Sunday, November 30, 2008

Barnes and Noble Bliss

I went to Barnes and Noble the other day with a 40% off of one book coupon, and after spending an hour browsing the fiction section A to Z, narrowing it down to about five choices, this caught my eye in the poetry section:

I couldn't resist. I was reading another translation of The Iliad from my library, and in all my geekiness was reading it out loud to myself. Now with this beautiful boxed set, it's almost complete bliss (except of course for the parts about animal sacrifice and the complete lack of thought for the rights of women). I even threw a chocolate bar into to the experience last night (that kind of messed up the read-aloud thing I had going on, but hey, it's chocolate.) Needless to say I'm super excited about my purchase, since I rarely buy brand-new books. I have to keep myself from carassing the covers too much--my husband's getting jealous!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ten Signs That You Are a Book Blogger

Yesterday marks my one year blogoversary, and here are some thoughts about my experiences this year:

Ten Signs That You Are a Book Blogger:

1. For trips to the library, you've graduated from an extra-large book bag to a rolling cart.

2. You've entered your "To Be Read" stack into the
Guinness Book of World Records.

3. On a trip to the park with your kids, you've stuffed a large bag with two possible reading choices, one book you've read and need to review, one notebook for notes and reviews, and one read-aloud book in case your daughter gets bored because she's the only girl, BUT. . . you forgot your purse. (True story)

4. You go to the library more times than you shave your legs.

5. You have found creative ways to get your slaves children to do more housework so you have more time to read.

6. Pumping yourself with caffeine and sugar in order to stay up for 24 hours to read does not at all sound strange to you. (Thanks to Dewey, who will be missed immeasurably.)

7. It takes longer to go through your Google Reader than it does to read War and Peace.

8. You actually get excited about jury duty/doctor's appointments/dentist's appointments--more reading opportunities!

9. You have a color-coded spreadsheet mapping out all of the reading challenges you SWORE you were not going to join.

10. Television? What's that? (Are there any other shows than The Office?) Okay, so maybe this one is just me.

Any other ideas to add to the list?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mission Accomplished: A to Z Reading Challenge

I remember when I posted about this challenge at the beginning of the year I wasn't sure if I could read 52 books in one year--that sounded so daunting! But now I've learned when it comes to reading challenges, I have an "If you build it, he will come" mentality--if I make a list of books, I must, MUST read them. "If I list it, I will read."
Thank you, Joy, for hosting this challenge. This was so much fun. Never before have I thought of books in terms of what letter the title or the name of the author started with. I think I will always be aware of that from now on when browsing for books!
Here's the final list:

Authors (by last name)
A - Austen, Jane: Northanger Abbey
B - Brooks, Terry: The Talismans of Shannara
C - Cannell, Dorothy: The Thin Woman
D - Dean, Debra: The Madonnas of Leningrad
E - Esquivel, Laura: Like Water for Chocolate
F - Faulkner, William: As I Lay Dying
G - Gaiman, Neil: Stardust
H - Hamilton, Masha: The Camel Bookmobile
I - Ilibagiza, Imaculee: Left to Tell
J - Japin, Arthur: In Lucia's Eyes
K - Kadohata, Cynthia: Kira-Kira
L - Lowry, Lois: Messenger
M - MacLachlan, Patricia: Sarah, Plain and Tall
N - Nemirovsky, Irene: Suite Francaise
O - O'Dell, Scott: Island of the Blue Dolphins
P - Pool, Daniel: What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew
Q - Quindlen, Anna: Blessings
R - Riordan, Rick: The Lightning Thief
S - Stoker, Bram: Dracula
T - Twain, Mark: Tom Sawyer
U - Urban, Linda: A Crooked Kind of Perfect
V - Voigt, Cynthia: Homecoming
W - Westerfeld, Scott: Pretties
X - Xinran: Sky Burial
Y - Yep, Lawrance: Dragonwings
Z - Zusak, Markus: The Book Thief

A - Austenland by Shannon Hale
B - The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
C - Castle Corona by Sharon Creech
D - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Stevenson
E - Enna Burning by Shannon Hale
F - Femme Fatal by Dorothy Cannell
G - The Good Mood Diet by Susan Kleiner
H - The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
I - The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
J - Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and me, Elizabeth by E. L. Konigsburg
K - The Known World by Edward P. Jones
L - Life of Pi by Yann Martel
M - The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
N - Nefertiti by Michelle Moran
O - Organizing From the Inside-Out by Julie Morgenstern
P - Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff
Q - Queen of Scots by John Guy
R - Reporting Iraq - Edited by Mike Hoyt, John Palatella
S - Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
T - A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
U - Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
V - Veil of Roses by Laura Fitzgerald
W - The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket
X - Xenocide by Orson Scott Card
Y - You: The Owners Manual
Z - Zoo Station by David Downing

I was going to list my favorites, but there are so many. If I forced myself to pick three they would be A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Handmaid's Tale, and The Book Thief.

Zoo Station

Author: David Downing
Originally Published: 2007
Length: 293 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 3/5
Amazon Rating: 4/5 (14 reviews)

This pre-WWII spy thriller was actually more interesting than thrilling. John Russell is a British journalist living in Germany, determined to stay to be near his 11-year-old son and his actress girlfriend, despite the inevitable war looming. The Soviets have asked him to write a series of articles for them, which he decides to do for the money. This arrangement becomes more involved and risky than Russell bargained for, and he also gets involved in trying to save a Jewish family that faces many obstacles in leaving Germany.
While I didn't really feel a whole lot of suspense in reading this book, I liked it from a historical perspective. I was able to see what different types of people might have experienced in Germany in the days leading to the war: a British journalist frustrated by limits on what he can write about; an actress who must play parts in Nazi-influenced plays and movies,;an 11-year-old boy subject to government socialization through school and youth groups; parents faithful to the Nazi party but who possibly have a mentally-challenged son who they learn could end up the victim of Hitler's "mercy killings"; and an idealistic American journalist determined to uncover secrets of the Nazi regime.
This is not a book I would normally have picked up (although I do love the cover). I was after that "Z" for the A to Z reading challenge. It's always fun to try something new, and although I wasn't wowed by this one, I do not regret reading it, and I may go on to try some others by this author. Don't these sound good: The Moscow Option, Russian Revolution 1985, The Red Eagles?


Author: Cynthia Voigt
Originally Published: 1981
Length: 480 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4.5/5
Amazon Rating: 4/5 (333 Reviews)

Dicey and her three siblings are abandoned by their mother at a mall in Connecticut. Thinking that she might have gone on to a relative's house, tough and determined Dicey leads her brothers and sister on a journey to either find their mother, or to find a place that they can call home. Along the way, each member of the Tillerman family faces his or her own challenges, but they all play an integral part in creating a sense of family, and realize that they must stay together no matter what happens.
This is a touching, well-written story that I couldn't put down. The characters are realistic and well-written, and I grew to love each of the Tillerman children, and their mother, even though I only saw her through her children's eyes. It was painful for me to imagine four children trekking across towns and beaches on their own, having four children of my own of similar ages, but it reminded me that children often can accomplish more than we might expect them to. At the end of the story I just felt good, (and I cried). Not only was I happy for them, but I was proud of them.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Author: Michelle Moran
This edition published by: Three Rivers Press (2008)
Length: 496 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 4.5/5
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 (113 reviews)

Back of book blurb:

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 husbands rule. The only person brave enough to warn the queen is her younger sister, yet remaining loyal to Nefertiti will force Mutnodjmet into a dangerous political game; one that could cost her everything she holds dear.

I really, really enjoyed reading this piece of historical fiction. I've read a little bit of non-fiction about general Egyptian history, but usually accounts that cover massive spans of time, so the important figures are just names or cardboard figures in my head. This book made me see Nefertiti, Akhenaten and their family more as real people and brought them to life. My favorite character was Mutny, Nefertiti's sister. I liked that she was good, smart, and loyal. She was constantly trying to cling to her own values while they were being challenged by Nefertiti's ambition. Many times, I wanted to strangle Nefertiti and shoot Akhenaten (with his own bow and arrow. You know a book is entertaining when you have thoughts of violence about some of the characters!)
I don't know about historical accuracy or probability, but it was a good story that kept the pages turning. I will definitely read the sequel, the Heretic Queen.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Author: Orson Scott Card
Published by: Tor Books (1991)
Length: 592 pages
Personal Enjoyment Rating: 3.5/5

This is science-fiction that is heavy on the "science." I couldn't decide if I would appreciate the novel more if I was a science whiz, or if having more knowledge would just frustrate me because I would see the holes in the different theories presented. Usually in these cases, I find that ignorance is bliss. It really aids my "suspension of disbelief!"

As the third of a series, it's difficult to provide a summary (which I'm bad at anyways). The first in the series, Ender's Game, I found to be entertaining and original. I had never read anything quite like it. The second book, Speaker for the Dead, had some disturbing aspects, but it was brilliant and emotional. I actually cried--not unusual for me in general, but not expected while reading sci-fi. It's taken me a couple of years to finally get to Xenocide (I waited forever and ever for a copy to turn up at the used book store in the library.) As I read this one, I kept getting a mental image of Card's brilliant mind spewing out an inordinate number of ideas and loosely gathering them all into one book. Interesting ideas--just too many.

Having said that, I still enjoyed reading it. The two main things that draw me to Card's writing are his themes about sociology and ethics. He comes up with the most bizarre characters and scenarios, but it manages to be "swallow-able" because of this framework of the inter-relationships of humans, alien species, and even computers. Card also constantly weaves in ideas of religion and faith, which never result in any strong conclusions (at least none that I picked up), except maybe that a society wants and needs to have faith in something, regardless of any evidence against it.

Here's one of my favorite quotes from the book:

"These are the people who hold a community together, who lead. Unlike the sheep and the wolves, they perform a better role than the script given them by their inner fears and desires. They act out the script of decency, of self-sacrifice, of public honor--of civilization. And in the pretense, it becomes reality. There really is civilization in human history, thought Valentine, but only because of people like these. The shepherds."

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Lightning Thief

Author: Rick Riordan
Published by: Miramax Books (2005)
Length: 375 pages
My Son's rating of Book: 5/5

Length of Audio: 10 hours, 12 Minutes
Narrator of Audio: Jesse Bernstein
My Rating of Audio : 2/5

Listening to the audio version of this book detracted from any enjoyment I may have gotten out of it. To be fair, the narrator is probably appealing to younger listeners, who are, after all the target audience. In fact, the reason I ended up continuing to listen is because my 6-year-old daughter really got into it and would make a lot of comments and ask a lot of questions about the story. My son, who read the book this year, also loved it, so I decided to do an interview with him:

Mom: What made you want to read this book?

J: The title sounds cool and it has funny chapter titles like "I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom." Also, I had heard people say it was a good book.

Mom: Can you give us a brief summary of the book?

J: Percy Jackson is a kid who has dyslexia and ADD who realizes he is a demi-god and goes on a quest with fellow demi-god Annabeth and satyr friend Grover. They go to recover Zeus' stolen thunderbolt which Percy's father, Poseidon is accused of stealing.

Mom: Who is your favorite character and why?

J: I like Percy the best because he is cool and he has a sword disguised as a ballpoint pen. He is also brave and has good instincts in battle. He also leads the quest and gets the group out of a bunch of tight spots and traps.

Mom: What was your favorite part?

J: My favorite part was when he was on the Gateway Arch with Echidna and the Chimera. It has some action and it has fire which always makes stuff cooler.

Mom: Did you feel like you learned more about Greek mythology?

J: Yes, because I didn't know anything about the Titans.

Mom: Would you change anything about the book or story?

J: I think this is a very good story that is very interesting and does not really need to be changed much, but I think the author could have made more parts of it more in depth and funny.

Mom: Who would you recommend this book to?

J: I would recommend this book to anyone who likes funny stories, adventure stories, or stories with a lot of action.

Mom: You've read three books in this series. Which one is your favorite?

J: The first book is my favorite because it opens up the story and it introduces the main characters.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mission Accomplished: By the Decades Challenge

I finally finished the "By the Decades" Challenge hosted by 1 More Chapter. Here's the list of what I read with links to the reviews:

- The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
1870's - Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
1880's - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Stevenson
1890's - The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
1900's - The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
1910's - Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
1920's - Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
1930's - As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

My favorites were Daniel Deronda and The House of Mirth. I could have done without Sons and Lovers. I am tempted to participate in this challenge for 2009 and tackle some other decades!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Daniel Deronda

Author: George Eliot
Originally published: 1876
This edition published by: Modern Library (2002)
Introduction by: Edmund White
Length: 800 pages
My Rating: 4.5/5

While George Eliot is one of my favorite authors, I have to admit that the first 250 pages of Daniel Deronda were rather like swimming against the current. A couple of things I enjoy about her writing are her in-depth characterizations and her digressions into topics that I personally obsess about, but even these aspects became tedious to me. There are some minor characters that the reader simply does not need to know so much about! Ironically, she makes this statement after introducing the enigmatic Grandcourt: "Attempts at description are stupid: who can all at once describe a human being?" Well, in my opinion, Eliot is pretty darn good at it, even though she goes a bit overboard in the beginning. However, once she has established the psychological framework of everyone under the sun, the story does pick up and the book gets hard to put down (despite its weight!)

Here is a brief summary a la back of the book:

George Eliot's final novel and her most ambitious work, Daniel Deronda contrasts the moral laxity of the British aristocracy with the dedicated fervor of Jewish nationalists. Crushed by a loveless marriage to the cruel and arrogant Grandcourt, Gwendolyn Harleth seeks salvation in the deeply spiritual and altruistic Daniel Deronda. But Deronda, profoundly affected by the discovery of his Jewish ancestry, is ultimately too committed to his own cultural awakening to save Gwendolyn from despair.

This brief description barely scratches the surface of what is to me a very deep and complex novel that I could not even begin to summarize myself. The biggest question I had while reading it was "Why isn't the book titled 'Gwendolyn' rather than 'Daniel Deronda?'" Even though Deronda goes through a major cultural and religious conversion, he is still very much the same person from beginning to end--a deeply empathetic man with a desire to be a savior to all in need. It is Gwendolyn who changes from a self-centered girl who "did not like to dwell on facts which threw an unfavorable light on herself" to a woman who must in the end face the ugliest aspects of her personality. I can't help but wonder if Eliot created this misnomer by design--after all, she herself changed her name many times throughout her life. Also interesting to note--Gwendoylyn is the only main character in the novel who goes by her given name (other than when she marries). All of the others have at some point in their lives taken on different names than those given at birth. If this was indeed intentional, what was she trying to convey? Perhaps that regardless of the names we choose to take upon ourselves, out identity is based on something more substantial than a name?

The most powerful theme of the novel (among many) is the fact of life that often our gain is another's loss, and when we help one person, we may be causing another to suffer. All of the major characters (except for the cruel but flat Grandcourt), grapple with this truth and attempt to come to terms with it. Deronda must admit that he can't save everyone, and Gwendolyn must accept that even is she is on the losing side, she is capable of picking up the pieces and making a life for herself.

Really, I could go on and on with my thoughts on this novel. The plot may seem to get drowned a bit in the characterizations and the psychological musings. It also may have a touch of flowery romantic melodrama: "You are to me the chief woman in the world--the throned lady whose colours I carry between my heart and my armour." And certain elements of the plot are somewhat coincidental. But I still loved it; I am partial to George Eliot. This is the fifth novel of hers that I have read, Middlemarch being my favorite, with Adam Bede a close second. I know it's not for everyone, and if you don't feel up to perservering through 800 pages, watch the BBC movie. It's excellent. I haven't seen it for a few years, but I think it follows the plot fairly well. Luckily, I had forgotten the ending completely, so the book held a few surpises for me!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Weekly Geeks #23 - Better Late Than Never

This week we are to pick any of the previous assignments and choose one. Since I am behind on reviews (what else is new?), I figured I would do some catch up with that. (I'm not sure what number it was.) And of course I have come up with a rather lazy way of doing so: No sentences allowed. Just think of it this way--readers will spend less time reading this post and have more time to read those books on their neverending TBR lists!

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
560 pages
My rating: 4.5/5
Summary: Meggie's father has ability to read characters out of books, some of them evil, and tragically reads Meggie's mother into a book. Struggle to keep evil characters from doing more harm and seek to create a happy ending.
Review: likable, interesting characters; great tribute to the love of literature; not super dynamic but captivating story; made me feel good; beautiful setting; definitely want to read sequels.

Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
My rating: 3/5
Summary: 13-year-old Matt left in the wilderness of Maine in the late 1700's while father goes back for family.
Review: Didn't hold my attention; didn't even realize that I listened to Disc 3 before Disc 2 (oops!); wonder if I would have liked it better read than listened too; loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Speare, liked The Bronze Bow, ho hum about this one.

The Sister's Grimm: The Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley
(304 pages)
My Rating: 4/5

Summary: Sabrina and Daphne's parents disappear; move in with grandma in Ferryport Landing; they learn, but don't necessarily believe they are descended from the Grimm storytellers; get involved in solving a mystery involving Prince Charming and the Three Pigs.
Review: Read this with 9-year-old daughter and loved it; laugh-out-loud funny at times; creative story-telling.

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
My Rating: 4/5
Summary: Dragons must find a new home in the Himalayas; led by noble dragon named Firedrake; helped by a colorful cast of characters; challenged by power-hungry sorcerer/dragon.
Review: Lots of good/quirky characters that have good hearts; loved the geography of it; great narration by Brendan Fraser; perfect for a family road trip!

Creepers by Joanne Dahme
232 pages
My Rating: 3/5
Summary: 13-year-old Courtney moves into house next to a cemetery; both overrun by out-of-control ivy; with eccentric neighbors, Courtney to solve the mystery of an ancestor's missing body.
Review: Beautiful cover and illustrations; a little creepy but not too much for babies like myself; quick and fun read.

I think technically I may have used a couple of sentences. Oh well, if I make the rules I can break them too, right?

There are a couple of books I haven't covered yet: Daniel Deronda (it deserves sentences, even my sloppy ones) and The Lightning Thief (which I will probably have my son do).