Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lovely Links # 17

I'm now officially back from my Disney vacation but this is a pre-scheduled post so I can't tell you how much fun I had just yet. I'm always overwhelmed with things to do and blogs to catch up on after a few days away, so I hope you'll put up with my pseudo-absence a little longer. In the meantime, enjoy these links!

  • What do The 6th Sense (the movie) and The Turn of the Screw (the book) have in common? Click here to find out.

  • What are your thoughts on strong female characters? Which are your favorites? Get in on the discussion at OCD, vampires, and rants, oh my!

  • SciFi publisher Tor Books (whose website I totally love: launched an online store recently. And they are promoting not only their own books but scifi/fantasy from a wide variety of publishers. Read an interview about it here and check out the store here.

Life & History
  • This one minute video about the impact of adoption is amazing. Go check it out! And the blog it is posted on is one of my favorites - the couple recently adopted their daughter from China, and they have grandchildren her same age.

  • Beach erosion in England reveals historical artifacts. Watch the video here.

  • Ancient people roasted mammoths for dinner - cool!

  • The sport of "Hill Cheese Rolling"? Looks crazy to me but the photos are worth checking out for sure.

  • Plays With Needles is a blog I read consistently and it is one of my favorites. I'm NOT a creative person but this blogger certainly is! Hop on over here to see her latest creation and read the story she weaves around it ... simply amazing in my opinion. (Yes, this is the same blogger I met recently.)

Hopefully I'll be here for real tomorrow!

Monday, June 29, 2009

My Book Club and Little Bee

This month my book club met to discuss LITTLE BEE by Chris Cleave. I’d first heard of this book on and I was really excited to read it with the club. Our Sunday afternoon meeting was one of those rare days where almost everything seems to go right ...

The weather was gorgeous – mid-70s, puffy clouds, lots of sunshine. Our hostess has the most perfect shady, screened-in porch large enough for the 8 gals who attended to relax on her puffy chairs and soak in the mellow mood of the day.

We’re not a club who goes all out with the food at our meetings but we do like to eat. This time the stars aligned and we ended up with a fabulous spread: crepes, tons of fresh fruit, scrambled eggs with spinach and feta, bagels, chocolate covered strawberries, cake, and mimosas. Divine, I tell you … simply divine.

The book was a hit with most of the gals but we all reacted to it in different ways.

Read the rest in my regular monthly post at

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Upcoming Bookworm Carnivals

Below are the dates and themes for several upcoming Bookworm Carnivals. All are welcome to participate, so send in your submissions! Never participated in a carnival? It's easy - just find a review you posted that fits the current carnival theme and email the link to the carnival host. The host will put together a post that includes links to all the reviews submitted. It's a fun and easy way to find more books on a particular topic!

Upcoming Editions:

Edition 32 hosted by: Ali at Worducopia
Deadline for submission: June 26, 2009
Theme: Local (to you) Authors
To submit a post, email: worducopia AT gmail DOT com

Edition 33 hosted by: The Bookworms Carnival
Deadline for submission: July 10 2009
Theme: Whatcha Reading? – Give me your latest review or your favorite
To submit a post, email: bookwormscarnival at gmail dot com

Edition 34 hosted by: Bella at A Bibliophile
Deadline for submission: July 24, 2009
Theme: TBA
To submit a post, email: at gmail dot com

Be sure to hop over to to check out the 30th Edition of the carnival. The topic was Books About Books and there are some great titles in there!

And if you are on Facebook you can connect with the BWC on there as well.

(Just a reminder that I'm out of town and will respond to any comments when I return.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A (Cancelled) Journey to the Center of the Earth

You may recall that I recently fell in love with Jules Verne and that I loved the two books by him that I've read. I've been wanting to get back to my long Verne TBR list for quite some time, so I decided to try some of his books on audio.

My first pick was A JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. I recently watched the Brendan Frasier movie version with Kiddo and I was in the mood to find out the "real" story.

I started listening at work a few days ago and I couldn't seem to get into it. I wasn't sure what the problem was but I knew that part of it was the narrator. Something was off and I couldn't put my finger on it.

BUT THEN! I realized that this is the same narrator* I despised when he read Bernard Cornwell's STONEHENGE. In fact, it was due in large part to the narration that I couldn't stand that book.

I listened to another 10 minutes or so then I called it quits on this version of A JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. I'm afraid if I listen any longer that I'll end up hating this book too.

A quick visit to my library's website showed another version of this audio book on cassette - you can bet your bippie that I put a hold on that sucker!

* In case you're wondering, his name is Frederick Davidson, and I will be avoiding him like the plague from here on out. (And I'm still in Disney so I'll respond to your comments when I get back.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

RIP David Eddings

I know this news is a bit old by now but I wanted to write about it anyway. For those of you who don't know, David Eddings was an epic fantasy author. You can read a bit about him in this wonderful post from It includes excerpts from several of his books and explains why he was such a fantastic author - it is very much worth reading.

I've written about Eddings before in this post where I talked about my favorite books from childhood. His first series, The Belgariad, came out in the early 1980s when I was in elementary school. My dad had introduced me to Tolkien at age 6 and by 8 or 9 I was ready for something new so he gave one of Eddings's new books. I devoured it. Years later I reread the books and they were just as good as I remembered. To this day Polgara, one of the main female characters, is still one of my all-time favorites from any book ever.

Here's a list of all the Eddings books that I've read along with the years they were published:

The Belgariad series
  • Pawn of Prophecy (1982)
  • Queen of Sorcery (1982)
  • Magician's Gambit (1983)
  • Castle of Wizardry (1984)
  • Enchanters' End Game (1984)
The Malloreon series
  • Guardians of the West (1987)
  • King of the Murgos (1988)
  • Demon Lord of Karanda (1988)
  • Sorceress of Darshiva (1989)
  • The Seeress of Kell (1991)
Books related to The Belgariad and The Malloreon
  • Belgarath the Sorcerer (1995) (Prequel) with Leigh Eddings
  • Polgara the Sorceress (1997) (Prequel) with Leigh Eddings
  • The Rivan Codex (1998) with Leigh Eddings
The Elenium series
  • The Diamond Throne (1989)
  • The Ruby Knight (1990)
  • The Sapphire Rose (1991)
The Tamuli series
  • Domes of Fire (1992)
  • The Shining Ones (1993)
  • The Hidden City (1994)

I read most of these books shortly after they came out. I can't believe it's been so long ...

If you have read Eddings then you know how much he'll be missed. If you have not, I strongly recommend that you pick up PAWN OF PROPHECY. The Belgariad is a fantastic series, one that is not to be missed.

I'm posting this today (versus another day this week) in honor of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day.

(Just a reminder that I'm currently enjoying my visit to Disney World and will respond to all comments when I return.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Red Rain

Red Rain
by Tim Wendel

As the B-29 bombers began to pound Tokyo and most of the other major Japanese cities to rubble, the Japanese military became desperate to find a way to once again instill fear in its enemies. Out of such efforts was born the greatest secret of WWII the fire balloon. One woman, Yoshi, camouflaging her identity, is sent to uncover these delicate but deadly creations.

Assembled from paper by schoolchildren and women in the waning years of the war, the Japanese fire balloons were launched from fields near Tokyo and Kyoto. They often reached the U.S. mainland in just three days and two nights. Armed with incendiary bombs, the balloons original goal was to ignite forest fires throughout the western states, which they did at an alarming rate. Wendel s research at the National Archives and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., reveals that the balloons touched down in the U.S. more than 300 times from 1944 to 1945.

The balloons proved to be a better weapon than the Imperial Army ever knew. One sailed as far east as Michigan. At one point, the Japanese high command considered replacing the incendiary bombs with nerve and gas warfare. But it never came to that largely because of the U.S. military's ability to keep a secret.
I've had Red Rain on my desk/shelf/bed for about 9 months now. It is not a bad book, but it isn't a great book either. When I put it down the characters disappear from my mind and I'm not in a hurry to pick it up again. I really wanted to finish this book because it was sent to me by the publisher, the author is local (he teaches at Johns Hopkins University), the subject matter interests me, and it would count for the WWII Challenge ... but it just isn't happening. I'm giving myself permission to put this back on the shelf and not worry about it any more.

If you have a minute, check out this promo for the book. It includes actual footage from WWII of the fire balloons landing in the US. Honestly the topic is FASCINATING to me, but I just couldn't get into the book.

REMINDER: I'm currently in Disney World (yea!!!) and I won't be responding to your comments until after my return. Don't you just love the ability to schedule posts in advance?!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Stardust (the movie)

Just before I left for Disney I watched the movie version of Neil Gaiman's STARDUST. What an adorable movie! I absolutely loved it. The wacky air pirates, the creepy witches, the ghostly brothers providing the peanut gallery ... what fun it all was!

One of the gals in my book club has been insisting that I read this book. She says I'd love it. Usually we have very similar taste in books but I'm not sure about this one. Just because I enjoyed the movie, it doesn't mean I'll love the book as well. I think that for me, this one was meant to be experienced and not read.

What do you all think? Is the book really worth reading? Would I get anything more out of it than I did from the movie? And if you haven't seen it, does the preview below look interesting?

Please share your thoughts - I promise to read them all when I get back from vacation!

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Science-Book Challenge Recap

I've completed the Science-Book Challenge! The goal was to read three books about science by the end of the year. My original post about the challenge is here.
Other reviews can be found here. Did you participate in this challenge? How did you do?

(No Friday Finds today - I'm currently on my way to Disney World! WOOHOO! I'll respond to all your comments when I get back.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Heading for Disney (and Kiddo pics)

We leave for Disney World tomorrow ... YEA!!! I am so tremendously excited! We are packed but the house isn't ready yet ... hopefully we can get it all done tonight with a minimal amount of stress (but I'm not holding my breath).

While I'm gone I scheduled an automatic post for just about every day so it will ALMOST seem like I'm here. Except, of course, that I won't be responding to your comments or reading your blogs. Sorry 'bout that. :)

I've given myself permission to do a "Mark All As Read" in my Google Reader when I get home. Without that, I'd be stressing all week about how many posts were piling up in there. HOWEVER, I'd hate to miss out on something really good so please hop over to my blog and post a comment linking me to whatever it is on your blog that you think I'd enjoy. I'm not worried about contests but if you come across a book you think I'd love or a guest post that is really good, please do tell me about it!

And now I'd like to show you Kiddo's new haircut. He wanted this done one day before school let out so we went over to my mom's (she's been a stylist since she was in high school) and of course she complied ...

Kiddo thought it was VERY funny to have girly clips in his hair but Grandma said they were necessary so he went along with it.

Then it was time to buzz the back.

The final result from the front (with his baby cousin matching) ...

and from the side.

His next request was to dye it blue but I said he's too young for that. I did promise to let him spray it blue at the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique in Disney though ...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Secret Doorway: Beyond Imagination

The Secret Doorway: Beyond Imagination
by Paul Hutchins
197 pages

Once I read the following blurb in a publicist's email I knew I had to read this book:
After researching the images and data from the Hubble and Spritzer space telescopes, collected since their launch, entrepreneur and recreational astronomer Paul Hutchins was compelled to write about the universe as a product of intelligent design, fueled by superior imagination. In his new book, "The Secret Doorway: Beyond Imagination," Hutchins stitches together a photographic drama of the creation of the universe, examining the intricacies of the universe and invoking a "Grand Architect" as the creative force behind our world. With full-color photos, scientific data and a user friendly format, Hutchins takes readers on an awe-inspiring journey as he considers what lies beyond our imagination.
In previous reviews I've told you that I'm not a scientific person but that science does interest me. In particular I'm very intrigued by images from the far reaches of space ... and this book has LOTS of them!

In fact, the images are the best part of the book in my opinion. Almost every two-page spread includes one page of text and a large illustration. Galaxies, stars, nebulae, planets, and many, many more images fill this book to bursting.

The book is broken into 6 sections, called Acts. Act 1 and Act 2 discuss how the imagination of man has driven scientific discoveries throughout human history and continues to do so today. Act 3 discusses the development of space technology. In Act 4 the idea of a Supreme Power who created the universe is discussed. Act 5 talks about that Supreme Power in regard to the formation of our own planet. And the final Act is a gallery of images along with brief essays about each of them.

To be honest, I really struggled with the text of this book for several reasons.
  • First (and most importantly) I'm not sure who the intended audience is. As someone who already believes in a creator, the idea of a Supreme Power is not a new one. However, if I did not believe in a creator, I don't think I would have been convinced of the existence of a Supreme Power by what was written in this book. The author's main argument seems to be this: "Just look at these images - their beauty will convince you that they were created!" I'm sorry but I don't think that would convince me ...

  • Second, the author focuses intensely on one verse in the Biblical Old Testament book of Isaiah (chapter 40:26), "Lift up your eyes on high,and see who has created the stars, who brings out their army by number. He calls them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power, not one is lacking." I can't tell you how many times this specific verse is quoted but it was a LOT - enough that I was tired of hearing it.

  • And finally, the author's reliance on NASA's website for descriptions and summaries was overdone. If I'm going to read a book, I want to read what YOU have written, not continual press releases from NASA.
At this point I have to confess that I didn't finish reading this book. I DID read the first five Acts though, and they are the "meat" of the book in my opinion. I stopped at page 98, at the beginning of the gallery section. I will likely peruse the images in that section at a later date but I couldn't bring myself to read any more of this book. And that's too bad, because I really wanted to love it. The images are gorgeous though!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Egyptologist

The Egyptologist
by Arthur Phillips
audio book: 16.25 hours

From the author's website:
Just as Howard Carter unveils the tomb of Tutankhamun, making the most dazzling find in the history of archaeology, Oxford-educated Egyptologist Ralph Trilipush is digging himself into trouble, having staked his professional reputation and his fiancée's fortune on a scrap of hieroglyphic pornography. Meanwhile, a relentless Australian detective sets off on the case of his career, spanning the globe in search of a murderer. And another murderer. And possibly another murderer. The confluence of these seemingly separate stories results in an explosive ending, at once inevitable and utterly unpredictable.
I've had this book sitting on my shelf for months waiting to be read. On my last visit to the library I was browsing the audio books and saw the audio version and picked it up on a whim: If I didn't have time to READ the book just yet, maybe I could find time to LISTEN to it. And I'm so glad that I did!

*** My Opinions ***

This book is odd. That's the best way to describe it. There were times when I thought, "What the heck am I listening to? What is going on in this story?!" and then there were times when I thought, "This book is fantastic!"

As the summary says, there are two different stories - that of the archaeologist and that of the detective - and at first these seem to be completely unrelated. One is being told in the present tense and is set in 1922 while the other is being recalled from memory about 40 or 50 years later. It wasn't until I was halfway through the CDs that the stories finally began to connect, and in ways that I totally didn't expect.

Publisher's Weekly says that the two main characters are
"quite unreliable narrators, and the effect is that of a hall of mirrors. Where does fact end and imagination, illusion and wishful thinking begin? Phillips is a master manipulator, able to assume a dozen convincingly different voices at will, and his book is vastly entertaining. It's apparent that something dire is afoot, but the reader, while apprehensive, can never quite figure out what. The ending, which cannot be revealed, is shocking and cleverly contrived." I can't agree more. The two stories are so completely contradictory that I couldn't wait to get to the end to figure things out.

I should also mention that the story is epistolary in nature. Most of the action occurs in letters between various characters or in journal entries, telegraph messages, and other documents. I love books like this!

I should also mention that the book itself has tons of little illustrations in it like the one above. And each of the different formats (letters, journals, etc.) has a different font associated with it. I'll definitely be keeping my copy of the book to read at a (much) later date. I think I'll enjoy it more knowing how everything fits together and seeing the illustrations along with the text.

All that said however, I don't think I could have READ this book with as much pleasure as I had LISTENING to it. Knowledge of what happens in the plot and an understanding of the characters will go a long way toward enhancing my enjoyment when I finally do pick it up to read.

Oh, one more thing. I read in one review that the "solution" to the whole mystery was obvious from the middle of the book but I didn't think so. I was almost at the end before I figured out what was going on, and it was only at the VERY end that everything finally made sense.

*** Other Reviews? ***

I only found two other reviews of this book - if you reviewed it as well I'd love to add your info here too.*

* I'll add your review - and respond to all comments - when I get back from Disney World.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Lovely Links #16 - The Disney Edition

Can you guess where I'm going on Friday? That's right - Walt Disney World in Florida! Hubby and I are complete Disney fanatics and we've gotten Kiddo on the wagon as well - he is only 7 and he's been to Disneyland 6 times and Disney World once. This will be his 8th Disney trip ... crazy!

Other than our love of all things Disney, there is another reason we enjoy our trips there so much. Remember all of Kiddo's food allergy issues? Disney can handle it. Yup, that's right, his situation is no problem for them. We have NO worries when we go there - they make him delicious and safe meals everywhere we go, and they work with us to make sure he gets to experience the parks like every other kid his age. For that reason we HIGHLY recommend Disney trips to everyone we know.

So you can share in my excitement I'm devoting this edition of Lovely Links to all things Disney - yea!

Fun Disney

Disney Planning Links

These are some sites I've found helpful recently. If you know of any others, please post them in the comments and share why you love them.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Finds 06/12/09

HELLO and WELCOME to this week's FRIDAY FINDS! Come ONE, come ALL! STEP right UP and see the AMAZING books on my TBR list THIS WEEK!

Alright, alright, enough with the circus ringmaster voice already. I promise to behave ...

Here's what I've added this week:

  1. East of the Sun, by Julia Gregson - I read a guest post by this author at and now I REALLY want to read her book. The intro to her guest post says that this book "unfolds the story of Viva, Rose and Victoria, part of the 'Fishing Fleet,' the name given to the legions of Englishwomen who sailed to India in search of husbands and new lives. Along with sharing some of the memorable moments that have come with the publication of East of the Sun --- including touching letters from readers --- Julia talks about the two women who each had a hand in inspiring her to write the novel."

  2. The Purpose of Boys, by Michael Gurian - 5 Minutes for Books reviewed this, then I saw it again in the Boy Scouting Magazine. According to the book jacket, "in this book, Gurian presents a tool kit for parents who want to discover how to inspire the ultimate fulfillment of their son’s life. As he explains, 'purpose' is vital for the success and happiness of every boy. Throughout the book, Gurian shows how parents can help boys build motivation, character, selflessness, meaningful intimate relationships, a sense of responsibility to family and community, pride in their own good work, and mental and physical health."

  3. Swimming With Pirhanas at Feeding Time, by Richard Coniff - Letters on Pages brought this one to my attention. In his review he says, "is a great travelogue, moving all over the world observing animals in their natural habitats. Conniff is a fantastic descriptive writer…he really expresses what is happening. Which is nice because there is about a 0% chance that I will ever hang out with a group of jellyfish…or swim with piranhas…or search for wild dogs in Africa." And he concludes with this: "If you like learning about wild animals or watching NatGeo, you will probably like this too. If you hate animals, and especially essays about animals…well this book is obviously not for you. Also, you are likely a jerk." LOVE IT!

There is also a movie I want to mention. I first heard of THE FALL over a year ago when I was browsing some Movie Review Blog Carnival. I can't find the blog that originally mentioned it but the post really intrigued me. Unfortunately the movie never played anywhere near me ... but now it is coming to DVD. did an excellent review which you should really go check out. The movie is a crazy tale mostly about the power of storytelling and the connection between people. The creator is the same guy who did that movie THE CELL (which really creeped me out, let me tell you!). Anyway, here's the trailer ... let me know what you think.

For more Friday Finds visit MizB at her blog, Should Be Reading.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Sense of the Mysterious

A Sense of the Mysterious:
Science and the Human Spirit
by Alan Lightman
224 pages

Way back on December 31, 2006 I read the following in an email from
Unusually gifted as both a physicist and a novelist, Alan Lightman has lived in the dual worlds of science and art for much of his life. In these brilliant essays, the two worlds meet. In "A Sense of the Mysterious," Lightman records his personal struggles to reconcile certainty with uncertainty, logic with intuition, questions with answers and questions without. Lightman explores the emotional life of science, the power of metaphor and imagination in science, the creative moment, the different uses of language in science and literature, and the alternate ways in which scientists and humanists think about the world. Included are in-depth portraits of some of the great scientists of our time: Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Edward Teller, and astronomer Vera Rubin. Rather than finding a forbidding gulf between the two cultures, as did the physicist and novelist C. P. Snow fifty years ago, Lightman discovers complementary ways of looking at the world, both part of being human.
Lightman’s book went on my TBR list that very day … and I’ve just now (in 2009!) read it.

Before we go any further let me say right here that I am about as far from a scientific person as you can get. In high school I was a great humanities student but almost failed Chemistry. Biology was over my head as well. I don’t understand scientific laws, especially the more abstract ones that deal with things I can’t see. I’m not curious about how things work or what lies beyond our known universe. But I found this book fascinating and easy to read and THAT should be a ringing endorsement to other non-scientific people out there.

The book is a collection of Lightman’s essays previously published in a variety of magazines, all of which deal with the convergence of science and personal creativity and drive. Some essays talk about the process of discovering scientific laws, some explain the laws themselves, and some deal with particular scientists.

My favorites are those last ones, the ones about scientists such as Einstein, Feynman, and Rubin. The essays were like mini-biographies and I enjoyed “getting to know” these people, most of whom I’d never heard of before. I was especially struck by the story of Vera Rubin, the astronomer who discovered dark matter. She is one of the very few female scientists to combine a successful career with a successful family. (The grad student who writes at A Lady’s Scientist's blog recently opined that few people can name any female scientists other than Marie Curie. I was guilty of that flaw, but now I can name Vera Rubin – and she is WORTH naming!)

Reading this book caused me to add two additional books to my TBR list: IDEAS AND OPINIONS, by Albert Einstein (1934) and SURELY YOU’RE JOKING, MR. FEYNMAN!, by Richard Feynman (1997). So it is one step forward and two steps back on the TBR list …

I’m very glad that I read this book and I would definitely recommend it. It gave me a glimpse into a world that is completely foreign to me and it made me want to know more. That, for me, that is the sign of a good book.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights
by Emily Bronte
audio book: 11.25 hours

I was first introduced to this book in high school and I LOVED it. I think I read it again a few years later but I can't remember for sure. Recently I've seen reviews by several bloggers (some who hated it, some who loved it, some who had mixed reactions) and I've watched the new TV version. All this combined to make me want to revisit this book.

I'm going to assume you have all at least heard of WUTHERING HEIGHTS. If not, you can get a complete plot summary at this website, but be wary of spoilers.

Rather than a traditional review I'm going to post a list of the things that got my attention or crossed my mind as I listened to this very familiar (to me) story.

Let's start off with the characters themselves:
  • Mr. Lockwood - I had completely forgotten that he was the narrator of this story. Not much to say about him really ...
  • Catherine Earnshaw - spoiled and petted by her father, allow to run wild - her behavior doesn't surprise me based on her background - I don't necessarily like her but I do understand her
  • Hindley Earnshaw - didn't like him back then, don't like him now - he's a bully and a brute
  • Heathcliff - I've got lots to say about him! He is cruel and mean, obsessed with Catherine, careless of others, vengeful, calculating, and so on. HOWEVER, I still like him. (Shocking, I know.) What I mean to say is that if I were Catherine, I'd likely have loved him as much as she did - in spite of his horrid behavior - simply because of the "connection" that is so apparent between the two of them. I like his behavior even less after Catherine's death, but I still pity him and have compassion for him despite it all.
  • Joseph - I remember his accent being very difficult to read so listening to him was much easier. Don't like him though - he uses his religion as a weapon and he is mean and cruel.
  • Nelly - You've got to love Nelly. I didn't remember that she was only a bit older than Catherine at the start of the story - no wonder Catherine didn't want to listen to her! Nelly is kind-hearted and loving, and does her best to care for those in her charge.
  • Edgar Linton - Eh, not much to say about Edgar. He still seems like a pretty-boy to me, and a pushover as well. I don't particularly like him nor do I dislike him. He IS an excellent father though, and I enjoyed his interactions with his daughter Cathy.
  • Isabella Linton - Typical spoiled girl, wanting what she can't/shouldn't have. Why is it that good girls are always attracted to bad boys? (Been there, done that.) I do pity her for the horrors Heathcliff puts her through though.
  • Hareton Earnshaw - He is my very favorite character, the one I love without reservation. He is essentially a good boy and it is only his circumstances that cause him to be mean. I'm always thrilled when he is in the story. I didn't remember that he hit Cathy - that was shocking this time around. Still like him though.
  • Linton Heathcliff - Can't stand this kid. He's sickly and weak - which isn't his fault - but he's also peevish (love that word), demanding and cruel, and has no redeeming qualities.
  • Cathy Linton - At first I like her, then she irritates me, then I like her again, and so on throughout her portion of the book. I have to like her in the end though, because she finally sees the true nature of Hareton (and he's my very favorite).
And here are some things that jumped out at me as I listened:
  • Catherine's declaration of love and need for Heathcliff - "He is me and I am him" and her assertion that if one of them died that one would continue to exist as long as the other lives - I love this section! It shows the powerful and irrational connection between the two characters that forms the basis for the entire story. I could listen to that section over and over again - the writing is powerful and beautiful. Catherine's similar speech when she is deliriously ill is another favorite section for me, for all the same reasons.
  • In my opinion Heathcliff and Catherine's obsessive and destructive relationship stems in part from the wildness of their upbringing. They had little guidance and were allowed to run free and do as they chose most of the time. If other children were put into that situation, would they turn out the same? Or is there something different about these two?
  • Nelly is only 27 years old when Hindley dies - again, I didn't realize how young she was through most of the book.
  • As I said above, I really like Hareton - the portions of the book that focus on he and Cathy are my favorites.
In Suey’s summary of this book she said, “Eventually, there's a second generation involved and also all messed up.” This reminded me very much of John Steinbeck’s EAST OF EDEN, with the sins of one generation affecting the next. Did that occur to anyone else? Plus there is a crazy Kathy in that book too …

I am SO GLAD that I revisited this book. I love it as much today as I did back in high school. It boggles my mind that so many of you don't like this book at all - it truly is one of my all-time favorites. But I'll forgive YOU if you promise to forgive ME for not being interested in books by Neil Gaiman or Suzanne Collins. ~LOL~

As a side note, I'm not usually drawn to book covers but I had to show you the Kindle cover I saw online - isn't it gorgeous?!

Please chime in with your thoughts on this classic book. Do you love it like me or do you think I'm nuts? Have you reviewed it? Post your comments and tell me what you think - I've been really good about responding to all comments recently so let's chat!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Reading Update

I'm reading/listening to WAY too many things at the moment so of course I'm not FINISHING anything. I hate not having reviews to post ... I simply MUST get some willpower and stop picking up new books before I've completed the old ones. Just so you know I'm not slacking, here's a list of what I have going on right now:

Audio Books
  • The Egyptologist - on my laptop
  • Tides of War - in the car
  • Moll Flanders - in the bathroom (when I'm getting ready for work)
  • Wuthering Heights - on my computer at work - should finish tomorrow
"Real" Books
  • A Sense of the Mysterious - should finish tonight
  • The Secret Doorway - giving up on this one in another day or so
  • Castle Rackrent - during lunch breaks at work
  • The Triumph of Deborah - I lost it twice and finally found it again
  • Gone With the Wind - starting it today for Becky's (Online) Summer Club - anyone want to join us?
Did I mention that I'll be on a fun but busy vacation later this month and that I want to finish all these before I leave? AND I have 7 books I've promised to review between now and the end of the summer plus all the books I plan to read for challenges ... YIKES!

OK, I'm off to finish A Sense of the Mysterious now and gather my thoughts for my review - hopefully you'll see that on Wednesday (which is Kiddo's last day of 1st grade by the way)!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Lunch with a Blogging Buddy

Last Monday I had a lovely outdoor lunch with Susan from the blog Plays With Needles. I'm not sure where I first found Susan's blog but I remember seeing it in someone's blogroll and thinking "What the heck is that all about?!" When I ventured over to check it out I found that Susan is a needlework artist. Not sure what the official name for that is, but whatever it is, Susan is GREAT at it. This gal can sew, stitch, embroider, bead, you name it! (Me, on the other hand ... not so much. I'm lucky if I can sew a patch on Kiddo's Cub Scout uniform.) AND she is incredibly athletic. She bikes, she swims, she runs, and in general gets up off her butt. (Again, unlike me, who would avoid all exercise if it were humanly possible.)

Anyway, Susan and I began exchanging comments then later, emails. She didn't want to get sucked into the book blogging world (even though she's in a book club) because she is already so involved with the needlework bloggers. But the 1% Well Read Challenge intrigued her, so she did join that ... and she's on her 2nd year now.

After a while of reading each others blogs we realized that we live just 20 minutes apart - who knew?! Yet we never thought of getting together ... until now.

Here's a (not so great) picture of Susan and I at my favorite restaurant, Chevy's.

The weather was excellent so we sat outside. Susan had never been there but I think I've convinced that to return - especially for half-price margaritas at happy hour!

Despite my limited lunch hour we had a wonderful chat about books and life. We also talked about getting our book clubs together to socialize. Oh, and she brought one of her bead projects for me to see - it was GORGEOUS!

I'd love to do lunch with Susan again. She is as fun and lovely as she seems on her blog and I'm sure we'll get to be great friends.

Please go visit Plays with Needles and check out some of the gorgeous projects and amazing adventures she posts about - Susan's is a blog worth adding to your regular visits. And you can read her recap of our lunch here.

UPDATE: I forgot to add this funny story. Over the weekend I got a voicemail from one of the gals in my book club, Nancy, that said "I was just reading one of my needlework blogs and the woman had a picture of you and said she met you for lunch! WOW!" Is that not too funny?! I didn't know Nancy read Susan's blog too!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Remembering D-Day

June 6, 1944

65 years ago today

My grandpa, Nick Fontana, landed on Utah Beach. He fought he way up the beach and over the seawall ...
finally making it to relative safety. Three days into the battle his best friend, Joe Tofinchio, was killed. (If you are a long-time reader of mine, you may recall that I've written about my successful search for Joe's family before.)

Grandpa had several close calls over the next few days. One that he's told me about many times is this: He poked his head up to get a look around and suddenly recalled one of his commanders drilling the men about keeping their helmets pulled down in the front at all times. He immediately pulled his helmet into the correct position and just at that second a sniper's shot bounced of his helmet. Had he not adjusted it when he did, that shot would have gone through the center of the forehead.

Just under three weeks into the Allied advance, Grandpa's unit was approaching the town of St. Lo. Suddenly a German grenade landed nearby. All the men ran and dove for cover. But do to an ankle injury he received jumping over a hedgerow a few days before, Grandpa couldn't get away quickly enough; the blast from the grenade knocked him flat and threw shards of shrapnel into his legs.

His injuries were severe enough that he was evacuated to Coventry, England to recuperate. It was there that he met my Grandma, Eileen Hunt. She was a gorgeous English/Irish redhead who did war work in a local factory. The photo to the left was taken in 1946 and given from Nick to Eileen, with a note on the back expressing his love. The rest, as they say, is history (or at least, the rest is a story for another day).

Nick & Eileen Fontana
met in 1944
happily married since 1947
photo from November 2008

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday Finds

I didn't post a Friday Finds list last week because - miracle of miracles! - I hadn't added anything to my TBR list. That's likely due to the fact that I was so busy I could only skim all your blogs and not because you all weren't reviewing anything good.

So here's what I've found this week ...

  1. The Borgia Bride, by Jeanne Kalogridis - Books 'N Border Collies says "My only knowledge of the Borgia family prior [this book] was a lot of malicious historical gossip that I always wondered about. Well, it turns out [...] that the majority of it appears to be true. Excellent! Nothing like papal corruption, poisoning of rivals, fratricide, incest and dreams of military domination to pique a reader's interest!" Sounds good to me!

  2. The Walking People, by Mary Beth Keane - "Greta Cahill never believed she would leave her village in the west of Ireland until she found herself on a ship bound for New York, along with her sister Johanna and a boy named Michael Ward. Labeled a "softheaded goose" by her family, Greta discovers that in America she can fall in love, raise her own family, and earn a living. Though she longs to return and show her family what she has made of herself, her decision to spare her children knowledge of a secret in her past forces her to keep her life in New York separate from the life she once loved in Ireland, and tears her apart from the people she is closest to. Even fifty years later, when the Ireland of her memory bears little resemblance to that of the present day, she fears that it is still possible to lose all when she discovers that her children—with the best of intentions— have conspired to unite the worlds she’s so carefully kept separate for decades. A beautifully old-fashioned novel, The Walking People is a debut of remarkable range and power." I heard about this in the BookBrowse newsletter.

  3. The Unlikely Disciple, by Kevin Roose - "As a sophomore at Brown University, Kevin spent his days drinking fair-trade coffee, singing in an a cappella group, and fitting right in with Brown's free-spirited, ultra-liberal student body. But when Roose leaves his Ivy League confines to spend a semester at Liberty University, a conservative Baptist school in Lynchburg, Virginia, obedience is no longer optional." I've heard quite a bit about this book but Alyce's review made me add it to my list. Check out the book trailer below and tell me what you think.

What do you think - do any of these appeal to you?

As always, you can visit MizB for more Friday Finds.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

May '09 Recap

Can you believe that we are already almost halfway through 2009?! Good grief!

My reading was a bit off this month due to all the stuff going on with Kiddo (see below) as well as the death of Hubby's aunt. There were many days when I couldn't even pick up a book because I knew there was no way I could concentrate on it.

Despite all that I'm still pleased with the bit of progress I did make this month. Here's what I read:

Books -
4 (1,480 pages)

Audio Books - 5 (46.2 hours)

Mom & Son Book Club - 2 books
  • We didn't do a traditional Mom & Son Book Club this month but we did read together. Our two books, which we read repeatedly, were George and the Dragon and Puff the Magic Dragon.

  • And speaking of Kiddo, thank you again for all your comments and prayers for Kiddo this past month. He's doing really well for now. He's drinking enough of the high calorie/protein drink to please the doctors and avoid the feeding tube - yea! He gets a break from tests until the end of the summer. At that point they'll reexamine him and determine if more foods need to be removed from his diet or if we can start adding things back in. I'll keep you posted on any news.

Other Stats

  • I gave up on one book this month: Going Postal (audio book). I'd like to try this again another time though, but not on audio I think.

  • My TBR list gained 19 titles this month. Ugh. How am I ever going to read all those books?!

  • Favorite books: This month I really enjoyed every book I read. Both LITTLE BEE and THE LOST MEN were fabulous reads, for very different reasons. THE SECRET KEEPER was great too. EVELINA was lots of fun to read. The audio books were all enjoyable, again for different reasons. Now that I think about it, this is the first month this year where I haven't had a book that I really disliked!

How was YOUR month?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa

Yesterday I reviewed THE SECRET KEEPER by Paul Harris, a book I really loved. Today I'm glad to welcome Paul to my blog. Recently I've heard around the blogosphere that some readers skip over author guest posts but I do hope that you will take the time to read what Paul has to say. I found it fascinating and I hope you will too.

And now, Paul Harris.
In writing The Secret Keeper, I wanted to explore my own experiences of covering the end of the war in Sierra Leone. But, curiously, I also wanted to re-examine issues left over from another country completely. In The Secret Keeper I try and look at the age old conundrum of "the greater good". Is it right to sacrifice justice for one individual for the sake of a larger community? It is a tough question and very relevant to Sierra Leone. But, for me, the question really was about my experiences living in South Africa and covering an organization called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

I spent two years living in Cape Town working for the Associated Press. Part of my beat was reporting on the work of the TRC, which was a panel set up to examine apartheid-era crimes committed by all sides in the struggle against white rule. It was headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a wonderful man who I can safely say fits the definition of "good" or "holy" more than any other person I have ever met. The TRC spent most of its time uncovering things like torture and murder by apartheid police and soldiers. But it also also looked at bombings and killings carried out by the black liberation movements.

The main aim of the TRC was simple: to search for reconciliation by simply telling the truth. As part of that mission amnesty was offered to anyone who had committed a crime but who could prove that a) they were telling the full truth and b) they committed the crime for political, not personal, reasons. Thus if you were a white policeman who had killed a black activist, as long as you fully detailed how you did it and proved you had acted politically, you would receive a full amnesty. Likewise, a black liberation fighter who had perhaps blown up a bar popular with police could also walk free if he too spoke truthfully about it and proved his political motivations. Not surprisingly this amnesty process produced often unbelievably tragic and gut-wrenching scenes. Relatives of the tortured and the dead had to endure listening to their tormentors and killers detailing exactly what they had done. And, often, walking away free.

Was this justice? For many individuals it cannot have felt that way. People were literally getting away with murder, and not by covering their tracks, but by fully confessing their crimes. It was harrowing to watch. But at the same time it was an astonishingly brave thing to do for the country as a whole. Something that was deeply rooted in African village traditions of putting the community's good ahead of the interests of getting justice for any one individual. As a society South Africa had tottered on the brink of a race war in the early 1990s. But the TRC became a vital part of the process of national healing. It led the way forward in moving the country on from its dreadful past and into an uncertain but democratic and peaceful future. It was an awesome thing to see, even as it raised for me still unanswered questions of whether it was the "right" thing to do. In the West we see things often through such an individualistic lens. What would you do if it was your relative who had been murdered and the killer walked free?

It feels impossible to say. But South Africa as a country, in the shape of the TRC, tackled the issue head on. Looking back, I guess it depends on what your definition of "right" is. But we are taught to think a little more clearly than that. That some things, especially around murder and torture, are always right and some are always wrong. But the TRC showed me that the real meaning of justice can be more complicated. Nothing is ever as easy as being simply right or wrong. The TRC decided that sometimes letting a killer walk free can be the right thing to do.
Thank you, Paul, for being here. Your book was excellent and I wish you much success with it. And thank you to all my readers who stopped by today; I hope you enjoyed hearing from Paul as much as I did. That blurred line between right and wrong is a central theme of THE SECRET KEEPER - if you found this guest post interesting then you will surely enjoy the book.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Secret Keeper

For a while I was getting overwhelmed with books for review so I stopped accepting any new ones. But when I saw this book over at TLC Book Tours and knew I had to read it so I requested a copy right away. And I am SO glad I did ...

The Secret Keeper
by Paul Harris
318 pages

"The Secret Keeper, set in war-torn Sierra Leone, tells the story of one man’s search for the truth in a nation where the rules of civilized society simply don’t apply."

After reading that sentence I knew I had to read this book.

*** The Plot ***

Danny is a British journalist whose life has never been the same since his trip to Sierra Leone four years ago. His time in that war-torn country, meeting Maria, the woman of his dreams, and seeing the brutality of a war fought using children, changed him. Back in England Danny is on auto-pilot, ghosting through his own life. When he receives a letter from Maria asking for his help he begins to come back to life. Unfortunately, it is too late for Maria - she is already dead. Danny goes back to Sierra Leone anyway, hoping to find out what really happened to her. But things are not as they were four years before. Peace has come to the country, and with it a whole host of new secrets ...

*** What It Is Really About ***

The central theme of this book is the idea of right and wrong and whether or not the line between them can ever be blurred. Do circumstances determine morality or is it always as simple as black and white?

This is a heavy but completely relevant topic and Harris does an excellent job with it in this book. It is obviously an issue he has struggled with personally, as you'll see in the interview with him that I'm posting tomorrow.

*** My Thoughts ***

This is an amazing book. Once I picked it up I could not put it down. The characters, the writing, the pace - all of it worked for me. I will definitely be looking for future books by Paul Harris.

As one reviewer pointed out, this book brings social issues to the forefront without being preachy. For me, it is similar to the way historical fiction teaches you about history while still drawing you into the story. THE SECRET KEEPER makes you think. What would YOU do in Danny's situation?

Before reading this book I had just read LITTLE BEE and listened to MR. PIP. Both of those books related to this one in so many ways. Don't you love when your reading converges like that?

Oh, and I highly recommend this book.

*** Other Reviews ***

This book has been getting a lot of attention lately, and deservedly so. Here are a few reviews that you may want to check out.
If you've reviewed this as well post your link in the comments and I'll add it here.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Mister Pip

Mr. Pip
by Lloyd Jones
audio book: 7.5 hours

*** The Story ***

In the early 1990s on the island of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, life is proceeding as usual for teenager Matilda. She lives in a small fishing village with her mother while her father works for a mining company over in Australia. He has been away for quite some time. Then there is a strike at the nearby mine and suddenly all the white people are being evacuated from the island. Government soldiers arrive to bring order while boys from the village join the rebel soldiers in the jungle and the entire island is surrounded by a blockade.

This is all background for Matilda though; as the reader you only learn about these things from the snippets of information she relates to you. The heart of the story is Mr. Watts, the last white person on the island. He volunteers to be a teacher for the village children in the absence of anyone more qualified. He's never taught before and the kids don't have books anyway. So he begins to read to them from his favorite book, GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens. As they read a bit more each day the children learn new words and their meanings, and they learn about a world very different from their own. But more importantly they learn new ways of thinking.

Then the government soldiers come to the village and things begin to change ...

*** Why I Read It (or listened to it) ***

I'd been hearing about this book for quite some time and it sounded interesting. However it wasn't until reading Chartroose's review that I realized it was set in the 1990s. WHAT?! Everything I'd read about this book led me to believe it took place during World War II. I'd never even HEARD of the blockade in the 1990s. So I had to get to this book quickly to fix the gaping hole in my knowledge of this situation.


I have never read GREAT EXPECTATIONS although I did start reading it once when I was a kid. I loved most of Dickens's other books but I couldn't get into this one. The same happened when I tried to watch the movie version a few years ago. Did any of you have the same experience with it? Or maybe you can tell me why you loved it?

Regardless of my own opinion of Dickens's book I appreciated how and why it became so relevant to Matilda and the other children in the village. Lloyd Jones, through the character or Mr. Watts, found ways to make it a part of their lives. The characters see themselves in Pip and his friends and they use the stories in the book to make sense of their own lives. It was very, very well done. For me, Jones's skill in weaving together Pip's story and Matilda's life was the best part of the book.

*** My Thoughts ***

This is a very unique book. I don't think I've read anything that I can easily compare to it. Last week I wrote about GATES OF FIRE and how it was a "big" story that I sometimes felt lost in. Well MR. PIP is the exact opposite; it is a "small" story, very focused, very contained. But at the same time the ideas in it are big ones. Some of those ideas are ... the power of a good book to teach and transport ... the power of imagination ... and the importance of creating your own story.

I enjoyed getting to know the main characters in this story: Matilda, Mr. Watts, and Matilda's mother, Delores. There are other characters but they are not as fleshed out as these three; they appear and disappear as needed to progress the story but overall get little attention.

I'm not sure what I expected from the ending of this book but whatever it was, it was not what I got. The ending makes complete sense, don't get me wrong, but I was surprised all the same. And that is a good thing. In fact, when I reached the 6th cd (there are 7 total) I suddenly had to start paying much more attention to the story. If I had to write a review based on the story up to that point, I'd have said that it was good but not great. But writing it now, I can honestly say that this was a great book.

*** About the Audio Book ***

The version I listened to was narrated by Susan Lyons and she did an excellent job. However, there are some books that are simply better when you read them than they are when you listen to them and I think this might be one of those books. As I said above, this was a great book - but I think it could have been fantastic had I read it rather than listened to it. (Or maybe not ...)

*** Other Reviews ***

Here are a few other opinions on this book:
If you've reviewed it as well I'm happy to add your link here.
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