Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Contest Winners

I never officially announced the winner of the contest for THE EYE OF THE WORLD by Robert Jordan. Congrats to Kelly in Pennsylvania! She should have received the book by now ... I hope she's enjoying it.

The winner of the contest for SHANGHAI GIRLS by Lisa See is Chip of Mommy of 1 and Counting. Once I have your address the book will be on it's way to you. I hope you like it!

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Cruelest Miles

The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs
and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic
by Gay Salisbury & Laney Salisbury
317 pages

*** About the Book ***

This is a non-fiction account of the 1925 Serum Run. The ice bound town of Nome, Alaska was stuck with an outbreak of diphtheria, "the strangling disease", which mainly affects children and is often fatal. The vital anti-serum had to be shipping from Seattle by train approximately 2,000 miles into Alaska; from there it was transported over 600 miles via dogsled in a blizzard in just over 5 days - a feat that was practically a miracle.

The book describes the development of dog-sledding in Alaska, other outbreaks of diphtheria, and of course the Serum Run itself. Attention is given to the men who participated in the dog-sled relay and to their experiences afterward.

*** Why I Read It ***

Back in January '09 I wrote about some books I wanted to read and mentioned that I love books about disease and about the polar regions. In her comment on my post Dreamybee suggested two books that I might enjoy, THE CRUELEST MILES being one of them. Based on that comment I got a copy from and have had it on my bookshelf since July. As part of the TBR 2010 Challenge I'm working on reading books I already own so this was the perfect choice.

*** My Thoughts ***

I'd heard of the Serum Run and seen the cartoon based on it (see the trailer below) but that was all I really knew about this event in history. I definitely learned a lot from reading this book and I enjoyed it as well. It is exactly the type of non-fiction I enjoy: well-written, engaging, and about a topic I find interesting.

The book's format worked well for me. Chapters alternated between the developing outbreak of diphtheria and the history of Nome and dog-sledding. The historical chapters were helpful to me because they provided background that made the outbreak, it's repercussions, and the delivery of the serum easy to understand. Another important storyline was the conflict between technology and tradition, with opposing factions pushing for the serum to either be delivered by plane (air deliveries were then being introduced in Alaska) or by dog-sled.

The parts I enjoyed the most were the sections that focused on the dog-sled drivers themselves. Not much is known about many of the men who participated in the Serum Run. Although some were quite famous, most of them lived quiet lives and got very little media attention after the fact. The famous ones were VERY famous though; it was interesting (and at times sad) to read how their lives changed in the following years. But it was the fate of some of the dogs that really got to me. There definitely were not happy endings all around, although there were some good things that happened.

It's strange how the circumstances in which you're reading can sometimes make or break a book. The events of the Serum Run took place in late January/early February 1925; I was reading the book in late January during very cold weather, so that enhanced my enjoyment quite a bit. At the same time, I had strep throat so bad that it was almost impossible to swallow, so reading about children with diphtheria who were slowly strangling to death as their throats became covered in a mucus membrane was even more chilling to me.

*** Movies ***

The story of the Serum Run was made into a cartoon called Balto in 1995. Although it is a cute story it is only very loosely based on fact. Still, it gets the point across and it is fun to watch. Here's a trailer in case you've never seen it.

*** Your Thoughts ***

The only post I could find about this book was a list of recommendations from Dreamybee. In it she mentions that her memory of the doctor could be off, and I have to say that it is. The doctor had actually ordered a new case of serum several months before the outbreak but it never came in on the delivery ships.

Are you familiar with the history of the Serum Run? Have you read this book? Seen the cartoon? Is there a time or place in history that you seem to read about all the time, like me with my fixation on the polar regions?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Happy Birthday Kiddo!

Kiddo turns 8 today - woohoo!

Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday to you!

Happy birthday dear Kiddo ...

Happy birthday to you!

Kiddo getting his first library card this past summer

Kiddo in the red jersey taking out the competition

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Pearl

The Pearl
by John Steinbeck
audio book: 2.75 hours

*** About the Book ***

After the success of THE GRAPES OF WRATH author John Steinbeck became uncomfortable with his sudden fame. About this time he reworked an old legend into a new story, which he called THE PEARL. In the story Keno, a pearl diver in a small Spanish village, finds the largest pearl anyone has ever seen. And just in time too, as his baby boy has been stung by a scorpion and needs medical care that Keno cannot afford. The pearl seems to be the solution to all the family's problems ... but is it really a blessing, or is it a curse?

*** Why I Read It ***

This book was referenced in the show LOST, and since I love Steinbeck anyway, I figured it was the perfect choice to read for the LOST Books Challenge. I knew nothing about this book before picking it up except the title and the author.

*** My Thoughts ***

According to the introduction, this book is a reworking of an old story. If that is true, then it is a story I have never heard of, so I came to this story with no expectations. Wait, that's not true. I "expected" classic Steinbeck ... and unfortunately, that is not what I got.

What I love so much about Steinbeck's other books that I read (EAST OF EDEN, CANNERY ROW, and even THE GRAPES OF WRATH) is the power of his descriptions and the amazing characters he creates. Scenes and images from those books stayed with me long after I read them. I realize that the purpose of this book was different - to convey a deeper truth about the culture of materialism we live in - but all that I love about Steinbeck's writing was missing here; the characters were stereotypical, the setting a mere sketch, and the moral was a constant drum beat throughout the story. To be honest, I was quite disappointed in this book.

I also wasn't impressed with the narrator of this audio book, Frank Muller. According to the package he has won various awards for his work and is a highly respected narrator. His narration just didn't work for me. His reading was overly dramatic, like the way you'd tell a scary story around a campfire at night; it seemed overdone to me.

*** Relation to LOST? ***

I gave this some serious thought and here's what I came up with:

THE PEARL is about the evils of materialism and how it is better to live without money and be happy. On LOST, the survivors of the crash do almost exactly that near the beginning of the show. They realize that they can live pretty good lives despite their circumstances ... until, of course, they meet The Others. And the last we heard, Rose and Bernard continued to embrace their simplified life despite the changes to the island.

After I exhausted my brain coming up with this I headed over to the official LOST book list and here's what I found:
  • The most obvious reference to this book is that there is a Dharma Station called The Pearl. I can't seem to find any relation between the station and the book though.
  • The theme of the book - that money doesn't bring happiness, and that too much money actually brings unhappiness - is exemplified in the the show by Hurley and his rotten luck since winning the lottery. Much of that was featured in the episode "Everybody Hates Hugo" (Season 2, Episode 4).
So I wasn't exactly off base but I wasn't exactly on target either. And DUH! How did I not make the Hurley connection?! Ah well, that's LOST for you!

*** Your Thoughts ***

Are you familiar with the story this book is based on? If so, where did you hear it? Have you read this book? Do you agree with my comparisons to Steinbeck's other books? Chime in with your opinions!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Shanghai Girls (and giveaway)

Shanghai Girls
by Lisa See
336 pages

*** About the Book ***

Shanghai in the 1930s was known as the "Paris of Asia"; sisters Pearl and May are living in the heart of it and enjoying every minute. They consider themselves thoroughly modern girls - with their French fashions, short hair, and modeling jobs - despite the fact that their father is new to his wealth and their mother has bound feet. Modernity is wretched from their grasps however, when their father arranges marriages for the sisters in order to get himself out of debt to the local crime lord. Pearl and May are forced to marry two brothers who are emigrating to San Fransisco, and as wives they are, of course, expected to emigrate as well. But before they can board a ship to join their husbands in America the Japanese attack China and the world is plunged into chaos. Will Pearl and May escape the Japanese invasion? How will they get to San Fransisco? And when they get there will they find the life of privilege they were promised?

*** Why I Read It ***

I've been hearing for quite a while what a wonderful writer Lisa See is but I'd never read any of her books. When SHANGHAI GIRLS went on a blog tour with TLC Books I figured I'd give it a shot and see what all the fuss was about.

*** My Thoughts ***

This is a really good book! I'll have to agree with the crowd - Lisa See can write a heck of a good story. I read this over 2 days while I was down with strep throat (yuck); I was so invested in the story that I didn't want to put it down.

There are a lot of things I enjoyed about this book so I think a list will work best here.
  • Sisters - The relationship between Pearl and May is one that anyone with a sister can relate to. It is THE biggest strength of the book. Their tremendous love and concern for each other, wrapped around jealousy and misunderstanding, all tied with more strings of attachment than you can count ... all I can say is WOW ... how true it is. (In case my sister is reading this, love you 'Cole!)
  • Characters - The main characters in this story are fully developed and dynamic. The secondary characters are not as developed but they are not flat either. I loved watching how the characters' relationships changed over time as their perspectives on each other - and on life in general - changed.
  • History in China - I know very little about Chinese history in any era so I really enjoyed the history lessons I got from this book. The descriptions of life in Shanghai during this time period were complete revelations to me - I had no idea about any of this stuff.
  • History in the US - Because I'm an East Coast gal I'm naturally more familiar with the history that happened on my side of the US. I know a bit about San Fransisco, Angel Island, and Chinatown, but only just a little (ask me about Ellis Island and I can give you quite a history!). This book was truly an education for me, and I loved learning as I read.
This was the book I chose for my contribution to my book club's Christmas book swap. My sister ended up with it (how perfect is that?!) and I know she is going to love it when she gets a chance to read it.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Are you already a Lisa See fan? If so, which of her books is your favorite? If not, is she one of those authors you've been meaning to try out? Does SHANGHAI GIRLS appeal to you?

Here are a few others reviews you might want to check out:

*** Giveaway ***

Thanks to the publisher I have a copy of this book for one lucky blog reader in the US or Canada. Here's how to enter:
  • Leave a comment telling me why this book appeals to you.
  • Be sure to leave your email address or have it easily accessible through your profile.
  • You must have a US or Canadian mailing address to win (sorry, this is the publisher's requirement).
  • If you win you must reply to my email notification within 24 hours or I will choose another winner.
  • The winner will be drawn on Friday morning (01/29/10) so enter now!

Monday, January 25, 2010

2010 (Age 32) Blogging Goals

2009/Age 31 Goals: Review

At the start of 2009 I set some goals for myself regarding this blog. Let's take a look at those and see how I did (and remember, for the most part I'm tracking things from one birthday to the next).
  1. I hope to read/listen to 100 books this year. Between audio (33 books) and print (70 books) I DID meet my goal. There were also 12 books that I abandoned.
  2. I don't plan to sign up for too many challenges in 2009. My reasoning was that I wanted to be sure I was reading what I WANTED to be reading. In the end I signed up for 11 challenges and completed all but one of them.
  3. I will not accept as many books for review as I have this past year. I was more comfortable with the number of review books I accepted this year but I'd still like to reduce that number a bit more.
  4. I will have more guest posts on my blog. This didn't work out the way I hoped; the few friends who volunteered to do this all bailed out on me for various reasons. Ah well.
  5. I will endeavor to do at least one Mom & Son Book Club post each month. HA! That SO didn't happen. In fact, Kiddo and I only did 3 Mom & Son posts in 12 months; that is just sad.
Not bad, in the end. And to be honest, I don't really remember writing those goals last year so I'm lucky that I got any of them accomplished!

2010/Age 32 Goals

My goals for this year are a bit different. Hopefully I'll be able to accomplish them.
  1. Read more of the books that I actually own. I've had so many come in from over the past year that I've been a bit overwhelmed. To help with this I've signed up for the TBR 2010 Challenge and listed only books that I already have on my shelf. I'm also declining the vast majority of review requests for that reason.
  2. Continue to vary my reading. I don't like to stick to any specific genre for too long, nor to any specific time period. I've done well with that so far and I'd like to continue choosing books from different time periods and genres.
  3. Don't worry about the number of books read in each month or in the year as a whole. This past year I found myself stressing when I didn't meet my "expected" number of books for a given month and I don't want to do that this year.
  4. Sign up for challenges only if I plan to complete them and only if they include books that I really do want to read THIS YEAR. So far I've signed up for seven challenges for 2010 and I have two that continue from 2009 and I'm not feeling overwhelmed.
  5. Host more read-a-longs. I had such fun with the two that I did this past year and I want to do more. I'm thinking of one for THE COLOR PURPLE, possibly another "monster" themed one in October, and I've already got one in the works for March/April (details coming soon).
  6. Spread out the responsibilities in my book club. I love my book club but I'm feeling extremely overwhelmed by it over the last few months. I really need to step back from my responsibilities in that area in order to make it actually enjoyable for me again. Hopefully the other members will be open to helping out more.
  7. Read more with Kiddo and have him read more to me. I need to make it a point to spend time doing this each week. It won't happen every day, but twice a week is a good goal for us.
Seven goals doesn't seem like too many I don't think. Besides, they are all important in different ways.

Here's to meeting goals in 2010!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Update on my darees

A while back I dared some of my readers to tackle a specific list of SciFi/Fantasy books and movies. My goal was to introduce them to some of my favorites in the hopes that they would enjoy them as well. My darees have until April 2010 to complete their challenge so there is still plenty of time, but I figured I'd check in with them to see how things are coming along ...

  • Alex (Hubby's cousin) @ One Day At A Time posted about her experiences with the books so far. Her thoughts on the way that authors come up with names is hilarious! She's a sucker for a triple dog dare so she's attempting to complete all 10 items on the list.
  • Robin @ My Two Blessings is having fun with the challenge, especially as she already loves most of the books/movies on the list. You can check on her progress in this post under the Dare section. She also is going for the whole list - yay!
  • There were two other people who took me up on the dare but neither one responded to my email asking for an update, so I'm guessing that they've bailed out on this one ... ah well, that's how it goes.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Finds 01/22/10

Today is Hubby's birthday - Happy Birthday honey! And the big present for all of us is that Kiddo gets to start eating eggs again today. WOOHOO! This may not be a permanent thing (we'll find out after the next endoscopy in March) but we're hopeful. :)

Here are the books I've added to my TBR list recently ...

Cold, by Bill Streever - found at Things Mean A Lot - Here's what she had to say: "is one of the most interesting non-fiction books I have ever read, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to explain why properly. I'm not even sure how to classify it: it's a science book, yes. But it's also a natural history; a social history of Arctic exploration; a book about our relationship not only with cold weather and cold places but with our idea of them; an environmental plea; and a personal account of one man's passion for cold and all the natural wonders that surround it." If you are a regular reader of mine then you know I have a fascination with the cold places on Earth - this sounds like the perfect book for me.

Alice I Have Been, by Melanie Benjamin - found at S. Krishna's Books - This book is being reviewed everywhere lately but it really isn't something that I'd pick up to read by choice. It is the story of the real girl who inspired the Alice in Wonderland stories. In her review Swapna says: "I also appreciated how closely Melanie Benjamin stuck to Alice Liddell’s real history in Alice I Have Been. Though this isn’t exactly a historical novel, she has a long Author’s Note at the back of the book in which she explains what is fact, what is fiction, and what parts of the book blur the lines between the two. It’s very gratifying that Benjamin chose to stick that close to true events; it’s clear that she undertook a lot of research before embarking on the journey that was Alice I Have Been." That right there clinched it for me - I'm a sucker for "mostly true" historical fiction with great author's notes.

Mary Reilly, by Valerie Martin - found at Books On The Nightstand - This is the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde story retold through the eyes of a household maid. If you listen to the BOTN podcast (linked above) you'll hear all about it in Segment 2 of the show. I love retellings like this! I'm hoping to read the original and this book around Halloween this year.

That's all for me this week. Be sure to drop in at Should Be Reading for more Friday Finds.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Out of Africa (and) Shadows on the Grass

Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass
by Isak Dinesen
462 pages

*** About the Books ***

Both books are collections of short stories and character studies based on Karen Blixen's (aka Isak Dinesen's) life in British East Africa between 1914-1931. The two books were released approximately 25 years apart but seem to belong together, hence the reason they were republished as one book. They give a glimpse into the life of a wealthy Danish woman who truly loved the land and the people of Kenya, and who didn't always fit in with the prevailing British society of the time.

*** Why I Read It ***

I've always loved the movie Out of Africa and have wanted to read the book for quite a while. I recently listened to a biography of Isak Dinesen and that spurred me on to start this book. My copy came from the library.

*** My Thoughts ***

This is a beautifully written book that sucked me in from the beginning and didn't let me go until the end. However, if I had read this book without first listening to Dinesen's biography I would have been greatly disappointed. Let me explain ...

I wanted to read this book because I expected that it would give me more details than I got from the movie - that's what books usually do, right? They are supposed to fill in the blanks left by the movie. I especially wanted to know about the author's love affair with Denys Finch-Hatton (played in the movie by Robert Redford).

In fact Denys is hardly mentioned at all in OUT OF AFRICA, and when he is it is not apparent to the reader that he is anything more than a close friend. This didn't matter to me in the end because I'd already learned everything about their relationship from Karen's biography.

The book also makes little or no mention of Karen's husband, Baron Bror Blixen, or how she contracted and lived with syphilis, or how hard she struggled to keep her farm going. All those details that I wanted after seeing the movie are not to be found in OUT OF AFRICA ... but they are to be found in her biography. With those details already in mind, I was able to enjoy this book for what it is.

And what, exactly, is it? It is a collection of anecdotes about the people and places that made an enormous impression on Karen Blixen. It is her love song to Africa, to the people of her farm, to the farm itself, and to the beauty of the land surrounding her.

The author of her biography related the following story: When friends asked why Karen didn't write about Africa immediately after her return to Denmark, she replied that one cannot write about a beloved child the day after it has died.

That is how Karen viewed her farm, as her precious child, and the lost of it broke her heart. This book is a look back at all the things she loved so much, but it is told from such a lofty vantage that the pain and the struggles are difficult to see. The beauty is all that remains.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the inherent racism in this book. It is, after all, the British colony in Africa where the stories take place - racism abounded there as it did just about everywhere during this time period. However Karen truly loved the African people that she knew, and greatly respected Farah, the Somali servant who managed her house and money. In her later life (as I know from her biography) she had African-American friends and upbraided her white friends for their racist remarks. Karen wasn't exactly unprejudiced, but she was much more fair-minded than many of her contemporaries.

*** About the Movie ***

As I said, I truly love this movie. For those who haven't seen it, here's a trailer for you to check out:

What I realized after reading this book and listening to Dinesen's biography is that the movie is really an amalgamation of the two. The storyline of the movie is Karen's life, and that comes from her biography. But the characters, the land, and the love Karen had for them comes straight from OUT OF AFRICA.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Have you read this book? Seen the movie? Do you love it like I do, or were you not so impressed? Have you read any of Isak Dinesen's other stories? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Warbreaker (joint review)

by Brandon Sanderson
592 pages

*** About the Book ***

Fantasy novel are notoriously hard to summarize, especially without making them sound (to the non-fantasy reader) really stupid. But I'll do my best!

This book is about two sisters, princesses, who both end up doing things with their lives that they never expected; things that are, in fact, the exact opposite of what they expected. One ends up married to the God King of the neighboring country (a country that is intent on attacking her homeland) while the other ends up involved with a rebellion and some rather unsavory characters. Then there are the other Gods in the God King's court. Are they, in fact, divine? Or are they simply extra-special humans? Even the Gods themselves (at least some of them) aren't sure of the answer. Add in a fascinating and very inventive system of magic, and a few unforgettable characters, and you've got WARBREAKER.

*** Why I Read It ***

Now that Brandon Sanderson is completing Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series (and doing a fantastic job with it!) I'm planning to read most of his original books. I loved his book ELANTRIS so when Tor Books offered me a review copy of this book I jumped at the chance to check it out.

I was thrilled that I had it in hand when I met Brandon in October - my copy is now signed! (And isn't it a gorgeous book, by the way?)

*** My Thoughts ***

Wow, this is a good book. I thought about it constantly when I wasn't reading, wondering what was going to happen next, practically counting down the minutes until I could pick it up and start reading again. Night after night I stayed up way too late reading until my eyes couldn't stay open any more (and, of course, paying for it the next morning, day after day).

As with all stand-alone fantasy novels, it took me a few chapters to immerse myself in the world the author had created, to get a feel for the "rules" of that world, but once I got there I was hooked.

In addition to a magic system that is completely different than anything I've read (and honestly, how often does that really happen?), this book has some really great characters in it; for me, they are the book's greatest strength.

I feel like I really got to know the characters and that they changed in believable ways as the book progressed. Some unexpected things happened, things that made me say "What?! NO!" But the more I thought them through, those things made complete sense based on what I knew about each of the characters. (Sorry to be so vague but I don't want to give anything away.)

A huge theme in this book is "judging" - how do you judge others? in what ways? why? are you willing to revise your judgments? if so, at what point and to what degree? how does your view of the world influence the way you view other traditions/faiths/etc.? I really enjoyed watching the characters react to their surroundings and adapt (or not) to the new things they discovered.

I don't want to say too much about what happens in this book because part of the fun is being surprised by the characters and the plot. I will tell you that Kiddo thought it was great. I didn't read it to him but he constantly asked me to summarize what I'd read recently, and he hung on to every word.

*** Suey's Thoughts ***

When Suey from It's All About Books mentioned that she wanted to read this book this year, I immediately suggested that we do a joint review. I asked her to answer a few spoiler-free questions - here's what she had to say:
  1. In one sentence tell me what you thought of this book. I thought this book was extremely imaginative, colorfully drawn and a complete page-turner.
  2. I found the characters to be the strongest part of the book; do you agree or disagree? If you agree, why? If you disagree, what was the strongest part for you? Interesting question, because when I first got done, I thought...."Wow, that was one detailed and amazing plot." But then I thought, "Wait, but the thing I loved most about it was the characters." So I think I'm agreeing with you, it was the characters that truly made this story so strong and alive.
  3. Do you like that this is a stand-alone novel or would you have preferred that it start a series? It's nice to read a fantasy sometimes knowing that you aren't necessarily committing yourself to a trilogy, or a huge series. But, wow, it sure left a lot open for the possibility of more to come, don't you think? Even if it's a stand alone now, I think if he feels the urge in the future, he can re-visit this world and tell us much much more.
  4. Did you find yourself thinking about this book when you weren't reading it or were you able to put it aside easily? Oh, I totally thought about it a lot when I wasn't reading it. It started out as my treadmill book, which was wonderful because I couldn't wait for walking each day. But I knew it would take me forever to finish it if I left it there, so then I hauled it all over with me and made the big push to finish it fast.
You can check out Suey's complete review, as well as my answers to her questions, at her blog.

*** Your Thoughts ***

So, what do you think about this book? Is it something that appeals to you? Why or why not?

Other reviews of this book that you can check out, just to get some varied opinions (but honestly, so far everyone has loved it):

*** Interesting Videos ***

For those of you who are like me and enjoy this sort of thing, here are two videos to check out.

First, Brandon talks about WARBREAKER:

And second, artist Don Dos Santos shares his progress in designing the cover illustration. I love watching this one:

Amazing, right?!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kiddo in the news

Kiddo was profiled for a local newspaper back in December and the article just came out this past week. If you are interested in reading about Kiddo's health issues and his love of hockey (as if you didn't know about it already!) then follow this link to access the article.

Kids Picks: Kiddo's Library Books

The 3rd Tuesday of the month is Kids' Picks at 5 Minutes For Books. Just for fun I thought I'd share with you the list of books Kiddo currently has out from the library. For those new to my blog, Kiddo is in 2nd grade, will be 8 in a few days, and is a very reluctant reader.

~ Kiddo's Library Books ~

See if you can figure out what prompted the choice of these first four books ...
  • Mythology: the gods, heroes, and monsters of ancient Greece, by Hestia Evans
  • Mythological creatures: a classical bestiary : tales of strange beings, fabulous creatures, fearsome beasts, & hideous monsters from ancient Greek mythology, by Lynn Curlee
  • Oh my gods!: a look-it-up guide to the gods of mythology, by Megan E. Bryant
  • Pegasus, the flying horse, Jane Yolen

If you guessed that our current read-together book is one of the Percy Jackson series, you'd be correct. We are working on book 3, THE TITAN'S CURSE. We took a break from it in December to read A CHRISTMAS CAROL but now we're getting back into Percy's adventure. As far as the books listed above go, Kiddo browses them more than he reads them. But I'll take what I can get.

Kiddo also checked out his favorite "backpack book kit", Stellaluna, by Janell Cannon. The backpack includes the book, a plush Stellaluna, an audio recording of the book, and a Stellaluna puzzle. I've lost count of how many times we've checked this kit out over the years. This time I told Kiddo he had to read me the story himself. He read half of it to me so far; hopefully he'll read the other half this weekend.

In addition, Kiddo checked out one book from his school's library. That book is Wayne Gretzky: Hockey Star, by Heather Feldman. He chose this one from the school library because (as you know) he is a huge hockey fan. This book is below his reading level BUT he really WANTS to read it (*gasp*) and that is a huge thing for him. He actually volunteered to read it to me not once but twice, and he's read it to Hubby at least once too. I'll take that!

I don't have a "library rules" for Kiddo - I let him check out pretty much whatever he wants. You never know what he's going to find (or ask me to search the computer for) when we visit the library!

Monday, January 18, 2010

The 1% Well-Read Challenge ... my 3rd time around

(I haven't seen a post about this challenge being continued in 2010 but I'm going to participate even if I'm just reading on my own.)

This is my third year signing up for this challenge and it is one of my favorites. I love that it exposes me to books that I'd not have encountered any other way, and also to books that I've always meant to read. My first year I chose random titles that caught my eye, last year I went for really old titles, and this year I'm focusing on the more modern titles:

  1. Out of Africa - reading this one now
  2. The Handmaid’s Tale
  3. Catch 22 - also for the LOST Books Challenge
  4. The Color Purple – I'm considering a summer read-a-long; might you be interested?
  5. To Kill A Mockingbird - can you believe I've never read this?
  6. Kim (Rudyard Kipling)
  7. The Golden Ass (Apulieus)
  8. The Last of the Mohicans - I started this last year but put it aside
  9. Dangerous Liaisons
  10. Half of a Yellow Sun
This year I'm also listing a few alternates:
  1. The Lion of Flanders - I couldn't find this one last year but really want to read it
  2. The Charterhouse of Parma
  3. Wide Sargasso Sea
  4. Candide

Are you signing up for this one as well? Have you done it before? Would you like to read any of these with me?

Also, I preordered a copy of the new edition of the actual book 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die; it comes out in March and I'm really excited about it!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

One Lovely Blog award

Thank you to Helen's Book Blog for giving me the One Lovely Blog award! The point of the award is to showcase blogs you have recently discovered.

Here are the rules:
  1. Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award and his or her blog link
  2. Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you’ve newly discovered.
  3. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.
To be honest, I've been trying to NOT discover any new blogs lately - my Google Reader is overwhelmed with posts as it is. Still, I HAVE added a few new blogs lately so I'll share those with you now.
  • The Book Blogger Convention - THE place to go for all the details of the upcoming Book Blogger Convention to be held in May in New York City
  • On Frozen Blog - coverage of the Washington Capitals Ice Hockey team and other local DC-area hockey news
  • Brave and Bittersweet - new blog from My Friend Amy that focuses on her Christian faith
  • Political Math - excellent visuals to help the layperson understand the real numbers behind the political news
  • Audiobook DJ - a compilation of audio book reviews from around the blogosphere
Yes, I know that is not 15 and that only two are book-related, but that's how it goes. I do hope you check out any of the blogs you are interested in - I'm enjoying them all!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller

Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller
by Judith Thurman
audio book: 21.5 hours

*** About the Book ***

Isak Dinesen (aka Karen Dinesen, aka Baroness Karen Blixen) was born on April 17, 1885. She became one of the most beloved authors and poets in Denmark, was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and is known as one of the most representative personalities in Danish history. In this biography Judith Thurman reviews Dinesen's life with a strong focus on her writing, looking at how her life both influenced her work and was influenced by it right up until her death on September 7, 1962.

The audio book was narrated by Davina Porter. She did a good job here, but she is not one of my favorite narrators as I don't always like her voice.

*** Why I Read It ***

I LOVE the movie Out of Africa. The last time I watched it I realized that it is based on Dinesen's book by the same name. The book, in turn, is based on her own life in East Africa between 1914-1931. I added the book to my TBR list back in June '08. When I was looking recently through the library's online system for a copy of it, I found Thurman's biography. I figured it would be interesting to learn more about Dineson before diving into OUT OF AFRICA so I checked it out.

This book counts toward the Library and Audiobook challenges.

*** My Thoughts ***

There are two important things about any biography: whether the person is worth reading about, and how well the author writes. Let's start with the person, shall we?

Is it possible to love someone in a movie and yet despise who they are in their real life? Back when I added OUT OF AFRICA to my TBR list I wrote that Karen Blixen "was a fascinating woman living in a fascinating time" but now I'd amend that to say she was an imperious, self-centered, demanding, snobbish, and tyrannical woman living in a fascinating time. Had I known her personally, I don't think I could have stood to be around her.

Maybe I would have liked Dinesen when she was living in Africa; she seems to have been a different person there. In fact, she seems to have been a different person whenever she was able to travel. It was being home in Denmark, surrounded by money worries and the stress of life and her poor health, that always seemed to bring out the worst in her.

And yet, there is something about her ... something that drew people to her even in her old age and frail health, something that is almost magnetic, a pull that I could feel even through this biography ...

Dinesen rebelled against all the societal norms her family expected her to follow, she rejected the idea of a "woman's place" in the world, and she created a religion of sorts with herself as God, directing the lives of everyone around her according to an invented "script" of the way things should be. She lived, for the most part, as she chose to live. [For those reasons this would be an excellent book for the non-fiction portion of the Women Unbound Reading Challenge!]

As for the author, Thurman had fascinating subject matter to work with and she did an excellent job. The book gave me a great deal of insight into Dinesen's writing and I appreciate that; I feel like I will get so much more out of any Dinesen book that I choose to read now. At the same time, I was quite concerned that my dislike for Dinesen would turn into a dislike of OUT OF AFRICA (since it is really about her own life) when I finally read it. I'm glad to say that has not happened; I'm halfway through OUT OF AFRICA now and really loving it. But I'll save my thoughts on that for my review of it. :)

*** Literary References ***

A few things to note ...
  • Ernest Hemingway based the main character in THE SHORT HAPPY LIFE OF FRANCES MACOMBER on Baron Bror Blixen, Isak Dinesen's (ex)husband. That surprised me quite a bit, as I didn't realize there was any connection between Dinesen and Hemingway.
  • While Dinesen was living in Africa her family in Denmark sent her Sigrid Undset new novel KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER. Though she liked it at first, in the end she hated it, saying that it life was simply not that depressing. She felt that Undset sucked the pleasure of out living for Kristin, never really giving her a chance.
  • Dinesen admired Aldous Huxley's books above almost all others. She found his fascination with hallucinogenic drugs very intriguing, especially in the way it influenced his writing. (She and I have directly opposing tastes in books; I absolutely loathed the only Huxley book I ever read.)
  • Dinesen's last work, TEMPESTS, was inspired by a performance she saw of Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST.
  • Shortly before her death, Dinesen traveled to America where she met with many American writers who loved and admired her including, among others, Carson McCullers, Arthur Miller, and John Steinbeck.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Has learning more about an author ever made you like or dislike their work when you previously felt the opposite about it? I liked the Oscar Wao book a lot more after hearing Junot Diaz speak, but I have a feeling that I might like OUT OF AFRICA less after learning about Isak Dinesen ...

Have you read either this biography or any of Dineson's works? She's got quite a repertoire of short stories, including the collections SEVEN GOTHIC TALES, WINTERS TALES, and ANECDOTES OF DESTINY.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Half Broke Horses

Half Broke Horses
by Jeannette Walls
audio book: 8 hours

I "met" Jeannette through her memoir THE GLASS CASTLE which I read with my book club in 2008. This book is basically a prequel to that one, in that it is the story of her grandmother and (partially) of her mother. If you've read THE GLASS CASTLE then you know that Jeannette's mother was one odd bird; this book goes a long way to explain that oddness.

Lily Casey Smith, grandmother to Jeannette, was born in a dugout home on a Texas riverfront. She left home at age 15 to be a school teacher during World War I. Her life was was fascinating, although not always easy, and she had to work for everything she had. I won't tell you much more than that as it would spoil the fun of reading it for you.

Jeannette calls this a "true-life novel" because it is based on family stories that were passed down from her grandmother to her mother and then to her. Some of the stories can be verified but others cannot. Jeannette had to fill in the blanks in places, and she also told the story from Lily's point of view so there were obviously some liberties taken (since Lily died when Jeannette was only 8 yrs old). The story has the ring of truth to it though, as all good family stories do.

I had a hard time getting into this book at first. Unlike THE GLASS CASTLE, it didn't grab me from the beginning. Once Lily left home however, I was really into the story. And once her daughter Rosemary was born (that's Jeannette's mother), I couldn't take my ear away from the radio; I wanted to know everything I could about how she came to be the woman she was.

In the end, I'd say that if you enjoyed THE GLASS CASTLE, you will likely enjoy this book as well so do give it a shot.

Oh, and it is narrated by the author. She does a good job of it, but personally I'm not a fan of her accent. I do like it when authors narrate their own books though, especially when they are of the true-life variety, so I didn't let the accent get to me.

(This book counts toward the Library and Audiobook challenges.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Vietnam Challenge: why, and what I'm reading

The War Through the Generations Challenge continues this year with a focus on Vietnam. I simply had to sign up for this one.

My dad, Hugh Bedford, was a Green Beret in the early years of Vietnam and I've always wanted to learn more about his service there. His experiences weren't exactly a regular topic of conversation when I was growing up, but Dad will usually (eventually) answer any questions that I have.

Here are the basics of what I know for sure:
  • Dad was in the 441st Military Intelligence Detachment, 1st Group Special Forces, from 1965-1968
  • He did Basic Training, then Advanced Individual Training in Okinawa
  • Over approx. 18 months he moved between Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos - wherever he went, it was always as a civilian
  • When he returned to the US, he found that the paperwork showing where he had been during his tour of duty had fallen out of a helicopter and been lost; there is now no record of where he was during those 18 months.
  • He intended to reenlist for another tour of duty after his initial three years were up but when that time came, his mother had a stroke. He asked for a leave of absence to visit her but he was denied. He decided not to reenlist so he could go be with his mother. He later found out that all (or was it most?) of his unit was killed in action just a few months afterward. [Updated to add: I believe that these men were killed in the Tet Offensive, but I'm not 100% certain.]
I'm hoping that the books I read for this challenge will give me ideas of what to ask Dad about during the coming year as I do really want to know more about his life.

My reading list:
  1. War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters who Covered Vietnam, by Tad Bartimus, Tracy Wood, Kate Webb, Laura Palmer, Edith Lederer, and Jurate Kazickas
  2. Once A Warrior King: Memories of an Officer in Vietnam, by David Donovan
  3. Vietnam Medal of Honor Winners, by Edward F. Murphy
  4. The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien
  5. The Road Home, by Ellen Emerson White
The first three books are ones I already own so that is bonus. Book #2 is a reread for me; I first read it in high school and have kept my copy ever since. If I recall correctly, the book reflected much of my Dad's own experiences in Vietnam. I've wanted to reread it for quite some time and this challenge is the perfect excuse. Book #5 is a maybe; I saw it reviewed and thought it might be good, but I'm not sure.

You can learn more about the challenge and sign up at this link and you can view some suggested reading at this link.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Comment Policy (an admin post)

I love the interaction that comments provide on my blog and I appreciate the time it takes for readers to post comments. Thank you to all my commenters!

A few quick notes about comments:
  • I do my best to reply to all the comments on my blog. If you subscribe to the comments for a particular post you will most likely see a reply to your comment within a few hours, or at most a day.
  • Please be polite. Feel free to disagree with me or with other commenters but do so in a kind way rather than a rude or ultra-confrontational manner.
  • The written (or typed) word is easy to misunderstand since it is devoid of facial expressions and tone of voice. Keep that in mind when you write your comments.
  • I love it when commenters provide links to other books I might enjoy, or to their review of the same book I reviewed.
  • I do not appreciate comments that are blatant advertising; they will be deleted.
Again, I do love the conversational aspect of comments so please keep them coming!

(This post in not in response to any problems with commenters; it is simply an admin post that I'll be linking to from my sidebar.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Blogiversary is today!

On January 11, 2008 I put up my very first post on this blog. I had no idea about the amazing world of book blogging - I was only looking for a way to keep a log of what I was reading. In the time since that first post, blogging has become an extremely important part of my life because of all the wonderful people around the blogosphere; this wouldn't be any fun without you. Thank you all for coming to my blog, for reading my reviews/random thoughts/Kiddo updates, for commenting with your opinions, for discussing all things bookish (and not) and for truly becoming my friends. I love you guys! *sniff*

Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday Finds (01/08/10)

***Note: Click here for details of my current giveaway!***

Wow, my first Friday Finds of 2010 ... cool! And yet again, Alyce from At Home With Books is responsible for more than her fair share of these books - 2 out of the 10. I really think I should start joining in with Chris's Bad Blogger thing simply so I can heap points on Alyce for all the books she makes me add to my TBR list.... :)

One Amazing Thing, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni - found through At Home With Books - A disparate group of people is trapped together after an earthquake. As things become more and more hopeless one person "suggests that each tell a personal tale, 'one amazing thing' from their lives, which they have never told anyone before. And as their surprising stories of romance, marriage, family, political upheaval, and self-discovery unfold against the urgency of their life-or-death circumstances, the novel proves the transcendent power of stories and the meaningfulness of human expression itself." Sounds great, right?!

Grayson, by Lynne Cox - found when I wrote about another of her books - Lynne is a long-distance open-water swimmer who specializes in very cold water swims. This is the story of her encounter with a baby gray whale during one of her swims.

Volsungasaga, a ancient Norse epic - found 5-Squared's review through the Mythology Bookworms Carnival - Here's just an excerpt of what Jason had to say "But Gravy, I don't know if it was all the snow, or the constant raiding and battling, or what, but these folks imagination? Vivid! If the bible had these stories (and the bible is spicy enough), you wouldn't take kids to church." His review is hilarious! [Update: I reviewed this already!]

Her Mother's Daughter, by Julianne Lee - found at Devourer of Books - This is a more sympathetic treatment of Queen Mary (aka Bloody Mary), daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. I've always liked Mary despite her later actions so I'm quite interested in reading this one.

Touching the Void, by Joe Simpson - found through At Home With Books - This is the ulitimate story of survival. After a climbing accident in the Andes, two men are separated and one thinks the other is dead. In fact he is NOT dead, but he IS seriously injured ... yet he manages to basically crawl out of the mountains. Woah. This one sounds very intense!

Revolver, by Marcus Sedgwick - found at Bart's Bookshelf - This made Darren's top 10 of 2009 list. It is the story of a gun and how it passes from father to son, and how it is used. The setting is a remote Canadian town north of the Arctic Circle. After the father's death a man breaks into the house and the son must decide whether to use the gun or not. Darren explained it MUCH better than that so go check out his review.

The Complete Stories of Truman Capote, by Truman Capote - found at Book Chatter - I've always wanted to read something by Capote but IN COLD BLOOD holds no interest for me. This sounds like the perfect collection, and Ti highly recommended it - that's good enough for me.

Firmin, by Sam Savage - found at Bibliolatry - I can't say it any better so I'm posting her entire review here:
If you're a book lover, you absolutely must read Firmin. Firmin is, well, a rat -- but he's the most likable fellow I've met in a long time. Living in the basement of a bookstore in the 1960s, Firmin survives his early years by munching on the likes of Joyce and Melville. Soon, however, he learns that books are not for eating, but for reading -- and read he does, becoming arguably the most-educated rat to ever live. Unfortunately, with his increasing knowledge comes a self-awareness that is none too kind. As Firmin becomes all-too-aware of his own limitations, he yearns for a greater life than the one he must endure. Filled with allusions and pathos, Firmin is a book for everyone -- but especially for those who love literature. And look: the book comes replete with its own little bite mark. Sigh. I love you, Firmin!

In a nutshell: This is one rat you can't help but love. You can live with me, little buddy! Bibliolatry Scale: 6 out of 6 stars

An Irish Country Doctor, by Patrick Taylor - found at Letters From a Hill Farm - This is not normally my kind of book but I LOVED the video Nan posted in her review - go watch it if you can. The language/dialect and people of Ulster (Northern Ireland) hold a special place in my heart so now I really want to find an audio of this one.

Her Royal Spyness, by Rhys Bowen - found at Wordsmithsonia - This sort of reminds me of a mix of Wodehouse's Jeeves, Laurie R. King's Mary Russell, and a bit of something else ... and Ryan's review made it sound like lots of fun.

What have YOU found recently? Hop over to Should Be Reading and share with everyone.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

*** REVISED Giveaway: The Eye of the World ***

*** UPDATE *** I think that everyone was scared off by the length of this book and the short time available to read it, so I'm changing the contest. Please scroll down for the revised entry rules - thanks!


As you may recall, I'll be the featured blogger on That's How I Blog on Feb. 9. The new time for my show is 10pm EST (to make it easier for the West Coasters and to allow the East Coasters to watch LOST - yay!). The book I chose to discuss is an old favorite of mine, THE EYE OF THE WORLD, by Robert Jordan.

Thanks to Dot at Tor Books, I can offer a copy of this book to one of my readers no matter where in the world you live, provided that you plan to call in to the show to discuss it with me! This book is definitely a chunkster (at about 800 pages) but it moves quickly - just ask Nicole and Suey (they are both reading it for the show). And it is definitely worth reading; I've read or listened to it at least 4 times over the years.


  • if you are interested in reading the first book in a fantastic fantasy series, please enter!
  • I'd love for you to listen to the show, either live or via the recording - even if you haven't read the book you'll get to hear why I love it so much
  • leave a comment that includes a way to contact you if you win
  • if you do win, you must contact me within 24 hours with your mailing address or I'll choose another winner
  • I'll draw the winner on Monday (1/11)

I'm so excited about the show and I'm thrilled to be able to offer this contest, so go enter right now!
Blog Widget by LinkWithin