Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale
by Diane Setterfield
audio book (13 cassettes: 15 hrs, 45 min)

*** The Story ***

Margaret Lea, reclusive daughter of an antique book dealer, is invited to the home of the prolific author Vida Winter. Ms. Winter’s novels are widely read and loved but no one knows anything about her background. Upon arrival, Margaret learns that Ms. Winter is ill and wants to tell her life story to someone before she dies.

The rest of the book alternates between the fascinating story of where Ms. Winter came from and what is going on in the present day as Margaret records her story.

*** What I Liked ***

Oh how I loved this book! The story within a story, the deep love of reading, the strange characters … there is good and evil and everything in between. I’ve seen this referred to as a Gothic novel and I’d have to agree. It just has that *feel* about it, what with a dilapidated old mansion, numerous recluses, and mysterious happenings.

As Nymeth so aptly put it in her review, “It’s no wonder that The Thirteenth Tale is so immensely popular among book bloggers. It truly is a book for book lovers.”

And the narration on the audio book was amazing. There are two narrators, Bianca Amato and Jill Tanner, one for Margaret’s point of view and one for Ms. Winter’s point of view. Between the two of them they conveyed a whole passel of character voices. There was no confusion as to who was speaking at any given time. In fact, their narration really made the book for me.

And I loved the ending. Wait, that’s *not* a spoiler! I’m not talking about the ending of the plot here. What I’m talking about is the way Margaret tells us what happens to all the minor characters at the end of the story. She, like any book lover, always wants to know about the secondary characters in a book; what happened to the maid, the best friend, the old lover, and so on after the story concluded? So she tells us all those things after Ms. Winter’s story concludes. Aah … how I loved that.

*** What I Didn't Like ***

There is just one thing that I didn’t like about this book. And really, this is a very minor thing to gripe about. The rest of the book was so wonderful, creepy and suspenseful and intriguing, that I hate to even bring it up, but I will anyway.

Since this is a spoiler-free review I won’t spell out what it is; those who have read the book should be able to tell what I’m talking about anyway.

There is a part of Margaret’s story that heavily influences who she is. I don’t understand that part. I mean, I understand the facts but I don’t understand why it affects her the way it does. Granted, I have never had that experience but it did seem very foreign to me, almost contrived. For those who know what I’m talking about, did you have the same reaction or does it make complete sense to you?

*** Want More? ***

I have another post coming on Monday about the literary and pop culture connections I found while reading this book – be sure to come back and check it out!

In the meantime you can check out what other bloggers have to say about The Thirteenth Tale:
Want your review added to the list? Just post a comment with the link!

Friday Finds 01/30/09

I have only one new book to share with you this week, but that one book got me thinking about the author so I'll tell you my thoughts on him as well.

Agincourt, by Bernard Cornwell - Here's an excerpt from the author's website:
Agincourt is one of the most famous battles ever fought; the victory of a small, despised, sick and hungry army over an enemy that massively outnumbered it. [This book] tells the story of that small army; how it embarked from England confident of victory, but was beaten down and horribly weakened by the stubborn French defence of Harfleur. ...[B]ut Henry V was stubbornly convinced that God was on his side and insisted on marching from Harfleur to Calais to prove that he could defy the great French army that was gathering to crush him. He believed he could evade that army, but the march, like the siege, went disastrously wrong and the English were ... forced to fight against an enemy that outnumbered them six to one.

[This] is the tale of Nicholas Hook, an archer, who ... finds himself in that small army trapped at Agincourt. The novel is the story of the archers who helped win a battle that has entered legend, but in truth is a tale, as Sir John Keegan says, 'of slaughter-yard behaviour and outright atrocity'.
I have sort of a love/hate relationship with author Bernard Cornwell ...

LOVE: I loved his ALFRED THE GREAT series. The characters he created in those books were what drew me in. That series tells the tale of 9th century England when the Viking warriors controlled much of the land. King Alfred (the only king in English history to be called "the Great") starts as a minor character but gains prominence through each book. The main character is Uhtred, a English boy raised to manhood by the Danish conquerors. This is a FANTASTIC series. I listened to the audio version of the first three books and highly recommend them. The final book, SWORD SONG, wasn't out on audio when I finished the third book back in January of last year. It is now though, and I've just requested it from the library - yeah!

HATE: I hated - passionately - his stand-alone novel STONEHENGE. It was one of the first books I reviewed on my blog. Suffice it to say that between the vivid descriptions of infant sacrifice, the horribly brutal murders, and the grating voice of the audio book narrator, it was quite possibly one of my least favorite books ever.

WHAT TO DO?! Will AGINCOURT be more like the ALFRED books or more like STONEHENGE? I guess I'll have to give a try to find out.

Check out other Friday Finds over at MizB's blog.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Meeting Bloggers IRL (in real life)!

Since I began blogging about a year ago, I’ve had the opportunity to actually meet several people I first *met* through their blogs. I wrote about my meeting with Shana but I don’t think I mentioned that I also met two local bloggers (Amy and another gal who blogs anonymously) who have since joined my book club.

Last weekend I had the chance to meet two more bloggers, Anna and Serena. They are the brains behind the wonderful War Through the Generations challenge blog. We got together for lunch at the local Panera and spent two hours chatting about books, blogs, and life in general. It was lots of fun!

If anyone else happens to be in my area (Baltimore/Annapolis, Maryland) I’d love to meet you as well. It is always fun to put a face and a voice to the personality I know from a blog.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Happy Birthday Kiddo!

Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday 7-year-old-kiddo ...
Happy birthday to you!

We're having a little family party tonight then a big kids party at a laser tag place on Saturday. I love laser tag but kiddo's never been - it should be fun!

Kiddo was off school today for a teacher workday, but since we had an ice storm last night the teachers didn't go in. That means he's off school tomorrow too. Needless to say, he's excited. Especially since I told him he could stay up and watch LOST with me tonight. I think that made his entire day.

In case you're wondering, I DID get kiddo some books for his birthday this year. If you can keep a secret, I'll tell you what he's getting.
  • Peter & the Starcatchers - I won a book of choice from Chartroose and chose this for kiddo
  • Piratology - complete with model pirate ship to build
and two books I can't remember the titles of
  • kids book of US History with giant fold-out maps
  • a Discovery Channel Planet Earth activity book about ocean life
Yes, kiddo does like history and science so those last two *are* good pics for him.

Hope you all have a great day too!

The Mysterious Receding Seas

The Mysterious Receding Seas
by Richard Guy
266 pages

It was the premise of this non-fiction book that caught my attention; according to the author, the world’s seas are receding because the earth is actually expanding. Fascinating, no? I was very intrigued by this theory and hoped that I’d learn something from the book whether I eventually agreed with the theory or not.

I wish I could summarize the science behind this theory, but I can’t. I wish I could tell you all the facts that Guy based his theory on, but I can’t. I wish I could tell you that this book was well written, but I can’t.

In point of fact, it was the poor writing (or maybe poor editing?) that ultimately forced me to put down this book after struggling through 81 pages. The author is not a scientist. He makes that clear, over and over and over and over. And over. Despite this fact, he’s convinced that he has some very important information to convey. And he could very well have some excellent points to make, all of which may be completely scientific, but if had to read the phrase “what I’m trying to tell you is …” one more time, I’d have thrown the book across the room.

Let me make myself clear; I’m not knocking Guy’s research or his theory. In fact, I find the theory fascinating and I'd love to understand the reasoning behind it. Having not read the book completely, I can’t judge whether his theory about an expanding earth is plausible or not. I can’t say if his evidence is over- or underwhelming. He might very well be the most brilliant mind of the century … who can tell?! All I can say is that in spite of the fact that I REALLY wanted to understand Guy’s theory, I just could not continue reading this book.* Extensive and thorough editing is only way to make this readable.

* Just so you know, I started this book back in early autumn '08. I’ve picked it up several times since then, but I’ve finally had enough – I just can’t give it any more effort. Also, for those who like to know, I received a free review copy of this book by my own request.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What's on YOUR Nightstand? (the Jan. '09 edition)

It’s that time again … time for 5 Minutes for Books’s “What’s on Your Nightstand?”

As you know, I don’t keep books on my nightstand (in part because I don’t have one) but rather in odd places throughout my house. Here’s run down of what I’m reading and where it can be found:

*** In my bag, wherever I go ***

Starfinder, by John Marco – I’ve been waiting for this ARC for months, so I had to start reading right away. I hope I’m not disappointed, but I can’t say yet because I’ve only just started it.

*** On my desk at work ***

Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope – It’s a LONG classic that I’ve really gotten into and am quite enjoying. I usually read it during my lunch break.

*** In my car ***

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield (audio) – I love this, but three (!!!) of the thirteen cassettes don’t work! So I’ve also had to borrow the actual book and read the sections that are inaudible on the cassettes.

*** In my bathroom ***

The Ark, the Reed, and the Fire Cloud, by Jenny Cote – This is such a long book for me to read to

kiddo (and we’ve been working on it for so many months now) that I’m now taking every opportunity to squeeze in a chapter. I’ve been reading it to him while he’s in the shower, getting his pjs on, and brushing his teeth each night.

*** In my bed ***

Knife of Dreams, by Robert Jordan (audio) – I’m on

the 11th book in my Wheel of Time series reread/relisten. Book 12, the final book, is coming out in Nov. ’09 and I can’t wait!

*** Staring at me accusingly from the end table ***

Island, by Aldous Huxley – I’m so fed up with this book that I’ve put it aside indefinitely. I do want to finish it though, if only to see if there is ANY redeeming quality about it.

So ... what's on YOUR nightstand?

Lovely Links #10

Welcome to this 10th edition of Lovely Links, a post where I link you up to all the interesting things I've come across recently. Here we go!
  • A few weeks ago Booking Through Thursday had a post about music. While browsing some of the songs people linked to on YouTube, I was reminded of one of my very favorite musicals, Aida. Here's a link to the song I love the most from that show. It's called Elaborate Lives and it is a love song between an lordly Egyptian and a slave woman (who used to be a princess of Nubia). The song always gives me chills ... and it doesn't hurt that the guy is really sexy!

  • How would you like to live on a tropical island for 6 months, during which your only job is to explore the island and scuba dive, then blog about it? This is a legitimate job! The story is here and details are here. You have until Feb. 22 to apply ... what are you waiting for?!

  • Speaking of tropical islands, an island would likely be a safe place to be living if your hometown were nuked. Check out this interactive map where you can nuke the city of your choice and determine how far-reaching the effects will be. What fun! (Is it creepy that it was actually fun?! I think it is.)

  • I LOVE the Dune books so this look at the making of the audiobooks was quite interesting.

  • "Preproduction on The Hobbit is underway." Did you hear that?! Another addition to the Lord of the Rings movie series - yeah! I read The Hobbit when I was in the first grade and I have loved it ever since. I can't wait to see the movie. Kiddo and I just watched the old animated version recently.

  • Speaking of Tolkien, over at they are doing a re-read of all The Lord of the Rings books in order. Each chapter is thoroughly recapped and analyzed and commenters are chiming in with their thoughts. If you're a fan, you'll love it. And if you've never read it, this would be *sort of* like having someone read and explain it to you - what could be simpler?!

  • And finally, speaking of and re-reads, they are ALSO doing the re-read/analyze thing with Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series, in preparation for the release of book 12 in Nov. '09. You know from my left sidebar how addicted I am to these books! This re-read is going at a much faster pace that the Tolkien one though (there are many more books to get through). The conversation in the comments is fantastic - I'm loving it!
That's all for now. Happy linking!

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Purpose of the Past

The Purpose of the Past:
Reflections on the Uses of History

by Gordon S. Wood
8 cassettes

Ok, I give up. I’ve made it through about 3 cassettes and I just can’t take it anymore! I thought this book would be very interesting, but alas, it is just about putting me to sleep on the way to and from work.

The book is a collection of essay-length book reviews of non-fiction history books written by Wood over the past 20 years for Publishers Weekly and The New York Review of Books. As I understand it, his goal is to show how history can be used and misused by historians. Sounds like it could be interesting, right? I mean, as a blogger, I LIVE for book reviews! And I love non-fiction and history books so, for me, this should be a match made in heaven. Not so much.

The biggest problem for me is that I found it all incredibly boring. Wood gives in depth analysis of the books he’s reviewing, critiques the authors methods, explains opposing schools of historical thought, and cites numerous examples of supporting or contradicting evidence. Most of the time I was completely lost. And bored. As with (almost) all my audio books, this one came from the library ... and back it will go as soon as possible.

It has been about a year since I’ve had to abandon a book and now I’m doing it twice in a month (more about the other one coming soon).

A Modest Proposal

A Modest Proposal
by Dr. Jonathan Swift

Originally published in 1729
8 pages

Hmm … not exactly sure what to say about this. In fact, I’m going to suggest that you hop over to Rebecca Read’s review and read before you continue reading this post. She does a great job of analyzing this satirical essay. Had it not been for the fact that I read her review a while back, I would have been completely confused when I read this essay.

~ Ok, I’ll assume you’ve read her review and are back now. ~

I picked this up because it is on the 1,001 Books list and because it is very short. I’d like to know WHY it is on the list though. Is it because it is such a good example of satire? Maybe, but I still found it decidedly unpleasant.

In this essay Swift proposes to solve Ireland’s population and economic problems in the following manner:

A portion of all babies will, at age 1, be sold for food. Their parents would sell them willingly, because they would have enough children to feed/clothe already and because they would get a decent sum of money for their infant. The buyers would be the wealthy who would then serve the meat as a delicacy. This solves the problems of overpopulation (especially Catholic overpopulation) and begging, and also puts money back into the economy.

Yeah, like I said, decidedly unpleasant. Without Rebecca’s review in my mind, I would have been completely disgusted with this essay. As it is, I still didn’t like it at all.

If you didn’t listen to me before, I do suggest you go over and read Rebecca’s review. She’s makes a lot more sense than I do on this one.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Update and Questions ...

*** A Helpful Blogging Pal, and an Update ***

When I was complaining about not having time to finish the 1% Well Read Challenge last week, Amanda helpfully pointed out that there are several short stories I could read instead of the lengthy books on my list. Yeah - now I won’t have to fail the challenge!

By the end of February I only need to read three other selections (plus finish the two I’m currently reading). Here’s what I chose:

  • A Modest Proposal, by Jonathan Swift
  • The Pit and the Pendulum, by Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Fall of the House of Usher, by Edgar Allan Poe

I’ve been meaning to read the Poe works for quite some time. And since this month is Poe’s 200th birthday, the timing couldn’t be better!

*** A Question, or Several ***

This question occurred to me today: Does anyone know WHY these particular 1,001 books made the list? I think that the book about the list claims that you can trace the development of the modern novel from the earliest books on the list to the most recent, but I’m not sure about that. What have you heard?

And also: Does anyone actually HAVE the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die book? I’d like to know if it is worth owning. Does it tell a bit about the purpose of each book on the list? Does it tell why each particular book is important to read? It’s one thing to say these are all “important” books but I’d like to know why. If the book will tell me that, I'd like to have it as a reference.

Friday Finds 01/23/09

For once, I actually have a short list!
  1. War on the Margins, by Libby Cone - a look at the English Channel Islands during WWII's German occupation - sounds a bit like that Guerney book, right? Myrthe thought so too.

  2. Coventry, by Helen Humphries - my Gram lived in Coventry during the bombings (in WWII) and I've heard stories from her all my life - this is a must read for me - I found the link to this review on the War Through The Generations challenge blog

  3. How To Be Like Walt, by Pat Williams - the inspiring story of Walt Disney's life - 5 Minutes for Books had good things to say, and being a Disney fanatic I'm sure I'd enjoy this one
As always, MizB's blog has links to lots more Friday Finds so hop on over there.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Happy Birthday to Hubby!

Happy 34th Birthday honey! I love you very much.

World Citizen Reading Challenge

I'm officially signing up for the World Citizen Challenge hosted by Eva.

For this challenge I chose to participate at The Minor Level (as in, if I were in college, I'd be Minoring in World Citizenship). That means I need to read three books that come from at least two different categories.

I've already completed one book:

The Man Who Loved China, by Simon Winchester (audio book) - I'm going to say that this biography is in the History category, even though it doesn't end until after WWII (and according to the definition of the category, History pertains to pre-WWII books). Here's the link to my review.

I still need to come up with two additional titles. I'll add them to this post as I come up with them.

This challenge lasts all year so hopefully it's one I can successfully complete.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Being Written

Being Written
by William Conescu
193 pages

On Friday I was feeling a bit frustrated with my current read (among other things) and decided to pick up a new book to read this weekend. Being Written has been calling to me for quite a while now and I decided to take the plunge. What a treat! I read the entire thing over the weekend, and would likely have read it in one sitting if I’d had the time.

*** The Summary ***

The hero of our story is Daniel. As he points out early on, most people have some sort of gift and he is no exception. You may be able to play the piano, or give motivating speeches, or run really fast but Daniel has a unique gift: he can hear the author writing. You see, Daniel realized a long time ago that he was merely an extra body in some author’s book. When the author needs the protagonist to bump into someone on the street, that person is Daniel. Or when the author needs to have a restaurant full of people, Daniel is one of those people. It’s not a pleasant realization, the fact that you are just an “extra”, but Daniel tells us he’s happier knowing than not.

On the off chance that the book he’s in turns out to be a thriller, Daniel decides to get in shape (you know, in case he needs to outrun a killer or something) and to read up on writing (in case he gets a chance to affect the outcome of a book). And in the meantime he goes on with his everyday life.

Then one day Daniel hears the author’s pencil while he’s in a bar and finds himself talking to a beautiful woman – the same woman who is being written about! Wherever she goes, the sound of the pencil follows her. This is it, he’s in another book!

Fearing that he’ll be written out quickly Daniel comes up with a plan that will keep the author’s attention on him and keep him in the book. The rest of Being Written follows Daniel as he puts his plan into action. I don’t want to say more than that or I’ll end up giving something important away!

*** What I Think ***

This book is unlike anything I’ve read before, and in a good way. It was intriguing and kept me guessing – and interested – throughout.

Each brief chapter focuses on a different character in the author’s book. Those chapters are told in the 3rd person. Then there are the chapters that focus on Daniel, on what he’s thinking and doing (even when the author is not writing about him). Those chapters are told in the 2nd person. That can be an awkward way to write but it totally made sense in this book.

I found it very interesting how Daniel rationalized his behavior by using the author as an excuse, or by justifying it as merely being part of the book. I’d love to discuss that with someone else who has read this – let me know if you have.

One reviewer is quoted on the cover saying “A white-knuckle thrill ride. You simply can’t put this book down once you’ve picked it up.” To me, that quote implies that this book is a thriller, with action at every turn. It is not, actually, but it IS fast paced and easy to get drawn into. I highly enjoyed it. And like I said, if I’d had the time I would have read it in one sitting.

*** Etc. ***

Some random things you might like to know ...

  • For those who like to know these things, there is some sex and some language in this book. The sex is not gratuitous but it is an integral part of the plot so it isn’t just glossed over either. It didn’t bother me any, but I know some of you would rather not read it.

*** Thank You ***

A big thank you to William Conescu for sending me a signed copy of this book. It was a great read and I wish you much success with it!

*** Other Reviews? ***

Have you read/reviewed this book? I’d love to add your link here – just let me know.

Book Notes enjoyed this book but A Novel Menagerie isn't huge fan. Booking Mama and Peace of Brain are though. What about you?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

LOST Challenge (for 2009)

Even though I didn’t finish my reading list for the first LOST Challenge of 2008 I’m signing up for the next one anyway. Amy was kind enough to say we could use any unread books from our first list so that’s a good thing – I only have one left and I really wanted to get to it!

(For those who don't have any idea what I'm talking about, the LOST Challenge is based on the tv show LOST and involves books referenced in the show.)

This time the challenge has its own blog and – get this! – it isn’t just for book reviews. It is for all things Lost related!*

Here’s my reading list for the 2009 Lost Challenge:

  • Moby Dick, by Herman Melville – this is the one I didn’t get to last time, but the audio book is on order from the library and I should be able to start it soon
  • Catch 22, by Joseph Heller - I was never assigned this one in school but I think it is a book that I should have read by now
  • The Pearl, by John Steinbeck - I loved East of Eden, Grapes of Wrath depressed me, and Cannery Row surprised me with the beauty of the writing ... I wonder what this novella will do
  • The Invention of Morel, by Adolfo Bioy Casares - supposedly this book is key to understanding the plot of LOST
  • On the Road, by Jack Kerouac - another classic that I've never read

If you want more info on this challenge hop on over to the LOST Challenge Blog and read all about it. I’m excited … are you?

* I’m assuming there will be legitimate posts on there (like this link to SciFiWire where they give tons of info about the upcoming season of Lost) but I’m thinking my biggest contribution will be the following: I finally let kiddo watch The Lord of the Rings and he got a real kick out of the fact that Charlie from LOST is also Merry the Hobbit.

The Red Leather Diary

I've been keeping my eye on this book for quite a while and I'm excited to announce that it is being released in paperback today.

The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal
by Lily Koppel

This is the true story of journalist Lily Koppel's discovery of an teenage girl's diary from the 1930s and her subsequent meeting with the diary's then 90-year-old author, Florence.

I LOVE this book trailer! How can you not want to read it after watching that?!

But maybe you need more urging. Here's a really quick video of Florence, the writer of the journal, talking about an Italian Count she had a fling with:

Gotta love it!

The website for this book is gorgeous - you have to check it out:

You can also check out the book itself:

If you really want to hear more about the book, check out this 40 minute presentation given by Lily. I listened to it in the background while at work, doing other things. It is quite fascinating despite the length.

Lily will be doing several appearances, mostly in the New York area. Click here for the tour schedule. I so wish I could meet Lily and Florence!

I'm so fascinated by this book - I can't wait to read it. Have you heard of it? Are you interested? What do you think?!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tess of the D'urbervilles - TV version

I've never read Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles but I've heard that it is quite good (I've also heard that it is horrible, but that's book blogging for you!). I was excited to see the public television's Masterpiece Classic version - I figured that if it was really great, I'd add the book to my TBR list.

So I recorded it earlier this month and finally got around to watching it this week. Here are my random thoughts (relatively spoiler free, although I do hint at a few things):
  • The actor who plays Alec D'Urberville is Hans Matheson and I find him incredibly sexy. He always plays the creepy guys though. He was Mordred in The Mists of Avalon (horrible man), he was Cranmer in The Tudors (not so creepy, but still ...), and now Alec (blech). He's been in other things as well, but I only see him in the creepy roles. And yet, I'm still attracted to him. [I guess it's like Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator - if you can still be attracted to a guy who wants to sleep with his sister, you KNOW he's got to be hot. Or maybe it's just me?!]

  • Her mother! Oh, her MOTHER! How I wanted to wring her neck! How you could send your 17 yr old daughter off like that, with no knowledge of the way the world works, and expect her NOT to get in trouble, I just don't know. I was so glad when Tess yelled at her when she came home. I tried to find the clip to show you all but it doesn't seem to be on YouTube. And then, And THEN! When Alec comes back and goes directly to her mother and she agrees to his plan - AAHH! Mother, how COULD you?!

  • In the intro to the film I learned that Thomas Hardy had great difficulty getting this book published due to it's "racy" content. He went through four rejections before finding a publisher willing to work with him. When the book was finally published, it met with massive criticism for the sexual content. The narrator went on to say something to the effect that Hardy "never gave up defending his fallen woman." I wish I could remember the exact quote, because it was quite touching. I also learned that this book caused lots of arguments amongst its readers. The big question - one which affected the seating arrangements at dinner parties! - was whether Tess was a pure woman or not. According to the narrator, people were very passionate about their opinions on this issue.

  • This story is really moving. I admire Hardy for standing up to his critics and writing a story that was much more "true" than other books written at the same time. And by "true" I mean that what happened to Tess likely happened to many girls - but no one was writing about it.

  • It is also really depressing. Although I loved the movie and would definitely watch it again, I don't think I want to read the book.

  • This book is on the 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die list. I've been keeping track of my reads using the great spreadsheet of Arukiyomi's. But I modified it a bit. Now it also tracks the movies I've watched that are based on books on the list. After watching Tess, I'm up to 28 movies!
Here's a clip of the movie in case you haven't seen it:

If you've seen this version of Tess of the D'Urbervilles (or any version), what did you think? What do you love about this book? What do you hate about this book? And do you agree that Hans is sexy, or is he another of those strange guys that I always seem to like but no one else seems to?

The Jeeves Collection

The Jeeves Collection
by PG Wodehouse
BBC Adaptation - 8 hours, 45 minutes

If you've been reading along for the past few months, you know that I recently discovered and fell in love with Wodehouse's Jeeves books. I've been listening to everything Jeeves I can get from my library.

Up 'til now I've only heard the traditional audio books narrated by Alexander Spencer. His narration is perfect for these books and I've quite enjoyed listening to them. This collection was different though. I didn't know it until I started to listen, but this collection is actually a BBC adaptation complete with several actors.

The three stories included in this collection are: Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves ... Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit ... and The Inimitable Jeeves. As usual, they are chock full of fun and farce. This time around, the complications include love triangles, darts tournaments, choir boys, and lots of other nonsense.

The first question is - does this count as an audio book since it is actually a BBC adaptation?

Since this is my blog and I get to decide the rules, I say yes. It IS a direct adaptation of several Wodehouse stories, and the changes to the story only come in the way of adding some sound effects and a bit of extra narration to fill in the scene.

The second question is - how does this compare to the traditional audio books?

Surprisingly, I have to say that it was much worse! Spencer does such a fantastic job with his narration of the traditional books that even a full complement of actors can't really compare, in my opinion. If anything, the additional voices were actually distracting to me. For another, there was too much laughing - it was quite irritating.

The characterization was a problem for me too. It's sort of like reading a book then seeing the movie and thinking that the actors are all wrong for the part because they don't match your imagination. Spencer's characterization of Bertie and Jeeves gave me clear opinions on how they should sound, and the actors in this collection portrayed them quite differently. I do have to say though that the voice of Aunt Dahlia (aka Mrs. Travers, aka "aged ancestor", aka my favorite person in the Jeeves books) was spot on - whoever played her did an excellent job of bringing her eccentricities to the forefront and making me love her even more than before.

All in all, I really wasn't a fan of this collection. The stories didn't grab me, but I think that was mostly due to the fact that I didn't like the way the adaptation was done. Too bad ... I think this has put me off Wodehouse for now.

Have you ever had this type of experience with audio books vs. radio adaptations? Are there other BBC programs that are actually worth listening to?

Friday, January 16, 2009


Being a list of things that are driving me crazy right now.
  1. I'm currently listening to The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. In the middle of cassette 3 (of 13), the audio went all funky. I couldn't get it to play in my car so I took it into the house to try it on another cassette player. Now I've lost it. I am SO into this story and I'm dying to know what happens next. Alas, I'm out of luck until I can get another copy from the library.

  2. I'm reading Aldous Huxley's Island for the Lost Challenge and I hate it. I keep reading, hoping that there will be something that redeems it. I'm loosing hope quickly.

  3. There's no way I'm going to finish the 1% Well Read Challenge by Feb. 28. I've been stressing myself out trying to get it done, but it is just NOT going to happen. So I'm throwing in the towel on this one. I will keep my list of unread books though, as I will be participating in this challenge again this year.

  4. There is also no way that I will complete the Lost Challenge by Jan. 21, considering that I haven't even started Moby Dick yet. I have the audio book on hold at the library and I do plan to listen to it, but it won't be before the challenge is officially over.

  5. My job is driving me crazy at the moment. There's lots of transitioning going on because our General Manager is retiring. In an office with a total of 17 people, a change like that is huge. Plus our holiday party is this weekend and half the office isn't going. I am, and I think I'm on the wrong half.

  6. It is COLD outside. 17 degrees to be exact. Now I know that many of you are in places where the thermometer is in the negative numbers so my 17 may look nice to you, but trust me, it's cold and I don't like cold. I like snow though. So if it is going to be cold it might as well snow - there's no point to cold without snow.

  7. There are other frustrating things at the moment but since they are mostly financial I won't go into all of them. Plus I think I've ranted long enough.
Ok, now that all that is off my chest, maybe my day will improve. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend! I know I will, because I'm going to pick up something that I actually WANT to read and take a break from Island. :)

Friday Finds 01/16/09

Here are the titles I added to my TBR list this week ...

  1. Land of Marvels: A Novel, by Barry Unsworth - according to BookBrowse it is "a thriller set in 1914, Barry Unsworth brings to life the schemes and double-dealings of Western nations grappling for a foothold in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire. " - there are archeologists, spies, and lots of drama in a political hotspot ... sounds sort of like Indiana Jones, no?

  2. Affinity, by Sarah Waters - the story of two very different women in 1870s London, both struggling against their own kind of imprisonment - Alessandra's review really got my attention

I haven't added anything to Kiddo's list for a while but I do have one for this month ...

  1. Night of the Howling Dogs, by Graham Salisbury - this is based on a real-life earthquake and tsunami that a scout troop survived in 1975 Hawaii - Ali read this with her boys and I enjoyed hearing their thoughts - I think kiddo would really get into this story

Do any of these titles appeal to you? Have you read any of them?

For more Friday Finds, visit MizB.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Best Friend I Ever Had (a guest review)

Please welcome my guest reviewer for today, Erika Robuck. I met Erika a few months ago at the Maryland Writers Association meeting when I spoke about book blogging.

Erika is a writer and amateur historian. She writes historical fiction, and is publishing her novel, Receive Me Falling, in early 2009. [I'm REALLY looking forward to reading it!] When she's not doing research or writing, she spends her time with her family in Maryland and North Carolina . You can check out her book at, and her blog at

She is also a huge fan of Hemingway, so when I received this book for review I KNEW she'd be the perfect person to read it.

The Best Friend I Ever Had: Revelations About
Ernest Hemingway From Those Who Knew Him
by David Nuffer
167 pages

David Nuffer’s book, The Best Friend I Ever Had, is a compilation of the author’s correspondence and interviews with people who knew Ernest Hemingway. It is 167 pages so it is a quick read, and it is full of photos, copies of letters, and various other artifacts supporting the author’s work.

Nuffer is not an academic, and both directly and indirectly expresses his negative opinion of Hemingway academics. It seems he has adopted the wary and skeptical view toward Hemingway scholars that the people who knew Hemingway did. This is not a scholarly work, and it is openly biased in its opinion of Ernest Hemingway. Though some previously unpublished letters from the Mayo Clinic and personal anecdotes from Hemingway’s son, Patrick, and third wife, Mary, might interest the true Hemingway scholar, the target audience for the book would be limited to serious fans of Hemingway.

The book was interesting and readable. Apart from a few formatting errors, it was clear in its presentation. The best parts of it came from the people who knew Hemingway, firsthand. Their amusing anecdotes and loyalty to the author were well portrayed and touching.

What the book lacked, however, was organization. It felt very much like a list David Nuffer typed up of all the Hemingway “stuff” he knew. At the end of each section, he did truly list points he wanted to convey, but didn’t embed within the prose. It felt as if I were reading notes for a speech. Some of the items in his list needed elaboration, but the way they were presented left the reader feeling like she was on the outside of an inside conversation.

I can identify with Nuffer’s love of Hemingway and his passion to “right” the reputation of him. I think that if Nuffer had organized the text chronologically, and had made more of an attempt to turn his findings into fluent prose it would appeal to a wider audience. As it is, only the true Hemingway lover would find it of interest.

Thanks Erika for this review. I can't believe that you only had this book for two days - I think that's the quickest read and review I've ever seen!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Lovely Links #9

Welcome to this 9th edition of Lovely Links where I give some linky love to things I found fascinating recently. Most of it is book related (go figure!) but some is just plain interesting. Enjoy!

  • Calling all Twilight fans! In case you haven't heard, Taylor Lautner, the actor who played Jacob in the movie, WILL get to keep that role in New Moon. If you recall from my movie review, I had a hard time with him in the movie because he was Sharkboy, but after reading New Moon I am solidly on Team Jacob!
  • Book club in-fighting? Read all about it in the New York Times.
  • A few authors out there are openly courting book clubs - I think it is great!

  • In case you missed it, my monthly post is up at My topic this go round was the unique titles that surfaced at my book club's Christmas Party Book Swap. Click here then scroll down to the post dated Jan. 5, 2009. Comments are always appreciated!

  • Ready for a laugh? How 'bout this laptop vs. dragon commercial? This has nothing to do with books ... it is just plain funny.
  • Such a Pretty Fat is the book pick at Costco. Huh? According to Book Club Girl, it's a funny book about weight loss. So NOT my kind of book. However, the video is HILARIOUS and you simply must go see it.
  • Scientists are discussing a wish list of extinct animals that could eventually be brought back to life through DNA and surrogate mothers. The list (you'll have to scroll down that page to see the list) is fascinating, and other scientists are doing similar research. However, didn't we learn our lesson with Jurassic Park?

That's all for now ... see you next time!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Interpreter of Maladies

Interpreter of Maladies
by Jhumpa Lahiri
198 pages

This is not a book I would have chosen to read but it was this month's book club pick so I didn't have a choice. Boy, am I glad that is was!

The book is a collection of 9 short stories about different aspects of Indian and Indian/American life.

Lets begin with the "short story" part of that last sentence. I don't usually like short stories. I haven't read many but usually I find that as soon as I get hooked into the plot, the story is over. This book was very different. The stories did draw me in, but in most cases they were heartbreaking or painful in some way, and I was almost glad that they were over. That sounds like I didn't enjoy the book; in fact I did enjoy it very much, but not in a "fun" way, more in a "meaningful" way.

That brings me to the second part of the sentence above, the "different aspects of Indian and Indian/American life" part. These are not "feel-good" stories - these are "slice-of-life" and "reality" stories. And the reality is that most immigrants, regardless of where they are from, find it difficult to adapt to their new home while not abandoning their homeland. Rather than focusing on the big picture Lahiri gives us snapshots of (usually) immigrants lives, glimpses into the struggles they deal with on a daily basis, the clash of cultures, and so on. Three of the stories are told in first person point of view while the others are told in the third person.

Without spoilers, the nine stories in this book are:

  • A Temporary Matter - Indian couple in America loses baby, connects over power outage
  • When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine - young Indian girl in America explains visits of Indian man separated from his family during Partition
  • Interpreter of Maladies - cab driver in India feels connection with married Indian American woman
  • A Real Durwan - in India a former landowner works as doorman in poor area
  • Sexy - an American girl has an affair with married Indian man
  • Mrs. Sen’s - a young married Indian woman watches an American boy after school
  • The Blessed House - newly married Indian American couple finds Christian “stuff” in their house
  • The Treatment of Bibi Haldar - in India young woman with seizures is cared for by neighbors
  • The Third and Final Continent - a young Indian man rents room from old American woman before bringing his wife to America

Three of the stories really resonated with me, although I can't say for sure why.

  • Mrs. Sen's was the first in the book that really struck me. It was told from the point of view of the young American boy, and I think the insight he provided despite being a American and a child was perhaps the most meaningful part for me.
  • The Blessed House was funny and sad at the same time, and very enjoyable. As for the ending, of course it bugs me - as with most short stories, it is somewhat ambiguous. I can't wait to discuss this particular tale with my book club to see if the other gals think things ended differently than I do.
  • The Third and Final Continent was the perfect story with which to end this book. It was my very favorite of the tales. In this story and Indian man rents a room from an elderly American woman while waiting to bring his wife to America. Ends up that the woman is over 100 years old and was born in 1866. The dual clash of cultures - between the Indian man and America, and between the old woman and the America of the 1960s - was fascinating for me. And the ending was more neatly tied up than most of the other stories, which I appreciate. It's interesting to note that this story is based on Lahiri's father, a fact I learned while putting together discussion questions for my book club.
I'm very glad that I read this book. It (somewhat) changed my impression of short stories and it very definitely gave me insight into immigrant experiences that I was unfamiliar with.

This is a powerful book. The stories have insinuated themselves into me and the ones I connected with are continuing to pull at me, almost weighing me down, as if I've added something to myself. I'm not meaning to sound all philosophical, but I'm having a hard time explaining how these stories make me feel so I hope you'll forgive me if I don't make much sense.

My plan was to read one story each night before bed, as it seems that they need a bit of time to "soak in" but I didn't stick to that plan. It worked well at first though, and I suggest trying it out if you decide to read this book.

Questions for my readers:

  • Is there a special way to discuss short stories in a book club setting? We've never done it before.
  • Are there specific questions we should ask that would help us analyze a short story?
  • And, as always, have you read this book? I'd be happy to include a link to your review here.

UPDATE: To read my book club's recap of this book click here.

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