Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bookish Nerd is Moving


There is still some formatting to be done, some pages to import, and some links to revamp, but


has officially relocated. 
Thanks to all of you who are following my reviews and other bookish ramblings. 
I hope you will continue to do so at the new pad...accessible at the link above.

Happy reading...and writing about reading.

Laura

Friday, October 7, 2011

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Audio CD, 11 disks (13.5 hours)
Published May 26th 2009 by Random House Audio 
ISBN:  0739359339 
4.5 stars overall / 5 stars audio narration

Goodreads Synopsis:
In 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, a city of great wealth and glamour, the home of millionaires and beggars, gangsters and gamblers, patriots and revolutionaries, artists and warlords. Thanks to the financial security and material comforts provided by their father’s prosperous rickshaw business, twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Though both sisters wave off authority and tradition, they couldn’t be more different: Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree . . . until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from California to find Chinese brides.

As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the Chinese countryside, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the shores of America. In Los Angeles they begin a fresh chapter, trying to find love with the strangers they have married, brushing against the seduction of Hollywood, and striving to embrace American life even as they fight against discrimination, brave Communist witch hunts, and find themselves hemmed in by Chinatown’s old ways and rules.

At its heart, Shanghai Girls is a story of sisters: Pearl and May are inseparable best friends who share hopes, dreams, and a deep connection, but like sisters everywhere they also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. They love each other, but each knows exactly where to drive the knife to hurt the other the most. Along the way they face terrible sacrifices, make impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are–Shanghai girls.


My Thoughts:
The last paragraph above is a perfect description of Lisa See's wonderful novel Shanghai Girls.  At its heart, this book is a story of the intense and unbreakable bond between Pearl & May that lasts through a lifetime.  The story begins in Shanghai...Pearl & May are young women, footloose & fancy free, extravagant, disrespectful, rebellious, jealous, and woefully ignorant (or perhaps purposefully so?) of current events and their family's loss of status & descent into poverty.  As they are faced with the fact that their father has lost everything - including what they thought was theirs - they slowly come to grips with the new realities that face them.

What comes as a surprise to them is the strength their mother demonstrates in the face of terrible danger as the green gang tightens the noose around their family, and as the Japanese their invasion of China.  She has saved money, unbeknownst to the rest of her family, and she is able to use it (along with a few other personal treasures) to facilitate their escape from Shanghai.  As traditional a Chinese wife as she is, she shows herself to be a woman of great strength and foresight, and she ultimately sacrifices herself to save her daughters...something that they will not fully appreciate until many years later.  They do not realize how very much like their mother they both are, because in the wake of her death, both Pearl & May demonstrate their own loyalty to each other, and strength in the face of seemingly indomitable circumstances.  This scenario of loyalty & strength repeats itself again and again over the course of their lives, and becomes the defining characteristic not only of their relationship with each other, but also the relationships they forge with their paper family in the US.

I thought Lisa See  did a masterful job of balancing Pearl's and May's personal life experiences against the backdrop of the second World War.  I was swept into the story in such a way that I felt like I was experiencing it along with them...fearful for their lives as they made their escape from Shanghai, anxious that they pass the inquiry at Angel Island, thankful that they made it safely to Los Angeles, wishing that they could find contentment, and happy when they reconcile their relationships with their new family.  They were thrown together by necessity and circumstance, and they (all of them) found a way to respect and love each other in spite of the circumstances that brought them to this point.  I grew to love each of them as they grew to love each other, and ultimately felt that Ms. See created a story that was realistic, and that showed a perspective of WWII life that gives a more well-rounded picture of what the Chinese ex-patriots truly experienced.

In the end, I felt the same frustration and fear over Joy (their daughter) that Pearl, May, Sam & Vern feel.  It's so difficult to understand how she can be sympathetic to China's new communist regime when she has family who escaped dire circumstances to pursue a life (of freedom) in the US.  Granted, their US life was far from ideal, but Joy was so entrenched in her own misguided beliefs, and so embarrassed by her family's "fresh off the boat" lack of assimilation that she would not listen to reason or wisdom.  I loved that Ms. See brought Pearl's story full circle, and allowed for her to tap into the courage that brought her to the US in the first place, so that she could return to China in search of her daughter.  What a beautiful love story!


Thursday, October 6, 2011

No Time to Wave Goodbye by Jacqueline Mitchard

Audio CD, 7 disks (9 hours)
Published September 15th 2009 by Random House Audio Publishing Group (first published August 19th 2009) 
ISBN:  0307701786 (ISBN13: 9780307701787)
original title:  No Time to Wave Goodbye
4 stars overall / 4 stars audio narration
 
Goodreads Synopsis:
New York Times bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard captured the heart of a nation with The Deep End of the Ocean, her celebrated debut novel about mother Beth Cappadora, a child kidnapped, a family in crisis. Now, in No Time to Wave Goodbye, the unforgettable Cappadoras are in peril once again, forced to confront an unimaginable evil.
 
It has been twenty-two years since Beth Cappadora’s three-year-old son Ben was abducted. By some miracle, he returned nine years later, and the family began to pick up the pieces of their lives. But their peace has always been fragile: Ben returned from the deep end as another child and has never felt entirely at ease with the family he was born into. Now the Cappadora children are grown: Ben is married with a baby girl, Kerry is studying to be an opera singer, and Vincent has emerged from his troubled adolescence as a fledgling filmmaker.

The subject of Vincent’s new documentary, “No Time to Wave Goodbye,” shakes Vincent’s unsuspecting family to the core; it focuses on five families caught in the tortuous web of never knowing the fate of their abducted children. Though Beth tries to stave off the torrent of buried emotions, she is left wondering if she and her family are fated to relive the past forever.

The film earns tremendous acclaim, but just as the Cappadoras are about to celebrate the culmination of Vincent’s artistic success, what Beth fears the most occurs, and the Cappadoras are cast back into the past, revisiting the worst moment of their lives–with only hours to find the truth that can save a life. High in a rugged California mountain range, their rescue becomes a desperate struggle for survival.

No Time to Wave Goodbye
is Jacquelyn Mitchard at her best, a spellbinding novel about family loyalty, and love pushed to the limits of endurance.

My Thoughts:
** spoiler alert **
Though I have never read The Deep End of the Ocean, I am familiar with the story, and even watched the movie based on the book some years ago. As such, I felt like I was (somewhat) picking up where I left off, which of course is what Mitchard had in mind.

I really enjoyed this book, especially as I thought it was an interesting perspective on what is such a heartwrenching and devastating tragedy for so many families. Contrary to some reviews I read, I thought the story was very well crafted, and though some of the details were farfetched (cottage in the wooods in the middle of winter, inexperienced hikers climbing snow covered mountain in the dark, etc.), I did think the premise was eerily plausible. It is not out of the realm of possibility that someone could be so unhinged that they would try to exact revenge for their own family's heartache, even if they were the perpetrator of their family's loss. Not common, certainly, but not impossible. Strange things happen all the time.

I was gratified that Mitchard wrapped the story with the ending that we needed, because to do otherwise would have been too awful to imagine. As such, the two books together make a powerful story of loss and pain and ultimately, justice and reconciliation.



The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton

Paperback, 306 pages
Published May 19th 2009 by Ballantine Books (first published June 17th 2008) 
ISBN:  0345502833 (ISBN13: 9780345502834)
primary language:  English
original title:  The Wednesday Sisters
4 stars
 
Goodreads Synopsis:
Friendship, loyalty, and love lie at the heart of Meg Waite Clayton’s beautifully written, poignant, and sweeping novel of five women who, over the course of four decades, come to redefine what it means to be family.

For thirty-five years, Frankie, Linda, Kath, Brett, and Ally have met every Wednesday at the park near their homes in Palo Alto, California. Defined when they first meet by what their husbands do, the young homemakers and mothers are far removed from the Summer of Love that has enveloped most of the Bay Area in 1967. These “Wednesday Sisters” seem to have little in common: Frankie is a timid transplant from Chicago, brutally blunt Linda is a remarkable athlete, Kath is a Kentucky debutante, quiet Ally has a secret, and quirky, ultra-intelligent Brett wears little white gloves with her miniskirts. But they are bonded by a shared love of both literature–Fitzgerald, Eliot, Austen, du Maurier, Plath, and Dickens–and the Miss America Pageant, which they watch together every year.

As the years roll on and their children grow, the quintet forms a writers circle to express their hopes and dreams through poems, stories, and, eventually, books. Along the way, they experience history in the making: Vietnam, the race for the moon, and a women’s movement that challenges everything they have ever thought about themselves, while at the same time supporting one another through changes in their personal lives brought on by infidelity, longing, illness, failure, and success.

Humorous and moving, The Wednesday Sisters is a literary feast for book lovers that earns a place among those popular works that honor the joyful, mysterious, unbreakable bonds between friends.

My Thoughts:
This may be one of my favorite light reads of the year. I am a sucker for stories that center around a reading or writing group (or whatever common interest it may be), particularly when a group of women are gathering initially because of their common interest, and become friends, confidantes and sources of strength & support as the years progress. I would love to be a part of a group like this...and perhaps I am in some sense. These are satisfying, friendship-affirming stories that explore the layers of women's relationships with each other. This book in particular appealed to me, not only because of these factors, but because the women gathered specifically to write...corporately, regularly, transparently...to critique realistically & constructively, and to become better writers because of their relationship with each other. I loved that their relationships deepened, their candor as both writers & critics becaame more refined, and in the end, their support for each other withstood many setbacks (some serious) without breaking. There's a little bit of everything in this story, it is delivered with skill, and it is ultimately satisfying.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Audio CD, 8 disks (10 hours)
Published January 12th 2010 by Penguin Audiobooks (first published January 1st 2010) 
ISBN:  0143145541 (ISBN13: 9780143145547)
primary language:  English
original title:  Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
4 stars overall / 4 stars audio narration

Goodreads Synopsis:
Twelve-year-old CeeCee is in trouble. For years she’s been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille— the crown-wearing, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town. Though it’s 1967 and they live in Ohio, Camille believes it’s 1951 and she’s just been crowned the Vidalia Onion Queen of Georgia.

The day CeeCee discovers Camille in the front yard wearing a tattered prom dress and tiara as she blows kisses to passing motorists, she knows her mother has completely flipped. When tragedy strikes, Tootie Caldwell, a previously unknown great-aunt comes to CeeCee’s rescue and whisks her away to Savannah. Within hours of her arrival, CeeCee is catapulted into a perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricities—a world that appears to be run entirely by women.

While Tootie is busy saving Savannah’s endangered historic homes from the wrecking ball, CeeCee encounters a cast of unforgettable, eccentric characters. From the mysterious Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in an outdoor tub under the watchful eyes of a voyeuristic peacock, to Oletta Jones, the all-knowing household cook, to Violene Hobbs, the loud-mouthed widow who entertains a local police officer in her yellow see-through peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.

But CeeCee’s view of the world is challenged in ways she could have never imagined: there are secrets to keep, injustices to face, and loyalties to uphold. Just as she begins to find her ballast and experiences a sense of belonging, her newfound joy collides with the long-held fear that her mother’s legacy has left her destined for destruction.

Laugh-out-loud funny, at times heartbreaking, and written in a pitch-perfect voice, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is a spirited Southern tale that explores the intricate frailties and strengths of female relationships while illuminating the journey of a young girl who loses her mother but finds many others.


My Thoughts:
This was a sweet story, full of Southern charm and the obligatory dose of drama, and complete with happy ending. I loved it, especially since it painted a picture of what true Southern friendship, hospitality & loyalty are all about. Although it was a somewhat sugar-coated story, Hoffman didn't leave out the complexities of Southern life during the Civil Rights movement, but she did temper the tone in keeping with the light timbre of her novel. This is a quick read, perfect for summer vacation, and it leaves you with the happy feeling of a story that worked out just right.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A New Idea (ok, Challenge)...Starting...NOW!

I've been steadily reading through several challenges during the past nine months, and it has been hugely satisfying to track my progress and see some of the books I have wanted to read forever move over into the completed column.

However...

As will so many things, after concentrating on such specific reading goals, I've become bogged down with some to the point that I am ready to abandon them to another year and start with a new idea.  I ran across Susan Hill's book, Howards End is on the Landing, and was instantly intrigued with her accomplishment.  I love the idea of taking a hiatus from book buying (the logistics of which will involve phenomenal restraint) and concentrate on what I have already purchased.  Each and every time I buy a book, I am absolutely convinced that it will be the very next thing I read...because it sounds so good...but inevitably it languishes on the bookshelf amongst all the other "must reads" because I have been captivated by something else completely.  It's time for a new plan.

So here begins my journey...into my own library.  It's the perfect time for it.  This is my birthday month - as good a time as any to begin with a new resolution, perhaps without the pressures of the New Year attached to it.  And having recently moved, I have completely unpacked all my books, reorganized, purged the duds, duplicates and already reads, and become reacquainted with my small collection.

I love them...all of them.  And through the course of the next twelve months, I hope I will find a few gems that I feel compelled to press into the hands of every reader I know.  I hope I will not find too many duds.  I hope I will read more than I've ever read before.  I really hope I can break up the log jam in my brain and get the reviews flowing once again. 

So...let the adventure begin...starting...now.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

So I'm approximately 100 pages into the 1400+ pages of this dauntingly huge tome, and I love it. Hope I feel the way so many others have felt at the end...that they wished it would go on.  It is beautifully written (so far), and I believe the prognosis is good.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Audio CD, 12 disks (14.75 hours)
Published November 30th 2004 by Naxos Audiobooks (first published 1938)
ISBN: 9626343230 (ISBN13: 9789626343234)
original title: Rebecca
5 stars overall / 5 stars audio narration

Goodreads Synopsis:
"Last Night I Dreamt I Went To Manderley Again."
So the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter remembered the chilling events that led her down the turning drive past the beeches, white and naked, to the isolated gray stone manse on the windswept Cornish coast. With a husband she barely knew, the young bride arrived at this immense estate, only to be inexorably drawn into the life of the first Mrs. de Winter, the beautiful Rebecca, dead but never forgotten...her suite of rooms never touched, her clothes ready to be worn, her servant -- the sinister Mrs. Danvers -- still loyal. And as an eerie presentiment of evil tightened around her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter began her search for the real fate of Rebecca...for the secrets of Manderley.


My Thoughts:
I absolutely loved this book. In my opinion, it is an absolutely perfectly crafted gothic novel. It is dark and mysterious, with an air of the supernatural surrounding Manderley and all that goes on there...as if the entire estate is infused with Rebecca's presence. I love the insular, nearly claustrophobic nature of the book. Du Maurier does a superb job of making every element of the novel feel like it is cut off from the outside world - Manderley itself, the cove, the boat, Mrs. Danvers, even the relationship between Maxim & the second Mrs. de Winter. The occasional interactions with those outside of Manderley are exhausting and fraught with anxiety, and though Mrs. Danvers casts a pall over the second Mrs. de Winter's existence at Manderley, she & Maxim both always seems relieved to recede back into their private life there.

That the second Mrs. de Winter's name is never revealed is a very effective way of illustrating her second tier status with regard to everyone except Maxim himself. She allows herself to be pushed around and insulted by Mrs. Van Hopper, and feels it necessary to sneak around with Maxim de Winter to avoid Mrs. Van Hopper's rude comments and judgmental attitude. When she arrives at Manderley, she is so intimidated by the illusion of Rebecca that she appears incapable of asserting herself and making Manderley hers. She endures Mrs. Danvers' incivility and subtle evil to the point that I as the reader wanted to shake her until her bones rattled.

Although the entire novel is compelling, it is the second half that is full of the unexpected. The unraveling of the truth of Rebecca's demise and the subsequent revelations related to that are done in a way that hold's the reader in suspense until the very end. Du Maurier had an impeccable eye for the mysterious and inexplicable, and she created a dynamic story of unparalleled suspense that culminates in a hugely satisfying way because it is both characteristically plausible and yet completely unforeseen. Spectacular in every detail.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

Paperback, 482 pages
Published March 30th 2010 by Penguin (Non-Classics) (first published June 16th 2001)
ISBN: 0143117149 (ISBN13: 9780143117148)
original title: The Slap
4.5 stars

Goodreads Synopsis:
Winner of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize, Christos Tsiolkas's The Slap is a riveting page-turner and a powerful, haunting rumination on contemporary middle-class family life. When a man slaps a child who is not his own at a neighborhood barbecue, the act triggers a series of repercussions in the lives of the people who witness the event-causing them to reassess their values, expectations, and desires. For readers of Jonathan Franzen and Tom Perrotta, this is a compelling account of modern society and the way we live today. 

My Thoughts:
I will start with the caveat that I am a big fan of Australian literature, and this book was no exception. I had a lot of mixed reactions to the book - it was very well written, and certainly deserving of literary attention, but definitely controversial. Tsiolkas is Greek by birth, and he spent a lot of time on prejudice & how it plays out in Australia, starkly exposing the prejudices and biases that pervade Australian life. What was intriguing to me is how these prejudices & biases are nearly a mirror of those that we contend with in the US, though the clashing cultures have different backgrounds. The difficulties that arise when cultures interact (and clash) are so similar to what we encounter here in the US that it makes for a story that is easy to relate to and easy to understand.

Tsiolkas did what I believe to be an extraordinary job of writing authentically on controversial subjects without falling into the silly stereotypes of bigots & bigotry. I like that he makes a point to try & reflect human nature and how we contend with cultural, political, spiritual and personal controversy. It would have been very easy for him to hyperbolize these characteristics - and that is a very effective writing tool (the use of the grotesque) - but in this context I believe that the realistic portrayal of daily life in the wake of a very controversial incident shone a light on the good and bad (and sometimes ridiculous) in fairly equal measure.

I loved the book, the setting, the writing style, the insights. Even where I objected to beliefs or actions, I liked that they were presented because they represent life as we know it.

The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Audio CD - 6 disks (7 hours)
Published 2006 by Recorded Books Classics Library (first published 1866)
ISBN: 1419398067
primary language: English
original title: Игрок
3 stars overall / 4 stars audio narration 

Goodreads Synopsis:
The Gambler paints a stark picture of the attractions--and addictions--of gambling. Using skillful characterization, Dostoevsky faithfully depicts life among the gambling set in old Germany. This probing psychological novel explores the tangled love affairs and complicated lives of Alexey Ivanovitch, a young gambler, and Polina Alexandrovna, the woman he loves.

My Thoughts:
Can't say I loved this book. It took probably the first 1/3 of the book to get to a point where the story became interesting. However, after that it was quite good. I did love the character of the old Russian grandmother. She was hilarious and crabby and irascible, and I got a huge kick out of the fact that she denied her son any vestige of an inheritance, particularly since he was the one person (of all who stood to gain from her death) who wanted it so desperately that he was keeping regular tabs on her health and hoping she would die so he could get his hands on her money. The Gambler - Alexei Ivanovich - was not actually a very likeable character, and became less likeable (to me) as the book progressed. However, I thought Dostoyevsky did a really good job of illustrating how easy it is to fall into the thrall of gambling.

I don't know that I'd necessarily recommend it. It is the first work of Dostoyevsky that I've read, and my impression is that it is not nearly his best work. However, I am glad that I read it, and I'll definitely read more Dostoyevsky in the future.



Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bookish Trends I'd Like To See More (or Less) Of


Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This meme was created because they are particularly fond of lists at The Broke and the Bookish. They love to share their lists with other bookish folks and LOVE to see your top ten lists!

Each week they post a new Top Ten list complete with one of their bloggers answers. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND sign Mister Linky at the bottom to share with all those who are participating. If you don't have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Don't worry if you can't come up with ten every time...just post what you can!

**********************************************************
MORE...

1.  AUDIOBOOKS - Perhaps the single most effective means I've found to significantly increase my annual reading total, not to mention the fact that an appropriately dramatic audio presentation makes for a rockin' reading (er...listening) experience.

2.  BETTER (AND/OR PRIVATE) LIBRARIES - I get so discouraged when I go into a library anticipating that it will be fab, and am assaulted with the paltry and dismal selection of books.  I'm a library girl, especially when it comes to audiobooks, and it makes me so sad when a big city or county has an (apparently) minuscule library budget, and makes a (seemingly) pathetic effort to make their libraries desirable places to be.  Then there's the disrepair of the books, and draconian fines (I know...an effort to improve the bottom line).  Maybe it would be better to have private libraries, run by those who love the business of books, designed for those who love books, marketed in attractive & inventive ways.  I'd be there so often I'd need a chair with my name on it.

3.  USED BOOK STORES - There is no better type of bookstore in the world.  I love, l-o-v-e, LOVE the look, the smell, and feel of a used bookstore, full of books that have been read and loved by others.  Not only can I buy more of the books I love, but the selection is insane.  AND there is marginalia, which I love.  How fun to read a great book, and see notes from a previous reader who loved & appreciated it like I do.  Sometimes the notes reiterate my own thoughts, and sometimes they expand my understanding in a whole new way.  You can't find that in a retail book store.  Long live McKay's, Powell's, Half Price Books, and so many other brilliant places to find my favorite "legible leftovers."

4.  AUTHORS LIKE MARK TWAIN, STIEG LARSSON, PAT CONROY, TONI MORRISON, FLANNERY O'CONNOR, KATHRYN STOCKETT...  Wouldn't the reading world be improved many times over if most of the authors were of the talent and brilliance of these authors?  I'm so hard pressed to find a bad book (or idea) by these authors, and it is gratifying to know that every time I pick up one of their books, I will be satisfied to the end of the story and sorry to leave the pages and move on.

5.  EBOOKS - I do, in fact, much prefer the look and feel of a well made trade paperback.  I love seeing margin notes or a folded down page.  I love the ease of passing it along to some other bookish type when I'm finished.  BUT...I favor anything (anything) that gets (and keeps) people reading.  If it's digital readers, daily email excerpts, digitized copies to print, it doesn't matter, because reading is good.  Really good! 

6.  BOOK CLUBS / GROUPS - More people talking about books they have read, recommending books they have read, pressing some tome they ADORE into your hands and begging you to read it, discussing the myriad ideas and themes and controversies of great literature.  Sounds like a little bit of heaven on earth to me. 

LESS (OR FEWER)... 

7.  SERIES - Well, I suppose I should qualify and say that fewer series in the vein of a formula that is used over and over and over with little variation.  This is so common in adolescent / young adult fiction, romance writing and detective / mystery series.  I don't mind a formula that works, if it is used inventively and the author strives to avoid predictability.  But for heaven's sake...lazy writing drives me nuts.

8.  TERRIBLE WRITING - I'm not just referring to bad story lines here.  Grammar mistakes and spelling mistakes are incredibly distracting, and even if the story line has a reasonable chance of working, to be a grammar & spelling nimrod is tantamount to heresy for my seasoned reading eyes.  Use a dictionary...a (good) editor...spell check...grammar check.  Study & learn!  Don't be lazy...and for God's sake, proofread!!

9.  BOOKS BASED ON MOVIES / TV SERIES - Really, have authors completely run out of ideas?  Is there so little left to write about that books must be made from movies or tv?  It's bad enough that movies and tv regurgitate ideas over and over, but now we have to waste time, money & materials to print this trash?

10. BOOK COVERS PICTURING THE MOVIE/TV CAST - I don't know about you, but I HATE buying books that have the cast of characters from the movie or tv adaptation pictured on the cover.  Part of my love of reading includes my imaginative renderings of characters, scenes, places, etc. etc. that are all part of the story.  To have those elements rendered for me (and sometimes none too well) is highly annoying, and I do, in fact, shun those books in favor of the original covers.  Here's a note to publishers...STOP IT!  It sucks!!

There's my ten...what are yours?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Coffee & a Confab with These Authors? Why, Yes! Yes, Indeed!


Joining in on the fun over at The Broke and the Bookish for 
their Top Ten Tuesday.  
 
Today’s list is:

Coffee & a Confab with These Authors?  Why, Yes!  Yes, Indeed!
(or Top Ten Authors I'd DIE to Meet )

Well, let me start by saying I'm not dying to meet anyone - never have had a desire to meet anyone that was so strong I'd do just about anything for it.  However, there are a number of authors with whom I could have quite the memorable chat, and would not hesitate to do so if given the opportunity.  
I am glad to be able to share them.



Mark Twain
Really, who would not want to meet this man?  He was ridiculously smart, sarcastic, witty, hilariously funny, sharp, and had a good distrust of the government.  What's not to love?
Pat Conroy
As a southerner myself, and I can really relate to a lot of what he writes.  Further, his grasp of the English language is second to none, his writing is brilliant, he has a self-deprecating wit, and he tells the brutal truth.  Most humbling to me, however, is his incredible breadth of reading and his ease in talking off the top of his head about a stunning number of books and authors.
Flannery O'Connor 
Her ability to skewer the social constructs of her generation was astounding, and she seemed to do it without effort.  She was incredibly observant, strongly convicted in her beliefs, and unafraid to write about what she believed in.  If it ruffled feathers, she was not bothered.  Certainly one of the greatest short story writers who has ever been, she wrote thought-provoking and disturbing stories that were meant to cause the reader discomfort and introspection.
Louisa May Alcott
If only to satisfy my suspicion that Jo March was Louisa May Alcott in disguise.  I suspect that I would find her interesting and perhaps a little out of step with her generation - perhaps a little ahead of her time.  It would be a cool thing to hear her perspective.
Kathryn Stockett 
I was so absolutely mesmerized by The Help, and it has stayed in my mind for the months since I read it.  I would thoroughly enjoy listening to her talk about her background, and how she came to write this lovely (and controversial) book.
Christos Tsiolkas 
He's Greek & Australian, and he has written a book (The Slap) that starkly exposes the prejudices and biases that pervade Australian life.  Interestingly to me, they are nearly a mirror of those that we contend with in the US, and though the clashing cultures have different backgrounds, the difficulties that arise when they interact are so similar to what happens here make it highly relatable.  I'd love to listen to him discuss how this book came into being.

Judy Blume 
I confess, I stole her name from another Top Ten, but I would love to meet her nonetheless.  She was a staple of my tween and teen years, and an author who can make the kind of connection she did with that angst-filled stage in a girl's life is an author worth chatting up.
Harper Lee 
She wrote such a heart-rending, thought-provoking book, and I would love to pick her brain about why she never published again.
Elie Wiesel 
Obviously, to hear his first hand, personal account of survival during the Holocaust.
Stephen & Tabitha King 
I've read many of Stephen's books and several of Tabitha's.  It would be really cool to listen to them talk not only of their own literary endeavors, but how the fact that they are both published (and famous) authors works for (and perhaps against) their personal relationship.  How do they interact as authors?  Do they work together?  Do they critique each other?  Do they like each others' writing?

C. S. Lewis 
Not only for The Chronicles of Narnia, but for his vast body of spiritual writing.  To listen to him speak of his personal relationship with God would be both humbling and inspiring.  In particular, I would love to hear him expound on his understanding of forgiveness, mercy and grace.
Caroline Leavitt 
I've been connected to her through Facebook, and she seems a kind of flighty, excitable type that stresses easily.  HOWEVER, I have loved every book she has written (I've read all but the newest), and I would really enjoy hearing her talk about her own life experiences, and how they factor into her book ideas.
James Lee Burke
The man who created Dave Robicheaux is a man I want to meet.  I love the series and the setting, and I would dig listening to an old cowboy talk about his writing.
Joe Coomer 
Because his books are so different...and a little weird.  Because they're about odd people doing odd things.  Because he writes about Appalachia.  Because he's not very well known, but he's written something like 8-10 books, and they're good.






Jonathan Latimer 
His book The Lady in the Morgue turned me on to hard-boiled detective fiction, and it beautifully epitomizes the genre.  He was a contemporary (and friend) of Ernest Hemingway - even spent some time in Key West during the time Hemingway was there.  I think it would be great fun to talk to him, not only about his own writing (and his penchant for odd titles), but about his friendship with Hemingway.

And last but not least...



J. K. Rowling 
Duh!  If you're a Harry Potter fan, how can you not want to meet the woman who came up with him and touched off one of the most incredible book franchises in history?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A-Z Author Challenge

I did this challenge in 2008, and haven't attempted it since (I don't think I completed it then, actually). This is not a challenge I've been actively working on, but I can't resist giving it a try - even half way through the year. I am clearly needing to fill quite a few alphabet spaces, so any author / book suggestions for the (as yet) unrepresented letters would be welcome.

Here's what I've read so far.  
               * Authors / titles in blue are still-to-be-read books from an overlapping challenge.
               * Authors / titles in red are much appreciated recommendations.
               * Authors / titles in green are what I'm reading currently.

A...
B...
C...
* Chbosky, Stephen - The Perks of Being a Wallflower
* Chevalier, Tracy - Remarkable Creatures
* Clayton, Meg Waite - The Wednesday Sisters
* Conroy, Pat - My Reading Life
D...
* Delano, Marfe Ferguson - Helen's Eyes: A Photobiography of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller's Teacher
* Dobie, Kathy - The Only Girl in the Car

* Dickens, Charles - Great Expectations

* Doctorow, E. L. - Homer & Langley
* Dostoevsky, Feodor - The Gambler
E...
* Erdrich, Louise - The Plague of Doves
F...
* Fitzgerald, F. Scott - This Side of Paradise
* Frank, Anne - The Diary of a Young Girl
* Freed, Lynn - The Servants' Quarters
G...
* Golden, Arthur - Memoirs of a Geisha

* Grisham, John - The Summons
H...
* Haddon, Mark - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

* Harrison, Jim - The English Major
* Hemingway, Ernest - For Whom the Bell Tolls
* Hoffman, Alice - Blue Diary
 
* Hoffman, Beth - Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
* Hornby, Nick - Juliet, Naked
* Hosseini, Khaled - A Thousand Splendid Suns

I...
* Irving, John - A Prayer for Owen Meany

J...
* Jackson, Joshilyn - Backseat Saints
* Johnson, Sterling - English as a Second F*cking Language
* Johnson, Sterling - Watch Your F*cking Language
K...
* Kaywell, Joan - Dear Author: Letters of Hope
* King, Cassandra - Making Waves
* King, Stephen - The Gunslinger
L...
* Landvik, Lorna - The Tall Pine Polka

* Larsson, Stieg - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
M...
* Maurier, Daphne du - Rebecca
* Melville, Herman - Moby Dick
* Montgomery, L. M. - Anne of Green Gables
* Morrison, Toni - The Bluest Eye
* Myers, Bill - My Life as a Belching Baboon with Bad Breath

N...

* Nesbo, Jo - The Redbreast
O...
* O'Connor, Flannery - The Complete Stories
* O'Connor, Martha - The Bitch Posse

* Ozeki, Ruth - My Year of Meats 
P...
* Parkhurst, Carolyn - The Nobodies Album
Q...
* Quindlen, Anna - 

R...
* Radish, Kris - Hearts on a String
* Rennison, Louise - Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging
* Ringwald, Molly - Getting the Pretty Back: Friendship, Family, and Finding the Perfect Lipstick
* Robinson, Marilynne - Gilead
S...
* Sebold, Alice - The Lovely Bones
* Sebold, Alice - Lucky
* Shapiro, Dani - Family History
* Shapiro, Karen Jo - Because I Could Not Stop My Bike and Other Poems
* Stockett, Kathryn - The Help
* Strauss, Alix - Based Upon Availability
* Strout, Elizabeth - Amy and Isabelle
T...
* Thayer, Ernest L. - Casey at the Bat
* Townsend, Sue - The Complete Adrian Mole Diaries 

* Truss, Lynne - Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
* Tsiolkas, Christos - The Slap
* Twain, Mark - The War Prayer
* Twain, Mark - The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson
U...
* Umrigar, Thrity - If Today Be Sweet

V...
* Verghese, Abraham - Cutting for Stone

W...
X...
Y...
Z...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I love Literary Rebels

 
Joining in on the fun over at The Broke and the Bookish for 
their Top Ten Tuesday.  
 
Today’s list is:


Top Ten Rebels in Literature
 
 
 
 1.  Skeeter Phelan from The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  She is perhaps my favorite these days, because she saw something terribly wrong in her society and set about to bring attention it and (hopefully) change it.  She would not be dissuaded, even if it meant losing friends.  I loved (still love) her for her courage!

2.  Mikael Blomkvist from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  He was willing to go to prison for libel even though he was innocent, because there was something to the story, and he was not willing to compromise his ability to get to the truth.  He also did not whitewash anything - he told the truth, bluntly at times, and I respected him for that.

3. Jacob Jankowski from Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  I loved him for standing up to August repeatedly regarding his treatment of the animals.  I loved him for protecting Camel for as long as he could. and for cultivating a strong friendship with Kinko, even though it was blurring the "class" lines in the circus hierarchy.  I loved him for loving the animals and treating them kindly.  Finally, I loved him most for not killing August when he had the opportunity, because it would have made him just like August, and he couldn't stomach that.

4. Frederick Douglass.  Author of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Douglass defied convention (and the law) by learning to read and write, and then by escaping slavery.  Not only was he a vocal abolitionist, but he supported women's suffrage, and believed in equal rights for all (black, white, male, female, etc.) in a time when such a belief was considered radical and controversial.  He believed in doing the right thing regardless of the consequences, and for this he has earned my greatest respect.

5. Jo March from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  I have always wondered if Jo March was a fashioned a bit after Louisa May Alcott herself.  She was strong-willed, opinionated, passionate, tomboyish, and fiercely loyal.  She thought deeply and wrote prodigiously.  She fits in virtually no where, but she hardly ever kowtows to societal conventions because she is compelled to pursue her ambitions as a writer.  I love her because she stays true to herself despite pressures to the contrary.  I also love that her mother sees her for who she is and encourages her to follow her heart.




 
Believe it or not, those are the only ones that leaped into my mind today.  All exceptional, so maybe I don't need more. :-)

Friday, July 1, 2011

The English Major by Jim Harrison

Audio CD, 6 disks (7 hours)
Published October 1st 2008 by Blackstone Audiobooks, Inc. (first published December 31st 2007)
ISBN: 1433246643 (ISBN13: 9781433246647)
primary language: English
original title: The English Major
4 stars overall / 5 stars audio narration

Goodreads Synopsis:
"It used to be Cliff and Vivian and now it isn't." With these words, Jim Harrison begins a riotous, moving novel that sends a sixty-something man, divorced and robbed of his farm by a late-blooming real estate shark of an ex-wife, on a road trip across America, armed with a childhood puzzle of the United States and a mission to rename all the states and state birds to overcome the banal names men have given them. Cliff's adventures take him through a whirlwind affair with a former student from his high school-teacher days twenty-some years before; to a "snake farm" in Arizona owned by an old classmate; and to the high-octane existence of his son, a big-time movie producer who has just bought an apartment over the Presidio in San Francisco." The English Major is the map of a man's journey into - and out of - himself, and it is vintage Harrison: reflective, big-picture American, and replete with wicked wit.

My Thoughts:
Starting out, I wasn't completely sure I would like this book, but honestly, it really grew on me. Jim Harrison has a amazing command of the English language, and given the subject matter of the book (a newly divorced, 60-year-old retired farmer who's somewhat on the horny side goes on a cross country trek to see the United States), I wasn't expecting to enjoy the writing like I did. Perhaps making his protagonist a former English teacher helped, but I think what really made this book was the brilliant narrator. He so perfectly captured Cliff's voice, his personality, and his view of the world that at times it was the deadpan delivery of some of Cliff's more hilarious hijinks that made me laugh out loud. I am not typically one who chooses books that are marked as "funny," but this couples what the back-of-the-book blurb calls "wicked wit" with an interesting story and truly good writing, and that makes it a winner.

It also got me thinking that, contrary to my studious avoidance of reading anything that even slightly smelled of the Beat Movement, I might ought to reconsider reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Perhaps I've erroneously shunned it as being too artsy-fartsy for me. Judging from my positive reaction to this cross-country mission to rename the states and birds, I'm beginning to wonder if I'd like Kerouac after all.