Thursday, December 15, 2011

Multi-topic Post

1.  It's December and the biggest casualties of the season have been blogging and housework.  As I am writing this post right now, you can deduce that housework is on the very lowest rung of my priorities.

2.  The winner of my blogiversary/blogoversary/bloggiversary is Amy from The House of the Seven Tails.  She has been notified and I believe the book is in transit as I type.  She chose The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

3.  I am just a couple of pounds away from losing 25 pounds from my highest weight from about a year ago. I can't decide whether to push to lose those couple of pounds so I can hit an exciting milestone, or just chill out because it's December and I should just be satisfied to maintain, which is easy to do as long as I work out.  As I ponder this, I nibble on intense dark chocolate with hazelnuts.  Perhaps this is a sign...

4.  As far as reading goes, I'm trying to finish the books I'm currently reading before the end of the year:  Of Human Bondage, Mary Barton, and Battle Cry of Freedom.  If I actually manage to do this, there's a good chance that the house will remain in a state of chaos and Santa might be a no-show.  But who knows?  I believe in Christmas miracles.  I would just like to have a clean reading slate (and a clean house) come January, which brings me to...

5.  The TBR Double Dare, hosted by C.B. James.  Let me just say, as a library addict, I'm scared.  The challenge is to read only books in my TBR stack from January 1 to April 1.   Here's a picture of my current TBR shelf:

I purposely selected this little nook to limit my book purchases.  At first, my rule was that I couldn't get any more books if the row was full.  Then it became two rows deep, and now I've added a second story.  These are mostly books that I have bought from the used bookstore at the library, so I tell myself that I'm supporting a good cause.

I have some unread books elsewhere, such as about half of these on my mantel (guarded by our Christmas alpaca):

I know it's a peculiar business, this mixing of read and unread books.  It defies all of the usual conventions of book bloggers.  But the unread books here have earned mantel status by having been bought brand new, and they like to rub shoulders with my favorite classics rather than the battered and torn low-lives found in the other TBR locale.

There are even more at other locations in the house.  I like to have books in every room in case there's some sort of apocalyptic event that confines me to a small area of my home.  Do I have food and water in every room?  No.

6.  I need to go do some Christmas shopping--a window of opportunity has just now opened...

7.  Back from shopping, and then lunch with daughter.

8.  As the year wraps up, I need to report on the Civil War Reading Challenge hosted over at War Through the Generations.  I have completed the challenge, but have not reviewed any of the books.  A list with starred favorites will have to suffice:

Mine Eyes Have Seen by Ann Rinaldi *
The River Between Us by Richard Peck
My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira
Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt*
Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles
And I'm trying to finish an excellent general history of the Civil War, Battle Cry of Freedom:  The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson.*  

Next year the focus will be on World War I.  I'm on board with the goal of actually reviewing the books I have read.  Sign-ups can be found here.

9.  And that concludes my contributions for 2011, unless I forgot about something important.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!  May you receive many bookish delights and the time to enjoy them!
It's time for me to tackle that housework now.  Oh, joy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Blogiversary and Giveaway

Blogiversary or blogoversary?  I've been doing this four four years now, and I still don't know.  Spell check doesn't like either one of them.  Oh, well, it's okay with the word GIVEAWAY, and hopefully some of you will be too.

I'm not only celebrating four years of Chainreading/Book Clutter.  I am also excited that I have applied and have been accepted at a local university and will finally be going back to school next fall.  I've been doing some independent study courses in the meantime, but I am looking forward to being in a classroom.  I'm trying my very hardest to become an intelligent person before fall comes so they don't kick me out.  I've just typed the word "fall" without capitalizing it twice, and I think maybe because it's a season it's supposed to be capitalized?  Is it?  I have so much to learn before Fall. 

I'll be majoring in History, and so this giveaway is offering books that I've tagged as Historical Fiction on Goodreads and have given a rating of 4 or 5 stars.  (Remember, my ratings are based on personal enjoyment, so some of these choice might be crap, but it's crap I enjoyed.)  Some of these may be loosely termed "historical fiction."  I don't want to start any discussions or debates here, because I will probably lose.  These are basically books that helped me to better understand a particular period of time in the past--a year ago, a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, antiquity. 

Hmmm.  I notice that this list is seriously lacking in "bodice-rippers."  Sorry about that. 

Giveaway details:

1.  In a comment, tell me which book you would choose from the list on my right sidebar, or give me a recommendation for a work of historical fiction.
2.  Leave an email address so that I can contact you if you win.
3.  This giveaway is international if Book Depository ships for free to your country, and if they have the book you're interested in.
4.  The giveaway ends December 10, 2011, and I will notify the winner a day or two after that.

Good luck and thanks for visiting!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Two 2012 Classics Challenges

'Tis the season to join challenges!  I usually go easy on reading challenges these days, but here are a couple I don't want to miss out on. I love classics and I love lovers of classics, and the world needs a little more love, doesn't it?  I must do my part to make the world a better place.
I believe both hostesses are okay with the challenges overlapping, but I'm choosing not to, mostly out of pure foolishness.

A Classics Challenge hosted by Katherine of November's Autumn

It's a beautiful button, isn't it?  I have almost as much of a weakness for buttons as I do for book covers.  When it comes to people, I'm all about inner beauty, but when it comes to books and buttons, I do like a nice package!  

The goal for this challenge is to read seven classics during 2012, and on the fourth of each month, Katherine will pose a question to be answered about whichever classic you're reading at the time.  For more details, visit here.  Here are my picks:

1.  Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
2.  The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
3.  Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
4.  Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
5.  O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
6.  On the Road by Jack Kerouac
7.  Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

Back to the Classics Challenge 2012 hosted by Sarah of Sarah Reads Too Much

This fabulous button just screams "Let's get this party started!!!"  Are you feelin' it?  'Cause I am.  This one has CATEGORIES.  I don't drink, but I think this would be the equivalent of margaritas for those so inclined.  More details that have nothing to do with partying or getting drunk can be found here
Here are the categories and my choices:

1.  19th Century classic:  The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
2.  20th Century classic: A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
3.  A reread:  Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
4.  Classic play: A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen
5.  Classic mystery/horror/crime fiction: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
6.  Classic romance:  The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
7.  A classic translated from the original language into my language: Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
8.  An award winner:  The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
9.  A classic set in a country that I will probably never visit in my lifetime: King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard

Any or all of these choices may change.  Foolish.  Fickle.  Name any flaw that starts with an "f" and I've probably got it.  But of course it will be . . .  Fun.  (I make these occasional clumsy attempts to be witty.  Is here an "f" word for that?)

Friday, November 4, 2011

R. I. P. VI Kicks the Bucket

Wow, what a speedy couple of months since Carl's Sixth R.I.P. challenge began!  I was blessed with about two whole days of truly autumn-like weather, and as I'm writing this, it's actually raining (or in other words, Drop-Everything-And-Read Weather).  But before I begin my own personal rainy-day reading party (which in reality consists of reading for about 20 minutes until I'm on the verge of falling asleep, and getting up to do some mundane energizing task or errand for a while and then picking up my book again), I should report on my spooking, chilling, thrilling book choices for the challenge:

1.  The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells.  Amazingly, I wrote a review for this one.

2.  Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.  This was my second Agatha Christie book, and my first introduction to Hercule Poirot.  I'm not sure what else I want to say other than it's short but sweet.  And you need that every once in a while.

3.  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.  Shockingly, I wrote a review for this one, also.

4.  The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Perfect balance of mystery, thrills, history, and pathos.  It has elements that reminded me of The Neverending Story and Inkheart, but then it evolves into its own unique story.  My favorite character was Fermin, who cracked me up.

5.  Perfume by Patrick Suskind.  Weird and creepy tale.  I've never read a book that started out so wonderful and then took such a dramatic nosedive.  I felt like it could have been a powerful short story but was ineffectively drawn out into novel length.   

6.  The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole.  Holy cow, another actual review.  Although, the shortness of the review makes it not so surprising...

7.  Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. I read this for a buddy read with Suey of It's All About Books, which is good, because I needed some moral support.  (Her summary and review can be found here.) This was pretty far out of my comfort zone on so many levels.  I don't even like vampires (Sorry Edward!  I loved you for the first couple of books...So sorry that Robert Pattinson played you in the movies because that didn't help...), and horror is not a genre I enjoy.  But it's good to escape my bubble every now and again.
There's a depth to the story that I'm sure I didn't quite fathom, but what kept me reading was Louis, the vampire being interviewed, and his quest for knowledge.  He asks all of the questions common to us mortals:  Where did I come from?  What is my purpose here?  Who am I really?  What moral code, if any, should I follow?  Is there a God?  What is love?  Etc., etc.  But what makes it more powerful is that he's asking all of these in a state of immortality, trying to apply them to vampirehood.  He's pretty much a "good-guy" but he makes some bad choices, usually when he thinks his actions will further his quest for the meaning of "life."  Does he find the answers he's looking for?  I'm not entirely sure--it's  a process or a journey, just like for us mortals.   I just know that the interviewer kinda misses the whole point of the interview...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

24-Hour Readathon - A little late to the party...

My favorite thing about the readathon is getting up at 5 a.m. California time and having a solid chunk of time to read, but I'm in the midst of Part 2 of a cold, and thought it would be best to sleep in so it will go away.  Fingers crossed.

Now that it's almost 9 a.m. in my neck of the woods, things start to get a little busy, but I'm going to squeeze in some reading when I can.  I'm starting with this book:

It's very possible that this is all I will get to, but I've heard it's a lovely book so I think it will make for a wonderful Saturday.  Have fun all of you who are participating!

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

You know how when you make pancakes, sometimes you have to throw the first one out because it's a dud?

Well, let me introduce you to The Castle of Otronto, the Gothic literary movement's first pancake:

I thought it was rather a ridiculous mess.  At least it was a short one.  Like this review.

To find other stops on this Gothic Lit Classics Circuit, check out the schedule here.  No doubt you'll find some excellent, in-depth reviews of this book and other more worthy selections.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Winners for the Literary Blog Hop

Thank you to all of those who stopped by and entered the giveaway. I have been in such a good mood lately, with fall weather finally surfacing, that I was possessed by a kindly spirit and I decided to pick TWO winners.  They are:

Katie @ Novel Society who picked Crime and Punishment
mamabunny13 who picked I Capture the Castle

Congratulations!  I've notified both of the winners.

Stay tuned for another giveaway for my blogiversary in about a month.  I think I'll pick another category from my Goodreads list to choose from, because I found it quite fun to do it that way.  It could be children's novels, fantasy, books about Africa, historical fiction.  Decisions, decisions...

Thanks again to Judith for putting this whole blog hop together!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Literary GIVEAWAY Blog Hop

Once again it's time for a Literary Giveaway Blog Hop hosted by Judith from Leeswames' Blog.  This time, I compiled a list of all the the classics that I rated five stars on Goodreads, and the winner will be able to pick one, which will be shipped from Book Depository (so make sure that it can be delivered to your country by checking this list.)  Here's what you need to know:

  • Check out the list on my right hand side bar for the choices
  • In the comments, either let me know which one you would choose if you won, or tell me a classic that you would rate five stars (even if you're the anti-rating type . . . )
  • Include an email so I can contact you if you win.
  • The giveaway will close at the end of the day October 19, and I will select a winner within the next day or two. 
  • Be sure to visit the following blogs for more chances to win:
  1. Leeswammes
  2. Devouring Texts
  3. The Book Whisperer
  4. Seaside Book Nook
  5. The Scarlet Letter (US only)
  6. Rikki's Teleidoscope
  7. Bibliosue
  8. Curled Up With a Good Book and a Cup of Tea
  9. The Book Diva's Reads
  10. Gaskella
  11. Lucybird's Book Blog
  12. Kim's Bookish Place
  13. The Book Garden
  14. Under My Apple Tree
  15. Helen Smith
  16. Sam Still Reading
  17. Nishita's Rants and Raves
  18. Ephemeral Digest
  19. Bookworm with a View
  20. The Parrish Lantern
  21. Dolce Bellezza
  22. Lena Sledge Blog
  23. Book Clutter
  24. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (US only)
  25. The Blue Bookcase
  26. Book Journey (US only)
  27. The House of the Seven Tails (US only)
  28. In One Eye, Out the Other (US only)
  29. Read, Write & Live
  30. Fresh Ink Books

  1. Living, Learning, and Loving Life (US only)
  2. Bibliophile By the Sea
  3. Laurie Here Reading & Writing Reviews
  4. Amy's Book World (US only)
  5. Teadevotee
  6. Joy's Book Blog
  7. Word Crushes (US only)
  8. Thinking About Loud!
  9. Kinna Reads
  10. Sweeping Me
  11. Minding Spot (US only)
  12. Babies, Books, and Signs (US only)
  13. Lisa Beth Darling
  14. Tony's Reading List
  15. SusieBookworm (US only)
  16. Tell Me A Story
  17. Close Encounters with the Night Kind
  18. Nerfreader
  19. Mevrouw Kinderboek (Netherlands, Belgium)
  20. Boekblogger (Netherlands)
  21. In Spring it is the Dawn
  22. No Page Left Behind
  23. Elle Lit

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Author: Agatha Christie
Originally Published: 1926
Length: 288 pages
Source: Library
Challenge(s): R.I.P. VI

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4.5/5

Poirot's gaze took on an admiring quality.  "You have been of a marvelous promptness," he observed.  "How exactly did you go to work, if I may ask?"

"Certainly," said the inspector.  "To begin with--method.  That's what I always say--method!"

"Ah!" cried the other.  "That, too is my watchword.  Method, order, and the little gray cells."

"The cells?" said the inspector, staring.

"The little gray cells of the brain," explained the Belgian.

"Oh, of course; well, we all use them, I suppose."

"In a greater or a lesser degree," murmured Poirot.  "And there are, too, differences in quality.  Then there is the psychology of a crime.  One must study that."

I spent some time on Agatha Christie's birthday, September 15, getting to know Hercule Poirot.  My first introduction to this quirky little Belgian was in Murder on the Orient Express a few weeks ago, which only briefly acquainted me with his character. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, however, I got to know him well enough that I think I could, say, friend him on Facebook. I think he's got time for social networking--in this book he is retired from detective work and growing squash.  Need I say more?

Luckily, he gets a reprieve from watching his garden grow, and becomes involved in solving the murder of a local gentlemen, Roger Ackroyd, in the village of King's Abbot.  Ackroyd's love interest, the widow Mrs. Ferrars, has just died, and reveals in a letter to him that she poisoned her husband and is being blackmailed by someone.  He is killed before it is revealed who the blackmailer is.  There is a host of possible suspects, from the rakish yet handsome stepson to the nosy, nervous butler (but seriously, how likely is it that "the butler did it?"  That has to have only worked maybe once).  No worries though. There's nothing that the right method, the highest quality gray brain cells, and a keen grasp of human nature can't manage.  Poirot proudly claims possession of all three, and a nifty little mustache to boot.

The story of the crime and those who may be involved is told by Dr. Sheppard, a sort of a Watson wanna-be, joining Poirot as a sidekick to find out who killed Ackroyd.  When he's not drily criticizing his sister Caroline's inclination to gossip, he manages to make some rather interesting suppositions about others.  After accidentally getting pelted by one of Poirot's beloved squash, the doctor tries to find out what his new neighbor Poirot did for a living before retiring.  Poirot says:
"And mark you, monsieur, my work was interesting work.  The most interesting work there is in the world." 
"Yes?"  I said encouragingly.  For the moment the spirit of Caroline was strong within me.
"The study of human nature, monsieur!"
"Just so," I said kindly.  Clearly a retired hairdresser.  Who knows the secrets of human nature better than a hairdresser?"
That gave me a laugh!  Other observations are made through Sheppard, some of a more offensive nature.  In my modern mind, I couldn't help but ponder--was Christie embracing stereotypes or making fun of those who embrace them?  I know it was probably the former, considering the time the book was written, but for entertainment's sake, I will pretend to the latter.  It made me smile instead of cringe.  I'm not sure such self-delusion is possible in her other works, which have a reputation for such stereotyping.  It just happened to work with this one.

This being a mystery, there's always the question--did I figure out whodunit?  Well, sometimes the answer to that question can give too much away.  So I won't say.  One mystery I still need to solve is how to say Poirot's name.  When I attempt it, my lips make sort of a dorky kissing shape and I feel like I'm going to drool.  Still, I'd like to get to know Hercule even better, by reading more, watching adaptations (then I might get the pronunciation of his name right), and maybe creating a connection with him by planting some zucchini.  No mustache for me, though.  At least not until I hit menopause anyway.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Blog Musings: How I Roll (and Ramble)

I very much enjoyed BBAW from the sidelines, celebrating great blogs getting well-deserved attention, getting to know people through interviews, and learning about different ideas and suggestions from many bloggers.  I was excited to see some of my favorites as finalists and winners.  Bravo!  

Sometimes, though, I end up getting the sense that I'm doing everything wrong!  Post often! Embrace social media! Brand yourself!  I would fail miserably on these points.  But, wait, I really don't believe there is a "wrong" way to execute a book blog.  My way is just different.  And as soon as I categorize myself as "different,"  I can almost hear others saying, "Hey, I'm like that too!"  Laid-back bloggers unite!

The diversity in the book blogging community is wonderful, both in the different niches and levels of commitment.  I enjoy them all.  You can post once a day or once a month, write answers to a meme or and in-depth review of a classic, tell me about your pets or the latest book your reading.  Pretty much if I like what I see, I'm sticking with you.  Long absence foreseen? No worries!  I'll be there when you get back, and if you never return, I hope life treats you well in your new adventures. 

Long absences notwithstanding, I have somehow managed to stick around.  But I've had to rework my blog in order to stay in this book-obsessed environment that I love.  Here's the way I do things "differently" that make it possible:

1.  Posting
In a nutshell, completely haphazard!  No regular posting for me.  This is my method:  There are several books that I'm pretty sure I would like to review someday, but every once in a while one stands out above the rest.  I pick a day to think about that book.  I read any notes I may have taken, look for things I've underlined, think about any thoughts the book generates in my head, look online for any historical context or information about author, etc.  And then just think about it.  It's my day to spend with one novel.  Like a date.  With a book.  While I'm cooking, cleaning, driving, sitting at boring school meetings, etc.  Sounds romantic, doesn't it?  I love this part!

Then comes the hard part, for me anyway.  Writing is very difficult for me!  It twists my brain and makes my eyes cross, and I feel like someone trying to rip my stomach out through my armpit.  There's no way I could go through this several times a week!   It's hard for me to take what my mind is thinking and get it down into words in exactly the way that I mean.  And if it's not exactly what I want to say, I get very frustrated.  But when the grey matter explosions actually transform into the right words?  Utter satisfaction.  Of course this doesn't happen all the time, but it's wonderful enough that I keep trying.  Sort of like gambling.  Which I don't do, so I have to get my thrills somehow.

And then, in about a week or two, I start the whole think, write, gamble process over again. When I'm done, I hit the "Post" button.  It's like taking a little happy pill.

2.  Twitter
One of the things I saw over and over again during BBAW discussions is the need to be on Twitter.  I get it, really.  I totally agree.  I'm on there.  Sort of.  The most activity I've had on there recently was when my account got hacked.  I also have automatic updates going through Goodreads and I'm pretty sure new posts on my blog show up. 

I just have never been able to make Twitter a part of my routine or my life.  Maybe it will happen someday.  I kind hope so, because I love the idea of connecting and sharing little tidbits of people's lives that you wouldn't normally discover.  But then I think I'm a little afraid of being too connected, and I have visions of being eaten a piece at a time by this cute little bird...

3. Visiting other blogs
This is where I must admit I need a little help, or a ten-step program, or something.  I'm afraid to count the number of blogs in my reader, there are so many. Here's my flawed process for reading them:  When I open Google Reader, even though I have categories and all, I hit "All Items."  And then I scroll through them all.  This is irresistible to me, because I have a completeness compulsion.  No, I don't actually read every word, but I skim, and then when something catches my eye, I read more thoroughly, and then if I actually have something to say, I open a new tab for the post, with the intent to comment.  

The problem is, at any number of time I have several tabs open and sometimes they stay up there for days.  And usually I have tabs open on two computers.  When do I actually comment on them?  Again, "haphazard" is the key.  I'm up and down at the computer here and there, and so I comment on a couple at one time, and a few another time, and some it takes so long for me to get to, I think it must be too late to comment and I close the tab in "silence."  There's got to be a better way, right?

4.  Memes
I don't do many memes.  Do I feel that I am above them?  Absolutely not!  I love reading them.  But when it comes to doing them myself, I don't.  Why?  Because I'm LAZY!  The idea of coming up with ten books that fit this theme or another and other such thing is another thing that brings on brain pain.  But I LOVE to read what others have put, so keep them coming!  When it comes to book discussions, I'm clearly and "innie" rather than an "outie." (BTW, when it comes to belly buttons, only 10% of the population have "outies.")

How did I get on the subject of belly buttons?  Needless to say, this is NOT a post that I've pondered deeply for a day or two.  I just drank a large cup of Mountain Dew Code Red (bad, bad, bad for the diet), so I think the caffeine is taking over at this point.  I'll rein things in now.

I suppose the bottom line with blogging is to figure out your purpose, and then do what you need to in order to fulfill that purpose.  If you need a large audience to make that happen, there are certain strategies you need to embrace.  But if you're like me, and are just looking for some personal fulfillment and book discussion, you can pretty much do whatever you want!  Nicely, of course.   And many, many thanks to those of you who come to visit me.  Simply put, it makes me happy!

How about you?  Do you operate in a way that makes you feel different from the mainstream bloggers out there?  Do you have any deep-seated fears of Twitter?  Is your Google Reader out of control?

(And here I will pat myself on the back for following a great blogging technique--asking your readers a question.  Do you know why I avoid this many times?  It's because I'm afraid no one will answer.  That would make me so sad.  Something like that happened once when I first started, but it resulted in a subsequent post with a picture of Aragorn from LOtR.  No harm done then, right?)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery
Originally Published: 1926
Length: 272 pages
Source: Purchased from Amazon

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4/5

Fear is the original sin. Almost all of the evil in the world has its origin in the fact that some one is afraid of something.  It is a cold slimy serpent coiling about you. It is horrible to live with fear; and it is of all things degrading.

I'm so grateful for "feel-good" books.  I love a good, heart-wrenching tragedy, and I'm okay with sad or ambiguous endings, but every once in a while I need the high I can get from a warm and fuzzy novel.  Sometimes the reading-induced tears need to be drops of joy and not gushes of agony.

Lucy Maud Montgomery is a great author to turn to for my happy fix.  It's interesting that Montgomery herself suffered from many bouts of depression while taking care of her mentally-ill husband and facing the demands of motherhood.  I presume that writing was her "drug", and perhaps she hoped to provide readers with an escape of their own.

In The Blue Castle, 29-year-old Valancy is unhappy and bored with her life under the thumb of severely micro-managing relatives.  For instance, it is completely unacceptable to sneeze in public.  Apparently you can suppress a sneeze by pressing your finger on your upper lip.  (I haven't tried it myself yet--I can only imagine what one must look like holding a sneeze while pushing a finger on their face.)   She flees from reality by daydreaming about her Blue Castle, a beautiful place that has grown up with her in her mind, and where she has been loved by a succession of imaginary beaus.  (I think I had a similar fantasy when I was younger, but it was more likely set in Middle Earth . . .)  But reality is never far away, especially when Valancy finds out that she only has a year to live, and the standard cure-all sworn to by her family, Redfern's Purple Pills, is not going to help her much at all.

She finds inspiration in the writings of her favorite nature author, John Foster, and decides that she will not live the rest of what remains of her life dominated by fear.  She breaks free from the conventions of her overbearing family, and starts spending time with the town reprobate, Barney Snaith.  Despite his hopelessly unromantic name, Barney ranks right up there with literary loveables like Mr. Darcy, Mr. Rochester, and Ron Weasley (a personal pick).  With her new life, Valancy tries to grasp a piece of that Blue Castle fantasy before she dies, and finds something even better.

This is such a sweet novel--not airy, cotton-candy sweet, more like warm apple crisp with vanilla-bean ice cream on top sweet.  It made me feel good, and I hope the writing of it had a similar effect on Montgomery herself.  The ending gets all wrapped up like a snazzy little birthday present.  While I wouldn't want every book I read to end so tidily, it is great getting a gift every once in a while, isn't it?

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

Author: H. G. Wells
Originally Published: 1896
Length: 160 pages
Source: Library
Challenge(s): R.I.P. VI

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4/5

Poor brutes!  I began to see the viler aspects of Moreau's cruelty.  I had not thought before of the pain and trouble that came to these poor victims after they had passed from Moreau's hand.  I had shivered only at the days of actual torment in the enclosure.  But now that seemed to be the lesser part.  Before they had been beasts, their instincts fitly adapted to their surroundings, and happy as living things may be. Now they stumbled in the shackles of humanity, lived in a fear that never died, fretted by a law they could not understand; their mock-human existence began in  agony, was one long internal struggle, on long dread of Moreau--and for what?  It was the wantonness that stirred me. 

I find that I am developing and unlikely "thing" for H.G. Wells.  It's rather curious to me, because his writing itself doesn't seem like it would do much for me. The prose can be somewhat mechanical and plain and underwhelming, but then he takes it to another extreme with melodramatic scenes and campy images of horror.  However, as with a recent reading of The War of the Worlds, I find myself relishing it, and craving more.

In The Island of Dr. Moreau, Edward Prendick, a man who has "taken to natural history as a relief from the dullness of [his] comfortable independence" gets quite a break from the boredom when he is shipwrecked and ends up on an island where Dr. Moreau gets his kicks cutting up animals and giving them human characteristics.  They are given anti-bestial laws to follow, and are taught to deify their creator.  But their true nature is undeniable, and things end up getting pretty ugly. 

Speaking of ugliness, by the end of the book I wanted to cut Dr. M. up and give him a few more humane characteristics, but, alas, another fate awaited him. Other than fantasies of vivisecting the good doctor, this short novel brings to mind other thoughts.  How far should mankind reach in the name of science?  Do we "play God" for the sake of progress?  What distinguishes man from beasts?  What makes us human?  How strong are the effects of socialization?   Where can I get my hands on a scalpel so I can cut up this guy and give him a taste of his own medicine?

A more immediate question I'm asking myself now:  Which of Wells' books should I read next?  The Time MachineThe Invisible ManThe First Men in the Moon?  I can't wait to dive into another sci-fi vision (or nightmare) conceived over 100 years ago.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Is it just me, or has this image gone positively viral in your Google Readers:

Or maybe it's this one:

Not surprisingly, there are going to be a lot of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril this year, thanks to Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings, and I will attempt to number myself among them.

I'm going for Peril the First, with a goal to read four books with the intended elements of mystery, suspense, horror and such.  Here are some options I'm looking at:

Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
The Skull Mantra by Eliot Pattison
The Monk by Matthew Lewis
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
Drood by Dan Simmons
The Vanishing of Katherine Linden by Helen Grant

Have fun everyone!  I can't wait until the weather gets into the spirit this challenge. In Southern California, that usually happens a few days before it's over.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Way of Kings Group Read (Part Four)

The readalong for The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson continues.  If you want to join in or find other thoughts on the book, check out the Polishing Mud Balls Readalong Page. 
Late again!  I had a book club last night that I had to cram in a couple hundred pages for, so I had put off answering questions and visiting others.  Sad.  But the book club I went to was fabulous, so I guess it's really all good.

Also, I keep forgetting to say this:  Spoilers follow!
I finished up Part 4 on Saturday night, and just had to go on to finish the book.  When you're looking at just 40 more pages (in the hardcover edition), it's really hard to stop.  I will keep from spoiling any of those 40 pages though.
Here are this week's questions, provided by Kailana

1. One thing that I have thinking about during the course of this book is what Brandon Sanderson is trying to say about religion. Jasnah is an atheist. Shallan believes, but is still trying to find herself. Dalinar believes strongly in the ‘Old Ways’. What do you think of this idea?
He hasn't really expressed anything definitive yet (that I can tell), but I find his exploration of religious faith very interesting.  Even though I am a religious person who attends church regularly, I have times that I struggle with faith.  I came into this world a skeptical person, and am constantly questioning everything about everything, religious or not (I think Jasnah would be proud of me--I'm not sure if that's a good thing...).  Because of this, I always try to focus on certain "things" that I know are true, because I need something to serve as an anchor in life. One of those things is that it is good to serve and love others and try to relieve suffering where possible.  The reason I bring this up is because I see each of the main characters in the book doing the same thing--some sort of a guiding principle even if they haven't figured out what to believe in.  Kaladin is unsure about a lot of things, but has a core belief that you save life when possible and you don't leave a man behind.  Dalinar clings to his ideal of honor and integrity through The Codes and what he is learning in The Way of Kings.  Jasnah finds value in knowledge as a source of truth, and that is what guides her life.  Shallan is an exception, because she seems to have the faith in the established religion, but is learning through Jasnah to question her beliefs, not in order to prove them false, but to expand her knowledge and understanding.  I know Jasnah is referred to as an atheist in the book, but she strikes me more as an agnostic.  All in all, I think Sanderson is trying to represent how characters live their lives while they try to figure out questions of faith.

2. The relationship between siblings is an important part of this book. Adolin has always been at the forefront of Dalinar’s two sons, but Renarin is important, too. What did you think of the two brothers? Going back a generation, what do think of Dalinar and our glimpses of his brother? Then there is Kaladin who joins the war to protect his brother and fails. And Jasnah whose brother is King. Or Shallan who puts herself in a dangerous situation to help her brothers out following her fathers’ death. What do you think of these relationships? Did any stick out for you? 
I feel like we've only just scratched the surface of these relationships, with little hints of more drama yet to be revealed, past and present.  I like Adolin, but Renarin intrigues me more.  I would love to find out more about Gavilar, especially since Navani makes a comment that suggests he was not necessarily an honorable man.  

3. Kaladin has been included in every section. Why do you think this was? Did you wish to have a break from him, or did you enjoy knowing he would be explored with every section?
Well, honestly, I have a little crush on Kaladin, so I don't need any breaks from him.  I'm good with the "exploring" and all ;-)  From a more literary stance, the continuity of one character gives such a long book a focal point and ties everything together a bit.

4. One of my favourite characters in the book is Syl. What do you think of her and her development throughout the course of this book?
I think we're far along enough in the book for me to confess that at first she reminded me of Tinkerbell.  This was not a positive thing for me.  Luckily she changed and matured enough to help me to let go of that image of her.  I like her more as she gains more wisdom, but at the same time it's somewhat poignant to see her grasp the dark side of life and of human nature. 

5. And, the big question, what do you think is going to happen in the last section? Any predictions?
I have already finished, but I will predict that I will be happily reading the book again before the next one comes out.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Way of Kings Group Read (Part Three)

The readalong for The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson continues.  If you want to join in or find other thoughts on the book, check out the Polishing Mud Balls Readalong Page.

It is with great self-discipline that I put down the book before getting too far into Part Four.  Doesn't it just sound weird to say "Only 300 pages left?"  Kind of like getting excited that gas is now only $3.66 . . .
But of course I would rather read this book, even hundreds more pages of it, than fill up my tank.  I am finding Sanderson's doorstop to be such a page-turner, that I may even end up reading it while filling up my tank because I won't be able to put it down.
This weeks questions are brought to us by Memory

1. Part III reunites us with Shallan, who we haven't seen for a few hundred pages, and separates us from Dalinar and Adolin for a few hundred more. How do you feel about leaving characters behind for such long stretches? Did you lose any of your connection to them during the break?
Somehow it works for me, even though some of the story lines/characters are left for hundreds of pages.  I had mentioned somewhere that I didn't miss Shallan much during Part II, but when she returned in Part III, I was riveted.  Kabsal freaked me out and I was trying to figure out if he was up to something.  I just kept wondering what was up with all that bread and jam!  But then there are a lot of things that just don't seem to add up about Jasnah's explanation of the poisoning.  I seriously do not know who to trust!  If Jasnah is lying, why?  Is it just another "hands-on" lesson?  Did she do some soulcasting when she put her finger in the jam?  Does that mean that she has a functioning soulcaster or doesn't need one?  Or did she just simply want to smell the darn jam? At one point I even thought Kabsal was working as sort of a spy for Jasnah to find out more about Shallan.  I don't get that idea now.  I have a million more ideas and questions about this whole storyline, so I'll just stop here.

I also didn't miss Dalinar, but now that I am beginning Part 4, I'm just as enthralled.  There is so much I want to know about the visions. And still, why his memories of his wife have been erased.  For something that has only been mentioned a couple of times, it occupies a lot of my thoughts!

2. So far, how would you compare this to other epic fantasies you've read? Does it remind you of any other series?
It does strike me as different than the fantasy I've read.  I have felt more of a connection to our world in other books, whereas Roshar seems quite alien.  Maybe I haven't read enough other fantasy to compare, but The Way of Kings seems quite unique.  Originality jumps out of every page. 

3. How do you feel about the masculine and feminine arts? If you're female, do you think you'd be content to stick to scholaly pursuits, or would you rather do something physical, like go to war? If you're male, would you be willing to forgo learning to read, even if there were women around to read to you? What about the food? Does the spicy for men and sweet for women restriction fit your own tastes?

I think if I ate all those sweets I'd be fat and my teeth would fall out.  What guy would want me reading to him then?

4. What do you think of the flashbacks to Kaladin's childhood?
I look forward to them as they piece together the events in his life that have led him to his present condition.  He seems to have a pattern of depression that leads him to the brink and then he comes back even stronger.  Of course I wonder in each chapter of his past if we will finally find out the exact details of Tien's death.  I was a little vexed when that period of time gets skipped over and we return to the original battle scene from the beginning.  I liked the way we got a different perspective of the battle, and it made me appreciate more that the first time it was from Cenn's perspective. 

5. Do you have any theories yet as to where the story is headed? What do you most want to see in the last quarter of the book? 

In a nutshell, I want to see Kaladin and his group to escape, I want Dalinar's visions to be believed, and I have no clue what I want for Shallan.    But what I want may not be what's best for the story.  I'm sure Sanderson will play around a bit with what the reader wants to have happen, and what will actually happen.  I hope so.  I'm mostly hoping that at least a couple of things will have some closure, and that not everything is left for the rest of the series. 

At this point, still more questions than answers.  Love it!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Classics Circuit Tour: The Pastures of Heaven by John Steinbeck

Author: John Steinbeck
Originally Published: 1932
Length: 240 pages
Source: Library
Challenge/Event:  Classics Circuit Tour

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4/5

Welcome to the next stop of the Steinbeck TourThe Pastures of Heaven is the first of Steinbeck's California works, set in the farm country near his hometown of Salinas.  Published in 1932, this work precedes his popularity and financial success, but introduces the reader to Steinbeck's style and the genesis of the themes that he explores in later, better-known novels.  In this collection of short stories, we meet a community of families living in a beautiful verdant valley full of promise, finding that life can be rather ugly, and their own imperfections and the pressures to conform to society don't help at all.

The most pivotal family in the region is the Munroe family, after their acquisition of the Battle Farm, which is believed by neighbors to be cursed or haunted.  Its previous occupants include an epileptic wife (who goes insane), her dour husband (who dies, simply of old age and a cough), their fanatically religious son (who gets bitten by a snake while trying to cast the devil out of it), and a reclusive family who disappears without a trace leaving a table set with moldy food and the rest of the house cleared of the furniture.  The people of the Pastures of Heaven look upon the abandoned, run-down house with wariness and superstition: 
 "It's good land," they said, "but I wouldn't own it if you gave it to me.  I don't know what's the matter, but there's sure something funny about that place, almost creepy.  Wouldn't be hard for a fellow to believe in haunts"'(12).

Imagine the talk when the Munroe family buys the farm and settles down in the area!  Defying his own previous bad luck and the expectations of the community, Burt Munroe becomes prosperous and optimistic, even popular.  Chatting with the farmers, Burt proposes that maybe his own curse and the Battle Farm curse fought each other and killed each other off.  Clever idea.  But one guy has a better one:
"Maybe your curse and the farm's curse has mated and gone into a gopher hole like a pair of rattlesnakes.  Maybe there'll be a lot of baby curses crawling around the Pastures first thing we know"(19).
How inventive these farmers are!  Not to mention foreshadowing that bonks you on the head and propels you to read on.   What follows is a collection of stories (or as Steinbeck describes them, "tiny novels"), each depicting a different family living in the Pastures, touched in some inadvertent, but disastrous way by those "lucky" Munroes.

Besides being engaging stories with superb characterizations and vivid descriptions of the setting, this short-story cycle is exciting to read because within are found the origins of Steinbeck's most powerful themes and landscapes that emerge in later and more celebrated works.  Included is a cast of flawed characters struggling against forces out of their control.  Their dreams and self-delusions crumble in the face of reality.  Even in a place with the such a promising name, the Pastures of Heaven offers little solace and satisfaction to its residents.

It's always a little scary for me to read the earlier work of a beloved author and risk disappointment,  but in this case my fears were unfounded.  I enjoyed it mostly for its entertainment value and its ironic, darkly humorous tone.  Steinbeck himself has this to say about The Pastures of Heaven:
". . .Of anything I have ever tried, I am fondest of these and more closely tied to them.  There is no grand writing nor any grand theme, but I love the stories very much."
I loved the stories very much as well, but I disagree with him about the writing and theme--I don't know about "grand" but both can surely be found in satisfying quantities within this short-story collection.  


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Way of Kings Group Read (Part Two)

The readalong for The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson continues.  If you want to join in or find other thoughts on the book, check out the Polishing Mud Balls Readalong Page.

This week's questions were provided by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings. Of course, spoilers follow:

1.  In a recent interview Brandon Sanderson mentioned that the interludes are meant to show us parts of the larger world since much of the action is focused in one or two places.  What do you think of the first two sets of interludes?  Any characters or situations stand out to you?
I appreciate the interludes both in terms of breaking up the larger story and in the actual content.  In terms of geography, it feels like adding pieces to a puzzle to get a bigger picture of Roshar.  I love that we find out more about Szeth's place of origin through Rysn and that we get a picture of Shallan's homefront from her brother's part.  I also like the contrast between the Alethis who glorify warfare, and the Shin, who give most respect to the farmers--those who "add" rather than take away.  And the chapter about Axies the Collector was just hilarious!  It was perfect placement for a chapter like that.

2.  In small increments Brandon Sanderson is revealing the geology and ecology of Roshar.  What are your thoughts on what has been revealed thus far?
I haven't had many thoughts about this, so I look forward to reading everyone else's :-).

3.  This second section of The Way of Kings featured two distinct story lines, those of Dalinar and of Kaladin.  How do you feel this section of the book compares with the first section and what are your thoughts on either or both of these story lines?
Well, I really liked Part One, and I really, really like Part Two, and I may really, really, really like Part Three (fingers crossed).  Random thoughts:
I yearn for someone to trust in Dalinar's visions, and I'm curious about why he wiped his memory of his wife.  
Wit seems to have jumped right out of a Shakespearean play.
I love the concept of the ten heartbeats to summon a Shardblade.  
I have enjoyed reading about Kaladin's efforts to bring some humanity and dignity back into an almost hopeless situation, and the fact that he never gives up.  Syl's effect on Kal is very similar to Tien's effect on him in his youth.  I'm wondering about the relationship there.

4.  In the interview set out earlier in the week Sanderson talked about the Stormlight Archive being a series about the return of magic.  What are your thoughts on this, particularly in relation to the visions Dalinar is having during the highstorms?
I like that concept.  It seems like the magic is already there, but in a dormant state, much like the vegetation (okay, maybe I do have a thought on the ecology).  Syl seems to be a manifestation of the magic coming back to life.

5.  There has been a change in this second section of the nature of the quotes prior to the beginning of each chapter.  What are your thoughts on the opening lines featured in both sections of the book to this point?
I've spent way too much time pondering what they mean and going back to string them together so much that I almost wish they weren't there.  I should just skim and move on!  I liked how we got to actually see someone in the main storyline making one of those before-death statements that we saw in Part One, but I still don't understand their significance. 

6.  In the questions for these first two sections we've talked about characters and the story lines and the world that Sanderson has created, but there are a lot of interesting flourishes and touches to The Way of Kings thus far (shardplate, spren, the actual Way of Kings book, highstorms, etc.).  Talk about some of the non-character/non-setting things that you are finding either fascinating or annoying (or both) in the book thus far.
I think Sanderson mentions this in the interview, but I like the relationship being set up between science and magic.  The decayspren are analogous to bacteria, and I always think of endorphins when the gloryspren emerge.  The Way of Kings book that they refer to seems very Confucian to me in its ideas.  A lot seems to hinge on the highstorms.  They're destructive and yet bring light and power.

Overall, isn't it great to be about halfway?  The huge hardcover is now more balanced between my hands and I think I can throw in a few triceps presses now and then.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Steinbeck Classics Tour begins today and ends August 26.  If you're interested in following the tour, check out the schedule at The Classics Circuit website.

I will be posting my thoughts on The Pastures of Heaven on Thursday.  Never heard of it?  Neither had I.  I really liked it, but hopefully I'll have more than that to say about it on Thursday.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Thoughts 8-14-11

Outside my window:  Freshly mowed lawn :-)

I am listening to:  Two of my girls playing the piano and singing.  (I just heard one of them say to the other, "Are you saying eww to my singing?")  Also my son is editing footage from a "game show" all of the cousins acted out this weekend.

I am watching:   Doc Martin via Netflix Instantplay.  I love this show!  Just starting with Series 2.

I am thinking:  So many things I need to write them down on paper.  I call this my "brain-barf list."  Lovely name, huh?

I am grateful for:  A home, cars to drive, food to eat, healthy kids, the freedom and time to read and study.

I am reading:  The same things as two weeks ago . . . Really enjoying The Way of Kings

I am photographing:

 Pat Benatar/Neil Giraldo concert, shot of screen while singing "We Belong."  Awesome night!

My new nephew-dog(?) driving home from getting him at the airport.

 Cousin sleepover, in the middle of their latest cinematic caper.

 A shot of the sky during a baseball game.

I am listing:  Characters, creatures, places, nationalities, etc. found in The Way of Kings.  It's a long list so far.

I am creating:  Does the blanket I started crocheting for my daughter three years ago count?

Around the house:  I have been pretty grumpy about housework.  I just feel so sick of it.  The same things getting cleaned and messed up over and over and over.  I asked my husband if we could somehow eradicate housework, and he said we could if we got rid of the house.  Point taken.

In the kitchen:  Just trying to meet my goal of making dinner every night at home.  Summer was a little crazy as far as family dinners go, and I'm happy to get back into a routine.  Tonight:  Spaghetti, veggies, and garlic bread sticks.  Basic works.

One of my favorite things:  ZUMBA!  I've been doing it for over a year now, and it's so much fun.

The children these last two weeks:  Started school! 

Plans for the week:  Two Back-to-School Nights, one orthodontist appointment, one eye appointment, three dentist appointments, and a bunch of other mundane activities.  Starting jogging again after two months off.  I weigh a little less, so it should be easier, right?

In (or around) this date:  Nothing particularly noteworthy.  August does not seem to be conducive to blogging whatever the year.

Post format swiped from Polishing Mud Balls.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Way of Kings Group Read (Part One)

 Another readalong!  I love it.  Readalongs are one of the main reasons I keep up with this somewhat sporadic blog.  If you would like to join in or read other reactions to the book, check out the Polishing Mud Balls Readalong Page.

What a promising beginning for The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson! I had very few expectations, and have never read anything by him before.  So far it has been quite a visual feast, both in the actual maps and illustrations, and in the vivid descriptions of the different ethnic groups, the physical manifestations of emotions seen in the "spren," and the brilliance I picture in the Stormlight and the Soulcasting.  I also love Kaladin.  I know that main characters don't necessarily have to be likeable to make a book worth reading, but I sure like it when I do latch on to someone so loveable.
Here are the readalong questions for Part One, provided by Deanna of Polishing Mud Balls.  My answers are somewhat spoilerish, but really not so much as this is only the first fifth of the book.

1. Before I started reading The Way of Kings, I did have some thoughts on how I would like this story; did you? If you did, how is The Way of Kings actually comparing to those thoughts?

My main thought going into this book was wondering what I may be getting myself into with a ten book series.  I mean, I've only read through Book Two of the Wheel of Time.  But I suppose I'll have plenty of time between the publishing of Sanderson's books to read Jordan's (and technically, more of Sanderson's).  But I also know that if it's good, I will be thrilled that there will be nine more.  So far, it's looking that way.

2. What do you think of the pace of this story so far?  And what do you think of the prose? Do you think the prose is too descriptive? Not descriptive enough?  Give me your thoughts on the writing thus far.
The pacing is good for me.  I can tell he's taking his time telling the story and not leaving any detail out, but I am enjoying that aspect about it.  It's a fast read, which has been a relief since I've been short on time.  I know it's a pretty basic format, but I love the switching from one character's story to another.  I like how each major character has their own graphic at the head of each chapter.  I'm very curious about the statements from people before death.  Is it Kaladin's father who records these?  Does it have anything to do with the one who was abandoned in the prologue? 

3. What was your favorite part of this first section? 

I always love it when someone is successful in overcoming an obstacle so of course I wanted to cheer when Shallan is accepted as Jasnah's ward and when Kaladin reclaims his will to live (not to mention giving Gaz what he deserved).
4. Which character(s) do you find most interesting and why?
Both Kaladin and Shallan are interesting of course, but a minor character I was intrigued by was Shallan's brother, Nan Balat.  He seems like a nice enough guy, but he likes to kill animals.  What part will he play in the rest of the novel, if any?  I also feel for Szeth, who hates to kill, but must obey any orders.  Will he ever be free of this power over him?

5.  All right, what I really want to know is... what do you think of this book overall? so far.  Are you finding the story easy to follow? Are you fascinated, interested? Is the book holding your attention? Are you Bored? Indifferent? Please share your overall thoughts.

I really like it so far. I can't be specific, really. It's just one of those books that I like the way it makes me feel. I can get a little lost in the world that has been created, and feel invested in the fortunes of the main characters. I'm I love that I have lots of questions. I'm curious about the different classifications and gender roles that the different areas have and what role they will play in the story.
If I'm being nit-picky, I would complain about a couple of minor things. First of all, I felt as though Cenn would be a main character because we see that battle scene from his perspective. And then he died. Did the scene have to be centered on him? It shows us Kaladin's character and all, but I wonder why Sanderson chose to present it that way. The other thing (and I realize this is rather silly), is that I would like to see a little more variety in the swear words. Everything is "Storm" this and "Storm" that. I need a little variety in my fantasy-world profanity!

I have not yet had time to watch the interview yet. I'm hoping to do that tomorrow and also visit other readers. For now, it's bedtime, and I will try my hardest to "curl up" with my massive hardcover copy of The Way of Kings...