Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Classics Club Spin Update: Germinal

I've been away from all things blogging for a couple of months, but I really wanted to make sure I read my Classics Club Spin pick Germinal by Emile Zola. I didn't quite make yesterday's deadline, but I'm making progress:

I'm on page 362/532.  At this point in the book, the miners on strike are terrorizing the bourgeois declaring "We want bread!" M. Hennebeau, manager of the Montsou mine, has a cheating wife and an unhappy life.  When the strikers come around he's angry with them because he would "gladly have swapped his fat salary just to have their thick skin and their unproblematic sex." I guess the grass is always greener on the other side!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Out of My Mind

Author: Sharon M. Draper
Published: 2010
Length: 295 pages
Source: Local library

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 3/5

Thoughts need words.  Words need a voice.
I love the smell of my mother's hair after she washes it.
I love the feel of the scratchy stubble on my father's face before he saves.
But I've never been able to tell them. 

In many ways, Melody is a typical 11-year-old girl. She enjoys music, watches television, loves her family, and yearns for a good friend. One thing that sets her apart from her peers is her high intelligence and a photographic memory. She is also extraordinary in another way--she has cerebral palsy and lacks the ability to walk or talk. No one knows that her favorite song is "Elvira" by the Oakridge Boys and that she sees colors when she listens to Mozart. Her intelligence is not even considered a possibility by her doctors, teachers, and fellow students. Her thoughts and words are trapped in her mind, desperate to be released and to reveal her personality and talents. Melody's life changes when she switches from a communication board to an electronic communication device a la Stephen Hawking. With an effective way to speak and a place on the Whiz Kids Quiz Team, it seems probable that things are going to look up for Melody.

Unfortunately, Melody goes to what must be the worst elementary school in the history of ever. Snotty fifth graders and insensitive teachers are the norm rather than the exception at Spaulding Street Elementary School. When they practice questions for the Quiz Team, Melody is accused of cheating by the other kids and the teacher actually says that because Melody got them all right then the questions must not be hard enough! They say and do more heartless things as the story unfolds. Luckily, Melody has enough strength and spirit to rise above the ugliness.

I love that Draper's novel gave me a perspective into what might go on inside the mind of someone with cerebral palsy. I would recommend it as a great read-aloud selection for middle grades, whether at home or school, to teach empathy towards individuals with special needs.  However, the important message of the book did not make me wholeheartedly love the story in which it was set.  The drama relied on the over-the-top meanness of the characters, lending to a contrived feel and, in my case, book-throwing. Maybe Draper was trying to increase the appeal among young readers by including the kind of dramatic yet unbelievable situations you might see in a Disney Channel show. Perhaps she felt this was a better vehicle for teaching compassion to kids? I only know that I don't regret reading it, I just wish I could have loved the whole shebang. 

And because I used to love this song when I was little, just like Melody does, here's video of "Elvira", one of the funnest songs to sing along to.  "Giddy up oom poppa oom poppa mow mow" :)

Monday, March 28, 2016

3 Reasons Why I'm 13 Reviews Behind

My goal this year is to review every book I read.  I'm not giving up that goal, but I'm going to have to spend some time catching up. I've got 13 books that I have finished but have not reviewed yet. Oops! My excuse is that I've been busy with a few other things:

1. Fitness/Guest Room

It started out something like this:

And ended up like this:

It's all set for me to work out. I can read, go on my laptop, watch movies, or listen to music while I'm on the treadmill.  I also have some old workout DVDs and can do workouts online. The bed we got from IKEA can be pulled out to fit two twin mattresses so we're all set for guests to visit, or it can be used to sit on like a couch.  I like to call it my "Chick Cave" but really anyone can go in there.

2. Food storage closet

I wish I had taken a true "before" picture with everything stuffed in our under-the-stairs closet, but I only thought to take a picture after emptying it and taking the carpet out.  Here are a few photos taken along the way.

This is for long-term food storage--food to have on hand in case of emergency or challenging financial circumstances. We mostly have grains, beans, and freeze-dried fruits and vegetables from Thrive Life. I also threw in some other emergency supplies and will add more a little bit at a time.

3. And last but certainly not least, we got a puppy! Meet Radar, our 14-week-old Miniature Schnauzer:

He's pretty good so far, and loves being held.  He has discovered the awesomeness of shoes which we are trying to discourage and he's a little bit clumsy.  I clean up a lot of accidents in the house!  Ironically, I don't think my floors have ever been so clean.

I've been listening to a lot of audio books while working on the house projects, but since we got Radar most of my time is spent house training him and enjoying his cuteness.  I'm hoping to get back into the reviewing routine next week. I've read/listened to some amazing books.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Classics Club Spin #12

I forgot about Classics Club Spins!  Apparently I've missed about ten of them while I've been away.  Here are the details for how it works and my list:
  • Go to your blog. 
  • Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List
  • Try to challenge yourself: list five you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, rereads, ancients — whatever you choose.) 
  • Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog by next Monday. 
  • Monday morning, we’ll announce a number from 1-20. Go to the list of twenty books you posted, and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce. 
  • The challenge is to read that book by May 2, even if it’s an icky one you dread reading! (No fair not listing any scary ones!) 

Five I'm hesitant to read/ am not sure if I will like:
1. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
2. The Europeans by Henry James
3. The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith
4. The Ambassadors by Henry James
5. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

Five I can't wait to read:
6. Possession by A.S. Byatt
7. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
8. Germinal by Emile Zola ***Winner***
9. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
10. One of Ours by Willa Cather

Hefty books:
11. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
12. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
13. The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek
14. Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
15. The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

Random picks:
16. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
17. The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
18. I, Claudius by Robert Graves
19. A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
20. The Reef by Edith Wharton

Monday, February 29, 2016


Author: Rainbow Rowell
Narrator: Rebecca Lowman
Published: 2014
Length: 9 hours, 3 minutes
Source: e-library
Personal Enjoyment Factor: 3.5/5

You don't know when you're twenty-three.
You don't know what it really means to crawl into someone else's life and stay there. You can't see all the ways you're going to get tangled, how you're going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten - in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.

Georgie McCool, a workaholic sitcom writer, is married to Neal, stay-at-home-dad extraordinaire. They have two beautifully quirky little girls and a home in sunny, fast-paced Los Angeles. When Georgie decides to miss Christmas with Neal's family in his hometown in Nebraska to write scripts for her dream show, she suddenly has to face challenges in their relationship that began even before they married. Their love for each other is undeniable, but is it enough to bridge two imperfect people with different personalities and backgrounds?

When Neal does not answer any of Georgie's calls while he's in Nebraska, she goes into a nosedive.  She can't concentrate on writing, despite the efforts of Seth, her long-time work partner/best friend who just happens to look like he walked off the cover of GQ.  She ends up staying with her mom, in her old room, where she calls Neal on her old rotary landline.  He answers (Yes!) But it's not present-day Neal on the other end of the line. She realizes she is talking to Neal from 1998--before marriage, after a quasi-breakup, and separated again (or before?) by the miles between L.A. and Omaha.

The conversations on the landline and Georgie's recollections of their courtship reveal a heart-warming love story in the context of reality-- tough choices, incompatibilities, demanding work schedules, the sacrifice of personal dreams, conflicting loyalties, the challenges of parenthood. How powerful does love need to be to overcome real life?  How much do our choices and actions add to or diminish that power?  The unlikely magical yellow phone is just the tool that Georgie needs to figure out her marriage and if she and Neal were meant to be together, or if Neal would be better off without her.

I'm ashamed to admit that for most of the book I took a side--Neal's.  I was annoyed with Georgie.  I thought she was more clueless than she needed to be--if only she took some time out of her busy schedule to consider Neal's feelings, their marriage would have had a more solid footing.  And of course Neal feels threatened that Georgie spends more hours with Seth than him and the girls and chose to miss Christmas with the family for work. Who wouldn't?  But Neal probably could have done a better job of communicating.  I guess. Maybe I was blind to his weaknesses out of a sense of solidarity for stay-at-home parents.

However, the book is not really at all about taking sides, hence my shame. It's about relationships and their inherent flaws and vulnerabilities. It's probably been mentioned hundreds of thousands of times that Rowell is a master of writing about relationships. I've only read two of her books so far, but I would enthusiastically agree. She delves deep, looks at everything from all angles, and manages to make you laugh through it all. 

It's a testament to Rowell's writing skills, and/or some sort of soul-sister bond, that I enjoyed something that could be categorized as romance or chick lit.  If you are scared of "cheese" as I tend to be, let me declare this book "cheese-free."  I know that may be hard to believe since the plot hinges on a phone capable of time travel, but it's true. Sci-fi + chick-lit somehow works when Rowell writes it.

Note on the audiobook:  Rebecca Lowman did a great job reading this--the narration was perfect.  I was riveted while I Got Stuff Done. A warning to those who don't like bad language: you'll get an earful of the f-word.  I think it's by far Rowell's favorite expletive ;)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Star Wars:Darth Plagueis

Author: James Luceno
Narrator: Daniel Davis
Published: 2012
Length: 368 pages/14 hours, 49 minutes
Source: ebook/eaudiobook from library

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 3/5

"For now, Sidious, know that you are the blade we will drive through the heart of the Senate, the Republic, and the Jedi Order, and I, your guide to reshaping the galaxy. Together we are the newborn stars that complete the Sith constellation."

I love Star Wars.  I missed out on the theatrical releases of IV-VI because my family didn't go to the movie theater very often.  It's possible we saw one or more of them at the drive-in, but I  never actually saw movies at the drive-in--I usually fell asleep quickly in my snuggly sleeping bag laid out in the back of our station wagon. But thanks to VHS I watched them as a teenager and fell in love with both the story and Harrison Ford. Like many others, I experienced the excitement and subsequent disappointment of the prequels in the theater, but learned to appreciate them a little more as I saw them through the eyes of my son.  I recently watched Epidosde VII (not right away and only once-what kind of fan am I?) and loved it. I cried a few times, most notably at the beginning when the music started, and then when the Millennium Falcon was uncovered.  Who knew that a "piece of junk" spaceship could make me cry as much as when Matthew proposed to Mary on Downton Abbey? (And as long as I brought up Downton Abbey, why do both of these shows want to mess with the characters I love?!)

So I'm a big fan, but I am not an expert. I have visited Wookieepedia on occasion, but have not memorized all the species, droids, and planetary systems in the galaxy. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) If I were given a Star Wars exam, I'd probably get a high C at best. This is all just a warning that my thoughts on Darth Plagueis will NOT be an in-depth analysis or critique. (Think Jar Jar Binks rather than C3P0).

The main purpose of this installment of Star Wars Legends is to flesh out the backgrounds of three Sith: Darth Plagueis, Darth Sidious, and Darth Maul. Darth Plagueis is introduced to the reader in a scene in which he kills his master and reveals his obsession with manipulating midi-chlorians in order to defy death. Known as Hego Demask in public, Plagueis uses his influence as the CEO of a prosperous financial group to eliminate anyone who threatens his power.  He has an uber-creepy lab where he conducts his midi-chlorian experiments.  He is cold, calculating, and cruel. 

He of course needs an apprentice, which he finds in a young, ambitious Palpatine who has murdered his entire family.  Impressed by this and sensing that Palpatine is strong in the Force, Plagueis trains him and christens him Darth Sidious. He becomes an ambassador and then a senator of Naboo, and then seeks to become Chancellor of the Republic as seen in The Phantom Menace. While visiting Dathomir, Sidious adopts a cute little Zabrak named Maul and trains him in the Dark Side. After killing Plagueis (who never quite gains master over death), Sidious takes on Darth Maul as his apprentice. 

The novel is filled with assassinations and maneuvers orchestrated by Plagueis and Sidious to create an atmosphere conducive to securing ultimate power. The philosophies of the Dark Side of the Force and the Sith organization are discussed, as well as the origins of the Clone Army in greater depth than explained in the movies. Anakin's future role as envisioned by Palpatine is touched upon at the close of the book.

I really enjoyed all the background information on these characters.  The book reads almost like a history book, with emphasis on economics and politics. The strength is in the details rather than an engaging plot. It is very dark, understandably so since it is concerned almost exclusively with evil characters.  I usually appreciate some balance between good and evil, which this book lacked. I think it just needs to be placed in the context of the entire story and you need to have Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker ever present in your mind as foils so things don't get too depressing. Flashes of Han Solo couldn't hurt either. (I love you.  I know.) 

Audiobook Review
I switched back and forth between the ebook and the audiobook, which is sort of a new experience. The most exciting thing was that the audio version, read very dramatically by Daniel Davis, had sound effects!  It took a little while to get used to, but eventually I felt like they really enhanced my listening experience.  I would definitely try out an audiobook version of another Star Wars novel.

Other Star Wars books read recently: Kenobi by John Jackson Miller (really liked it, has the feel of a western), Star Wars: Jedi Academy (kids graphic novel, lots of laughs).

Friday, February 19, 2016

BBAW Friday: Wrap up and Burnout

Many thanks to the BBAW hosts for organizing this event.  It was a blast and I'm sure we all appreciate the time and effort that went into it!

A few takeaways from this week:
  • Read The Sparrow, Tiny Beautiful Things, and anything by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Reread Harry Potter at least ten more times, maybe backwards.
  • We still miss Google Reader.  What were they thinking?
  • Introverts unite!!
  • There are a lot of new-to-me, high-quality book blogs out there that I'm excited to visit!
And since I didn't post yesterday, a few thoughts on connecting:
  • I'm really bad at social media, but from the handful of posts I read yesterday, I'm not alone.
  • And I think that's okay.  I think a lot of us book bloggers feel comfort and support from a community that shares our love/obsession for hardcore reading even if there are not a lot of concrete involvements like a comment or twitter post. 
  • I love you lurkers!  It's good to know you're out there.
  • Having said all of that, visiting and commenting is one of my favorite things. I think we all would like to comment more but are limited by time, darn it!
  • I WILL master Twitter.  
  • I have lots of warm and fuzzy feelings about bloggers that I have felt connected with over the past 9-10 years since I started my blog.  However, I find that I hold back because I know that there are going to be times when I need to step back from the book blogging community depending on what's going on in life, and I hate the idea of forging a friendship, and then backing away into my cocoon when things are stressful.  Does anyone else feel this way? Maybe this is an introvert thing.
And concerning burnout/keeping things fresh:
  • I don't think I've experienced burnout.  I just stop blogging when my priorities shift and then jump in when I can again.  My longest break was very recent, for about 2-3 years because I went back to school and other things.  Yes, I lost followers, but it happens.  As long as I get one comment on a post I'm happy.  Zero is depressing I have to admit :)
  • My blog is pretty unprofessional, and that works for me. My main focus is to write reviews so that I remember my experience with a book. Because of that, I don't do a lot of different types of posts.  
  • Having said that, I do have GOALS this year, which is a bold step for me.  I plan to review every book I read this year (even geeky Star Wars books and 1,000 page history books) and even have it on the calendar to write a review every Monday and Thursday (have failed at this just a bit already). I also would like to include some other things that go on in my life, mostly because I love it when other people do so.
  • With that in mind, here's what has been keeping me from completely immersing myself in BBAW this week.  We're redoing a room (that my adult kids used to sleep in before they left, boo-hoo).  That big thing in the middle is a treadmill.  This is going to be a guest room/fitness room.  We've had to do a lot of wall repairs and replace all the trim and frame the window.  I'll post pictures when it's done.  I plan to do a lot of reading while on that treadmill when it's all in place!