH a great job organizing the entire event!
5. How many books did you read? 5--but I had already read about 1/3 of the first book
6. What were the names of the books you read? My Antonia, Matrimony, Fire in the Blood, The Uncommon Reader, Stardust
7. Which book did you enjoy most? Stardust
8. Which did you enjoy least? Fire in the Blood
9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? n/a
10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I would definitely participate in the read-a-thon as a reader again!

R-A-T: Hours 22 & 23

My cat FINALLY jumped up on my lap to cuddle with me (at 5am). She's been in and out of the living room all day! I just finished Stardust, so I'm not really sure what to do. I'm going to spend some time blog hopping and seeing who is still awake. After that, there will be less than an hour left--should I start another book? It seems a little ridiculous to be up for 23 1/2 hours, but at the same time, starting another book seems a little ridiculous as well! Maybe there will be a end of the event mini-challenge that I can do! Anyways...I'm very rambly...I'm really not at all tired right now. I have that weird hungry-ish late night eating feeling though. Do you know what I'm talking about? I'm not actually hungry...anyways...REALLY rambly...

Number of pages since last update: 150
Total number of pages: 1050 (yay! 50 pages over my goal!)
Number of books completed: 5
Time spent reading since last update: 78 min
Total time spent reading: 860 min (14.33 hours)
Time spent blogging since last update: 30 min
Total time spent blogging: 345 minutes (5.75 hours)
Mini-challenges completed: 4--intro meme, You tube video challenge, non-fiction question, mid-event survey

Is anyone else awake??

R-A-T: Hours 20 & 21

So it is 3:45 am here right now. It's funny how noticeable all the little noises around the house are at this hour. I'm still fairly awake-feeling, but my right eye is very stingy. I keep closing it and reading out of only my left eye. It's probably going to get mad at me too! I'm really liking Stardust, and it's moving very quickly. I'm not too far away from my 1000 page goal!

Number of pages since last update: 151
Total number of pages: 900
Number of books completed: 4
Time spent reading since last update: 87 min
Total time spent reading: 782 min
Time spent blogging since last update: 30 min
Total time spent blogging: 315 minutes
Mini-challenges completed: 4--intro meme, You tube video challenge, non-fiction question, mid-event survey

R-A-T: Hours 18 & 19

">Fox Video

For some reason, this video made me laugh until I cried. I don't think it's supposed to be funny, but it was just very unexpected! Maybe you'll think it's funny, or maybe just interesting, but either way...it's a fun 60 seconds!

I'm feeling pretty awake, but my hubby just went to bed (at 1:30 am), and I know lots of others have gone to bed, so this is when it starts to feel a little lonely for me. I just started Stardust, so hopefully that will be an engaging read.

Number of pages since last update: 111
Total number of pages: 749
Number of books completed: 4
Time spent reading since last update: 75 min
Total time spent reading: 695 min
Time spent blogging since last update: 25 min
Total time spent blogging: 285 minutes
Mini-challenges completed: 4--intro meme, You tube video challenge, non-fiction question, mid-event survey

Saturday, April 18, 2009

R-A-T: Hours 16 & 17

Well it's almost midnight here, and even with my fun IHOP break, I'm feeling a little restless. I keep putting my book down and just staring at the wall. Hopefully that will go away soon. I finished Fire in the Blood, and have moved onto An Uncommon Reader. It is nice and short, so that will feel good to finish a book quickly!

Number of pages since last update: 96
Total number of pages: 638
Number of books completed: 3
Time spent reading since last update: 70 min
Total time spent reading: 620 min
Time spent blogging since last update: 40 min
Total time spent blogging: 260 minutes
Mini-challenges completed: 4--intro meme, You tube video challenge, non-fiction question, mid-event survey

I'm planning to post a funny 60 second YouTube video on my next update. I actually don't think it is intended to be funny, but for some reason, I think it's hilarious! Is everyone still awake and reading??

R-A-T: Hours 13-15 and Mid-Event Survey

I just had a very eventful hour 14, as I met up with Trish, Kari and Krystal (our unofficial cheerleader!) at IHOP. Blueberry pancakes=yummy deliciousness! We felt a little silly with our books and cameras, but our server was very kind in taking our pictures! It was a little difficult to concentrate on reading, as I tend to talk A LOT, and there was music playing, plus people to watch, but it was fun and a good break from being at home! I feel very wide awake now, thanks to the 2 1/2 cups of coffee.
My updated stats from the last post are:

Number of pages since last update: 96
Total number of pages: 567
Number of books completed: 1
Time spent reading since last update: 70 min
Total time spent reading: 550 min
Time spent blogging since last update: 35 min
Total time spent blogging: 220 minutes
Mini-challenges completed: 4--intro meme, You tube video challenge, non-fiction question, mid-event survey
Mid-Event Survey:
1. What are you reading right now? Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky
2. How many books have you read so far? this is my 3rd
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? reading The Uncommon Reader
4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? nope
5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? I've had almost zero interruptions all day. Hubby has been very considerate and has been outside or in the garage working on various projects. He is actually reading right now!
6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? how quickly the time is going!
7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Everything has been really great, and I only have one suggestion. It would be helpful to have a list of the mini-challenges ahead of time, to make sure not to miss any.
8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year? I can't think of anything at the moment--maybe go to bed earlier the night before
9. Are you getting tired yet? not yet...but I've had quite a bit of caffeine
10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered? having a spreadsheet to keep track of pages, time spent reading and blogging, mini-challenges, etc. is really helpful. I don't know how I would keep track without it!

R-A-T: Hours 11 & 12

Well the read-a-thon is now half over! This day has gone by very quickly! I haven't been having a difficult time concentrating so far, which is great and a little surprising! I have not reached half of my goal yet, which would be 500 of 1000 pages, but I'm hoping that reading a YA book will help increase my page numbers just a little. Ok...here are my stats, then I'm off to visit some blogs!

Number of pages since last update: 97
Total number of pages: 471
Number of books completed: 1
Time spent reading since last update: 80 min
Total time spent reading: 480 min
Time spent blogging since last update: 30 min
Total time spent blogging: 185 minutes
Mini-challenges completed: 2--intro meme, You tube video challenge

R-A-T: Hours 9 & 10

I took a short walk around my neighborhood before hour 9, and I stopped to take a few pictures. The flowers above are not mine, but they are a few houses down from mine, and I think they are so pretty! The sky was looking pretty stormy (see below) but it never rained and now the sun is out and shining!

I was pretty focused with my reading the last two hours, with no restlessness or urges to run in circles. My updates:
Number of pages since last update: 89
Total number of pages: 374
Number of books completed: 1
Time spent reading since last update: 80 min
Total time spent reading: 400 min
Time spent blogging since last update: 30 min
Total time spent blogging: 155 minutes
Mini-challenges completed: 2--intro meme, You tube video challenge

R-A-T: Hours 7 & 8

I opened my gummy bears, and they are SO yummy! I am trying to be good and not eat too many at one time. I also moved from my recliner to my couch in hours 7 & 8, but that probably wasn't the greatest idea because my couch is a little too comfortable! I'm going to go on a quick walk outside to wake up a bit! I'm sad I missed the mini-challenge during hour 7--it was going for a walk and taking a picture. I'm going to do it anyways, just an hour or two later than everyone else!

My updated stats:
Number of pages since last update: 83
Total number of pages: 285
Number of books completed: 1
Total time spent reading:320 (I forgot about this category...oops)
Time spent blogging since last update: 30 min
Total time spent blogging: 125 minutes
Mini-challenges completed: 2--intro meme, You tube video challenge

I'm really enjoying this read-a-thon! So far no headache, which is great because I tend to get headaches pretty frequently. How is everyone else doing?
Mini-challenges completed: 2--intro meme, You tube video challenge

R-A-T: Hours 5 & 6

I participated in the YouTube mini-challenge, and I thought I'd share the funny video. I can't figure out how to upload the video here, and I've wasted too much time trying, so here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H99niLxiPaU

I took a shower and my husband brought home Chick-fil-a for lunch, so my stats for hours 5 & 6 are lower than I would like. But I finished My Antonia, so it's on to book number 2!

Number of pages since last update: 64

Total number of pages: 202

Number of books completed: 1

Time spent blogging since last update: 30 min

Total time spent blogging: 95 minutes

Mini-challenges completed: 2--intro meme, You tube video challenge

R-A-T: Hours 3 & 4

This is a picture of me sitting on my back patio, with my fuzzy blanket and fuzzy socks. My kitty, Pumpkin, is keeping me company!

I accidentally drank a little too much coffee, and I had a little bit of trouble concentrating in hour 3. I kept wanting to get up and run around in lots of circles. I'm still reading My Antonia, and it is a bit slow. Hopefully I'll finish in hour 5. I can't believe we are almost in hour 5! Here are my updates:

Number of pages since last update: 71
Total number of pages: 138
Number of books completed: 0
Time spent blogging since last update: 30 min
Total time spent blogging: 65 minutes
Mini-challenges completed: 1--intro meme

Read-a-thon: Hours 1 & 2 and Intro Meme

We are now done with 2 hours of the read-a-thon, and those first two hours went by really quickly! Before I give my first stats, here is the introduction meme:
Where are you reading from today? I'll be spending most of my time at my home in Dallas, TX, but I will also be at IHOP, and possibly a coffee shop
3 facts about me … 1. I'm left handed (I think I always use this same fact) 2. I have an English degree 3. My favorite color is green
How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? I have 9 books in my pile, but I know I won't get to all of them. I just wanted to have some options!
Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)? My goal is to read 1000 pages, so I'm going to need to step it up a bit!
If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, Any advice for people doing this for the first time? Take little walks outside, if possible. It's a good break for your eyes, and it feels good to move around a bit after sitting for long periods of time.
I have spent most of the first two hours reading outside on my back porch. We are supposed to get lots of rain today, so it is very cloudy. It' so quiet though, this early in the morning, and I want to be outside as much as possible before the rain! My first two hour stats are:
Number of pages read: 67
Time spent reading: 80 minutes
Time spent blogging: 35 minutes
Blogs visited: 9
Mini challenges entered: 1 (intro meme)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Well it's no secret that in just 2 short days, the next 24-Hour Read-a-Thon will commence, and I could not possibly be more excited!! This will be my second read-a-thon to participate in, and I am armed and ready with books, snacks, a handy spreadsheet, and plans to meet 2 other friends, who are also participating, for a late dinner at IHOP.

First of all, if you haven't heard much about the read-a-thon, please visit the FAQ page. It will be starting at 1 GMT on April 18th, which for me translates to 7:00 am on Saturday morning. I really want to read and blog for the full 24 hours, so hopefully I can hang in there in those wee morning hours! I would like to read 1000 pages, though that may be pushing it a bit. I have decided to donate $.05 per page to First Book, and there are others participating who are also donating to causes close to their hearts. See this link for a list of charities and organizations that are suggested, but of course there are MANY more out there!

Last night, I spent some "quality time" with my books, and I have pulled a few off my shelves specifically for the read-a-thon. I know I definitely won't get to all of them, but here are the ones I have to choose from:

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Matrimony by Joshua Henkin
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
(I will probably be finishing My Antonia by Willa Cather to start with).

Equally as important to me are my snacks! I stopped at the grocery store tonight and I bought gummy bears, cheddar Chex mix, beef jerky, strawberries, and grapes. I also have hazelnut cream coffee! Yum!

I would write a list of tips, but Trish and Bethany have already written really great posts about the read-a-thon that include helpful tips and pointers. If you are a first timer, you really should check out their posts!

I am really REALLY excited, and every time I look at the sign ups, the list of participants and cheerleaders has grown! Hurray for Saturday!!!

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Since SO many people have read and reviewed Jeannette Walls' memoir The Glass Castle, I'm going to format my review a little differently than normal. This was my choice for our April book club, and I'm going to answer a few of the questions I found on a reading guide at BookBrowse.

(For those of you not familiar with her story, Jeannette Walls grew up in extreme poverty with 2 sisters and a brother. Her father was extremely intelligent, but an alcoholic who couldn't hold a job, and her mother was artistic and had no desire to work or raise children).

1. Though it portrays an incredibly hardscrabble life, The Glass Castle is never sad or depressing. Discuss the tone of the book, and how you think that Walls achieved that effect? Walls simply tells about her childhood without getting emotional. She doesn't go into lots of detail about her feelings or how it wasn't fair that she had to go without food, new clothes, etc. Her positive attitude is very apparent in the way she describes a situation, even a terrible situation, then she simply moves on without dwelling on the negatives.

2. What character traits--both good and bad--do you think Jeannette inherited from her parents? And how do you think those traits shaped Jeannette's life? I can only think of positive traits that Jeannette inherited--to look at the bright side or how to improve a bad situation; to treat others kindly because you have no idea what they are going through or have gone through; and to be innovative with what you have.

3. Jeannette's mother insists that, no matter what, "life with your father was never boring" (p.288). What kind of man was Rex Walls? What were his strenghths and weaknesses, his flaws and contradictions? One of the most difficult things for me to grasp in this book was how incredibly intelligent Rex was, and yet he wasted away his life. He could have done great things and made enough money for his family to be completely comfortable. Rex very obviously had a rough upbringing as well--his mother was a horrible woman--but he was unable to make something of himself like his own children did. Though he obviously loved his children, he just could not get it together, even though he tried. At times I felt sorry for him, and at other times, his actions made me want to throw the book across the room.

4. Though The Glass Castle is brimming with unforgettable stories, which scenes were the most memorable for you? Which were the most shocking, the most inspiring, the funniest? The most touching story was one Christmas Eve, when there was no money, and Rex took his kids, one by one, to sit out in the desert and pick out a star of their very own. The special time spent with their father really meant a lot to the kids, even if they didn't receive any toys or gifts that year. I also found it really neat how Jeannette, Lori and Brian all worked together and stood up for each other. Though there are many shocking stories, the incident with Oz, the piggy bank, upset me the most. I don't want to give anything away, but for those of you who have read it--I'm sure you agree! I was also completely disgusted with whatwhat Jeannette's father put her through the night they "worked together" to win some money at pool.

The Glass Castle completely opened my eyes to what true poverty can be like. I really had no idea about the living conditions some people experience every day. Reading about Jeannette's childhood and parents made me even more thankful for my own family and how I was raised. The fact that she had some terrible experiences, yet she still stood by her parents and her family, and she is now successful and happy is quite inspirational! I won't be forgetting this book for a very long time!
Date completed: April 12, 2009
Number of pages: 288

Friday, April 10, 2009

Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

From the back cover:
"Nefertiti and her younger sister, Mutnodjmet, have been raised in a powerful family that has provided wives to the rulers of Egypt for centuries. Ambitious, charismatic, and beautiful, Nefertiti is destined to marry Amunhotep, an unstable young pharaoh. It is hoped that her strong personality will temper the young ruler's heretical desire to forsake Egypt's ancient gods.

From the moment of her arrival in Thebes, Nefertiti is beloved by the people but fails to see that powerful priests are plotting against her husband's rule. The only person brave enough to warn the queen is her younger sister, yet remaining loyal to Nefertiti will for Mutnodjmet into a dangerous political game; one that could cost her everything she holds dear."

After reading many rave reviews of this book, I knew I wanted to read it. I was NOT disappointed at all! I loved Mutnodjmet (Mutny for short), as she was kind and loyal to her beautiful, powerful sister, yet she did not compromise her integrity. Even in the tumultuous political environment Mutny was forced to live in, though she would have much rather lived in a quite town away from all the drama, she never was sucked into the power-seeking games that most of the royal court was involved in. The story was intriguing and engaging, and I had a difficult time putting the book down. Nefertiti reminded me of The Other Boleyn Girl, but without the soap-opera feel. Two sisters--one beautiful and ambitious, the other more plain and shy--both involved in two families' struggle for the throne...sounds familiar, right? It makes me wonder how often this situation has occurred throughout history, and in how many different countries?

I highly recommend Nefertiti to those who love historical fiction, a strong heroine, or are simply looking for a book that you can't put down! I am waiting excitedly for Michelle Moran's follow-up novel, The Heretic Queen, to be released in paperback.

Date completed: March 2009
Number of pages: 480

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence was my first "travel" book to read. It was the book club choice for the month of March. While it seems that the majority of the people in the group found it to be a bit dull, I found it to be quite delightful and entertaining!

Peter and his wife move to Provence, France (from London) after vacationing there and falling in love with the small town. A Year in Provence is an account of their first year, broken up into chapters by month, and told from Peter's point of view. From the surprisingly frigid "Mistral" winds that greeted them in January, to the completion of their never-ending home renovations right before Christmas, the book is chock-full of amusing anecdotes and quaint villagers. There are goat races, annoying and unexpected houseguests, home renovations that never seem to end, and an eccentric and crusty old neighbor-- just to mention a little of what Peter experiences during his first year.

One of my favorite things about this book is the almost constant description of food! The people of Provence always seem to be eating all kinds of freshly baked bread, olives, various types of cheeses, and far more interesting sounding dishes than anything I normally eat, and always with plenty of wine. Also interesting is the descriptions of the various customs, and how Peter and his wife had to learn to decipher not only the French language, but also the body language and facial expressions common to the region.

The lifestyle they adopted was SO much more laid back than what they were used to in London. It sounded quite appealing to me! The only negative I found is that I would have liked Peter to be a little more personal. He gives very little information about his wife, their relationship, and their former life in London. But, since this was a travel memoir (I think that is the appropriate genre?), more emphasis was placed on what Peter was seeing and doing and less on what his personal thoughts and relationships were like. I still really enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it!

Date completed: March 2009
Number of pages: 207

Bedlam South by Mark Grisham and David Donaldson

In the last year, I have been on a bit of a Civil War kick. Maybe it's normal and I just wasn't aware, but it seems that there have been lots of historical fiction novels published recently about the Civil War. When I read several pre-publication reviews of Bedlam South by Mark Grisham and David Donaldson, I knew I had find a copy.

While perusing the authors' website, I saw that they were coming to my own town (north of Dallas, Texas) to do a book signing. I had never attended a book signing, so I was a little nervous about going by myself, so I convinced Trish to come too. We both didn't really know what to expect, and neither one of us had read the book, so we didn't really have a list of questions to ask. We were the first to arrive, and stood awkwardly in front of the authors for a few minutes. They seemed just as uncomfortable as we were, as this is their first book, and they hadn't done very many events. After we started talking, the tension and awkardness eased a bit, and it was very interesting to hear about how the two collaborated to write their book. Mark Grisham (brother to John Grisham) has always had a keen interest in the Civil War and has a history degree, and David Donaldson has a PhD and is a marriage and family counselor. Besides their differing scholastic backgrounds, the two also have very different writing styles. Mr. Grisham wrote about the soldiers and the battle scenes while Mr. Donaldson wrote about the insane asylum and the treatment for the patients. They both were true Southern gentlemen with their warm Mississippi accents and their willingness to answer our questions.

Bedlam South is unique in more than the just the method in which it was written. The central character, Dr. Joseph Bryarly, is not a soldier but a psychologist with a secret. From early on in the story, it is obvious he is trying to run from his past by focusing on giving his patients his best care. However, the asylums during the mid 1800s were terrible, and the patients were basically used for horrible experiments. Though Dr. Bryarly tries to help, he has little freedom to practice his own methods because the man in charge is an evil man who enjoys inflicting pain.

Zeke and Billy Gibson are two brothers fighting for the Confederacy. Billy is an officer and is a battle-hardened soldier, while Zeke is "fresh from the farm" and eager to fight. They are separated during the terrible battle of Fredricksburg and neither knows if the other survived.

These are just three of the many characters in Bedlam South. Though they all have their own stories, they share the same struggle to survive the war and protect those they love. Though Grisham and Donaldson have great characters with intriguing storylines, there are almost too many in the 320 pages. It seems as if none of the characters truly were developed to their potential. An exmple is Mary Beth Greene, who is a prostitute, yet still a lady. I would have liked to have gotten to know her story better instead of just a few bits and pieces here and there. The writing can be a bit rudimentary at times and a little heavy on the cliches. However, I did enjoy the book, and I felt sorrow and joy right along with the characters. I believe Grisham and Donaldson are working on another book, and I will definitely be interested in reading it.

Date Completed: February 2009
Number of pages: 322

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Challenge, a Read-a-Thon and random thoughts (oh my!)

The last last few months, I have become a not-so-great blogger. I haven't been posting very frequently, I haven't been commenting on others' blogs very often, and I've been skimming posts far more than actually reading every word. While this makes me feel a little guilty, the reason for this is that I've been spending lots of quality time with my husband (who was away from home for 2 years for work) and my friends and family. Like everyone else out there, I can't seem to find enough time to do all the things I want to do. So, the area that I'm spending less time on than I would like is blogging. However, I am still reading books, I am still reading blogs, and I am trying to comment when I have something to say. Though I have become a bit of a lurker, it's only because I'm trying not to spend too much time on the computer, but I'm still here, and I still enjoy the blogging community!!

I knew that with my husband back home, I wouldn't have as much time for reading and blogging as I did last year, so I decided not to join any challenges this year. I accidentally joined too many last year, then I felt really bad when I didn't complete all of them. However, I HAVE to join Trish's Classics Challenge for 3 reasons: 1. Trish is awesome. 2. I LOVE the button that Nymeth created. 3. I need a little extra push to read classics. Since this is already a long post, I'm not going to include the rules for the challenge, and if you are interested, please visit the challenge blog. The following is my list for the "classics snack" option:

1. My Antonia by Willa Cather

2. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

3. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

(Possible alternates: Oliver Twist and The Age of Innocence)

Bonus Future Classic: Empire Falls or The Joy Luck Club

Lastly, I was VERY excited to hear that the exciting 24-hour Read-a-thon event is going to be April 18-19th. Dewey started the read-a-thon, and I think it is wonderful that others are continuing this event. I had tons of fun participating in October 2008, and I'm really looking forward to getting involved again in April!

The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy

I was surprised and thrilled when I received an e-mail from Eva Etzioni-Halevy asking if I would read and review her book, The Triumph of Deborah. I had seen her book reviewed by several other bloggers and I was already interested in reading it, as I enjoy both historical fiction as well as reading about Biblical characters and time periods.

Deborah is a leader and judge of the Israelites, which is unusual as women were very rarely in any position of authority. She knows the Israelite army must push back the Canaanites, who are trying to overtake the Israelite land, but she hates to send her people into battle. She convinces Barak, a young warrior, to lead the battle, even though others advise her to follow older and more experienced soldiers' plans. Deborah and her husband have disagreements over this issue, and they can't seem to find a compromise.

Barak is successful in battle and after defeating the Canaanites, he brings back the Canaanite women and children to his city. He has his eye set on Asherah, a Canaanite princess, and takes her to his home to be his wife. She has no desire to be the wife of her enemy, and looks for ways to escape. Nogah, whose father was the Canaanite king, and whose mother was an Israelite captive in Canaan, decides to work in Barak's house as a servant. She catches Barak's eye as well, even though she is not as beautiful as Asherah.

The Triumph of Deborah weaves together the lives of Deborah and Barak and shows the struggles they have in their respective positions of power, and how this affects their personal relationships as well. Including much Biblical history, Etzioni-Halevy also includes many passages from the Bible about the laws for the Israelite people. Though the passage in the book of Judges that tells about the real judge Deborah, is relatively short (Judges chapters 4 and 5), Etzioni-Halevy drew from other books in the Old Testament to paint a realistic picture of what life would be like for Israelites in that time.

I especially found this to be an interesting book to read, as one of my goals for the year 2009 is to read through the Bible. As I was reading this book, I was simultaneously reading the Old Testament, and I frequently came across the passages in the Bible that were included in the book. (I would have appreciated it if these passages in the book were given footnotes to the verses in the Bible, for easy reference.) While the basics of The Triumph of Deborah are true to the Biblical account, much of the book is fictionalized. I greatly enjoyed the fictional character Nogah, and I almost feel that she is a stronger female character than Deborah. I was disappointed that the sexual relationships were so dominant. What was described as love between the characters seemed more like lust, and this dampened my enjoyment of the book overall. However, the book is engaging and well-researched, and reading it made me interested in doing some research of my own on the life of Deborah, as well as this time period. I really appreciate Mrs. Etzioni-Halevy sending the book, and I have added her other two books, The Song of Hannah and The Garden of Ruth to my "to be read" list.

Number of pages: 358
Date Completed: February 2009

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Title and author of book: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Fiction or non-fiction? Genre? Classic Fiction

What led you to pick up this book? This is the February pick for my face-to-face book club.

Plot Summary: A young drawing master, Walter Hartright, finds a 4 month job teaching watercolor painting to two young women--Laura and Marian. The night before he travels to the home he will be working in, he is out for a walk and encounters a strange woman who is all dressed in white. Once he meets his two pupils the next day, he is startled at the resemblance of Laura to the mysterious woman in white. At first, he is simply curious if there is a connection with this woman to his new students, but as he becomes more involved with the family, he realizes there are more secrets, plots and danger than he ever would have guessed. "A gripping tale of murder, intrigue, madness, and mistaken identity, Collins psychological thriller has never been out of print in the 140 years since its publication" (from the back of the book).

What did you like most about the book? the memorable characters and suspenseful plot

What did you like least? The book was quite long, but there aren't really any sections that could be removed. I can't think of anything I would change!

What did you think of the writing style? The story was told from various narrators, as well as through diaries and letters. This method definitely kept up the suspense, as each narrator was only aware of certain pieces of the story. The reader has to put all the pieces together before the mysteries can be revealed.

Which of your readers are most likely to enjoy this book? This book could be enjoyed by a very wide audience. Though it is a classic, it is not difficult to read at all, and though it is quite long, the reading goes pretty quickly.

What did you think of the main characters? I really loved Marian and Walter! Marian Halcombe is different from many women in her time period. She is not delicate; she doesn't swoon at the slightest difficulty; she speaks her mind with intelligence and grace. Walter is the true definition of a gentleman. Though he is in no way wealthy, he puts others before himself, even if that means risking his own life.

If this book has been made into a movie, and if you’ve seen the movie, compare the book to the movie.: I haven't seen a movie version, but I'm guessing there is probably more than one out there! Has anyone seen the movie? Do you recommend it?

Share a quote from the book: The first line is great! "This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve."

Share a favorite scene from the book: I'm not going to describe the scene, because there is no way I can do so without giving something away, but I got goosebumps at the last line of the second Epoch--very creepy! Also, I laughed out loud (on an airplane) when the Count is talking to his pet mice. Just the image of a very fat man with white mice running all over him is hilarious, but at one point, he is holding one in his hand and he says to it, "My pretty little smooth white rascal...here is a moral lesson for you. A truly wise Mouse is a truly good Mouse" (233). Very funny to me!

What did you think of the ending? I was very happy with the ending. I can't say more because again, I don't want to give anything away.

I was a little worried when I saw how giant this book was (645 pages), and that it was written in 1860--I thought it would take more forever to read, but this will now be one of my favorite classics! I also think it is neat that Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens were friends.

Date Completed: February 6, 2009

Number of pages: 645

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson

Amy Dickinson writes an advice column called "Ask Amy" in the well-known Chicago Tribune. She wrote a memoir with the complete title of The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, A Daughter, and the People Who Raised Them. While I haven't read very many memoirs in my life, I enjoyed this one so much that I would like to begin reading more!

Peter Sagal (author and the host of NPR's "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!") does a great job of summarizing the book, and I share his feelings exactly, "...Amy Dickinson shares her life story about love and loss, parents, daughters, aunts, fathers, pets and life from the mundane to the ridiculous to the quietly heartbreaking. Or, sometimes loudly heartbreaking, with great big honking sobs. Amy doesn't have all the answers, but she suggests a good place to find them: at home, with the people who love you."

Amy's father left her family when she was an adolescent, and her own husband leaves her as well, with a 2-year old daughter. However, Amy raised her daughter in a warm, loving atmosphere, just as her mother raised Amy and her siblings. All the women in the family seem so strong, capable and caring, even though they have dealt with disappointment, sadness and the breakup of marriage. Like her mother, Amy does not become bitter and cynical when she is left to raise a daughter on her own, but she maintains a sense of humor and positive attitude to prevail through the tough times.

I really connected with Amy throughout her memoir. She is honest about her experiences, and she is not overly emotional or humorous just for the story's sake. Though I enjoy humor, it really starts to annoy me there is tons of humor, especially sarcastic humor, but Amy is funny without trying too hard or becoming annoying. The following is a passage that I found to be quite funny, and which I could definitely say about myself as well, "I am crafty to a fault, by which I mean that anything handmade by me is usually delivered along with the phrase 'I'm sorry. It's all my fault.' " (113). Other things I share in common with Amy are her love of cats, and her delight of spending time in the home she grew up in. I also love that her daughter dressed up as Laura Ingalls Wilder for Halloween!

The Mighty Queens of Freeville was a delightful read! It is fairly short, and could probably be read in one or two settings. I think women from the age of 20 to 80 would all enjoy this book!
(A special thanks to Hyperion for sending me this advanced reader's copy! The book will be released on Feb. 3, 2009).

Date completed: January 14, 2008
# of pages: 224

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

The Known World by Edward P. Jones is based in Manchester County, Virginia, and tells the story of a pre-Civil War slave owner, his family, and his slaves. What makes this story so different from many others is that the slave-owner, Henry Townsend, is a black man who was a slave himself before his father purchased his freedom.

Edward P. Jones gives the readers of his Pulitzer Prize winning novel a glimpse of life for all types of people, both black and white, who live in Virginia in the mid-1800s. There is Fern Elston--a free black woman who educates black children; there is Sheriff John Skiffington, who tries to be an upstanding Christian citizen while upholding the laws and keeping the peace, all the while struggling with his own internal demons; there is William Robbins, one of the wealthiest white men in the county, who not only has a wife and daughter, but who falls in love with a black woman and has 2 children with her; and there is Moses, the slave who is the overseer of all other slaves. Jones's characters are so unique in their personalities and situations.

Though I have been on a bit of a Civil War kick the last year, I have never read anything about a former slave slave-owner. I must admit that I never even knew that such circumstances ever existed. I did just a little bit of research on the topic and it looks as though a good percentage of black "slave owners" were former slaves who purchased their own freedom, then purchased their family members, and the purchased family members were then considered their property. However, there are also records of free black slave owners who owned large numbers of slaves to work their land.

I found The Known World to be an engrossing read. Jones brings many circumstances of slavery and the pre-war South out in the open that are not examined in most regular U.S. History classes. This would be a great book to discuss with others, and I will remember it for a long time. Highly recommended!

Date completed: January 9, 2008
# of Pages: 388

Monday, January 5, 2009

Looking back at 2008

Since we are almost a week into the new year, I think I should hurry up and "look back" before the 0ld year is so far away that I can't even see it anymore. 2008 was my best reading year as an adult, by far. I read a total of 46 (1/2) books, which was 16 books over my original goal of 30. I also started blogging, which I think it is the reason I read so much more than my norm. I did not write a review on every book that I read, even though I planned to do so. However, instead of stressing over trying to catch up, I'm just going to start fresh with a clean slate for the new year.

In 2009, my goal is to read 30 books. I also am planning to read the entire Bible. As far as challenges go, I am not planning to join any at this point. Though the challenges I joined helped me to stretch to read more books and a broader variety than normal, I don't like the stress I put on myself to finish books "on time," and I don't like having a set list of books that I have to read. Since there are so many great challenges out there, I may change my mind once we get further into the year. I'm going to try to write a review on the books that I read, but I WILL make them short and sweet. Some may even be just a few sentences.

The following is a list of all the books I read in 2008, with the books I've reviewed in blue and the top 10 are listed in green:

46. The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman
45. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
44. Persuasion by Jane Austen
43. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
42. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
41. The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella
40. Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith
39. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
38. Anatomy of a Boyfriend by Darie Snadowsky
37. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
36. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
35. Ride the Wind by Lucia St. Clare Robson
34. Sweetsmoke by David Fuller
33. My Father's Paradise by Ariel Sabar
32. March by Geraldine Brooks
31. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
30. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
29. The Hot House by Pete Earley
28. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
27. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
26. Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
25. One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
24. Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
23. 1984 by George Orwell
22. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
21. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
20. The Non-Runner's Marathon Guide for Women by Dawn Dais
19. Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg
18. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
17. The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory
16. Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
15. Mother of Pearl by Melinda Haynes
14. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
13. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
12. I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
11. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
10. The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks
9. The Pact by Jodi Picoult
8. Jewel by Bret Lott
7. The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory
6. The Pirate's Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson
5. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
3. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
2. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
1. Jacob's Ladder by Donald McCaig

I'm looking forward to another year of great reading!